I am not a professional chef or even an experienced restaurant cook; I just love good food, fine wine and the camaraderie that goes with those occasions when everything comes together with friends and/or family to share opportunities when those components are combined. I often cook at home, but I spent most of my adult life in the food business following my passions: bringing together good friends, good food and wine. The combination was always fun, while providing me with an income by doing what I loved, which was entertaining people who shared my zest for the same pleasures. I would spend seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day for months on end without taking a day off, because to me it was never work but rather spending all my waking hours doing what I loved.

Now that I am retired, I still am reaping the benefits of those years in the form of continued friendships with many of my customers who became friends. Maybe I met them in one of my restaurants, or while catering at their homes where and when they would hire me to provide food, beverages, staff, entertainment, musicians, valet parking, police, security and whatever else was needed for the event to come together. This was never a planned course; it just evolved by doing what I loved in life. I started a small fine wine and gourmet food store. Someone asked me to do a wine and cheese party. I told them I had never done one before and was not sure what to do, but they persisted so I thought about what I would do if I were hosting an evening in my home. I had a blast and they loved it, so it was the beginning of a trajectory that just kept growing and growing. New friends would bring in their friends, and that’s how I started my restaurant business, made my friendships and met my wife. In fact, when Veronica and I were married, several of those customers/friends offered their homes for us to use to get married and host our wedding reception. We accepted from someone with whom we had become especially close, and who sent me the recipe shared here today. This is a long introduction, but I share it because wonderful things can happen if you love to cook and invite others to share in your passion. Salute and buon appetito!

Linguini with courgettes

(Serves four)

• 2 courgettes (zucchini)

• 2 sweet yellow onions

• 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

• 6 garlic cloves

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 pound linguini

• 10 to 12 ounces chicken stock

• 1/2 cup locatelli cheese, grated

• Italian parsley, large bunch

• 2 tablespoons salt for pasta cooking water

Wash produce and measure all ingredients. Top and tail zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then cut into quarter-inch-thick slices. Chop parsley coarsely. Slice onions and fry in a large sauté pan coated with a little of the olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Turn the heat up to medium high, add the sliced zucchini and fry until golden brown. Add the rest of the EVOO, allow it to warm for a minute or two so the garlic can fry until it is also golden brown. Turn heat to high, then add the chicken stock. Add parsley just before combining with pasta.

While you are cooking sauce, have your salted pasta water boiling. While the chicken stock is reducing, go ahead and cook the pasta al dente. I like linguini and it takes usually about seven to eight minutes, so by then the chicken stock should be reduced enough, but save a cup or so of the pasta cooking water just before draining anyway so it will be available to add to the sauce if needed. I drain the pasta and immediately add it to the sauce so the flavors will marry for a couple of minutes before adding Romano or Parmesan cheese to finish the dish.

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Bob Leonardi was born and raised in Weedsport, but spent summers on Owasco Lake in Auburn. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, where he cooked for other students to earn extra money, he moved to Florida and started a fine wine and gourmet food store. In a matter of a few years he added a restaurant, upscale catering and event planning to his business, which he ran in Fort Lauderdale for 15 years. He bought and restored Green Shutters restaurant in 1999, running it for 12 years in the spring, summer and fall while being an event planner in the winter. During that time, he was also a food critic and wrote a column for a newspaper called the South Florida Social. He has written his column for The Citizen since 2005 and can be reached by contacting The Citizen or via email at raleonardi@roadrunner.com.