Patricia Marie Balestras, who owns Bucket List Tours, lives in Commack with her husband, Craig.
What is your cooking background?
I was born in Brooklyn and have an Italian background, which means food was the center of our universe. As a kid, I loved watching Julia Child on Channel 13. We didn’t shop at supermarkets then. We went to the poultry store, the fish market, the meat market and the bakery. We bought everything fresh.
My extended family lived in a seven-family home in Carroll Gardens. Sundays always meant the family got together and prepared a beautiful meal. It was all about family, food and wine. My job was to bread the eggplant. We sat down at 3 p.m. to an antipasto, macaroni, a roast or a whole fish, and the smorgasbord went on until about 6 p.m. In between courses, the family drank lots of wine. At the end, Grandpa would pull out his cassette player and start singing. We knew he was a happy guy at that point. We had big jugs of Chianti or burgundy. We didn’t know merlot.
Have you continued the Sunday dinner tradition?
When my three sons were in high school, all their friends used to come to our house on Sundays, especially during football. I fed them all, a minimum of six guys. I cooked chicken Parmesan, chicken Francaise or chicken piccata, veal piccata and, of course, lasagna. I did appetizers like chicken wings, meatballs in a crockpot or pulled pork. Before my mom passed away four years ago, we would have her and my father-in-law for dinner every Sunday. Always a feast. I called that my senior Sundays. Now we do Sunday dinners about twice a month. It’s a dying tradition. People are always on the go and don’t have time to sit around and enjoy a meal.
Where do you food shop now?
Costco. Do you believe it? I’ve made my life simpler.
What’s your go-to hostess culinary gift?
I always bring something homemade. Everyone loves my Maccheroni Pie. I call it macaroni pie even though I use spaghetti. I’m old school. It’s done on the stovetop, not the oven, and it can be served either as an appetizer or a side. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make something special.
— Ann Donahue-Smukler
1 pound No. 8 spaghetti
1⁄2 stick of butter, melted
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1⁄4 pound sliced Genoa salami
1 cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella (or 1⁄2 pound sliced mozzarella)
1. Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and refresh with cold water. Set aside in colander.
2. Melt butter and let cool slightly.
3. In large mixing bowl, whisk eggs. Add butter, garlic powder, salt, pepper, grated Parmesan and parsley until blended. Add spaghetti and mix well.
4. Pour 1 teaspoon of oil into a 10-inch omelet frying pan and place on medium heat. Pour in half the spaghetti mixture and distribute evenly. Layer salami and then mozzarella. Add the remaining spaghetti mixture on top.
5. Cook over medium heat until underside is golden, about 6 minutes, moving pan around on burner to ensure even cooking.
6. Take off heat. Using a large platter placed over pan, invert cooked spaghetti mixture onto platter. Use remaining oil to recoat the pan and slide mixture back into skillet. Cook until bottom is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Slide spaghetti pie onto platter and let cool for 15 minutes. Cut into pie slices or squares. Makes about 8 servings.