Longtime readers will recognize the name Mike Repas due to the many recipes he has shared in this column. For others, a quick introduction is in order. Repas arrived in Madison and on radio station WISM in 1967. Known on the airwaves as Mike Major, Repas left full-time radio in 1985 to do freelance work writing and producing commercials. For about three years, he was the “voice” of Ahrens Cadillac-Oldsmobile, and wrote many commercials for the Appliance Mart, Felly’s Flowers, and others.

Along the way, Repas became an exceptional cook and continues to share recipes prepared and enjoyed in his own kitchen. He was born in the steel town of Farrell in Western Pennsylvania in an Italian neighborhood where open windows during the summer months seasoned the air with Italian sauces and other unforgettable meals. Though fed well at home and by his mother who prepared cuisine of his Carpatho—Russian/Hungarian heritage, other paths led to five open doors where Louise Delisio, Maria Guerino, Mary Caputo, Anna Stellitano and Carmella Farmmartino lived and cooked large amounts of Italian food in their own homes, just in case friends or family might stop during supper time.

Smiling, Repas remembers first-hand experiences at the age of 12 when Mrs. Delisio welcomed him into her home to watch her cook while preparing evening meals. That continued until Repas was able to prepare meals with his own special touches and describes those times as being unforgettable experiences.

Repas and his younger brother, Richard, share a philosophy that “all recipes should be considered ‘works in progress’ and experimentation is always encouraged.”

Here are just a few of Repas’ favorite recipes:

Spaghetti salad

1 pound of spaghetti

1 cucumber, halved lengthwise with seeds scraped out, then finely diced

1/3 of a large red onion, finely diced

1 large green bell pepper, finely diced

Carton of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bottle (minus about a 1/3 cup) of Italian dressing

2 heaping tablespoons of McCormick Salad Supreme

¾ cup (heaping) grated Parmesan cheese

Break spaghetti strands in half and cook to al dente in plenty of boiling salted water. When cooked, rinse well in cold water and set aside to reach room temperature. In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, red onion, bell pepper, Italian dressing, Salad Supreme and grated cheese and stir, gently, until well blended. Add spaghetti to the bowl and blend well. Add the tomatoes and gently fold into the mixture before serving.

Note: This should be served at room temperature. Don’t prepare too far ahead of time and refrigerate because pasta will absorb too much of the liquid. Salad dressing should be the kind you like, but avoid any of the “creamy” varieties, or make your own!

Pork chops with creamy Marsala sauce

1 cup Marsala wine (use sweet Marsala)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup flour

4 thinly-cut boneless loin pork chops, most fat trimmed

¼ teaspoon each of Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 or 5 thin slices of prosciutto, chopped

1 small onion, halved vertically, then sliced thin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried chives, or about 3 teaspoons fresh, chopped

1 cup 1% milk

In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons Marsala and cornstarch and set aside. In a shallow dish, mix well flour and salt and pepper. Dredge chops being sure they’re well-covered, but with any excess flour mix shaken off. Put on a plate and keep at stand-by. In a large skillet, preferably non-stick, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat until it begins to visibly shimmer. Lower heat and add chops, browning well on both sides. Transfer chops to a plate and add chopped prosciutto to the pan, adding a little more extra virgin olive oil if necessary, and cook, stirring, until it browns. Add the onion and continue cooking, stirring, until onions soften and start to come to a golden color.

Add remaining Marsala, oregano and chives and bring to a boil, being sure to scrape loose the “good stuff’ from the bottom of the pan. Add Marsala-cornstarch mix and milk to the pan, then bring to a slow simmer (do not let it boil). Giving the mix an occasional stir, allow it to reduce to a ”syrupy” consistency. This should take 6 to 8 minutes.

Return chops, along with any juices on the plate, to the pan. Spoon sauce over the chops, turn over and repeat, then allow to warm for a minute or so.

Serve immediately with the veggie and starch side (and wine of your choice) and enjoy.

Repas says to “be sure to serve over a bed of freshly-cooked polenta, over rice, or a small pasta, like orzo…and serve with a salad of greens with a nice vinaigrette. Have a loaf of hard-crusted, soft-centered bread on hand for dipping. You won’t want to waste even a drop of the sauce!”

Repas also claims you won’t want to waste any of his sausage ragu either. “Here is an excellent sauce. If you think it is too thick, add some of the pasta water a little at a time, though this should not be necessary. Have some warm garlic bread on hand to soak up the sauce. Let nothing go to waste!”

Sausage ragu

1 pound pasta of choice

5 tablespoons olive oil

Good pinch of peperoncino

½ cup celery, carrot and onion, all finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 large dried bay leaf

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (or 1 heaping teaspoon of dried)

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of Italian sausage, either sweet or hot, or a combination. Use bulk sausage or remove casing from links and break into small chunks.

A little less than a cup of dry red wine

1 cup tomato sauce

2 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Finely diced Italian parsley, optional

Heat oil in a large sauce pan over high heat until very hot. Add peperoncino, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaves and basil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Then reduce heat to a medium-low and continue cooking for 4 to 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Watch carefully so garlic doesn’t get overly brown. Add sausage and render, stirring all the while. When sausage begins to brown, lower heat to medium and add wine; cook until most of the wine has evaporated which should be no more than 3 to 5 minutes. Raise heat again, add tomato sauce and broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, then cover pan and simmer ingredients for 40-45 minutes, stirring periodically, but not too often.

While ragu cooks, prepare pasta according to package directions. Time the cooking so pasta is done as the cooking of the ragu is finishing. Drain pasta, saving 1 cup or so of the starchy cooking water, then return to the pasta cooking vessel. Taste the sauce to determine the amount of salt and pepper needed. Ladle about half of the sauce over pasta and mix well. Portion mixture to individual serving plates or bowls, then top with more sauce and grated cheese and a little finely-chopped Italian parsley. Mangia!

Recent requests: Swiss Miss sandwich; Marc’s Big Boy’s deep fried French toast and chocolate icebox pie.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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