Watch Russell Preno Jr. of Catering with Russell, 592-5598, make roasted bell peppers and follow along with the recipe listed below. The recipe can easily work for most vegetables and is an easy way to take advantage of the spring vegetables available in the stores.
Preno is the fourth generation of chefs and grew up in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant. He started at the restaurant when he was 10 years old, doing whatever had to be done and following in the footsteps of his great-grandmother, grandfather and father. His son, Russell III, is the fifth generation of chefs and now runs the family restaurant, Russell’s, in Scranton, Pa.
Preno’s earliest memories are stories about his great-grandmother, who cooked in restaurants in Rome. His grandfather started the restaurant that became an institution in Scranton when he opened Preno’s in 1923 in the center of the city. His father, Russell Preno Sr., and his aunt took over the restaurant and then Preno himself eventually became the chef. The restaurant closed in 1995 after being in the same spot for 75 years when downtown Scranton was undergoing a change.
But diners didn’t have far to go to keep enjoying the Preno family’s good food, because Russell Preno had branched out and opened Russell’s in East Scranton in 1986. Russell’s is now being run by Preno’s son who attended the Culinary Institute in Florence.
Preno’s and Russell’s have such staying power, not only for customers, but also for the help. Preno recalls a bartender who worked there from 1939 until 2000, ending his career at Russell’s. Not far behind was a waitress who worked for the Prenos from 1945 to 2000.
The most popular dish at Preno’s was tenderloin of chicken, made with butter and garlic or wine and mushrooms and served over pasta or with vegetables. Preno not only cooked and owned a very popular restaurant but also taught culinary courses at the University of Scranton.
His newest venture, Catering with Russell with Patricia O’Hara, is available for weddings, parties, luncheons and any type of catering. Preno says he is having fun with his new career and meeting many longtime customers who have also settled in Naples. His cooking, he says, is changing to healthier and lighter dishes that include more vegetables to go with the Southwest Florida lifestyle. A perfect menu would be an array of salads, grilled vegetables, his chicken tenderloins, brown rice or pasta and fruit and home-baked cookies for dessert, he says.
Here is Preno’s recipe:
Roasted bell peppers
(works as well with button mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, green beans and others)
3 large colored bell peppers
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon mixed peppercorns, red, white and black
2 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried basil or a tablespoon of fresh chopped basil
½ teaspoon of dried dill
½ teaspoon of Colman’s dry mustard
Zest of ½ of a lemon
■ Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees
■ Cut peppers lengthwise in half and remove the stems, ribs and seeds.
■ Quarter each half and place in a large mixing bowl.
■ Add the olive oil, garlic, basil, dill, mustard and zest and mix well.
■ Place the peppers on a baking pan or in a casserole and roast in the oven until tender, approximately 20 minutes.
■ Serve as an appetizer, side dish with an entree, mixed with pasta or rice or topped on a salad.