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Devine secrets of Italian cuisine

Phyllis Devine prepares her award-winning ‘falso magro’ at home.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Phyllis Devine prepares her award-winning ‘falso magro’ at home.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Phyllis Devine eats up the competition in a regional cook-off.

Phyllis Devine’s grandparents had the best garden around.

Steeped in an Italian heritage that favored savory dishes – Grandpa Leone Faccin had immigrated from the northern end of the boot, Grandma Philippa Ferrari from the toe – they cultivated more than 140 varieties of vegetables and flowers in a back yard that covered just a third of an acre.

Not to mention the 40-foot-long trellis, from which hung grapes that the couple turned into wine in the basement.

Living with her grandparents in Wheaton, Ill. for a few years as a youngster, Devine learned the food secrets of the old country making gnocchi and other dishes from the bushels of onions and peppers the garden yielded each season.

“It’s original to you, it’s what makes you who you are,” said Devine of her love of ethnic cuisine, and that of her own Italian heritage.

Devine parlayed her culinary talents into top honors in a recent cooking contest that pitted employees of Safeway stores in four states against each other in the kitchen.

Fittingly, her recipe for “falso magro” – a rolled flank steak entree alive with garlic, black pepper, parmesan and provolone cheeses, ham, olive oil and other savories, baked in homemade tomato sauce and garnished with fresh green beans – was handed down by her grandfather.

She’ll hand out recipes and samples of the dish from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – or until she runs out – today at the Bainbridge Island Safeway. The tasting is free, but Devine asks samplers to make a donation through the store to breast cancer research, in memory of her cousin Angela who was lost to the disease at age 33.

Devine’s recipe prevailed at the store level in July, and then in district-wide competition in August.

A week ago, she earned top honors in the final cook-off in Bellevue – and was promptly whisked off to the KOMO television studios for an on-air demonstration. Her presentation is archived at the station website, under the links for “Consumer” news and “Ethnic Edibles.”

One of the judges, she said, came back for three helpings during the final round.

“He was like, make this one bigger,” Devine said.

In all, her dish bested some 250 recipes. Among the prizes are $500 in cookware, and a feature page in Safeway’s 2008 in-house calendar.

Devine’s family still maintains an estate in Dolemites in Italy, near the Austrian border. She really got her edge when she lived in that country from 1981-87.

“I wanted to find who who I was and where I came from,” she said, “and how to cook more.”

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