The Man, The Can: Recipes Of The Real Chef Boyardee Unlike the friendly but fictional food faces of Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, Chef Boyardee — that jovial, mustachioed Italian chef — is real. His great-niece, Anna Boiardi, shares family recipes and stories in her new book, Delicious Memories.

The Man, The Can: Recipes Of The Real Chef Boyardee

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, they're really fictional characters meant to entice you to buy their products, and you might be tempted to add Chef Boyardee to that list.


HECTOR BOIARDI: (as Chef Boyardee) Hello. May I come in? I am Chef Boyardee. Perhaps you have seen my picture on Chef Boyardee products at your grocers. Today, I want to tell you about a wonderful dinner for three, a dinner that only costs about 15 cents a serving.

NORRIS: Anna, welcome to the show.

ANNA BOIARDI: Thank you so much for having me.

NORRIS: This is more than just a cookbook. It's really a cookbook and a history book, and what's so striking about your family is that this is really the tale of an immigrant family that made its way. Tell us how they founded this business.

BOIARDI: And it was through their customer that they decided, you know what, what about if we started, you know, there's a real interest in our food. And what about if we started jarring our sauce and selling it? Would it sell? And that was really like this germ of an idea that they had, which eventually turned into Chef Boyardee.

NORRIS: Now, it's interesting because the company played a big role in introducing Italian food to this country but also changing the way America eats and the way grocery store shelves or start the company, imported huge amounts of olive oil and huge amounts of Parmesan. They grew their own mushrooms.

BOIARDI: At the time when they started Chef Boyardee, which was 1928, they were the largest importers of Parmesan cheese from Italy. And they also brought in, you know, tons of olive oil. And the reason why they went to Milton, Pennsylvania, for the factory was because they needed tomatoes.

NORRIS: They had to convince people to change their crops...


NORRIS: that they would have enough tomatoes.

BOIARDI: And at the height, when they were there, they were producing about 250,000 cans a day.

NORRIS: And they weren't just sold to consumers. At some point, the U.S. military stepped up and actually commissioned the company to produce Army rations.

BOIARDI: Then post-war is when they sold the company because it would have taken a lot of resources, and they felt that the best way to grow the company and to ensure that everyone that had been working there that they would continue to have jobs was to sell the company to a larger conglomerate that, you know, could offer some type of stability.

NORRIS: How do you reconcile these two ideas, the person who promotes organics and healthy eating and also the person whose name is on a label where sometimes it's on a pop-top and meant to be thrown into the microwave?

BOIARDI: What I do is I try to inspire people to cook for themselves, but, you know, I will say this, like even when I was growing up - and my mom is a fabulous cook - she would open up a can of Chef Boyardee for us also at, you know, certain nights when there just wasn't enough time and - but I do think it is important to know how to cook.

NORRIS: I - we can't get everything, obviously.


NORRIS: But what I'd love to do is put together, is to quickly tick through...


NORRIS: ...a wonderful Boyardee meal based on the food that you present in the cookbook. And let's start with zucchini boats.

BOIARDI: Basically, what you do is, is that you would scoop out the pulp of the zucchini, and then you would cook that with a little olive oil and some breadcrumbs and some garlic. And then you would put it back into the center of the zucchini that you scooped out, and then you would bake it in the oven. And you would just get sort of like this savory baked zucchini, which is really a great side dish for anything that you're making in the summer.

NORRIS: And you just drizzle it with a little bit more olive oil when it comes out of the oven, very pretty dish.

BOIARDI: Well, thank you.

NORRIS: So after - that would be our starter course.


NORRIS: And I thought a little pasta after that?


NORRIS: And I was thinking about a pasta that comes up with a lovely story, the penne rigate with broccoli. And I love this because it's the dish you took to college with you.

BOIARDI: And actually, it's a good dish for kids also because they don't even think about the fact that they're eating vegetables. So if you have kids that are averse to eating anything green, this is it, a kid-tested recipe.

NORRIS: For those of you who are listening in your cars and wondering, what am I am having for dinner tonight?

BOIARDI: Uh-huh.

NORRIS: The recipes will be posted at our website. I was torn here, and you know that this is a region where you don't necessarily cook with a lot of meat and a lot of fish.


NORRIS: And so I reached for chicken, but I couldn't decide whether to do the roast chicken that you brine with the vinegar...


NORRIS: ...which seems so interesting or the Chicken Gabriella.

BOIARDI: I love a roast chicken.

NORRIS: The roast chicken it is.


BOIARDI: One thing I do before I cook the chicken, to prop the chicken is we soak the chicken in apple cider vinegar, which was a trick that my grandmother had taught me. It gives it such a great flavor. And my grandmother used to use apple cider vinegar as a panacea. If you have a stomach ache or a headache, apple cider vinegar.


BOIARDI: So it makes sense that it would have ended up in one of her recipes.

NORRIS: Thanks so much for being with us.

BOIARDI: Thank you.

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