Two things quickly become obvious about Dana Ranna Venezia. She is a focused, highly organized person, and of all the things that she cooks, she loves crabmeat the most.
Dana is an associate director for Verizon Wireless Outside Business Sales, essentially running the whole state of Louisiana, supervising 26 employees out of three offices.
Twelve to 14-hour days are routine for her. She wears a headset and earpiece all day.
It’s stressful — so she cooks.
“Cooking is my love and my passion. I de-stress when I cook,” she said.
She approaches cooking like she approaches her job, with meticulousness and attention to detail. Even though the recipes she cooks are her originals, she measures every ingredient — every time.
Strangely, she didn’t eat seafood until she was an adult. Her first experience was marinated crab claws at Mandina’s Restaurant in New Orleans.
Growing up in the Gentilly neighborhood of the city (she’s a Lakeview resident now), she identified most strongly with the Italian side of her heritage.
“Italian families are very close,” she explained. “You are expected to be at the family matriarch’s home for Sunday dinners. We had one of thee things: spaghetti and meatballs, daube or meat sauce.”
As for seafood, let her explain it.
“I am very picky about seafood. Crawfish look like roaches to me. I will eat shrimp, but not if they are not de-veined — forget it! And no raw oysters — ugh.
“I do eat white fish like catfish and tilapia — I like mild fish.
“Crabmeat is my favorite seafood. But I don’t eat boiled crabs; I don’t eat soft-shells either. I love crabmeat and I love crab cakes,” she said, rolling her steel blue eyes.
Crab Cake-Stuffed Artichoke Bottoms
“This dish is my invention, based on a twist from an Iron Chef party at my house,” Venezia said. “The winning dish was an artichoke bottom. I loved it and it tasted good, but I wanted to incorporate crabmeat in it.
“I tried it on my father and he liked it, but I toyed with the sauce. I married two sauces, lemon/butter/garlic with elements of a remoulade sauce.”
1lb. lump crabmeat
1 cup diced onions
1 stalk celery, diced
1/3 cup red bell pepper
1/3 cup yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup green bell pepper
7 tbsp. + 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
11 cloves minced garlic, divided
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning mix
1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper, divided
Juice of 2 large lemons + 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup Blue Plate mayonnaise
2 14-oz. cans artichoke bottoms, drained (8 bottoms)
1 tbsp. capers with the juice
4 sticks blocks butter, divided
2 heaping tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 16-oz. box fettuccine
2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 8-oz. bag shredded Italian Five Cheese Blend
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
PREPARATION: (Serves 4)
Inspect the crabmeat for shells, rinse in a colander, and set aside to drain. Sauté the onions, celery and bell peppers in 3 tbsp. olive oil in a pan until soft. Add three cloves minced garlic, Italian Seasoning, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Sauté for one to two more minutes. Add 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice, bread crumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, egg and mayonnaise. Mix well, then gently fold in the crabmeat. Form the mixture into crab cakes about the size of the artichoke bottoms. Refrigerate until ready to stuff the artichokes. Fry both sides of the artichoke bottoms in 1/2 cup olive oil over medium heat until lightly browned. Once the artichokes have cooled stuff them with the crab cakes. In another pan, sauté eight cloves garlic in two sticks of melted butter for 30 seconds to cook off the rawness and allow the aroma to hit its peak. Add 4 tbsp. olive oil, the juice of two lemons, capers, and Dijon mustard. Sauté an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Break the fettuccine in half and cook according to the directions on the package. Make a sauce for the fettuccine by melting two sticks of butter in a large skillet. Add garlic powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, Italian cheese, 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, milk and whipping cream. Stir continuously until the cheeses have melted. Stir the fettuccine into the sauce and mix well. Place a serving of fettuccine on a plate. Top it with two stuffed artichoke bottoms. Generously drizzle the garlic butter sauce over the crab cakes and serve.
Venezia Cajun Crabmeat Ravioli
“I’m a pasta girl,” announced Dana. “I use wonton wrappers here because making homemade pasta is time consuming. The word “Cajun” is added to the name because I think with crabmeat you need a little spice in the dish.
“If I used cheese instead of crabmeat, I would just do a marinara sauce. I wouldn’t add cream. The longer you cook a red sauce, the better it is. You can’t cook one too long.
“This is a special occasion dish, although it is very easy. “
Tip: Don’t overcrowd the pot while boiling the stuffed wonton wraps , because they might stick together.
1/2 lb. crabmeat
1/2 onion, diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1 28-oz. crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz. can water
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan & Romano cheese
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 pkg. refrigerated wonton wraps
1 egg, beaten
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. chopped parsley
PREPARATION: (Serves 4)
Inspect the crabmeat for shells, rinse in a colander, and set aside to drain. Sauté the diced onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and sauté an additional 1-2 minutes. Stir in the Italian Seasoning and Creole Seasoning. Add the tomatoes and water. Stir, cover and simmer for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Stir frequently. While the sauce is simmering, make the ravioli. Mix together crabmeat, ricotta cheese, Parmesan and Romano cheese, lemon juice, basil, salt and pepper. Place 1 tbsp. crabmeat mixture in the center of a wonton wrap. Brush the edges of the wraps with egg, then, fold into a triangle over the crabmeat mixture. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Continue until all of the crabmeat mixture has been used. In batches, place the stuffed wontons in a pot of boiling water and cook until they are soft and plump, about 2 minutes. Do not overcrowd the pot while boiling as the ravioli may stick together. Remove from the water. Repeat until all the ravioli have been cooked. Stir in the heavy whipping cream to the reduced red sauce. Add the ravioli to the sauce and simmer 1-2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve.