Potatoes for Rocky

My grandfather's (on Marmo's side) name was Rocco. He also responded to "Rocky" and "Rock".

Grandpa was my all-time favorite family member. A strong and silent, old-school Italian man. He wasn't much of a conversationalist but you knew where he stood. And you knew where you stood with him.

Rocky was a mechanic by trade, fought in World War II, was an accomplished golfer, and had only one child – a daughter, my mom.

I think this last fact was the reason Grandpa and I had such a close relationship. I say "close," but I could probably count the number of conversations he and I had on one hand.

Our relationship was some kind of mutual trust and respect stemming from the fact that he raised my mom and knew she was a smart, responsible and respectable woman. He assumed I inherited these qualities. In fact, he would often mix up the two of us, calling me, "Mar-Elana" a confused combination of Marlene and Elana.

For my 17th birthday, Grandpa insisted I have a car. A new one. He handed over some money to my parents so they could purchase said vehicle for me, but what he gave them would only cover half of a low-end vehicle. My parents felt too badly to tell him it wasn't enough, so they pitched in the rest. And Rosebud, a 1994 Toyota Tercel came into my possession.

In his younger days, Grandpa was an accomplished golfer. He won countless local tournaments and was frequently featured in the newspaper:

Some press clippings.

My mom even caddied for him:

He brought home trophy after trophy. When I was back at Iaciofano HQ over Thanksgiving, Marmo requested I take some photos of all these golfing trophies. Here are a few highlights:

The above is the same trophy featured in the photo below:

Another impressive win.

When it came to food, Grandpa kept it pretty simple. Being the old-school Italian man that he was, you'd expect him to like spaghetti and meatballs. And he did. But what I remember him liking most were potatoes. Let's be clear: Marmo is a great cook. But a baked potato seems to be beyond her culinary capabilities. She'd put what she thought was a cooked potato in front of Grandpa and he'd practically break his teeth trying to chew it. in a soft-spoken tone, he'd comment, "Mar, I don't think this is done."

Indeed it wasn't. Into the microwave with ye, ye undercooked spud!

I may have inherited this undercooked tater gene from Marmo. To compensate for this, I sidestep the activity altogether by roasting, boiling, mashing and liquefying my potatoes. It just seems easier.

Therefore, the following recipe is for Potato Leek Soup – dedicated to both Marmo and Rocco. If my grandfather were a soup, this is the soup he would be – and I don't think he would be offended by that comparison.

Potato leek soup is a simple, quiet soup. Subtle, but not lacking character. Peppery notes give it a kick, while adding a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt supply a deep, smooth finish.

Here's the recipe (compliments of David Lebowitz):

What You Need:

2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil

4 leeks, washed and sliced


1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme; optional

1/4 teaspoon chile powder

6 cups water

1 1/4-pounds potatoes (I used russet), peeled and cubed

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper

What To Do:

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat.

2. Add the slices leeks and season with salt. Cook the leeks over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until they’re completely soft and wilted.

3. Add the thyme, if using, and chile powder, and stir for about 30 seconds, cooking them with the leeks to release their flavor flavors.

4. Pour in the water, and add the potatoes and bay leaf.

5. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a sharp knife. Depending on which potatoes you used, it could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

6. Pluck out the bay leaves and puree the soup with the white pepper, seasoning with more salt if necessary. I use an immersion (stick) blender, but if you use a standard blender, be sure not to fill it more than half-full and secure the lid, and cover it with a tea towel when blending, to avoid hot soup or steam for causing problems. Don’t use a food processor as that will make the potato purée gummy.

If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water, until it’s the desired consistency.

Me and Grandpa back in the day