What’s Cooking, Neighbor?

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SILVESTRO CONTE

 

As a native of the Puglia region of Italy
(the heel of the boot), Silvestro Conte
appreciates the little niceties that many
men might consider not worth the effort. For example,
with old fashioned gusto he hangs laundry
to dry in his Burleith garden, surrounded
by pots of mature herbs. A purist, he shops for
only the freshest and authentic ingredients, a
holdover from childhood, when he helped his
mother each day making bread, pasta and pizza
from scratch.

“My passion is taking care of the little details
that make all the difference,” says Conte, a
retired medical marketing executive. If the last
name is familiar, his wife is Georgetowner “The
Latest Dish” columnist Linda Roth Conte, president
of public relations and marketing firm Linda
Roth Associates. His latest venture is “Your
Italia”: a personal, nine-day food and wine tour
of his beloved homeland, visiting local chefs,
small farms and select wineries.

“It’s a learning, gastronomic journey to the
hot spot of Italy now, and my thing is making
you feel like a local,” says Conte, an expressive,
passionate guy with a broad chest and sizable
hands, which punctuate every sentence. “We
go to farms, where families have made cheese
for hundreds of years, not to factories. We go
to olive oil tastings at family mills, where the
Mediterranean Diet was born.” All the information
can be found at: www.youritalia.com.

At home, the couple invites two to four
guests for dinner every other week. On the
menu, five courses paired with three different
wines. One will surely be a tart white Verdeca
from Puglia as “My father went crazy for this
grape.” He doesn’t dig discussions of terroir at
the dining table or talk of licorice or strawberry
flavor notes. Says no-nonsense Conde: “I know
what I like and drink wine. Period.”

One of his favored main courses, “which always
brings applause,” is a salt-roasted whole
striped bass stuffed with herbs and cherry tomatoes.
(I hesitate sharing his recipe as it calls
for seven pounds of kosher salt and wielding,
at the same time, a large knife and a hammer.)
Alongside, he serves a classic Italian lemon and
herb infused salmorigilio sauce, which is also
terrific with grilled or baked branzino, salmon
and swordfish.

The secret to the pungent flavor of this
dressing is the use of salt-cured capers in place
of the more readily available brined variety.
(Such capers, dry-packed in salt, are available
at Dean & Deluca as well as many Italian and
Spanish specialty markets.) “It’s easy to make,
with little time required,” he will tell you, adding
with a wry remark. “And your guests will
love you, more.”

Conte’s two current favorite restaurants are Al Dente in Wesley Heights for
the calamarata pasta and Rialto in Georgetown for the fried sardines.

SALMORIGLIO SAUCE SERVES: 4
Ingredients:
I/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
The minced peel and juice of 1 medium lemon,
preferably organic
1/4 bunch parsley leaves, minced
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, minced
6 salt-cured capers, thoroughly rinsed and minced
1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper

Directions:
Pour the olive oil into a small bowl, and while
slowly whisking, add the lemon juice, forming an
emulsion. Add the minced lemon peel, parsley,
oregano and capers along with the crushed garlic
clove salt and pepper to taste; mix well.
Transfer the sauce to a small sauce pan and
simmer on the lowest heat setting for 5 minutes,
stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and
let the sauce rest at room
temperature for at least
two hours. Remove the
garlic clove before serving.
Pass the sauce alongside the
fish.

What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and
entertaining professionals, who call the Georgetown
area home. Georgetowner dining columnist Walter
Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine, a
former staff writer for The Washington Post Food section.

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