WHO: Julie Moschera/Lyons 48, of St. Petersburg, who owned and operated an air conditioning and heating company for 20 years.
WHAT: Chicken Cacciatore
ABOUT THE RECIPE: Her roots stretch back to the coastal city of Trapani in Sicily, a place of mountains and cobblestone streets, where her grandmother grew up. In the early 1900s, arranged marriages were still common. Her grandmother was a young teenager when she was forced to marry a man who was cruel to her, Moschera/Lyons said. So she packed her things and fled by ship to New York.
"She met my grandfather on the boat," Moschera/Lyons added.
Once they landed, she became a seamstress, and he bought a fish market. "He used to bring her beautiful cuts of fish and they fell in love," she said.
Although they created a new life for themselves, they still preserved the traditional Italian recipes and passed them down to their children. One of Moschera/Lyons' favorites is Chicken Cacciatore — cooked in mushrooms, olives and onions, it cooks all day until the meat falls off the bone. As a little girl, she couldn't wait for a taste. (The recipe is different from the traditional cacciatore, which is usually made from cut-up chicken rather than a whole chicken.)
"Oh, that delicious smell! Me and my cousins would open the oven and dip the Italian bread into the sauce," she said, recalling how she would be shooed away until dinner.
She learned to cook "by smell and taste," by watching her mother — a quiet woman she describes as the "most loving" human being — and her Aunt Rose. Every Sunday, sauce simmered on the stove. And every night of the week, they gathered around the table.
Today, she continues the tradition, cooking for her three sons five nights a week. It's all worth it when they open the door and say, "Oh, Mom, you made sauce!"
She teases them, "If I teach you how to make a pot of sauce, I'll never see you again!"
ON THE SIDE: A slice of Italian bread with garlic butter. You can also serve a "nice, crisp salad" of cucumber and red onion, drizzled with olive oil, and balsamic vinegar on the side.
TIPS: "Make sure you have a big, fat plump juicy chicken," Moschera/Lyons advised. "I cover it for most of the day, and then the last hour, I'll take the foil off. This way the bird browns."
Emily Young, 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 email the information to [email protected] with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can be mailed to Taste, Tampa Bay Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.