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Grisanti Family Recipes

This month has been trying. I promise that I haven’t changed this blog to become merely a cookbook, but for August of 2021, it will have to do.

While it would give me immediate satisfaction to unload all the negative energy of August onto this blog, I’m not going to do that. I will keep doing what I have always done, which is to communicate with my Kenny, so first and foremost: we are okay. Then woman-up, and deal with the disappointments of life.

Although this time, I will get a little extra creative with it:

Tonight and tomorrow night are full moons in Aquarius, which are ideal for detachment of bad energy. Tonight, I will be printing the diary I have been keeping since last Fall, and with my final letter to the bearer of bad energy in my life, I will burn those pages and hope their subject never invades my head and heart space, ever again.

I will live in the now. Yesterday is forgotten and tomorrow will be a surprise.. a happy one, I hope. But I will not lose today, worrying about tomorrow.

Beyond that, as promised, I offer you a couple of cherished recipes from the Grisanti family in Memphis. Ronnie Grisanti & Sons on Poplar Avenue, was where Kenny and I spent many special dates and wedding anniversaries dining. It’s also where we once started smoking again, because the meal was so good, we had to have a cigarette afterwards! I’ve been all over their menu, but I often returned to my favorite “Elfo’s Special”, which was included in Vincent & Mary Prices’ cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes.

That restaurant is sadly closed now, but there are several Grisanti family restaurants throughout Memphis.. and with any of them, you can never go wrong. But that one was always special to me, likely because of the romantic evenings Kenny and I shared at its tables, coupled with an ambience I never felt before, or since.

During our last visit, before Ronnie Grisanti died in 2017, he visited our table and I told him how much I loved his grandfather Elfo’s “special”; and how I had a cherished copy of the Prices’ book with Elfo’s recipe. He left us briefly and returned with a printed postcard of the recipe. I keep that card in the Prices’ book, both holding deep sentimental value to me.

The real challenge of the first recipe is if you can read it without Vincent Price’s voice in narration. So far, impossible for me.

You’re welcome! 😁

Elfo’s Special

(Buttered Spaghetti with Shrimp and Mushrooms) Serves 2

From “A Treasury of Great Recipes” by Mary and Vincent Price

Just to prove that all is not magnolia and old lace cookies in the South, here are a couple of recipes I collected last time I was in Memphis, Tennessee, at a very good restaurant called Grisanti’s. As the name would suggest, the specialties are Italian, but gentled down a bit as a result of a sojourn in southern U.S.A. In southern Italy, the herbs and seasonings would have been far more exuberant. Still, Elfo’s Special is very special indeed.

  • Thin Spaghetti
  • Salt, Pepper
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Jumbo Shrimp
  • Mushrooms
  • Romano Cheese
  1. Cook: 4 ounces thin spaghetti in rapidly boiling salted water for 10 minutes. (“Use long fork to stir spaghetti so it won’t wed,” were the chef’s romantic directions!) Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
  2. Heat in large skillet: 1/2 cup butter.
  3. Add: 1 small clove garlic, minced, 4 jumbo raw shrimp, diced, and 3 large mushrooms, diced. Cook slowly in the hot butter for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the spaghetti to the skillet. Sprinkle with: 3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a little freshly ground pepper.
  5. Using a large spoon, turn spaghetti over from edge of skillet to center, being careful not to cut it. Continue until spaghetti is very hot, but do not let the butter brown.
  6. Presentation: Turn out onto warm serving dish and serve with grated Romano cheese.

Grisanti Spaghetti Sauce (Big John Grisanti’s Recipe)

Here’s a great chance for your child to practice measuring, chopping, and stirring.

  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14-ounce) can ready-to-serve chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • Hot cooked spaghetti
  1. Remove sausage from casing; set sausage aside.
  2. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; add onion, and cook, stirring constantly, until tender. Stir in flour; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add garlic; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
  3. Add beef and sausage, and cook, stirring until meat crumbles. Stir in tomato paste and next 9 ingredients.
  4. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 hours, stirring often.
  5. Serve sauce over pasta.

Yeild: 6 servings

I would have an additional “Kenny” recipe here for his creamed spinach (which in my opinion, runs neck and neck with the Grisantis’), but all he would give me is:

  • Get spinach
  • Think like an Italian

He’s probably not even being facetious here, and doesn’t have a set recipe in mind, but simply “wings it”. It’s always wonderful, and hopefully someday, I can pin him down with an actual recipe.

Also.. please don’t judge my smudgy table in the photo, up top. We’ve had a hard month, and we were ready to eat: so Kenny took a quick shot before we dove in.

Update: Kenny made with the recipe, yay! 😀

Kenny’s Creamed Spinach

Makes about four, 1 cup servings.

  • 1 big box washed baby leaf spinach
  • 4-5 finely chopped basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup Half & Half
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • I prefer to use a wooden spatula for sautéing

In wide flat sauté pan, medium heat:

  1. Melt butter
  2. Add spinach, garlic and basil.
  3. Cover and cook down, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking/burning.
  4. When all is cooked down soft, remove lid and reduce liquid while stirring, until spinach is soft and moist but not soggy and pan is slightly moist.
  5. Reduce heat to medium low.
  6. Add 1/2 & 1/2, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan.
  7. Simmer down while stirring to a creamy consistency.
  8. Serve.
Chelle Ellis
the authorChelle Ellis


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