Retro Favorites #1 ~ Zucchini Casserole

I thought for the next few posts I would step away from Lista’s Italian Cuisine recipes and focus on some stories of my favorite home recipes from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I loved watching those early TV cooking shows on PBS. I faithfully watched “The French Chef” with Julia Child and “The Galloping Gourmet” with Graham Kerr. I really liked to watch the cooking segments with Chef Tell Erhardt (“very simple, very easy”) on the “Dialing for Dollars” and “PM Magazine” TV shows. And I continued to watch as a young adult in the 80’s with shows like “Louisiana Cookin'” with Justin Wilson; “Yan Can Cook” with Martin Yan, and “The Fugal Gourmet” with Jeff Smith. For me, the TV was not only a source of entertainment, but was also a way to learn new and different ways to prepare foods. So I did a lot of cooking as a kid, mostly because I wanted to be like my Dad, but also because I loved food, enjoyed cooking and liked trying new recipes and, as it turns out, I became a pretty darn good cook. 

My family was always very supportive when I would try out a new TV recipe or technique. One of my favorite memories from those days was when my Dad brought home a whole suckling pig so I could roast it the way Julia Child did on her TV show. But then there was the time I watched a show where the chef (probably Graham Kerr) prepared polenta in the “rustic fashion” by pouring the cornmeal mush on a wooden board and then topping it with tomato sauce, vegetables, and bits of meat. I think the idea was that the family would sit around the table and scoop up forkfuls of polenta hoping to be first to get some of the meat. I begged Grandma Lista to make it for me. “You won’t like it,” she kept saying, but I pleaded until she relented and made the dish. It looked great — so authentic; very old world… yeah, I didn’t like it.

One of the very first things I remember cooking for my family was Italian Zucchini Casserole. Actually I don’t remember where I learned the recipe but it was probably while watching one of those cooking shows. Or maybe it was one of those things that happened by necessity — as I recall we always seemed to have a lot of those giant over grown zucchini people give you. I think we were getting tired of making batch after batch of zucchini bread… zucchini muffins… and zucchini snack cake. So somewhere along the line I learned how to use the zucchini for something other than baked goods. 

Italian Zucchini Casserole

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8 servings

Cooking Spray (such as Pam)
2 large or 6 small Zucchini – shredded (about 6 cups)
1 medium Onion – finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 TBSP Butter 

3 large Eggs – lightly beaten
1 cup Ricotta Cheese

1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (divided)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning

For Topping:
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
2 TBSP Melted Butter
1/4 tsp Paprika

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9x13x2″ baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Shred unpeeled zucchini using the large holes of a box grater or food processor to yield about 6 cups. Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then squeeze out the extra moisture. Place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Heat 2 TBSP butter in a medium skillet and cook the diced onions until tender — about 5 minutes. Add cooked onions, beaten eggs, ricotta, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Romano cheese, black pepper and Italian seasoning to the zucchini and toss until combined. Spoon 
evenly into the prepared baking dish.
4. In a small bowl combine the remaining 2 TBSP butter, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Romano cheese and paprika — blend until crumbly.  Sprinkle evenly over the zucchini casserole.
5. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until casserole is firm and browned on top. Remove from oven and let set for a few minutes before serving.

There you have it, Italian Zucchini Casserole, circa 1974. It works great as a side dish or as a brunch item. So the next time one of your neighbors or coworkers brings in those late harvest over grown zucchinis I hope you give this recipe a try.

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Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Dan’s Meaty Hot Sauce!

Every region of the world cultivates its own local flavor. Upstate New York is no different. Our Upstate neighbors have given us some familiar favorites like Buffalo Wings, Beef on Weck, Spiedies, Salt Potatoes, Utica Greens, Thousand Island Dressing, Chicken Riggies, Grape Pie, and Sponge Candy.

Yet, Rochester has given us a true culinary legacy. Rochester has always been a food town, called the “Flour City” in the 1800’s, due to the many mills along the waterfalls of the Genesee River, it is the birthplace of French’s mustard, Gerber baby food, Ragu, Cantisano & Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauces, and Zweigle’s hot dogs to name a few. Many say we are the originators of “Chicken French” and that can be debated… but Rochester is definitely the home of the White Hot and the original Garbage Plate! And what is a Garbage Plate without that uniquely Rochester ground meat hot sauce.


Meaty Hot Sauce” (as my kids have always called it) is somehow different than other hot dog toppings. Not really a chili like Coney Island or Cincinnati nor a tomato/onion sauce like NY City street carts. But a spicy, meaty, greasy (admit it) slurry of heat and texture that you have to grow up with to really appreciate.

