Inspired in Italy, made in California
September/October 2012 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Trina Wood
Photos by Dave Anderson
It all starts with the sauce—tomato sauce!
Chef Sal Maniaci, Sapori Ristorante, Newport Beach
Italy may have its share of talented chefs to serve as mentors, but Sal Maniaci's biggest influence presided over the kitchen of his childhood home in Sicily.
"My mom was a great cook and inspired me," said Maniaci, who has been at the helm of Sapori Ristorante in Newport Beach for the past 23 years.
Even though pasta is a daily staple at Italian tables, Maniaci said the big thing is the tomato sauce—pappa al pomodoro. His mom used seasonal ingredients to add a twist to the sauce and create different variations. His favorite was capretto brasato, a dish of stewed lamb with tomatoes, potatoes and peas that she often made on Sundays.
"In Italy, cooking is like a religion—they take it seriously," Maniaci said. "Even lunch is a three-course meal."
At the age of 14, Maniaci went to chef school, which isn't unusual in Italy because when students finish junior high, they must choose a school particular to their elected career. After various internships and training throughout his home country, Maniaci joined a brother in Chicago, where they partnered in a restaurant for six years before Maniaci headed to Southern California.
"Once I came here, I really loved it—the climate and everything," he said. "Nothing beats Southern California, and I can get (produce) here I couldn't get in Chicago."
Access to fresh ingredients is critical to Maniaci, whose restaurant relies on sauces and stocks made from scratch.
"I've always loved cooking and being in the kitchen," he said. "But I'm thankful now for good staff; I don't have to work as hard as I did in earlier years!"
It all starts with the sauce
One of the best things about a basic tomato sauce is its versatility.
Each of Chef Maniaci's following recipes rely on this sauce.
Here are some other ways to use it:
- Incorporate into meatloaf, Italian-style quesadillas or Sloppy Joes.
- Make easy Spanish rice by substituting one cup of sauce for one cup of water.
- Use as a base in minestrone, cream of tomato and Manhattan clam chowder soups.
- Spoon over grilled meats, vegetables or polenta.
- Exercise your culinary creativity and add ingredients such as chili flakes for a kick or fresh basil for a bit of sweetness.