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Food

Apple for this teacher likely winds up in a dish

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

By Kathleen Ganster

Rita Venturino doesn't mind being called a "cooking diva." The Richland woman throws herself into her cooking and teaching and does it with flair. "I'm just a tenacious person. I've always been a foodie, and now I can teach," she said from her home kitchen, where she has just kicked off her own cooking school.

Rita Venturino, far right, demonstrates some techniques to Carlye Venturino, left, Amanda Beamon and Maria Talpas at her cooking school, which she operates from her kitchen in her Richland home.

(Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Venturino worked for more than 37 years in the foodservice marketing division of H.J. Heinz Co. Her husband, Mel Liebowitz, owns his own company, selling supplies and equipment to specialty stores and restaurants. He'd tell his customers about her cooking.

"His customers wanted to know if I would teach," she said. "I told him, after I retire."

When H.J. Heinz Co. transferred some of its brands to Del Monte Foods a year and a half ago in a deal giving Heinz shareholders majority control of Del Monte, she had that opportunity and turned to her first love, cooking.

"It was a high-stress job," she said. "While the guys would go golfing, I would spend two days in the kitchen."

This past year Venturino taught more than 30 classes throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. In fall 2002 she started teaching at the Versatile Gourmet, one of Liebowitz's clients.

"I did a couple of classes that were successful," she said. "Then in the spring I taught at In the Kitchen [Wexford] and McGinnis Sisters [Monroeville]. I teach all Italian. No one else really does it."

Why Italian? "It fits my Italian background, so I thought, 'Why not?'"

Venturino learned to cook from her mother, Mary Venturino. "My mother always put a table out. She taught me that food is the heart and soul of bringing family and friends together."

After teaching at several places, Venturino decided she would like to have a more intimate setting. Because she has a large kitchen, she decided that would be the prefect setting for classes of six to eight students.

"I want my students to feel that they are special. We will be seated at a table setting, and I will teach them each of the foods of a complete menu."

She also teaches how to present foods. "We eat with our eyes, as well as our mouths.Some people don't have the knack for presentation. I want to give them ideas."

Venturino still plans to teach at other schools in the area. "I don't want to limit myself," she said. "Sharing what you love to do -- cook -- is rewarding. I once heard a line in a movie that was great -- food is a beautiful thing that truly nourishes."

Venturino may be reached at 724-443-4425. She may also be reached via e-mail at ritav@zoominternet.net.

SICILIAN SALAD

  • 1 package (5 ounces) spring mix greens or torn romaine lettuce
  • 2 large oranges, sectioned
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven 325 degrees.

Toast pecans for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch closely so pecans do not burn.

Wash greens. Drain and place into salad bowl. Section oranges by first removing skin with a serrated knife, being sure to remove pith. Then, section oranges by passing serrated knife between membranes. After each orange is sectioned, squeeze remaining juice over greens. Toss with oil. Top with pecans and pomegranate seeds. Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Rita Venturino

CONCHIGLIE WITH VODKA SAUCE

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 28- or 32-ounce can plum tomatoes with juices (chopped)
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • Smidgen of red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound conchiglie (medium shell pasta)
  • 6 tablespoons parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add tomatoes with juice, onion, garlic, celery, carrot and pepper flakes. Cook, occasionally stirring until liquid has evaporated (25 to 30 minutes). Add salt to taste. Add vodka and cream at the same time and stir until slightly thickened (5 or 6 minutes).

While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta, then salt. Cook until pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta and immediately add to the sauce. Toss well. Add to a warm serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Rita Venturino

ROMAN-STYLE TART

  • Crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • Filling:
  • 3-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 can cherry pie filling

Crust: Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor. Add butter and blend until mixture is like coarse meal. Pulse in egg until soft dough forms. Remove from processor and press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and rum. Beat in the egg yolk until blended. Then add ricotta and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and bake for approximately 45 minutes until puffy and light brown. Cool on rack for 15 minutes. Then remove rim and fully cool. Top with pie filling. Tart can be served at room temperature or chilled.

Rita Venturino


Kathleen Ganster is a Hampton-based freelance writer.


Correction/Clarification: (Published Feb. 28, 2004) H.J. Heinz Co. transferred some of its brands to Del Monte Foods a year and a half ago in a deal giving Heinz shareholders majority control of Del Monte. The version of this story for Feb. 25, 2004 editions incorrectly described the purchase.


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