This week my son and his girlfriend have been visiting, and they absolutely love Zweigle’s white hots. So white hots were the first thing on this week’s menu and, of course, I ran right out to Wegmans (another Rochester original) to stock up… and, of course, I had to make a batch of Dan’s Meaty Hot Sauce.

Now before I go any further, I want to tie this post (somewhat loosely) to 74 Main Street

One of the stories my Dad told back in the day was that he had always wanted to put hot dogs on the menu at Lista’s but my Grandpa ‘Pat’ was totally against it saying it wasn’t classy enough for Lista’s. So that humble American icon never graced the menu of Lista’s Italian Cuisine. Ironically, I was also told that “franks and beans” was one of Grandpa’s favorite meals. Go figure!

…now back to the present — serving grilled white hots with meaty hot sauce.

Meaty hot sauce is typically a blend of ground beef, onions and several spices — some add tomato paste, some don’t. Some like to thicken the sauce with bread crumbs or corn starch, while others leave it in its loose, watery state. And most locals know that wherever you go to eat, if they offer a hot sauce, it’s going to be different from place to place. And the person eating the hot sauce will vary in their like or dislike of said hot sauce. So the whole thing is very subjective. But one thing I think meaty hot sauce aficionados would agree upon is that a hot dog without meaty hot sauce is like… well, really, why even bother finishing that similitude.

Dan’s Meaty Hot Sauce

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook Time:
1 hour 15 minutes (or more)

1 TBSP Olive Oil 
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 medium Onion – finely diced
2 cups Water
1 (6 oz) can Tomato Paste
2 TBSP Cayenne Pepper Sauce (like Red Hot)
2 TBSP Ground Cinnamon (or more to taste)
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Salt (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper (or more to taste)

1. In a medium sauce pan, heat the oil and add the ground beef and diced onions. Using a wooden spoon break up the ground beef while cooking and stirring until it begins to brown about 10 minutes. Do not drain the grease off.
2. Add the water, tomato paste and pepper sauce — stir until it is completely blended with the beef and onions.
3. Add all the dry spices and blend into the meat sauce (I use a wire whisk at this point). Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes — then reduce to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer for about an hour — stirring only occasionally to be sure it’s not sticking/burning on bottom. You can add a little more water if needed but it usually just simmers and reduces nicely to a thick sauce. (Personally I like to let it simmer up to 3 hours because I think it develops more heat and flavor as it cooks.)
4. Taste and adjust the salt/spice if desired. (I like the authentic cinnamon taste so I sometimes add more.) If you prefer a hotter sauce add another 1 tsp cayenne.
5. Serve warm over hot dogs, burgers, sausages, or your homemade garbage plates.

So there you have it, my version of the Rochester “Meaty Hot Sauce.” I hope you try it or use it as a base to create your own personal version. Either way if you live or have lived in the Rochester area please don’t deprive your family and friends of the authentic local experience when grilling this summer — serve some Meaty Hot Sauce with those white hots! 

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Try Our Fabulous Salad Bar

During these hot midsummer days I sometimes enjoy a cool salad rather than a hot meal. The other day, as I was putting together yet another romaine salad with leftover grilled chicken, I started thinking about all the various salads and such that we made at Lista’s.

In the early 1970’s Lista’s was one of the first restaurants in the area to offer a salad bar with all its meals. My Dad had our first salad bar specially constructed by a local handyman, Jacques St. Pierre, and it was made from a sheet of 4′ x 8′ plywood painted gloss black (very chic). The plywood top had several round holes cut into it that held stainless steel bowls of the various salads and toppings. This sat over a similar sized galvanized tin pan filled with ice so the food bowls would stay cold. This sat on a table with a plexiglass “sneeze guard” over the top.

Since I was the younger sibling and couldn’t work in the main “service” kitchen I did lots of prep work for the salad bar in the back kitchen — when I wasn’t washing dishes or scrubbing pots and pans. Cutting up cases of lettuce and tomatoes; slicing bags of onions (while shedding lots of tears) and shredding hundreds of carrots, purple cabbages, and red radishes on the old Bromco box grater. I skinned my knuckles so many times on that thing! That box grater is the only thing I have left from the restaurant. I keep it on my bookshelf as a reminder of my Dad and the way we made everything from scratch back then.

