Good friendships often involve good meals.
And when Sally DePamphilis, of Linwood, thinks of her friendship with Stacy DeDomenicis, she can't help but think of "a pot of gravy."
"Every Sunday ... she will speak these words. I swear to you, they automatically come out of her mouth each and every Sunday. 'I just made a pot of gravy' or 'I am making a pot of gravy' ... and she does .. . she either is making it or she has some in the freezer that she will defrost,' DePamphilis said.
DePamphilis and DeDomenicis have been friends for about 20 years, and over those years DePamphilis and her husband have enjoyed many "a pot of gravy" and other dishes prepared by DeDomenicis.
Both women are in their 50s with sons who are the same age. Their friendship was born while attending football games and other sporting activities.
"When we first met, we talked about our kids a lot. We really had a great friendship. We really hit it off," DePamphilis said. "We are always doing things together with the kids - or without the kids. Our friendship has just grown through the years. We shared our lives all these years."
As the friendship grew, so did DePamphilis' respect for her friend's cooking.
DePamphilis is no slouch in the kitchen herself.
Growing up in Somers Point, the eldest daughter of Gladys and Bill McCardell learned to cook while helping her mom prepare meals for her four brothers and younger sister.
"It was an Irish household. My mom is a great cook and I actually helped my mom a lot in the kitchen," DePamphilis said.
Marrying her husband Richard, DePamphilis soon was cooking for her children Richard IV, Kristen, Dominic and Anthony.
"I'm an OK cook, I can follow directions," DePamphilis said. "But (DeDomenicis) is a really, really good Italian cook."
For DePamphilis, this lesson hit home when she tasted her friend's sausage and peppers.
"I would make it and it would be horrible. But we would go to her house and they were terrific, I was like, 'Can I have this recipe?'" DePamphilis said.
DeDomenicis is flattered by her friend's praise, but contends she's not really a terrific cook.
"I'm good with a one-pot recipe, but I'm not good at putting three separate things together and making a meal. If I had to make a steak, mashed potato and vegetable, I wouldn't be good at it. But making a pot of gravy or macaroni and beans or a pot of soup - I'm very good at putting that all together."
DeDomenicis, a councilwoman in Linwood, credits her cooking abilities to her mother.
Anna Viscusi had been born in Naples and emigrated to America when she was 8. Her family owned a florist shop in Camden. When she got older, Viscusi got a job working in a bank, where she mets DeDomenicis' father, Patrick Fitzgerald.
"He was an only child. His mother had passed away when he was a teenager and he was raised by an aunt, so he married an Italian and became an Italian," DeDomenicis joked.
Anna Viscusi Fitzgerald fed her family with Italian favorites - macaroni and meatballs on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and pizza on Fridays. The family unit officially included four children and Viscusi's mother, who'd come to live with them. But there were often other relatives gathered around the table in the family's Atlantic City home.
"We were the only ones who lived at the shore. We had a three-story house with six bedrooms, so we had lots of family come to our home," DeDomenicis recalled.
To feed those large gatherings, DeDomenicis' mom got good at making large, one-pot meals. That was a skill DeDomenicis brought with her when she married husband Greg and began raising her two children.
Greg DeDomenicis is the youngest of six children, and his house soon became a gathering place for his siblings.
"I kind of followed in my mother's footsteps. Here she was doing it all the time when I was growing up. I get married and a few years later I'm doing it, too," she said.
And DeDomenicis is still doing it, even after her children are grown and living on their own. She'll make "a pot of gravy" three of four Sundays every month, making sure to freeze some so there is always food available in the freezer.
Although she's known for sharing most recipes, DeDomenicis has never shared instructions on how to make her gravy - that's because she's not really sure how she does it.
"I would never be able to tell anybody how I make it. I don't know the measurements, I just put it together," she said. "I think a lot of people are that way with something they make all the time. I tend to always have some ready in the freezer. Then, whether it's somebody who had a baby, or a funeral, that's my gift I can give."
And while DeDomenicis says she doesn't have the same number of guests she had "in my heyday," DePamphilis still holds out her friend as a model of hospitality and as some kind of kitchen McGyver, always ready to whip up a delicious meal with whatever is on hand.
"She can just about make anything out of nothing. It's crazy. If someone stops by, she'll look and see what she has and make a meal. She can make pasta and clams - all these really Italian things - with stuff she just has in the house," DePamphilis said. "And of course she always has a pot of gravy up her sleeve somewhere."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Stacy's Sausage and Peppers
•2 large green peppers
•2 large onions
•2 12-ounce packages
•3 pounds hot/sweet sausage
•4 tablespoons olive oil
•3/4 tablespoons kosher salt
•1/2 tablespoon pepper
•1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
•2 tablespoons parsley
•1/2 cup parmesan cheese
•3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
Chop up green peppers, onions, mushrooms.
In a large bowl, mix 3 pounds (hot and sweet ) sausage, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, cheese, and a little worchesire sauce. Cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.
Place in a large baking dish, with a little more (1 tablespoon) olive oil and a little (1/2 cup) water. Place tin foil tightly over the dish and bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours .
Remove foil and let the sausage brown, stirring it around to brown all of the sides of the sausage. It will continue cooking and browning.
The trick to this dish is to let it slowly cook under the foil so it gets tender ... then you can just brown the sausage.
Serve with Italian bread.
Stacy's Spinach and Beans with Pasta
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•4 cloves garlic, chopped
•2 9-ounce bags fresh spinach
•2 15-ounce cans canolli beans
•1 16-ounce can chicken broth
•Salt and pepper to taste
•1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
•1 tablespoon basil
•1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
• 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
•1pound Farfalle pasta
Swirl olive oil in large pan, melt garlic in the oil for a little bit, do not let them brown. Add spinach..(it will wilt down). Add canolli beans, not drained. Add broth, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, red pepper and parmesan cheese. Simmer while you cook Farfalle (Bowties) as directed and drain.
To Serve: Place the pasta in a big bowl. Ladle some of the bean-and-spinach mixture on top. Sprinkle a little more cheese on top. Don't mix the pasta with the whole-bean mixture, the pasta absorbs.
Store any leftovers in separate containers.
Serve with cooked sausage and Italian bread.
Options: You also can add some cooked shrimp or chicken to mixture.