Tom Lazzaro and Lazzaroli Pasta - or - How I learned How To Make Ricotta Cheese

Truth is, you won't meet a nicer man than Tom Lazzaro. He works, day in and day out, from his incredibly efficient and perfectly sized kitchen in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Nashville, Germantown. I met Tom during my tenure as Pasty Chef at City House and to say that I was won over immediately by his simple need to make truly decent food coupled with his incredible Yankee charm is an enormous understatement. Tom is one of those people whom you can speak nice and easy about food to. There are no pretentious remarks about organic, local, or whatever the latest craze and trend in food culture happens to be. He makes pasta. He loves good food. And he cares very little about whether or not that is something that will get him into Saveur Magazine or onto Food Network - which is utterly refreshing, to say the least. His sincerity to his craft and his love for just about anyone and anything surrounding that is borderline awe-inspiring. If you wanna talk food, Tom's your man. If you wanna talk dreams and endeavors, Tom's your man. If you need a giant sack of Madagascar Vanilla Beans in a pinch, Tom's your man. If you wanna cuss and make inappropriate jokes about just about everything, god bless him, Tom's your man.

Tom mixing his delicious raviogi (you read that correctly - it's part ravioli, part pierogi) mixture.

My first menu for Buttermilk Road is based around the people whom have taught me very specific things about food. From the pie crust on the pot pie that I will be serving to the ricotta cheese on the pizettes - they were all taught to me, not by a book or by my own stubborn need to perfect something, but by the hands of another cook. While the menu is simple, it is a very beautiful (and borderline emotional) glimpse into whom I have been so incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by in my life. Food has become not just a trade for me but the truest way I have found to connect to those around me. And, for the rest of my (hopefully) very long life, I will think of Tom Lazzaro when I make ricotta cheese.

I arrived at his pasta shop ready to hear some long story about how he learned how to make this ricotta cheese at his grandmother's knee. This ricotta is delightfully rich, deceptively easy to make with the right tools and so old world tasting that I figured it had to have some magnificent story of the recipe being smuggled into Ellis Island so long ago. But, in true Lazzaro style, when asked about how he came about making home-made ricotta, Tom just kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, "Nah, no old family recipe. I needed ricotta and so I worked on the recipe for awhile until I got it right". He talked about how he tried it with different types of milk, including buttermilk, and we both talked about the wonders of the Cruze Dairy Farm and how just about everything made with that brand is far superior to other dairies.

Once I learned this recipe, ricotta became a star of sorts on my dessert menus at City House. Tandy Wilson and I become pretty fond of making it whenever we could. It opened the doors for me, as a baker, as far as what I felt I was capable of. From this small little ricotta cheese lesson, I went on to teach myself the simple joys of making things like mascarpone cheese and cheese spread from goat's milk. They are all moderately simple yet, for someone coming from an artisan bread background (for years this was all I studied or cared about), cheese making, even in it's simplest form, was so ridiculously exciting to me.

My visit to the Lazzaroli Pasta Shop was, as expected, perfectly pleasant. I was lucky enough to watch Tom and his mother-in-law, only affectionately known as Mama, make some ravioli filling and cut some pasta. Tom, a native Philadelphian, spoke fondly of his family history. He does in fact have family that brought their Sicilian cooking traditions with them through Ellis Island, settling in Philadelphia where Tom was born and raised and lived until about 10 years ago. He moved here to be with his now wife, a Tennessee native and her family. And now, it is he and Mama who spend their days in the kitchen, working together to make, truly, the finest pasta you will find in the Southeast United States. I came darn near getting Mama's famous cornbread ho-cake recipe, but like all good southern women she only let out just enough to keep me guessing. I guess that means I have another reason to infiltrate their kitchen one more time.

Lastly, thanks, again to everyone that has offered such warm encouragements! Our first Supper is nearly booked with about ten seats available. It's a humdinger of a crowd so far! We have some really fun events planned for our August and September dinners already and I can't wait to share those menus and the really wonderful people in our neighborhood who I will have the pleasure of working with! If you haven't reserved your seat for July 8th and are interested, please see one of our earlier posts with the menu attached. On the bottom of those posts are links to reserve your seat. Hope to see you there!