By Frank E. Vaerewyck, The Firehouse Foodie
As I spent the weekend with my 14-year-old son Hunter and listened to his dreams of joining the United States Army and rising to special forces, it took me back to that age. I aspired to be a firefighter and had a passion for cooking even back then. At the ripe old age of 10 I tried writing my first cookbook, which really consisted of me looking through my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook and picking out my favorite pictures, then copying the recipe. That lasted for about four or five recipes and I found something more interesting to do, like climbing a tree or something. Oh as I think back to that age I also wanted to be a marine biologist, a truck driver, a rancher, a pilot, a race car driver, and whatever else was cool at that point, but two things stayed consistent: I wanted to be a firefighter and I loved cooking.
My Mother Laurie Vick-Hughes was my first mentor and the best chef I knew at the time. She never attended culinary school, but she could cook just as good if not better than those on TV at the time, and she always had an answer for my curious mind. She always was happy to accept the help when I offered as well. I learned a lot of good habits from her and a few bad ones too. Just so you know, it's not advisable to throw spaghetti noodles at the wall to see if they’re done. You're supposed to taste them. Thanks, Mom. That one got me in trouble in school. My mom worked as a nutritionist for a little while and came home with some great healthy alternatives that I use today. One of them is using spaghetti squash as a healthy substitute for pasta.
This has become popular in the American lexicon recently, but Mom has been doing this for I'd have to say some 25 years now. Simply buy the best-looking spaghetti squash you can find, halve it, and clean the seeds and strands out with a tablespoon. Cover with a wet paper towel and stick the halves in the microwave for 10 minutes individually. After they’re done cooking, scrape the meat out with a fork. It even looks like spaghetti pasta. If you don't like the microwave you can bake it, but this method takes upward of a half hour, and you can cook them together. Since I've given you the foundation for a great spaghetti-style dinner, here's a healthy homemade Salsa Palermitana sauce to go with it that's also great with grilled or roasted fish. Try to use fresh herbs and spices as well as fresh veggies, and remember to buy local if at all possible. This is a great idea at the firehouse or at your house, and “That's Bringing the Firehouse Home!”
Healthy Homemade Salsa Palermitana
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Sicilian, divided
8 cloves garlic, sliced
6 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 cups white cooking wine
3 lemons, quartered
¾ cup Nocellara olives or other big green olives, such as Cerignola, pitted
¼ cup capers, rinsed
8 sprigs fresh oregano
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped oregano leaves
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat 1/4 cup oil and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium heat until the garlic is lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, wine, lemons, olives, capers, and oregano sprigs; bring to a simmer.
- Cook over medium heat (reducing the heat as necessary to maintain a simmer, not a boil) until the sauce has reduced to about 7 cups, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Add the remaining 1/4 cup oil, chopped oregano, and chopped parsley.
- Remove lemon quarters and oregano sprigs.
- Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!
Frank Vaerewyck has had a passion for the fire service that has spanned 20 years. He has been a volunteer and career firefighter and is currently a firefighter/EMT with the Manassas (VA) Volunteer Fire Company. He has passed on his passion for the fire service through instruction and mentorship. That same passion he has for the fire service is shared with his love of food. In 2006, Vaerewyck won an Iron Chef-style competition sponsored by a radio station in Richmond, Virginia. That is where he also furthered his education by attending a Culinary Arts Program.
- As the Firehouse Foodie, he has been compiling recipes to be included in a cookbook that will give others the opportunity to see their hometown heroes not just as firefighters, but as the firehouse chefs they truly are.