Andover firefighter heats up the kitchen

Rick Melfi shares family secrets in 'The Food Pusher's Cookbook'


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  • Rick Melfi and his mother, Maria.




  • Cover of "The Food Pusher's Cookbook."




  • "Marco's Potato Soup."



"Anyone coming to the house — you had to eat. She would make you eat. She really was what I consider a food pusher."
— Rick Melfi, Author and Andover Firefighter

As a professional chef and volunteer firefighter, Rick Melfi has proven he can stand the heat — in and out of the kitchen.

Cooking since he was a child, the Andover resident and firefighter is now sharing his family's traditional Italian recipes in his new cookbook, "The Food Pusher's Cookbook."

Melfi's tips to cook great pasta

Water: Gotta use quite a bit of water, cant be skimpy on water.
Salt: Salt it — it should taste like the ocean.
Cooking: Definitely al dente. Most pasta now when you cook it doesn't mushy, imported pasta has good character.
Serving: After you cook the pasta, people tend to rinse it off after it's finished. That is not the best way to do it. Keep the starchy water on the pasta. The key is to not to wash it.

"I used to be that punk little kid, when mom was cooking I would get the kitchen chair and stand on the chair and watch what she was doing," said Melfi. "I was always in the kitchen, always interested at an early age. I would help her make things, she would give me tasks to do. It was just a natural fit for me. I knew I would be a chef."

Cooking along side his Italian mother, Maria Gracia Pozzolini, helped feed his passion for food. Then it spurred the creation of "The Food Pusher's Cookbook" — named after Maria, lovingly known as "The Food Pusher."

"Anyone coming to the house — you had to eat. She would make you eat," said Melfi. "She really was what I consider a food pusher."

Following his passion, Melfi served from 1974 to 1980 as a cook for the Airforce. Then through the GI bill he went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. before getting jobs at different restaurants, as an instructor at Bergen County Community College and most recently at Perona Farms in Andover.

"I have been working as a chef ever since," Melfi said. "It's a passion of mine and a passion I got from her (mom). It was an easy progression in my career."

The Food Pusher

Serving as a professional chef for more than 30 years, Melfi didn't cook too much for Maria. She was always the one cooking for Melfi, his father, his three brothers and a sister.

"Whenever we were together she always cooked for us," Melfi said. "This (the cookbook) was a gift back to her. The time and effort put into the cookbook."

Maria, who was born and raised in Piazza, Italy, learned to cook from Melfi's grandmother and also on her own using simple inexpensive and local/seasonal ingredients.

"It was really sustainable cooking long before we knew what that meant," Melfi said. "Dad’s garden was a testament to that end."

Growing up in an Italian American family, Melfi's diet consisted of Italian American cuisine.

Showing his appreciation to his mother, in 2011 Melfi put together a manuscript for his cookbook that he sent out to 11 publishers. None were interested at the time so Melfi self-published his book.

"It was kind of like a work of love," Melfi said. "It was really putting together my mother and grandmother's recipes."

Tate Publishing — who Melfi originally sent a manuscript to — saw the self-published book and were now interested in doing a second publishing.

Maria was "ecstatic" with the news. Although she died in October, prior to the release of the second edition, her legacy will live on in Melfi's cookbook.

Some of Maria's recipes included in the book are her Bolognese recipe, which she got from her mother. And also a potato soup, called Marco's Potato Soup, since it was Melfi's brother Marco's favorite recipe.

For more information on "The Food Pusher's Cookbook" look for it on Facebook or to purchase the book visit www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.


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