Back in the fall of 1951, UW-Madison freshman Marshall Smith found himself being a new kid on campus who needed a job. Being hired by Joe Troia and Roy McCormick as a bus boy and dishwasher at their Italian Village restaurant at 651 State St. paved a path to a lifelong adventure of appreciating Italian heritage, its culture and good food.

Smith’s next job was as a waiter for Jimmy Puccio, owner of Jimmy’s Spaghetti House at 906 Regent St. and, if that wasn’t enough, when time permitted, his favorite college hangout became Al Schiro’s Grotto, at 636 State St.

Appropriately named The Grotto, meaning “cave,” Schiro’s unforgettable place, known also as the Flamingo Lounge, was reached by taking steps from the sidewalk down deep to a cozy basement where good drinks were served with sensational olives and homemade food prepared by Al’s wife, Mary. Dim lighting created a romantic atmosphere to the music of Verdi operas, classic Spanish guitars and jukebox favorites where Christmas tree lights twinkled along the back bar, and red and white checkered tablecloths were held in place by empty Chianti bottles with candles.

Fond memories from those days — including the three differently sized booths under the stairs that men chose according to the height of their dates — were recently shared by Smith. Smith and his former Grotto buddies Schiro, Troia, McCormick, Professor Clay Schoenfeld and 27 News director Blake Kellogg, would engage in a heated conversation laced with humor that began with a picture of Schiro as a warrant officer in the Italian Army who claimed to have had Benito Mussolini as one of his sergeants during World War I. The group questioned Schiro, doubting whether there had ever been any Italian heroes when Giuseppe Garibaldi’s name was mentioned. After discussion of what Garibaldi had done for the unification and independence of Italy, Smith agreed to Garibaldi’s hero status and claimed that if he ever owned an Italian restaurant, he would name a sandwich Garibaldi. Before long, the Garibaldi sandwich became one of the signature items at McCormick’s beloved Paisan’s on University Avenue, and later at his new Porta Bella on North Frances Street.

The good times for Smith moved right along after graduating college, serving in the military and returning as a more serious adult who opened his own advertising agency at 30 On The Square.

Yet, Grotto memories remain vivid as Smith, now retired, recently shared two of Mary Schiro’s recipes often prepared at a place on State Street too special to ever forget.

Minestrone

1 quart of water

1 cup Navy beans

2-inch cube salt pork, diced

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 onion, chopped fine

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup chopped celery

1 small can tomato paste

2 cups consomme or beef broth

1 cup diced potatoes

1 cup coarsely chopped cabbage

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese

In large pan, add 1 quart of water and Navy beans. Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Cover pan, remove from heat and let stand for one hour to soften beans. In another pan, combine salt pork, parsley, onion, garlic and celery and cook and stir until onions are browned. Stir in tomato paste and consommé or broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cabbage and season with salt and pepper Add beans and cooking water, mix together and cook for 2 hours over slow heat. Soup should be very thick; adjust with water or more consommé.

When served, sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese.


Mary’s Italian bean soup

1 pound Roman or pinto beans

½ pound salt pork, ground

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

16-ounce can tomatoes, crushed

¼ teaspoon dried dill

1 can water

1 teaspoon allspice

Pepper to taste

Pinch of thyme

½ head of cabbage, chopped

Soak beans overnight in enough water to cover. Next day, slow cook beans 4 to 5 hours until done. Strain half the cooked beans through strainer and mash. Place back in pot with remaining beans (should be at least two quarts of liquid).

Fry salt pork until golden, add onions and garlic and cook until onions are clear, but do not allow garlic to brown. Add tomatoes, dill and water. Cook, covered, over slow heat for several hours. Add salt pork base to beans with 1 teaspoon allspice, pepper to taste and a pinch of thyme. Cook for ½ hour. Add cabbage and cook, covered, for an additional hour.

Note: As an option, 1 cup of noodles can be added in last half hour. Adjust thickness with water and adjust seasoning.


 

Jeanne Cantwell made a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie recipe she clipped from this column a few years ago before being misplaced. Here are two with hopes that one is the recipe she describes as her “favorite.”

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies

½ cup butter

½ cup shortening

2 cups white sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips

2 cups peanuts, optional

Cream butter and shortening; add sugar and beat thoroughly. Stir in eggs, water and vanilla; add remaining ingredients. Stir. Drop on greased baking sheet; flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass dipped in white sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until done. Watch closely; the cookies can burn easily. Yield: About 4 dozen.


 

Note: Paul Johnson’s mom’s recipe from September 18, 2005.

Chocolate chip crispies

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup quick cooking oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon vinegar

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ cup chopped pecans

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, oil and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Gradually add to the creamed mixture. Combine milk and vinegar and add to creamed mixture. Stir in chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks and cool. Yield: about 8 dozen

Note: Recipe from Lorna Marty who uses a melon ball scoop for the dough, then flattens each scoop with a fork dipped in sugar. She also says that if you do not measure your butter and just use 2 quarters, or sticks, you might need an extra ¼ cup flour.


 

Recent request: From the old Cathay House, once located on Union Corners, or any Cantonese restaurant, a frittered chicken recipe that “might be spelled something like hung su gai.”

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email to greenbush4@aol.com. Due to the volume of mail, not all requests can be answered.

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