Baking, especially Italian favorites, a tradition to uphold

 
By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 8/2/2018 6:37 AM
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  • Cook of the Tony Pecho of Lake Zurich finds cooking and baking therapeutic. He says it's more of a hobby for him.

      Cook of the Tony Pecho of Lake Zurich finds cooking and baking therapeutic. He says it's more of a hobby for him. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

What can we surmise about Tony Pecho, our Cook of the Week from Lake Zurich? First, he learned to bake from one of the best -- his grandmother. Next, he often spends time cooking with his godfather, and finally, well, his name is Tony … the conclusion? Yep, he's Italian. Why is it that so many Italians are such good cooks?

"Italians are social, and food is what brings us together; part of our main thing is to eat and have fun," Pecho explains. "We've got a food-heavy background, especially around the holidays. It's a tradition with Italians to have the best food possible."

For Pecho that mostly means something sweet.

"I do cook every now and then, but I do more baking, mostly cookies, bars, and some pies and cakes. Whenever we have something at work where we bring food, I make dessert," he said. Pecho works as a project manager, and his co-workers are the beneficiaries of his skill. They particularly clamor for his toffee squares -- a blend of brown sugar, chocolate, nuts and crushed Heath bits. He shares the decadent recipe with us today.

Tony Pecho of Lake Zurich says he does cook, but he really loves to bake.
  Tony Pecho of Lake Zurich says he does cook, but he really loves to bake. - Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

"I always get positive reviews," Pecho laughs.

Pecho grew up baking with his mom, aunts and grandmother, and he admits that much of his motivation comes from trying to recreate the favorite treats his grandmother used to make.

"We try to make them as close as possible to hers, but we aren't always successful!" he says. "My grandmother made {an Italian cookie called} Lemon Knots at Christmastime. They are extremely hard to replicate, but every year we give it another try!"

In high school, Pecho took home economics and especially liked the cooking segments, but he has never wanted to make it a career.

"It's more of a hobby for me. I find it therapeutic -- a good way to release stress." Once a year before the family's annual lake trip, Tony enjoys cooking with his godfather.

"We always get together and bake a lot of food for the trip. He's a very good baker, Pecho said.

Still, Tony has had a few disasters.

Cook of the Tony Pecho of Lake Zurich shares his recipe for toffee squares.
  Cook of the Tony Pecho of Lake Zurich shares his recipe for toffee squares. - Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

"Some desserts have gone wrong and once I used salt instead of sugar, and pie crust isn't my forte', but I haven't burned down the kitchen yet, so that's good!"

Using his grandmother's stand-mixer and her recipes that he inherited, Pecho continues to improve his skills. Next up, he would like to learn how to make tiramisu, and he is still working on perfecting his cannoli.

"I'm Italian, and I like to make Italian desserts. The filling is easy to make, but the shell! You want it to be crisp! I'm still trying to learn a new technique for keeping them crisp after they've been filled. "Besides eating them right away."

We could help with that.

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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