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Cook of the Week: Probation officer finds cooking relaxing

Cary Ashby • Oct 8, 2015 at 11:00 AM

Every Sunday, probation officer Jim Zappa makes some sort of pasta dish.

“I love cooking for my family,” he said. “I love cooking; it relaxes me.”

Zappa, who cooks “with a lot of chicken dishes,” has been a probation officer for 18 1/2 years. 

The Sandusky resident was asked to explain his job.

“We supervise cases assigned by the court for criminal behavior to try to help (defendants) in their rehabilitation so they cannot commit future crimes,” Zappa said.

He also addresses a defendant’s history of supervision during probation violation hearings in Huron County Common Pleas Court. Zappa makes sentencing recommendations with prosecutors.

Zappa’s hobbies include cooking and motorcycles, which he has ridden since he was a teenager. He owns a Harley-Davidson Road King and is rebuilding a 1976 BMW R75/6. 

His featured recipe, pasta e fagioli, is better known as pasta and beans. It’s his mother’s recipe.

“My sister makes it all the time,” Zappa said. “I call this Italian chili because it’s pasta and beans.” 

He considers it “a hearty dish,” good for football games.

“You can tailgate with it obviously,” he said. “Most people can make it. It’s not difficult at all. It’s relatively inexpensive.”

When asked why someone would want to make pasta e fagioli, Zappa said it’s easy to make and doesn’t take much effort.

Being from an Italian family, it’s not surprising Zappa’s comfort foods are spaghetti and meatballs as well as Skyline chili. 

When cooking, he said he uses “a lot of parsley” as well as basil, olive oil and garlic.

Zappa considers spaghetti the best thing he can makes. When asked what the secret to his success is, he said it’s the sweet sauce and oregano.

“Growing up we had spaghetti every Sunday and Thursday,” Zappa said.

Not surprisingly, his family often requests he makes spaghetti or what’s known as “ollie oils,” which is pasta with olive oil, shrimp, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

“It’s more simple than the pasta e fagioli,” Zappa said.

He’s not a fan of other people’s spaghetti sauce because he said there’s too much acid or spice in it.

The dish he brings for last-minute company is primavera with chicken. For a potluck meal, Zappa would bring pasta. Every Christmas he family has homemade ravioli. 

Zappa encourages other cooks to “use things you’ve never used — cooking wine and spices.”

“Experiment because it’s fun,” he said.

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Pasta e fagioli (aka pasta and beans)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds ground beef

1 onion, chopped

2 cups carrots, sliced

2 cups celery, diced

48 ounces of canned diced tomatoes

2 cans red kidney beans

2 cans pinto beans

4 beef bullion cubes

2 1/2 tablespoons pepper

5 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 1/2 tablespoon tobasco sauce

48 ounces tomato sauce

1 pound/box ditaloni

Brown meat, onion, celery carrots. Add everything else to pot but ditaloni. Simmer for 45 minutes. Add cooked ditaloni before serving. Serves 4-6 adults.

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