WHO: Caroline Cerilli Goodrich of Tampa, 50, a health care consultant and wife to Jerry, mother to Tristan, 6.
What: Venetian Lentil Soup
About the recipe: "My mother, Mary Cerilli of Citrus County, got this recipe from her mother-in-law when she was married more than 60 years ago," Caroline says. The mother-in-law was from Northern Italy; Mrs. Cerilli, who just turned 87, is from Venice. The original recipe involved sausage and a heavy tomato base. Caroline has lightened it with diced ham and says "everyone prefers the lighter style."
Tips for others: "Watch out for the saltiness of the ham and don't oversalt the soup. Also, I'm not much of a mincer or precision cutter; I'm a rustic cook, and all the vegetables can be roughly chopped. The amounts are approximate. It's a very friendly recipe and you can't go wrong if you add more or less of this or that."
On the side: Caroline suggests serving this soup with a glass of bold red wine and warm Italian or French bread. Slice the bread on the diagonal, rub with a garlic clove or spread with roasted garlic spread or pesto, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with grated Romano cheese and broil until slightly browned.
Can't cook without: "Garlic and olive oil. I'm not a heavy-handed Italian cook, but those are two essential things in the pantry. Gadgets aren't what makes a good cook."
Advice from the cook: "I think everybody can cook. Get some recipes and try. I showed several friends how to cook really simple things and that got them started when they saw their success. I think people get daunted and intimidated by big cookbooks and they don't even try. There's no such thing as a bad cook."
Judy Stark, special to the Times
Signature Dish is published periodically in Taste. If you have a recipe that you would like featured or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, please e-mail the information to firstname.lastname@example.org and include a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can be mailed to Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.