Cookbook explores the Sicilian cooking style

When Anthony LoFrisco had what he thought was a brilliant idea for an Italian family-style cookbook, a publishing agent told him it would never fly because he was not a celebrity author or connected in any way with a popular cooking show on television.

So he did what any red-blooded American entrepreneur would do. He published it himself, and it is now selling on Amazon, where the everyday Joes of the world can sell their books right alongside the big names.

“The LoFrisco Family Cookbook: How Josie Brought Sicily to Brooklyn,” retails for $39.85, and comes in a gift-boxed presentation edition for $49.95, complete with wooden spoon.

The book features classic recipes for Italian dishes and desserts, as well as stories of how the family celebrated the everydays and the holidays with these treasured recipes, which are at least 100 years old.

It’s a gorgeous book, well-illustrated and comfortable to read in its hardcover format.

There will be a book signing Dec. 4 at Lord & Taylor in Stamford.

“There are too many grandma Italian-American books right now, so a publisher wouldn’t be interested, but everybody who has seen this book has gone crazy about it,” LoFrisco, 83, said from his Wilton home, where he has lived 40 years.

He is a retired corporate litigation attorney, working out of New York City, but cooking at home has always been his hobby.

“As a self-published book, nobody has seen anything like it,” LoFrisco said. “People love the recipes, but they also love the stories. I know people who have it at their bedsides and read it at night.”

Part cookbook, part memoir, The LoFrisco Family Cookbook is as much about family as it is about food. LoFrisco takes readers back to a time when recipes included instructions like “a handful of this” and magnificent meals could be thrown together with whatever ingredients were in the fridge. He intersperses recipes for such Italian classics as lasagna and chicken cacciatore with reminiscences of his childhood days in Brooklyn, where food was always the center of attention and mama ruled the kitchen. His mother, Josie, who emigrated from Sicily and raised her family in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, made sure her husband, a New York City policeman, and three sons, were well fed by using the simplest ingredients and infusing them with love.

The idea for the book came when his grown children began asking for recipes that had been formulated by their grandmother. His late wife, Eleanor, had kept meticulous notes through the years about how to make her mother-in-law’s dishes, so Anthony collected all the recipes and began preparing them in book form. He knew they were something that more than members of the family would be interested in.

“Three years is about what it took seriously to put it together,” he said. “We tested the recipes six times to make sure we got them right, and had good directions so other people would know how to do it.”

To prove his point, he had his grandson, visiting from Texas, make up a batch of meatballs from the original family recipe in the book. The teenager had never made meatballs before, but they came out fine, thanks to the quality of the detailed instructions.

“I was 6 years old when I started to cook,” LoFrisco said. “I remember it very clearly. The first thing I cooked was fried spaghetti, from my aunt’s leftover spaghetti. I put it in a black frying pan and fried it, and it was fantastic. Today that’s exactly what we had for breakfast, with my grandson.”

He printed up just under 3,000 copies of the book.

“We are just now launching the book in a formal way,” he said, “but even before the launch, one guy bought 100 books on Amazon to give to his clients and employees. It’s gotten a tremendous review without any advertising.”

The book specializes in homestyle dishes that do not require a lot of rare or expensive gourmet ingredients, he was proud to say.

“It reflects my observation through 70 years, mostly of what my mother did, and the family did, and some of the things I like to do myself. I’m a details guy. I want to make sure things are right,” he said. “My mother didn’t have the time to write recipes, but she cooked every day.”

He realizes that a lot of people who are not of Italian descent like to cook Italian foods at home, and he thinks he knows why.

“I ultimately found people love the taste of Italian food. The flavors just come bursting out. It's not what I would call a subtle cuisine. You eat lasagna, it hits you. The tomatoes and textures and mozzarella together are fantastic. You don’t need an educated taste bud to love it.”