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California’s Lost Wine Country : Out of the Past: Cuisine de Guasti

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In its heyday, the Italian Vineyard Co. boasted more acreage than any vineyard in the world. Now it’s only a memory that surfaces when one hears the name Guasti.

Secondo Guasti was an Italian immigrant who built his wine empire in the Cucamonga Valley and created the town of Guasti. Born in Mombaruzzo in the province of Piedmont, he arrived in Los Angeles in 1883 and founded the vineyard company in 1900. He died in 1927.

Penniless when he arrived, Guasti later lived in a mansion on West Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles that was said to have cost $500,000 to build. In the first decade of this century, that was an extravagant sum.

During his lean years, Guasti worked for a time in a restaurant. In his showplace home, the food was eclectic, a mix of Italian, Chinese, Mexican, French and sophisticated American, judging by the recipes of his wife and daughter-in-law.

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These recipes appear in a privately printed cookbook published in 1930. “The Junior League Recipe Book,” riddled with names of prominent Angelenos, includes recipes by Mrs. Secondo Guasti (Louisa Anna Amillo) and Mrs. Secondo Guasti Jr. (Gertrude Orcutt).

The Guastis also contributed a full-page ad that promoted their cooking Sherry. “For foods that linger long in memory, try Sherry--the flavor secret of master chefs,” the ad said. (During Prohibition, the wine was salted to make it unfit for drinking but legal to sell.)

The ad also mentions “the famous Guasti Wine Jellies,” and the book includes a wine jelly recipe from Mrs. Guasti Jr. Light in flavor and texture, it is more like a dessert than a stiff jelly to spread over toast.

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Some of the Guasti dishes are simple, such as “Little pig canape” from Mrs. Guasti Jr., which consisted of broiled baby sausages rolled in small French pancakes. Others were extravagant, such as the senior Mrs. Guasti’s bouillabaisse that required barracuda, lobster, clams and oysters. The lobster was to be cut in pieces “like cubes of sugar,” she specified.

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Mrs. Guasti Jr. liked to experiment with ethnic foods. She contributed enchiladas that were filled with cheese, olives and hard-boiled eggs and topped with a red sauce that required several dozen dried chiles. Her chop suey called for chicken breast meat at a time when packaged parts weren’t available. One had to buy a whole chicken and cut it up to get the breast, as the recipe instructed.

Their Italian contributions included minestrone, spaghetti sauce, fritto misto (which was a mixed fry of lamb chops, veal brains, sweetbreads, chicken livers, artichoke hearts and mushrooms), stuffed zucchini, artichokes stuffed with anchovies and bread crumbs, spinach frittata and zabaione , an airy dessert of egg yolks, sugar and Guasti Sherry beaten over hot water until light and thickened.

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The Guasti way of life was disrupted within a few years of publication of the cookbook. Secondo Guasti Jr. died in Santa Barbara on April 6, 1933 at the age of 42. His widow remarried in 1935 and moved to New York. The elder Mrs. Guasti, who was only 15 when she married, died in 1937, 10 years after her husband. Her luxurious home and its contents were sold at auction.

Here are four of the Guasti recipes, adjusted to contemporary ingredients and cooking procedures to make them usable today.

MRS. SECONDO GUASTI’S MINESTRONE 2 tablespoons butter 1 large tomato, peeled and finely chopped 1 small potato, peeled and finely chopped 1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped 3 small leeks, white part and little green part, finely chopped 12 green beans, finely chopped 3 tablespoons green peas 1 Savoy cabbage heart, finely shredded 12 asparagus tips 1 small zucchini, finely chopped 24 shelled fava beans or drained canned cannellini beans 6 cups meat stock Salt, pepper 1/2 pound spaghetti

Heat butter in large saucepan. Add tomato and saute until tender. Add potato, carrot, leeks, green beans, peas, cabbage, asparagus, zucchini and beans. Add stock. Bring to boil and simmer 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Just before serving, add spaghetti and cook until tender, following package instructions. Makes 2 quarts or about 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 320 calories; 750 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 54 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 2.38 grams fiber.

MRS. GUASTI’S FRITTATA 8 eggs, beaten 1 cup cooked spinach, finely chopped 1 cup cooked rice 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese Salt, pepper 2 tablespoons olive oil

In bowl combine eggs, spinach, rice and cheese. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in 10-inch skillet. Add mixture and cook over very low heat until firm. Serve hot or cold. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Each serving contains about: 297 calories; 307 mg sodium; 290 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 27 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams protein; 0.32 gram fiber.

GUASTI WINE JELLY 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin 2 cups cold water 1 cup sugar Juice 1 lemon 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 cups boiling water 1 cup Sherry

In bowl soften gelatin in cold water. Stir in sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon. Add boiling water and let stand until sugar and gelatin are dissolved. Stir in Sherry.

Strain through cheesecloth. Turn into bowl or decorative glasses and chill until firm. Makes about 5 cups.

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Each 1-tablespoon serving contains about: 168 calories; 1 mg sodium; trace cholesterol; trace fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; trace fiber.

GUASTI BRANDY SNAPS 1/2 cup molasses 1/2 cup butter 1 cup flour Sugar 1 tablespoon ground ginger Brandy 3 cups whipping cream, whipped Candied cherries, cut up Chopped nuts

In pan heat molasses to boiling. Add butter and stir constantly. In bowl sift flour, 2/3 cup sugar and ginger together. Add flour mixture to molasses mixture. Stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons brandy.

Drop onto baking sheet by level tablespoons 2 inches apart. Bake at 325 degrees 15 to 18 minutes. Cool slightly, then remove from sheet 1 at time. Roll each over handle of wooden spoon to form cornucopia. Cool thoroughly. Fold 3 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoon brandy into whipped cream. Spoon into cornucopias.

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If cookies are very hard, allow to stand in refrigerator with filling several hours or overnight to soften. Garnish with cherries and nuts, if desired. Makes 18.

Each Brandy Snap contains about: 283 calories; 71 mg sodium; 69 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 23 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.04 gram fiber.


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