Duke was born on December 25, 1919. His parents, Giocondo and Maria Vincenze, had recently emigrated to the United States from a village in Salerno, Italy. He’s done some interesting things. He was a sergeant in WWII and fought at Normandy in France, where he was badly injured. The foxholes were so tight, the men had to huddle in pairs with their arms around one another. There was no room even to pee. That’s how he survived. His buddy got up to use the bathroom and when he returned, they switched places. They were hit in an explosion and his buddy was killed instantly. Duke survived with bad burns and the loss of a finger.
Duke had a pretty interesting life back in the states, too. He ran a gambling operation in his basement, which made him a lot of friends, but required payments to certain prominent neighborhood “businessmen” in exchange for “protection” from the law. He married a pretty girl from the neighborhood, made a living as a house painter, and became an avid gardener as the years went by, famous in his family for his yearly crop of peerless tomatoes and the figs from a tree planted by his father, the first of his family to step foot on American soil. He celebrated his 95th birthday last Christmas, and his favorite food remains lasagna with homemade tomato gravy.
An interesting dinner of lasagna with homemade tomato gravy:
2 cans tomato paste
2 28 oz cans of peeled whole tomatoes, or about 20 peeled fresh tomatoes, crushed
one red onion
3 large cloves of garlic
a pinch of sugar (this neutralizes the acidity of the tomatoes- important if you get heartburn)
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp olive oil
basil, oregano, thyme to taste
1. Heat the olive oil slowly over low heat. Chop the onion into 1/2 inch pieces. Mince the garlic.
2. When the olive oil is hot but not smoking, saute the onion, garlic, and spices.
3. Crush the tomatoes and knead in the tomato paste. Add to the pot when the garlic is golden and the onions are softening.
4. Bring to a boil, adding wine and water if the sauce is too thick. Add pinch of sugar.
5. Let simmer for at least 45 minutes, the longer the better. Add more spices and additional wine to taste.
1 package lasagna noodles
2-4 cups tomato gravy (depending on how juicy you like the lasagna)
one 16 oz container of low-fat ricotta cheese
one package of part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup of shredded fresh parmesan cheese (or more to taste)
basil and oregano (fresh, coarsely chopped, or dried)
1 large egg
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cook lasagna noodles until al dente, then rinse in cold water and lay out in strips on a paper towel or baking sheet.
3. Mix the ricotta and the egg with basil and oregano.
4. Layer the ingredients as follows in a casserole dish:
* 1/3 the gravy
* 1/2 the ricotta mixture
* 1/3 the gravy
* 1/2 the mozzarella
* the remainder of the ricotta mixture
* the remainder of the gravy
* the remainder of the mozzarella
5. Sprinkle the parmesan on top and top with the fresh or dried oregano.
6. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes; uncover and bake for about 15 more minutes until the cheese bubbles and turns golden.
Enjoy with a Taurasi or another dry red, and lift your glass to Duke. Salut.