Chef Finds Herself in a Pickle

Chef Stephanie Reitano, owner of Capogiro Gelato Artisan and Capofitto Pizza + Gelato, is known for her award-winning gelato.

Chef Stephanie Reitano, owner of Capogiro Gelato Artisan and Capofitto Pizza + Gelato, is known for her award-winning gelato.
Capogiro was named “Best Gelato in the World” by National Geographic in 2011. Capofitto, the authentic thin-crust pizzeria and Italian eatery in Old City, also has contributed to Reitano’s justifiable fame on the Philly food scene.
Yet given her renown for all things Italian, I was surprised to learn of her Jewish heritage and her passion for pickling.
“My father, Michael Feldman, was a New York deli maven. He was all about pastrami, where to get the best pickled herring, special mustards for sausage sandwiches, and he had to have his loaf of rye bread every week,” Reitano said. “He introduced me to so many types of foods; he loved Asian food; my first sushi, my first Indian food, exotic tastes of mine probably originated from my dad.”
But he was not a cook.
“Aside from breakfast,” she said, “his repertoire was limited. He married my mom later in life, so he was a bachelor for a lot of years. He had a ‘three-can special,’ which consisted of a can of mushroom soup, a can of peas and a can of tuna, all mixed up and spread on toast. If my mom wasn’t home, he would make us that. It was terrible.”
In spite of that culinary scar, Reitano has incredibly fond food memories of her dad, and she credits him with placing her on her current career path.
“Dad’s family was of Russian and Turkish descent, and they owned a restaurant on the University of Connecticut campus — a burger joint. Dad worked there as a kid,” she said. “Early on, my grandfather was approached by McDonald’s to take over the site. He visited a McDonald’s, ate their burger, thought it was awful and declined the sale.”
So Reitano, who pasteurizes all of her own milk for the gelato and sources local, top-quality, artisanal ingredients for her restaurants, comes by her high standards honestly.
In addition to his gustatory influences, Reitano’s father inspired her aesthetics.
“Dad loved to go antiquing; he would find these flea markets and bring home old furniture, which he would repair — especially cane chairs and Waterfall furniture. I always say he was like Jesus Christ, a Jewish carpenter, which is pretty rare. We have some pieces that he restored, and my mid-century glass collection is thanks to Dad and his antique ramblings.”
Her grandmother, ironically, was not a cook, either, although Reitano recalls her as a supremely elegant woman.
“She was exquisitely dressed, her hair was always done, makeup perfect. She spoke tons of Yiddish and always called us bubbeleh. Cooking was not her thing, but she made beautiful Jell-O molds. In honor of my grandmother, I do semifreddo in decorative molds; these are like ice cream cakes, so they are very pretty, but they taste much better than Jell-O.”
Reitano shared two of her favorite family recipes — for pickled green tomatoes and semifreddo.
The tomatoes are “cold pickles” or “refrigerator pickles,” so they do not require the involved process of sterilization, canning and sealing that traditional pickles necessitate.
She also offers a show-stopper of a semifreddo, which is relatively simple, delicious and oh so pretty. The recipes are printed here in Reitano’s own words — which make you feel like you are sitting at her table with a glass of wine talking food with an old friend.
Pickled Green Tomatoes (Cold pickle)
The refrigerator of my childhood was filled with pickles. My father’s Russian blood thirsted for a good pickle. As a child, I was horrified by these items. Now I crave them.
You don’t need to know how to can to make these. Fresh cold pickles can be kept for several weeks in your fridge.
In a saucepan that will hold five quarts add:
25 whole peppercorns
3 juniper berries
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
4 tablespoons of yellow or brown mustard seeds
Place the saucepan over medium heat and toast the spices. When the spices become very fragrant (about two minutes) add:
3 quarts of cider vinegar
1 quart of white vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Sage leaves
Bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
Slice firm green tomatoes —(any variety and in any shape. I prefer slices. My dad liked quarters) — and place in very clean and dry nonreactive container (big ole Tupperware, Pyrex or large jar). Try to get them in tightly. Place two strips of lime in each container as well as a sprig of sage.
When the liquid is lukewarm, pour over the tomatoes. Evenly distribute the spices.
When cool, cover and place in the refrigerator.
Wait one week. I know. It’s hard, but they will be worth it.
Semifreddo Torrone alla Sidelle
My grandmother could not cook. Well, she cooked, but terribly. She made a mean sweet and sour cabbage (shudder … it had raisins floating). I did love her Jell-O molds.
This recipe is the lovechild of the two grandmothers. If my grandmother, Sidelle Feldman, and John’s grandmother, Vincenza Reitano, had a dessert child …
Take any nice bowl, bundt pan, bread pan, anything. Rub a tiny bit of oil all over the interior surface. Then take plastic wrap and place it against the oiled surface. Using a paper towel, smooth the plastic wrap tightly against the interior surface. The oil will help seal the wrap. Place this in the freezer.
Chop in small pieces:
2 ounces of imported Torrone (Italian nougat candy)
2 ounces of good chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao)
1 cup of almond slices
Toast almond slices in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned.
Set aside until ready to serve.
Prepare the sugar syrup; you will need a candy thermometer for this step.
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat over low:
3 ounces of sugar
¼ cup of water
Stir slowly in the beginning. Try not get sugar up the sides.
While sugar mixture is heating, separate six eggs and reserve the egg yolks in the bowl of the mixer. Save the egg whites for another use.
When the temperature of the sugar reaches 240 degrees, start whipping the egg yolks on high. When the sugar syrup reaches 250 degrees, slowly pour the syrup into the whipping eggs. Continue whipping the egg yolks with the hot sugar syrup, slowly, until the mixture is almost white in color and the texture is light and fluffy.
Add chopped Torrone and chocolate. Fold in gently.
In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks and holds its shape, about two minutes.
Add a large spoonful of whipped cream to the egg/sugar mixture and stir softly. Add remaining whipped cream to egg/sugar mixture, and fold in gently.
Take out a frozen mold and spoon the mixture into it, gently tapping it on the table to settle. Smooth the top and freeze overnight.
To serve, set out at room temperature for 10 minutes. Gently turn over, place on a serving plate and lift off the mold. If you are having a problem, wait a few more minutes, or take a warm damp cloth and warm the bottom of mold.
When the mold is off, gently pull off the plastic wrap. Take the toasted almonds and press them into the cake. Slice and serve immediately.


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