'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro publishes new cookbook as he recovers from Sandy
TORONTO - At the start of his new book "Cooking Italian with the Cake Boss," master baker Buddy Valastro details a violent storm that hit New York and New Jersey in August 2009, destroying local tomato crops his family uses for their homemade pasta sauce.
Now, as the affable gourmand tours Canada and the U.S. to promote the recently published project, he's reeling from another major storm that's ravaged the area: Sandy.
The star of the hit TLC series "Cake Boss," who runs Carlo's Bake Shop with his family in Hoboken, N.J., says the famed business that's featured in his TV show lost power for about a week after the storm.
"We were closed ... I think eight days, and then when we opened nobody could really get in," he said in a recent interview, noting the subways were down and customers stayed away from the area thinking it was "like a war zone."
"The business we did barely was enough money to keep the lights on, because you know what? In a time of crisis people are not thinking about going to order a cake or having a cupcake, and I've got 200 people depending on me to be open for business."
Valastro's home was also without power for a week and had wind damage.
"We saw transformers lighting up, like we thought houses were on fire," he said.
"It was nuts, you know? And then the rationing for gas. It was kind of like something you can't even imagine."
Valastro predicts his business will pick up in a week or so, when customers start putting in orders for the holidays.
"We're getting up there with orders and we're doing the best we can."
Another positive? Sandy hit after his family had harvested the local tomato crops for their pasta sauce, a.k.a. "Sunday gravy," which they make in one massive batch every fall and jar for the rest of the year.
Readers can learn the recipe for their "Sunday gravy" meal in "Cooking Italian with the Cake Boss: Family Favourites as Only Buddy Can Serve Them Up."
"Anybody who's Italian or knows an Italian family understands the culture of Sunday," said Valastro, who also stars in TLC's "The Next Great Baker" and grew up in New Jersey.
"Every Sunday mom, nonna, wakes up early, starts frying up the meatballs, you can smell it throughout the house and the big pot of gravy is made. Then everybody sits down between 1 and 3 o'clock and it's like fuggedaboutit, you know?"
Valastro recalls his grandmother having about 50 family members "crammed in a little room" at her home every Sunday.
"I don't know how the hell she cooked for all those people out of that little four-burner stove but she made the best food ever and her eggplant parm was, fuggetaboutit, you've gotta try the eggplant parm," he said.
That recipe is among 100 Italian-American dishes in Valastro's new cookbook, which is billed for novice and experienced cooks alike.
Colour photos accompany the recipes, which include the classic dishes Pasta Carbonara, Shrimp Scampi and Eggplant Parmesan.
Also featured are Valastro's signature meals — from Steak alla Buddy to Auntie Anna's Manicotti and Buddy's Swiss Chard — and desserts.
Some of the Valastro family dishes in the book have been passed down through generations, on scraps of paper and verbally, and have been enhanced from their original form.
"A perfect example, I don't think my grandmother could've bought panko bread crumbs when she did her eggplant parm, but I know that they're good and they're crispy so I use panko and the Italian seasoned one as well," he said.
The book also says readers don't have to follow the recipes to the letter, and points out some possible adjustments to many of them.
Readers also get old-school cooking tips passed down through Valastro's family as well as recommendations for Italian staples for the pantry.
"At the end of the day people want to be able to go into the supermarket and buy good, local, fresh ingredients and be able to throw a meal together for within a half an hour, and most of these meals you can," he said.
"I wrote the book, too (because) — and I don't want my wife to kill me for this — but my wife gets into a rut and the same rut a lot of moms, a lot of dads gets into: they make the same thing every week," added Valastro.
"Instead of making veal cutlets, make Veal Piccata, make Veal Saltimbocca, make Veal Milanese. Just taking a little different spin on it, expanding your children's palates as well."
A professional baker, Valastro doesn't consider himself a chef but rather "a good cook" who inherited his great palate from his father.
When it comes to making a basic pasta dish, Valastro said it doesn't have to be completely from scratch.
"I mean, get a good brand like a De Cecco or Barilla ... but God bless anybody who's got the time to make fresh pasta. I'm not saying it's impossible and I'm not saying that we never do it, but 99 per cent of the time we don't have the time.
"And I think it's more about the sauce than the pasta."
For those who also don't have time to make a "Sunday gravy" sauce, Valastro recommends using peeled, plum tomatoes (he likes the San Marzano brand) from a can.
"Some recipes, like my pink sauce, I prefer using a canned tomato versus using a fresh tomato," he said. "I just think that when I've done it with fresh tomatoes, it doesn't taste as good."
When making pizza at home, the trick is to get the oven as hot as possible and use a pizza stone.
"Get it up nice and hot, throw the pizza in there, let it cook nice and crispy, roll it out nice and thin," said Valastro.
"Even in the summer, I do this barbecued pizza which is great, where I light my barbecue, I get it nice and hot and then I throw the dough right on there and it gets a little bit of the smoky charred flavour."