Introducing Bread & Olive Oil: a new column about food and family
Each month, I’ll be writing about the simple pleasures of eating well. But first: a little about our food-obsessed famiglia
It’s no secret that, in Italian culture, food doubles as a language—a way of relating to those closest to you. Growing up in North York, my mother shopped at the little Italian store every Friday night and put together classic dishes from whatever they were selling. Dinner was on the table at 6:30 p.m. sharp. When I married my husband, Cosimo Pusateri, and joined the family grocery business, things looked a little different.
My family is from Calabria; Cosimo’s is from Sicily; so I learned how to make the dishes I loved growing up in delicious new ways. My father-in-law was a certified genius at picking produce and introduced me to the Sicilian eggplant—big, round and brought in by the bushel. My mother-in-law served red peppers twice the size I was used to, charred on an open flame, drizzled with oil and topped with garlic. It isn’t an overstatement to say that my relationship with food changed completely.
The Pusateri’s you know—the store that introduced Toronto to small-batch extra-virgin olive oil, Wagyu beef, Parma ham and Persian caviar—took shape in 1986, when we opened at Avenue and Lawrence. Cosimo was the force that grew Pusateri’s into what it is today. He and I were only together for 15 years before he passed away of cancer in 1995, but because we worked together day and night, side-by-side, it felt like twice as long—in the best way.
To understand just how essential quality was (and still is) to our family, let me flash back to the very beginning of Pusateri’s. In 1963, Cosimo’s father, Sam, opened the first Pusateri’s store on St. Clair in Little Italy. Sam’s job in Sicily was to pick and deliver the best orchard offerings to market, and here, in his new country, he went to market at 2:30 a.m. daily to get first dibs. Sam grew close to the city’s finest suppliers and filled the sidewalk on St. Clair with truckloads of bright red tomatoes for the canning season and bushels of nuts and salted cod in the winter. Inside was a frenzy of family activity. Cosimo was always on the floor helping our guests. I worked behind the counter. All the while, my mother-in-law made magic for us in the basement kitchenette: she’d pull from our produce, add a little of this and that from the tiny garden behind the store, and come up with something spectacular. On the best days, she’d spread fresh ricotta on crusty Italian bread and top it with a sprinkle of sugar. I don’t recall the name of this dish, but let me tell you, it’s an Italian grandmother’s secret weapon.
From the start, food has been our way of life. That’s a theme I’ll return to every month on this page, along with directing you to easy, everyday recipes using just a few quality ingredients. We’re calling this column “Bread and Olive Oil” because, when all is said and done, what more is there to life?
These days, my family traditions haven’t changed much. Now all three of my children and my brother, Frank Luchetta, are in the business alongside me. We’re constantly dropping in on each other’s homes, where invariably there are roasted potatoes crackling in the oven and stracciatella with tiny meatballs on the stovetop. This Easter, we’ll barbecue a simple lamb garnished with rosemary—though we no longer go directly to the farm and take our pick like my father did when I was young. My mother, Dina, will make delicious Easter bread, or pane di pasqua, for my five grandkids, stuffing each loaf with hard-boiled eggs and topping them with sprinkles. Sometimes, she shapes them into little people. It’s Nonna’s ritual.
My kids aren’t kids anymore, but for all the time they spent at the store after school and on weekends, they speak in the same food-obsessed shorthand as their parents and grandparents before them. For us, there’s food, and then there’s food.
This Month’s Recipe
In springtime, eggs are a symbol of new life—and what better way to brighten up this simple, satisfying staple than with freshly grown seasonal herbs? Here, our family recipe for Green Eggs and Ham, with fresh pesto, quality pancetta and celebrity chef Chuck Hughes’s Hot Pepper Spread.
Pancetta (and bacon) have a great fat to protein ratio, and its high sodium is a great fit for a low-carb diet. Meaning this recipe is not only delicious, it’s also a perfect keto diet staple.
- 1 pkg Piaceri D’Italia Pancetta Coppata
- 6 eggs, large
- 4 tbsp Le Grand Garden Pesto
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp Chuck Hughes’s My Vegetable Farmer’s Hot Pepper Spread
- 1/4 cup fresh green herbs, minced, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Bake pancetta rounds in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 17-20 minutes until crisp.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl, add pesto and whisk well.
- Heat oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.
- When oil is hot, add eggs stir continuously until cooked to your desired doneness.
- Top each crispy pancetta round with a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a dollop of hot pepper spread and a generous sprinkle of green herbs.
- Serve additional hot pepper spread on the side.
- A combination of fresh basil, parsley and chives add a burst of freshness and flavour to the finished dish.
Ingredients available at Pusateri’s Fine Foods