With restaurants in Florida and Rhode Island, chef Jeanie Roland knows what people want to eat.
The Perfect Caper in Punta Gorda celebrated its 20th anniversary in Florida this year while Ella’s Fine Food & Drink in Westerly celebrated a decade in Rhode Island.
Her newest project is a cookbook that doesn’t just rely on her expertise, but also on her family and friends. She is generous in her sharing of recipes for food that she has enjoyed.
“The Perfect Caper Home Cookbook” is a self-published book that Roland worked on during the pandemic shutdown. It’s a homespun read with lots of talk about family and friends and the sharing of food and special times. But its practical also with lists and basic pantry recipes.
Though the pandemic left her restaurants closed for a time and stalled, Roland was inspired to see others stuck at home also asking “What am I making today?” Even though she makes her living with diners, she was glad to see the revival of home cooking.
She believes restaurants will come back but with a better quality of life for those who run and work in them.
“We pressed reset and there has to be a balance for work,” she said.
Roland grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut, and summered in Charlestown, R.I. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
After being downsized after 9/11, she moved to Florida and started “The Perfect Caper” restaurant with husband James Roland in Florida. She has been nominated for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef South seven times.
After two decades, the Rolands are building a new home for The Perfect Caper restaurant, one they will own rather than rent.
Family and home drew her back to New England to open a second restaurant, Ella’s in Westerly, where she can also care for her father Alfred, 93. Cooking for him has reminded her of a simple truth.
“You love what you love, and food elicits memories,” she said.
That comes in many forms.
Her father likes his morning cereal in the same bowl he has used for decades.
Roland was driven to recreate what her mother and grandmother called “Lithuanian beans,” a favorite dish from her childhood. The recipe was never written down and her mother died in 2010.
She saves recipes from family and friends in their own handwriting to remember them better.
Roland has also fashioned some of the recipes beloved by her husband from his Mexican mother.
All the emotions are on the pages of the book which can be ordered from chefjeanieroland.com, her website. But so, too, are recipe after recipe, including some for her signature restaurant pâtés and Ella’s Lobster Dip.
She shared three recipes here, including one for grape-nuts pudding from her friend Gerry’s grandmother. The two worked together at Cap’n Jacks in Wakefield long ago. Roland said the classic New England dish is easy to master.
The Pennette with Peas & Bistro Ham can be made with any dry pasta. Pennette is just a shorter version of penne.
The Summer Tomato & Melon Salad with Ricotta & Herbs is perfect for the season.
Tomato & Melon Salad with Ricotta & Herbs
3 pounds ripe tomatoes (a variety of cherry and heirloom or beefsteak)
1½ pounds of watermelon, cut into large cubes
2 teaspoons sea salt (Maldon preferred)
½ teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup torn fresh herbs (mint, marjoram, basil and parsely)
1½ cups ricotta cheese
Grated orange zest
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and cut the large tomatoes into small wedges.
Place the tomatoes and melon cubes in a large, shallow ceramic bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with vinegar, cover and let stand for one hour.
Drizzle the salad with oil and sprinkle with herbs. Dollop tablespoons of ricotta on top of the salad and sprinkle with orange zest. Serve immediately.
Makes 6-8 servings
Pennette with Peas & Bistro Ham
3 tablespoons light olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups heavy cream
1 pound dry pasta such as pennette or penne
2 cups fresh or frozen English peas
1 cup diced bistro-style ham
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, chopped
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 ounces butter
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Place a pot with salted water for the pasta over medium-low heat and cover to prevent evaporation.
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, until soft and translucent, but not taking on any color. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant.
Add stock. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring until reduced by half. Add cream and cook, stirring until reduced by half. Do not let it boil.
Bring pasta water to a boil and add pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain well.
Meanwhile, add peas, ham, marjoram, pepper and nutmeg to the cream mixture and cook, stirring until heated through.
Stir pasta into the cream mixture. Stir in butter then remove from heat and stir in Parmesan. Serve immediately.
Variations: you can substitute any dry pasta for the pennette which is shorter penne. Also, change out the ham with bacon or prosciutto.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Gerry’s Grape-Nuts Pudding
4 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1½ cups sugar, divided use
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
¼ teaspoon salt
4 egg yoks
½ cup Grape-Nuts cereal
11-inch-by-10-inch baking dish, buttered
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
In a large pot, bring milk, cream, half the sugar, vanilla and salt to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Then remove from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs and egg yolks with the remaining sugar. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the hot milk mixture, a small amount at a time. Then gradually whisk the tempered egg mixture into the pot. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with Grape-Nuts cereal.
Place baking dish in a large, shallow pan and pour in boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the dish.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before serving.
Makes 8 servings
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