Vol 7 No. 50 - September 5, 2007

Oma’s, with amore for pasta

Anna Maria Island Sun Feature Story
Oma’s in Bradenton Beach serves Italian pasta, pizzas and specialty dishes.

By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer

Oma’s sells approximately 30 bowls of pasta a night, which means one of two things: either the Atkins diet isn't that fashionable in Anna Maria, or the pasta is so good that it’s an indulgence worth making. Part of the reason Italian food is so prevalent is its accessibility. Even an ordinary cook can turn out an acceptable pasta dish. But ubiquitous as Italian cooking is, it doesn't mean that every Italian restaurant is above the ordinary.

Finding one like Oma’s makes me want to turn east off Gulf Drive into their parking lot and follow the scent of garlic. To me, nothing is more comforting than a glass of Chianti and a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, or a bowl of pasta with meat sauce or meatballs or Italian sausage or fresh mushroom sauce, all of which Oma’s serves.

Marinara simply means "sailors’ style." The Spanish brought the tomato to Europe in the 16th century and it was introduced into the Spanish kingdom of Naples around 1550. The tomato became beloved there and marinara sauce was created. It took about 200 years before the tomato was commonplace in the rest of Europe.

Marinara is the basic Italian tomato sauce, and truthfully, you can and should make a terrific marinara sauce at home. You’ll just need some basic ingredients. It’s the perfect solution for when you haven’t had time to shop, plan for a particular meal or when Oma’s is just too crowded.

Where to start? With a great Italian cook of course. One that can get you excited about cooking even when you are not in the mood to fuss. Stephanie Reggio escaped the heat of her native Howard Beach, N.Y., to cook for friend David McGough while in town for a couple days. Don’t know what Howard Beach is? Only 25 blocks wide and 9 blocks long, it was also home to John Gotti – the last Mafia icon. In a mostly Italian neighborhood, Reggio grew up cooking with Angela Vigoiarolo, her sister, and under the guidance of Mama Philipena for the family and the steady stream of paesanos that were always hungry and hanging around in the family kitchen.

There are a few things that can be deduced about Italian cooks, based on watching Stephanie. They don't use dried garlic or skimp on olive oil. They do not use any canned tomatoes, unless imported from Italy, and then they use a lot. And it is never a good thing when they hear, "But I’m on the Atkins diet." Ooops.

Reggio’s advice is start the pot of salted water first, choose only the best olive oil, squish the tomatoes with your fingers and never use pureed, crush the garlic to release the juice and smoosh out the pits of the olives over a bowl to catch the oil and liquid. Olives are not traditional but Reggio swears by them and a little sprinkle of sugar. By the time the sauce is simmerin,g the water should be boiling and you’ve had the fun of messing up a kitchen in the process. Now, who didn’t want to fuss?

Stephanie Reggio’s Marinara Sauce, Atkins be damned!

2 Tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1 28-ounce can whole plum Italian tomatoes, squished
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 c. pitted black olives
A dozen fresh basil leaves or more to taste,

Combine oil and garlic in a large skillet and turn heat to medium. Add olives and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is very lightly golden and olives are broken up, less than 5 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high, and add tomatoes, along with a little sugar. Stir in the fresh basil. Cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes liquefy. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or pepper. Have everything ready and keep a close watch on the pasta, as it can go from perfect to overcooked in a matter of seconds. Drain the pasta and toss with a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Serve with extra sauce on top and freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Yield: 4 servings.


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