In the dark and cold, these dishes warm body and soul

Updated 1 hour ago

Soon enough (we hope), we will be firing up the grill and covering our dinner plates with colorful salads, ears of corn and refreshing fruit salads.

But for now, while the wind howls, the sky turns dark early and temperatures plummet, it’s hearty, filling food we order or prepare at home.

Stews, soups, pastas and decadent desserts all make our stomachs happy before we curl up in our comforters and wait for Punxsutawney Phil to tell us winter is (maybe) almost over.

These area restaurants and cooks have some savory, comforting suggestions for such cold-weather fare.


Rizzo’s Malabar Inn has been a Crabtree landmark for more than 80 years. Brothers Jerry DeFabo Jr. and Rizzi DeFabo are the fourth generation to work in the family business, known for its Italian dishes.

This time of year, one of its diners’ favorite menu items is polenta, a cornmeal dish cooked with water or chicken broth, or a combination, and served as a porridge or formed into a loaf.

At Rizzo’s, it’s popular enough to inspire “Polenta Days,” scheduled this year for
Jan. 22-27.

Diners can top their polenta with anything from sauce and cheese to sausage and peppers, rabbit and broccoli rabe.

In 2018, the restaurant sold more than
800 orders during “Polenta Days,” says Rizzi DeFabo, chef and author of “Cooking With Rizzi” and “Cooking with Rizzi, Traditions, Memories and Food.”

Over the years, patrons have “customized” polenta, he says, with some options named after diners; there is even a “papal” polenta.

“The colder it is out, the better (polenta) is. It’s comfort food. It takes people back to childhood. It used to be a poor man’s food, now it’s upscale,” DeFabo says.

From the mountains to your plate

Marci Lynn McGuinness, a resident of Ohiopyle, Fayette County, has self-published her 40th book, “Ohiopyle Cookbook, Eat Like a Local.”

“In 1991, I published ‘Nanny’s Kitchen Cookbook’ because my relatives wanted our grandmother’s (Laura Marietta) Ohiopyle House Hotel recipes for noodles, rolls, green beans, potatoes and ham, cakes and Kahlua,” McGuinness says.

Her newest book updates those recipes to make them more nutritious, replacing ingredients like bleached flour, white sugar and refined oils with healthy choices, she says.

The book includes recipes from locals like Backyard Gardens Market, the Ohiopyle House Cafe, Stone House Restaurant and the Hunt Chef, along with old newspaper articles, photographs and foodie quotes.

Readers can learn how to prepare smoothies, soups, Thai noodles, lasagna, stir fry, bibb salad and venison.

“You can eat what you like (including cake and cookies) with quality ingredients, local honey, fresher, whole foods, no preserved products,” McGuinness says.

The prospect of parenthood changed her eating habits, she says, even before she had children.

“I quit processed foods, white flour, sugar. I’d always been fit and worked out,” she says.

She adds that she raised her daughters on sunflower seeds, venison, fresh eggs and milks.

“The less humans have touched your food, the better,” McGuinness believes.

“If you cook like (her recipes), you don’t have to make new year’s resolutions to lose weight,” she says.

‘Season’ to taste

At Evolution Grille in Freeport, Armstrong County, chef/owner Michael Barbiaux and wife Courtney rotate their menu with the seasons.

Meatloaf moves onto the menu, along with heavier sauces.

“We will be adding a veal Bolognese,” Michael Barbiaux says.

Appetizers will become heartier as well.

“We are adding a Cuban egg roll, mini Beef Wellington, a beet hummus,” he says.

Being surrounded by farms allows the restaurant to source produce as locally as possible, Barbiaux says.

“We always have fresh pastas, perioghi,” he says.

A sweet cabbage will soon fill the perioghi for winter.

“We switch the fillings up for the season,” Barbiaux says.

Home Cookin’

If one is inspired to fill loved ones’ bellies with meals prepared at home, DeLallo Italian Foods can help.

Its recipe website regularly posts entrees, side dishes, appetizers and desserts.

The goal, says Beth Robinson, company brand manager, is to educate and inspire customers to use the company’s products. It helps, she says, “to showcase our ingredients.”

“A lot of it is what is happening culturally and seasonally,” Robinson says. “Over the next couple of months you will see recipes for comfort food, pastas.”

The site also addresses many people’s interest in eating healthier and lighter.

While browsers can find plenty of hearty dishes, such as Traditional Spaghetti and Meatballs, they also can learn to prepare Skinny Creamy San Marzano Tomato Sauce, substituting cauliflower for cream, butter and cheese, and serving it over whole-wheat pasta.

The recipes are a collaboration of the company’s marketing team and the store’s chef, Robinson says.

“We also partner with food bloggers across the country to help us with content and recipe development,” she says.

Introduction of a new product, or different ways to use a product, may lead to new recipes.

For instance, Robinson says, a recipe may demonstrate how to bake with espresso powder or use it in savory dishes.

Other recipes may show cooks how to incorporate homemade sauces into different dishes, or go beyond the charcuterie board by using olives for cooking or baking, including in a breakfast strata.

Its Instagram site includes a list of its “most popular” dishes from 2018.

Dig in and enjoy, whether treating oneself to a restaurant meal, or slicing, dicing and cooking at home.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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