Last weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo. It was a sensory overload with nearly 2500 exhibits and over 60, 000 attendees. You can walk around for hours, and never happen upon a booth you really hoped to see; so, with an event that size, a bit of an organized plan is a must.
I had created a list of my near and dear, which included Kevita, Sun Warrior, Braggs, Farmhouse Culture, Bob’s Red Mill, Earth Balance, Food for Life, Renew Life supplements, Carlson fish oil and few others. I missed lots of others like Artisana, DoMatcha, Fage, and So Delicious, but I did have the chance to learn more about and enjoy the samplings of brands I wasn’t as familiar with, one of which being House Foods tofu.
A few posts back I wrote about the Tofu Shirataki noodles from House Foods. I found them at Whole Foods and thought I’d give them a try. Not only are all their tofu products plant based but also virtually carb free, protein packed and free from pesky allergens and metabolic poisons like gluten, sugar and pesticides (all products are certified non-gmo). I think they are doing their part to create a healthy alternative to the junk tofu on the market. So I am a fan.
The people over at House Foods read my post and invited me to their booth at Expo West. They had celebrity couple Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, stars of Extra Virgin on the cooking channel, demo a few of their recipes that call for tofu. I got to spend a few hours enjoying their culinary gift and getting to know them a bit.
They made a tofu spinach gnocchi and passed out a rosemary chocolate chip cookie they had baked and packaged earlier. The gnocchi was so quick and easy and I was surprised at how nicely the sage rounded out the dish (it helped that is was melted into browned butter!). Other than butter, they used parmesan cheese and egg yolk. For all you Fun Fit Foodies, you can convert to clean and lower the fat by substituting parmesan for nutritional yeast, and using 1 egg white instead of the yolk. I really enjoyed this dish! After the demo I had the chance to speak with the lovely couple.
As I approached the two, I overheard Gabe telling a funny Tuscan joke. He said “If your father-in-law asks you to pick truffles with him in the forest, be on your toes! Either he loves you enough to show you his secret spot, or he’s planning to get rid of you!” I had to laugh as this is neither a joke you’d hear in the US, nor one you’d hear outside of a foodie circle. Both Gabe and Debbi had such great humor. I’ve never seen Extra Virgin, but I’d guess they’re a riot. Their chemistry is electric, and they are a perfect yin and yang – with her New York twang and fiery attitude and his thick Italian accent and cool classic demeanor.
We chatted like old friends that hadn’t caught up in a while. They are so humble for seeing such success. While Debi took pictures and met with fans, Gabe was happy to answer any questions I had.
Coming from Italy, how did you get started and build the fan base you have now?
I started out by blogging, just like you. I used to post videos making my grandmothers authentic Tuscan recipes, and the interest just grew organically. I always respond directly to my fans. People ask if the emails and tweets are from me, and they are! It is important for me to stay connected with my fan base because they are like family. I draw a lot of inspiration from them.
In America, half the people are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, have food allergies, struggle with obesity, and the list goes on. When you return home to your native Italy, do you run into these same issues? Do you make as many substitutions in your recipes there?
Ha! They think it’s crazy. I come from a small country where there is less of a demand for food. People eat whole foods that are fresh, unlike in America where things are highly processed. You don’t hear of a lot of people having food allergies in Italy because you’re preparing nearly all your meals from scratch. You don’t have a lot of genetically modified crops. Here in America, you buy a car and the cup holder in the center console is designed to fit a Big Gulp. This is pretty scary. People are rushing around to work, and other obligations, so there is little time to reflect on the food you’re eating. People need to realize their food is fuel and make better choices. When I’m in Italy, I prepare traditional meals. In my restaurant, I will focus on authentic Tuscan cuisine. I leave the tofu dishes for my show!
I know you and Debi have young children, do you find it’s hard to keep them away from bad food?
In Italy, it’s different. Good eating habits are instilled in children from a young age. They do not have the temptation for fast food like the kids here in America. My wife and I cook together in our home and we enjoy dinner as a family. My children know good food, but the problem is when they go to school or their friend’s houses. It takes a communal effort. There should be more programs at school that advocate for better health.
You’re quite fit yourself. What’s your secret?
It’s really quite basic. I enjoy a balanced diet, eat organic when I can, and support the local farmer’s markets. I’m not perfect, I have vices and eat certain things I shouldn’t, but I enjoy these things in moderation.
During your demo, you gave some light nutrition tips. Do you think it is important to educate your viewers about food health? Is that the direction you are taking?
I will throw information in my shows or demos, but I personally like to share my experience without being dogmatic. I want my viewers and fans to enjoy watching and hearing about my family recipes without feeling inadequate.
Thank you Gabriele! I really appreciate you taking your time to speak with me and to share a bit of yourself for my audience. Best of luck in your restaurant and future endeavors!
Product: Extra firm
Special Consideration: Vegetarian
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drain the Tofu and then add it to a large bowl; break up with your hands until crumbly. Drizzle with olive oil, add the garlic, and season well with salt and pepper. Keep working the tofu with your hands until it’s very crumbly and looks like ricotta cheese. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook 1 minute. Remove spinach from the water and plunge in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the spinach very well, and using a clean tea towel, squeeze out the extra water. Chop the leaves very fine and add to the bowl with the crumbled tofu. Stir in 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, egg yolk, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix well and shape the mixture into balls the size of walnuts. Butter a 13×9 inch casserole dish, and lay all the gnocchi in it, top with 2 tablespoons of sliced butter and another sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Bake the gnocchi for about 20 minutes and then add to the broiler the last 5 minutes to crisp and brown the top of the spinach balls. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet and add the sage once it starts to foam. Sauté until it starts to brown. Serve tofu gnocchi topped with warm butter sauce.