Story and Photos by Margaret McCormick
When she was growing up, Marjorie (Weaver) Spoto’s mother hosted Thanksgiving for nearly 30 people — and drafted her young daughter to help with the meal preparation and cooking.
“I was 7 or 8 when she taught me how to make stuffing. After that, I was hooked on cooking,’’ Spoto recalls. “I learned how to make meatloaf and homemade bread by age 9.’’
By the time she was a teenager, Spoto was cooking for her family several times a week. Her mother was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease affected her mobility and ability to do things. “I learned how to cook and then ended up having to do it,’’ Spoto says.
These days, cooking looks different for Spoto, and she approaches it with a lot of thought and care.
She’s allergic to eggs and to American strains of wheat and has what she describes as a sensitivity to or intolerance of gluten. She also has lupus, and American wheat can cause her to have “flares’’ that last 12 to 15 days.
Spoto, 56, and her husband, Robert, live near Jamesville and spend a couple months of the year in Florida.
Marjorie, a former NFL cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals, is a writer and manages an online marketing and destination guide called Party in Key West that spotlights that area’s best places to dine, drink and visit. Bob is an executive with Widewater Hotels, based in Syracuse.
The Spotos traveled to Greece in 2019 and have been to Italy several times. Both countries left a lasting impression on Marjorie and her cooking style. She grows vegetables and herbs and incorporates those things into her cooking.
When she’s not planning and making a meal, her husband likes to cook outside on his flat-top, restaurant-style grill.
“My mom had the ability to pull things together with whatever was in the cupboard to make something delicious, and I think I learned that from her,’’ Spoto says. “Cooking is relaxing to me. It’s the best way to de-stress. With a glass of wine, of course.’’
How would you describe your cooking style?
“Italian with a fusion of Mediterranean. I like merging both styles. I’ll make Greek salad with pasta. Or I’ll make Greek-style eggplant and make Italian-style, too. I mix things together. Right now, I’m using Greek olive oil instead of Italian olive oil.’’
What’s your favorite thing to cook on a weeknight?
“My homemade pizza using 00 Italian wheat flour from Lombardi’s. Or ‘Sunday gravy’ (red sauce) over penne (gluten-free options are pretty good these days).’’
What do you like to cook when family/friends come over?
“Pasta and meatballs, paired with a great Chianti or Super Tuscan (full-bodied red wine).”
What have you been cooking during the pandemic?
What’s your favorite recipe resource?
Spoto is a fan of the cookbooks and recipes of Jamie Oliver. “After going to Italy, I saw one of his books and how he cooked pizza on a campfire. The way he described it, I wanted to be on that adventure. He tells you the best way to do everything.’’
What’s your favorite place to shop?
“Lombardi’s, of course!”
Calabrian Spicy Meatloaf with Capers
From Marjorie Spoto
1 lemon (instructions below)
1 heaping tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons ketchup
1½ teaspoons Calabrian chili paste (or more if you like, it has a kick)
10 ounces ground beef
1 egg (or substitute 4 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (dried)
One or two cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (or Romano cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs or crumbled gluten-free crackers (see note)
Heat the oven to 450F.
Zest the lemon, reserving one teaspoon of zest. Quarter the lemon, juice two wedges and save remaining two wedges to use as a garnish. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, chopped capers, lemon juice and olive oil.
In another bowl, combine the ketchup and Calabrian chili paste to taste.
Line a sheet pan with foil. Evenly coat the center of the foil with a drizzle of olive oil.
To the bowl holding the lemon and olive oil mixture, add half of the ketchup-chili paste mixture, ground beef, egg (or applesauce), Italian seasoning, garlic and half the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add breadcrumbs last and gently mix to combine — they will soften quickly. (See note.)
Transfer the meatloaf to the sheet pan. Shape into a tightly packed loaf, about 7 inches by 3 inches. Top the meatloaf with the remaining spicy ketchup and remaining cheese.
Bake meatloaf 16 to 18 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Remove from the oven. Let rest at least two minutes. Serve with reserved lemon wedges on the plate. Serve the meatloaf with roasted root vegetables tossed with olive oil and oregano, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Wine pairing: Italian Chianti or a Sicilian Nero d’Avolo.