Editor's note: This is a corrected version of this column. The changes did not change the recipe, however.
Chris DelGross combines Italian and Mexican cuisines into “Mexitalian,” a unique style he documents on The DelGrosso Food Blog. (No, that final “o” isn’t a typo; the DelGrosso family lost the “o” when they immigrated, but DelGross added it back to his blog.)
Delgross’s culinary faith lies in two trinities — the mirepoix with which so many Italian dishes begin: celery, onion, and carrots; and the start of great Mexican recipes: onion, tomato and chilies. DelGross learned to make spinach and ricotta raviolis by his Italian father’s side and tostadas de pata - beef feet boiled with vinegar, onion and oregano - by his Mexican mother-in-law’s side. He brings all that tradition into his own kitchen to create his personal animated cuisine.
A former U.S. marine, Chris DelGross lives in coastal Maine, and works for Rochester Electronics in Newburyport as a test engineer. Married with a 7-year-old daughter and a new baby almost here, DelGross is nothing if not ardent about cooking. Whether it’s every day dinner, auditioning for television's "MasterChef" (He was called back, but didn’t make the final cut), or preparing the meal for his wife’s baby shower (caprese salad, homemade pizzas, baked shells with homemade bolognese), DelGross’s heart is 100 percent present at the stove. When describing one of his Mexitalian dishes, his black eyes brighten; the corners of his mouth lift into irrepressible smiles, his solid build shifts nervously. Like a horse suddenly anticipating the race, DelGross’s whole body responds imagining himself at the stove.
Food was the center of the very traditional Italian DelGross household. As a child DelGross woke up every Sunday to the smells of his father’s sauce - a combination of meats - pigs feet, sausage, meatballs, chicken - seared with garlic and onion, and then cooked with tomato paste. Chris turned the handle on the pasta machine for the holiday raviolis. Christmas Eve meant the Feast of the Seven Fishes; the Easter table groaned with Shadone, an Easter pie made with ricotta cheese, meats, and 14 eggs.
But, DelGross is zealous about his wife’s family cuisine. The DelGross family travels every year to Mexico City, where DelGross says he almost never leaves the side of his mother-in-law - Maria del Carmen - when she's in the kitchen. Carmen has taught DelGross how to make bacalao vizcaina - shredded salt cod sauteed in garlic, onions and chilis, and served with fresh bollilos. He’s learned about cooking tripe: cleaned, boiled and stewed in gaujillos sauce. And he’s learned the complex art of cooking with chilies. The fundamental lesson, he says, is to always roast fresh chilies or toast dried chilies to evoke the flavors that make Mexican cuisine great. The sugars emerge and the flavors transform when chilies are treated with heat; ancho chilies, for instance, smell like raisins when they’re toasted; guajillos smell like peanuts.
Mexican cuisine is not about fried food; it’s about fresh and beautiful, lively ingredients; that’s Carmen’s most important lesson.
Along with impressing the people at "MasterChef," Delgross recently won first place with his morel, wild ramp, poblano, and goat cheese soufflee in a contest sponsored by Marx Foods. His culinary dreams include owning a Mexitalian food truck, serving dishes like gnocchi in a tomato poblano sauce, tacos with braciole, tortas with Italian meats, shells stuffed with chorizo. (DelGross makes his own chorizo, along with his own ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and of course pastas.) DelGross imagines cruising the Massachusetts and New Hampshire coastline with his truck, spreading the Mexitalian good news.
Here is an example of his Italian and Mexican marriage, a classic risotto Milanese made with saffron and butter, this time enriched with tequila, chorizo, and manchego cheese. DelGross uses Integrale rice, a whole grain arborio rice with the bran still intact, but this dish can be prepared with traditional arborio rice, although it may need slightly less broth; just taste for doneness.
Integrale Milanese Mexicana
11/2 cups Integrale rice
1 clove garlic
1/2 medium yellow onion
1/3 cup tequila aé±ejo
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound Mexican chorizo, casings removed.
1/4 cup Manchego cheese
5 cups chicken broth
Place the 5 cups of broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Add the saffron to the broth and keep very warm.
Meanwhile, take the chorizo and heat over medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté© pan over medium-high heat.
Once it is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent, but not browning.
Add the rice and stir to combine.
Add the tequila and cook until it is completely absorbed.
Start adding the stock about 1 cup at a time and stirring constantly until each cup of stock is completely absorbed before adding the next. After 4 cups of stock have been added, start tasting the rice (or about 20 minutes).
When the rice is al dente, remove from heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the cheese and stir vigorously.
Plate the risotto and sprinkle with the chorizo. Garnish with fresh parsley or fresh oregano.
• • •
Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com.