Steak Pizzaiola

 The Gestapo Way

They used to call him “Booch”. That was my brother’s nick name during his high school years. Back then, Richard, aka Booch, hung around with a less than desirable crowd.  A crowd, you can say, that was in training for bigger things. And my mother knew it.

She didn’t like the group of kids my brother associated with and my mother did everything in her power to get in the way and lead my brother on the straight and narrow path. If anyone could do it, my mother could.

She succeeded, quite well. I could remember reading about some of his friends, years later, ending up in jail for all sorts of crimes. Extortion, loan sharking, you name it. Who knows if any of them are alive today. But because of my mother’s intervention, my brother grew up pretty damn good.

There were all sorts of bad influences in our neighborhood. You didn’t have to search far to find them.  Wise guys, connected people, people with time on their hands because they didn’t hold a nine to five job in order to buy their Cadillacs or fancy suits. You know what I mean. But my mother was more effective than any vice squad or crime prevention unit. She nipped it in the bud. Let me give you an example of my mother’s technique of not letting any of us get away with anything.

The year was 1960. My brother Richard was 12 years old and a student at Our Lady of Guadalupe  Parochial school. The movie Spartacus with Kirk Douglas had just been released in the theatres and Richard’s friends were all going to the movies that weekend to catch the flick. After repeated attempts to convince my mother that he would finish his school work after the matinée my mother made it very clear that Richard was not going anywhere until he finished his studies.

How my brother thought that he could sneak out of the house and join his friends at the movies without my mother finding out is a mystery to me till this day. But, at 12 years old, you lack the gene of good judgement and only see the prize at the end of the tunnel. Spartacus was just too much of a temptation that would lead my brother out of the slavery of doing his school work to go off and join his Thracian brothers in his own revolt to freedom!

If you are familiar with the movie, it didn’t work out too well for Spartacus. The Roman army was just too powerful.  My brother was about to suffer the same fate as Spartacus did at the hands of my mother who marched as an army of one, and took no prisoners. Spartacus was crucified at the end of the film and fortunately for my brother, his fate was not going to be that serious. But what my brother was about to experience, crucifixion would have been the easy way out.

Richard made it to the movie theatre with his friends and as they all settled down in their seats, the house lights dimmed and the film was about to begin. What could be more exciting for a twelve-year-old than the spectacle of Roman slave gladiators, fighting to the death and seeing Kirk Douglas in a flat top crew cut.

At some point my mother realized that Richard was missing. He was not in his room studying and could not be found anywhere in the house. She opened the front door and called his name to see if he might have been in the back yard or nearby. Richard was missing. And my mother knew exactly where he was.

The beam of the flashlight started out small and slowly grew wider as the movie matron walked down the aisle towards the row my brother and his friends were occupying. At some point, subconsciously, my brother must have had a bad feeling that something was going to go terribly wrong. He was sitting in the middle of the row and caught the beam of light in his peripheral vision. The movie matron shined the light down my brother’s row and as my brother turned he was blinded by the light and was only able to make out the form and silhouette of two people. Instinctively, he knew one of those forms was my mother. She didn’t say a word. Neither did my brother. He simply jumped up out of his seat and climbed over his friends and headed towards the light!

My brother’s friends must have thought that Richard had one too many Cokes the way he jumped out of his seat. If they even realized he was missing. It happened all too fast. Rather than suffer the embarrassment and humiliation of having your mother come get you in the middle of a movie and make a scene, my brother knew exactly what he had to do and realizing his situation, sprinted out of his seat like a jack rabbit and raced towards the exit.

I would have loved to been a fly on the wall as my mother negotiated with the theatre manager that she had to get inside and pull out her son who was attending the screening of Spartacus without her permission. If I know my mother well enough, I’m sure she also got a refund for my brother’s ticket.

My brother caught hell that day and I’m sure was grounded for months. How many parents today would have done what my mother did? I suspect not too many. Oh, you can’t embarrass your children in front of their friends. What about their self esteem? You need to sit them down and discuss how disobeying your parents was not acceptable behavior. And suggest they think about what they did as they sit in their room with their Sony Play Station and video conferencing with their friends.

Hogwash! My mother followed the rule of law. And the law was broken. And Richard was to suffer the consequence. Judge, trial and jury all rolled up into one angry Italian Mamma. And justice was served on a silver platter.

If I’m not mistaken, a few years ago, on a Saturday afternoon, my brother Richard was getting ready to watch the movie Spartacus on network TV. He was finally going to  watch the movie he never got to see so many years ago. Halfway through the flick his wife Lillian came into the room and shut off the TV and said, “You’re watching TV?? Your mother is waiting for you! You should have picked her up a half hour ago!!”

Richard never did get to see the rest of Spartacus. In some wierd way, my brother was serving a life sentence for a crime he committed over 50 years ago of disobeying my mother.

________________________________________________________

My mother would make this steak pizzaiola with a cheaper cut of meat, like chuck steak,  and braise it in the sauce for at least an hour. Almost like an Italian pot roast. Chances are if you order steak pizzaiola today in a restaurant it is served with a better cut of beef, cooked till your desired doneness, then covered with a flavorful tomato sauce. That is not the way Mom or Grandma made it. This is their version, and to be honest with you, I prefer it this way.  The meat becomes fork tender, and the cheaper cut of meat is much more flavorful with the fat and adds a richness to the tomato sauce.

Steak Pizzaiola

  • 1 – 2 pounds of chuck steak
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Two 28 oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes crushed by hand
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Optional if you want to add sliced red peppers and mushrooms

Season the steaks with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan heat olive oil over medium high heat and sear the steaks about 3 minutes each side.

Remove the steaks and place aside.

In the same pan on medium high heat,  cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook 1 minute stirring. Deglaze pan with red wine and cook down for 1 minute.

Add the crushed tomatoes, water to rinse the cans,  oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and bring sauce to simmer. Add the steaks and what ever juice accumulated in the dish. Cover and cook over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours. Last half hour uncover and cook till sauce thickens. Taste for seasoning.

This sauce is so incredible you can serve it with pasta, like rigatoni.

Serve with plenty of crusty Italian bread for mopping up sauce.

About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. When Peter is not out selling, he is relaxing at his home in North East Pennsylvania and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
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2 Responses to Steak Pizzaiola

  1. Dianne Scalza says:

    Peter, I have known (or thought I knew) your brother for years. Now I have the privilege to work with him. This is a side of your brother I would never have imagined. What a smile your words have brought to my face. Can’t wait to see him tomorrow…..haha. He looks forward to your blog and makes sure we know it has arrived and forwards it to us. He wants us to share in his joy and is proud that you are his big brother. Keep these memories coming….along with the recipes (I also love to cook).
    Dianne

  2. Maria Lyons says:

    Made this last night and it came out wonderful!! Absolutely delicious!!!!

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