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At Lista’s we had always made all our salad dressings from scratch and over time we created dozens of home style salad items to go on the salad bar. Some time later we started putting out large loaves of locally made breads so that customers could help themselves… and eventually added fresh made soups and a hot pasta entree to make the salad bar a self serve buffet at lunch time.  This was cutting edge at the time and Lista’s was well known for having a great salad bar.

During that time my family drove around in a baby blue VW Microbus with a magnetic plastic sign advertising Lista’s Italian Restaurant. My son has one of those old signs hanging in his kitchen and as you can see it invites everyone to “Try Our Fabulous Salad Bar.”

So today I’m giving you three of my personal favorite salad bar recipes. Each one is a little different and represents the variety of items we would have featured at Lista’s.  I hope you can give them a try and share them with your family this summer.

Lista’s Carrot Raisin Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes (soaking raisins)
Serves: 4-6 servings (about 3 cups)

1 lb Whole Carrots – peeled
1/2 cup Raisins – soaked
1/2 cup Crushed Pineapple
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
2 TBS Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt

1. In a small microwavable bowl add raisins and 1 cup water and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove and allow to soak for 15 minutes – drain and cool.
2. Shred carrots on the large hole of a box grater and place shredded carrots in a large mixing bowl. Add pineapple, soaked/drained raisins, mayo, brown sugar and salt. Blend together until incorporated and coated with dressing.
3. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or more before serving.

Lista’s Italian Four Bean Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes (if using fresh beans)
Makes: 8-12 servings (about 6 cups)

1 can Cut Green Beans – drained and rinsed
1 can Cut Yellow Wax Beans – drained and rinsed
1 can Dark Red Kidney Beans – drained and rinsed
1 can Garbanzo Beans – drained and rinsed
1/2 large Sweet Onion (such as Vidalia) – very thinly sliced
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp Chopped Fresh Basil
1 tsp Sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1 clove Fresh Garlic – minced

Note: You can use garden fresh or frozen green and yellow beans — just trim and cut into 1 inch pieces and cook quickly in boiling water (about 10 minutes) until just tender. Cool and use instead of canned.

1. In a large mixing bowl combine the green, yellow, kidney and garbanzo beans. Add the sliced onion.
2. In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, chopped basil, sugar, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Pour dressing over beans and toss to coat.
3. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before serving.

Lista’s Corn & Rice Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes to cook rice/corn relish
Makes: 6-8 servings (about 4 cups)

2 cups Cooked White or Brown Long Grain Rice
2 cups Corn Kernels (fresh or frozen/thawed)
1/2 medium Sweet Onion (such as Vidalia) – finely diced
1/2 medium Red Bell Pepper – finely diced
1 stalk Celery – finely diced
1/2 cup Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp Dry Mustard (such as Colemans)
1/4 tsp Celery Seed (optional)

1. Cook rice according to package directions (1 cup rice to 2 cups water) and cool to room temperature.
2. In a medium saucepan combine the corn, onion, red pepper, celery, vinegar, sugar, salt, dry mustard and celery seed (if using).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for until vegetables are tender – about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. In a bowl combine the cooked rice and corn relish. Adjust salt if desired. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before serving.

There you have it… three of my favorite salad recipes from the Lista’s Fabulous Salad Bar. These would be a nice addition to a family picnic or potluck or as a refreshing side dish with grilled steaks, chicken or burgers.

Thank you for reading my blog — we love to hear from you. Please take a minute to Like the posts or leave a comment or share a memory of Lista’s Italian Cuisine. You can leave a comment by clicking CONTACT in the main menu or by clicking on any title under Recent Posts — scroll to the bottom of the page and Leave a ReplyYou will be required to enter your email but that won’t be publicized.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

The Original Balboa

On my last post for Lasagna Bolognese I mentioned you could serve lasagna with garlic bread but I didn’t think to give you a recipe.  So here is the Lista’s version of garlic bread.

At Lista’s, like most Italian-American restaurants there was the option of ordering garlic bread from the menu.  This was french bread that was buttered, seasoned, sprinkled with cheese, and placed under the broiler until it was toasty brown and crispy on the edges.  This was sliced and served in a basket, with a meal, or maybe as an appetizer of sorts. Really good dunked in a bowl of steaming Lista’s sauce.

(You are probably wondering why this post is titled “The Original Balboa” when I’m giving you a garlic bread recipe… just keep reading!)

