Pino Tricase makes grilled calamari, steamed mussels
Tom Reynolds had never considered eating mussels or octopus until his friend Pino Tricase coaxed him into trying the daunting seafood.
"After tasting a few samples from him, and overcoming great hesitation, I've been converted," says Tom. "Now they top my list of favorites."
Pino, a former restaurant cook of 25 years and native Italian, is on a mission to convert his friends into seafood aficionados, inviting them over for parties where he prods them to taste the more off-putting types of seafood.
After a summer barbecue for 20 or 30 people on his back porch in Itasca Pino waits until late night, when only the most die-hard guests are still on hand, to serve a "Mussels at Midnight" snack, "or I wouldn't have enough for everyone."
The faithful gather around his kitchen island to snatch up steamed mussels in white wine, garlic and basil sauce or bits of tender baby octopus and calamari in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
"At the beginning some of them were hesitant," he says. "They maybe took a little and didn't like it much at first, but after that they would always ask me if I was going to make octopus. Now even their kids are starting to enjoy octopus."
Karen Wille of Itasca is one of those friends who had trepidations.
"Somebody talked me into trying them (mussels) and they were absolutely amazing," she says. "The taste, texture were perfect."
Next came octopus and now, "I am a huge fan," she says.
Raised in Bari near the Adriatic Sea, Pino ate all types of seafood straight off the fishing boats.
"I remember when I was little, going to the nearest town and waiting for the fishermen to come in," he says.
Americans, particularly landlocked Midwesterners, are not as comfortable cooking and eating seafood.
"If you don't grow up seeing it and cooking it, you don't do it now," he says.
Retired from the restaurant business for 10 years, Pino is a manufacturer's representative for a handful of Italian clothing makers. A huge soccer fan, he has coached several local youth teams and is a popular referee for the Itasca Park District.
"But I think Pino relishes cooking for others more than soccer," says Tom. "The man has a natural talent to cook and loves it."
The key to seafood, as with so many dishes, is not to overcook it, particularly with calamari and octopus which turn rubbery and tough.
Pino recommends too that we don't marinate seafood too long or the citric acid in the sauce will "cook" and toughen it.
Luckily, baby octopus are sold already tenderized so we don't have to pound them on a rock, a time-honored traditional technique.
This week dip a toe into the water and add something new to your repertoire with Pino's simple seafood recipes. They can be eaten as an appetizer, snack or served over pasta with their sauces for a main course.
If that's not your thing, figure out a way to meet Pino.
"An invitation from the Tricases is an invitation to have a wonderful dining experience," Karen says.