Cooking at Home with Lisa Ocasio, Cortlandt Manor

For this marketing pro, cooking is a cultural experience as much as it is anything else. Indulging her Italian roots and her husband’s Spanish heritage results in some pretty fine dishes from the Ocasio kitchen, especially the eggplant rollatini.



When not working as a head of digital marketing and raising her daughter Brianna, age 8, Lisa Ocasio of Cortlandt Manor indulges her passion for Italian and Spanish cuisines.

Starting cooking: At age 9. Why? Her parents bought a pizzeria/restaurant. “I loved to be back in the kitchen helping.” First dish prepared: Homemade gnocchi. Signature cuisines: Italian, her heritage, and Spanish, that of her husband. Signature Spanish dishes: Ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, and beef empanadas. Most difficult Spanish dish: Paella. “It’s a challenge trying to get the rich flavor and correct texture of the rice without overpowering the fish.” Favorite dish to prepare: Eggplant rollatini. “It’s a vegetable, so it pleases both vegetarians and meat eaters and I get to use my homemade Italian sauce.” Most enjoyable occasion to cook for: Christmas Day. “Our family is together and we have traditional things like polenta, filet mignon, and figs.” Best dish from leftovers: “Leftover chili with egg whites for breakfast.” Best tip for the beginning baker: Measure, measure, measure. “Baking is very different than cooking. Cooking, you can add ingredients as you go along if it does not taste exactly right. Baking, you cannot.” Favorite baked good to prepare: Ricotta cookies. Easiest dish to master: Pasta with tomato sauce. “Making fresh tomato sauce is simple and it’s easy to give it different flavors with different spices.” Can’t-live-without-it gadget: Garlic press. “Mincing garlic through the press brings out more of its flavor.” Three must-have spices:  Sea salt (“Just a little brings out a lot of flavor.”); cumin (“It brings out so much flavor in Spanish- and Mediterranean-style dishes.”); and saffron (“It adds great taste and color.”) Always in her pantry: Whole-grain pasta. Always in her fridge: Fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  Biggest cooking fiasco: Accidentally freezing a four-pound filet mignon for Christmas Day dinner.

Culinary Influences
Recommended local cooking class: Williams-Sonoma in The Westchester. Must-watch cooking show: “Giada at Home, because her upbringing was similar to mine, always around the importance of cooking and the importance of spending time with your family.” Favorite cooking soundtrack: Italian music. Most food-splattered cookbook: Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California.

Local Shopping & Dining Guide
Primary supermarket: Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers. Best for produce: Apple Farm in White Plains. Preferred cheese purveyor: Turco’s in Yorktown Heights. Don’t-feel-like-cooking restaurant: La Bocca Ristorante in White Plains.

For Ocasio’s recipe for fontina risotto cakes with fresh chives, visit westchestermagazine.com/webexclusives.

Take It From Them 
Our Chefs’ Top Tips for Newbie Cooks

“Invest in a few basic utensils like a garlic press, a good set of knives, tongs, cooking spoons, a chopper, and a good set of pots, and always buy fresh, high-quality ingredients, especially olive oil. And start simple. Making simple dishes like pastas and salads can help build your confidence to make more difficult dishes.” 
 


 ► Plus:

Gina M. Larson-Stoller, Cortlandt Manor
Brian Murdock, Mohegan Lake
Wendy Pregiato, Eastchester
Elly Kelly, Tarrytown
Susan C. Beer, Bedford/Pound Ridge
Mike Zollner, Port Chester
Todd A. Stankiewicz, Tarrytown
Recipes
Tips, Hints & Ideas