Lista’s Garlic Bread 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 3-5 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 loaf good quality French Bread (the traditional 1 lb loaf)
4-6 TBSP Salted Butter – softened
1 tsp Granulated Garlic (or more to taste)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
Heated Lista’s sauce for dunking (optional)

1.  Preheat oven’s broiler to 450 degrees F – set oven rack about 6″ from heat source.
2.  Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil (easier clean-up)
3.  Cut the bread in half lengthwise and spread cut surfaces with softened butter.
4.  Sprinkle evenly with granulated garlic — then sprinkle evenly with Romano.
5.  Place under preheated broiler until cheese is lightly brown and edges are crispy.
6.  Remove from oven (turn off broiler), transfer the bread to a cutting board, and cut each half into 6 pieces.  Serve with sauce or your favorite meal.

Okay, now that’s done and we can move to the subject of this post: The Original Balboa. Some of you are very familiar with the Balboa sandwich and some are not. The Balboa is a shaved roast beef sandwich with melted Swiss cheese served on toasted garlic bread.

Here locally it has been a featured item on a few menus for many years. Some have actually claimed they ‘invented’ the sandwich — but that’s not exactly true. Lista’s first started serving the Balboa in the early 1970’s after my Grandpa Pat ate one when traveling to Florida. He really liked the sandwich and after returning to Brockport made one for my Dad, Vinnie.  Dad loved it and put it on the menu. At first as a “special” and later as a feature — it was always a very popular item.

I’ve done some research on this sandwich and can’t find much about it’s origin other than it was NOT created in Philadelphia — and was NOT named after a famous fictional boxer. It seems that the earliest accounts of the Balboa come from the Westchester, NY area in the mid 1970’s. In a 2015 New York Times article I read this:

“If a Balboa is shrouded in Swiss (and it is), its origins are shrouded in mystery. Artie Bruno Jr., whose family operated the Larchmont Tavern for more than 50 years – they started the business in 1933 – said, “I don’t know who created it. All I know is a customer – I think my dad said he might have been a cabdriver – came in and asked if we made them. We said, we don’t but what is it? So he told us. I don’t know if we made it exactly how he said or guessed, but we put our own idea together of what it could be.” The Balboa – the name the customer used – made its debut in the mid- to late 1970s, and today is the restaurant’s top-selling sandwich.”  The New York Times 12/18/2015

The Westchester idea sounds right since in that area such sandwiches are referred to as “wedges” and I specifically remember Dad telling me that the Balboa was a wedge sandwich.  There have been several variations of the sandwich out there, many with mozzarella cheese; peppers and onions, or even bacon. Some made with turkey instead of roast beef which is a travesty! Here I give you what I believe is the original recipe or at least what was the original Balboa sandwich we served at Lista’s in the 70’s. 

The Original Balboa served at Lista’s

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time:  15 minutes
Serves:  4 sandwiches

1 loaf Bakery French Bread – trimmed & cut in 4 servings
4-6 TBSP Salted Butter – softened
1 tsp Granulated Garlic (or more to taste)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1 1/2  lbs Deli Roast Beef (rare if possible) – shaved as thin as possible (in 4 portions)
8 slices Deli Swiss Cheese (about 1/2 lb)
32 oz. Beef Stock (or au jus)
1 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Black Pepper

1.  Preheat oven’s broiler to 400º F and position rack about 6 inches from heat source.
2.  Cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
3.  Prepare au jus:  Pour beef stock in a medium sauce pan, add Worcestershire, garlic, onion, salt and pepper – bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Keep hot.
4.  Prepare garlic bread: Trim the ends from the French bread (save for another use) and cut into 4 servings – then split each lengthwise and make into garlic bread by spreading each piece with butter, sprinkle with garlic and Romano, place on the baking sheet, and broil until golden brown and crispy on edges about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set 4 bottom halves aside.  Then lay 2 slices Swiss cheese on 4 top halves and put back under broiler until cheese is melted and bubbly about 3 minutes. Remove from oven and turn off broiler.  Arrange the tops and bottoms together on the baking sheet.
5.  Using tongs, take each portion of roast beef and submerge in the hot au jus for about 30 seconds until warmed through – remove and place immediately on bottom half of sandwich and cover with the top half.  (Note: the Balboa should be a bit “wet” from the au jus)  Slice each sandwich on the diagonal into wedges. Serve with remaining au jus for dipping if desired.

There you have it, The Original Balboa as served at Lista’s.  I hope you take time to make this incredible sandwich.  It really is a delicious combination of flavors and very satisfying.  Let us know what you think. Send a comment or ‘like’ this recipe here.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Make the Difference!”