Shared from the 11/11/2018 The Providence Journal eEdition


Hospitality begins in her kitchen

Group’s CEO offers personal recipe for enhancing pumpkin soup


Dale J. Venturi ‘s soup recipe appears on Page 9. [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / STEVE SZYDLOWSKI]

CRANSTON — Dale J. Venturini is one of the most powerful women in Rhode Island.

As president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, she represents and lobbies for the food service, restaurant, lodging and tourism industries, advocating for members in legislative matters. The nonprofit association has some 700 members and represents more than 80,000 workers. The tourism industry adds $4.4 billion to the Rhode Island economy, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline said at an industry event in August.

In her kitchen, she offers a different kind of lesson in hospitality.

“I think it’s an honor to cook for others,” she said. “There’s really something magical when people come in to your home.”

When she has people sitting at her kitchen island and she’s cooking dinner, “I don’t feel like I’m working,” she said. “It’s my chance to do what I love.”

It’s a lovely philosophy to share for the holiday season.

Venturini prepared one of her signature dishes, a pumpkin soup with fresh pasta and grated cheese added just before serving. It combines the flavors of the season with her family’s love of Italian foods.

She adapted the recipe after the first time she made it, when her guests asked what unfamiliar seasoning was in the soup. It was saffron. Venturini understood the taste of her family meant switching to a sage garnish. She picks that sage out of the garden at the Edgewood home she shares with husband, Anthony J. DeFusco.

The recipe comes from an Italian chef, Letizia Mattiacci, of the Alla Madonna del Piatto Cooking School in Umbria, Italy.

Venturini originally met her at an event at Pane e Vino in Providence, where she talked about her cookbook. The event was sponsored by the National Organization of Italian American Women.

“Then a year later, we were going to Italy, so we decided to visit her at her home-slash-cooking school in Assisi,” she said.

This is another part of entertaining that Venturini enjoys. “I love the theater of it,” she said.

That means sharing stories with her guests, especially personal interactions that reflect where a recipe comes from. This soup comes with the story of her visiting and cooking with Mattiacci. She also pulls out props, such as the special olive oil she brought home from Italy.

“There’s a story to why we bought it and how we schlepped it home,” she said.

These stories help make any dinner an even richer experience. Guests love to hear the backstory of a recipe being prepared for them.

They also love to watch Venturini cook — which is one of the reasons she renovated and enlarged her kitchen. Now, guests just sit on her island and never move to the nearby dining table.

Venturini doesn’t claim to be a chef but has made recipes like the pumpkin soup her own. She also uses her organizational talents to make cooking easier, putting out all the ingredients before she begins.

A native of Pawtucket, Venturini did not grow up with a gourmet kitchen or watching dinner parties. She was 4 years old when her father, Victor Venturini, died of a heart attack, leaving her mother a widow with eight children. Shirley Venturini was 30 years old. Six weeks after burying her husband, she delivered her ninth child, Bill, Venturini’s youngest brother. She never remarried.

Dale Venturini left home when she was 16, got a job and finished school.

“I wanted a better life,” she said. As the middle child among nine, she knew she had to get it on her own.

Thirty years ago, she was hired by Ned Grace, founder of the Capital Grille; the late Twin Oaks owner Bill DeAngelis Jr.; and Ted Fuller, then the owner of Gregg’s, to head up the Hospitality Association. She’s come a long way since the first three years, when she worked out of Grace’s office.

Today, her staff is based at headquarters in Cranston, and her job includes overseeing the R.I. Hospitality Education Foundation and the Hospitality Training Academy, and a team of lobbyists.

The challenge is to keep up with a business that is ever-evolving and has discerning customers. She has to stay on top of market changes and offer training on subjects like product costs and food safety that greatly affect her members.

Venturini wants Rhode Islanders to understand that the businesses she represents make up a cornerstone of the state. Once people open up a restaurant in a neighborhood, she said, other development begins.

How many times have you heard it on HGTV? People want to live within walking distance of restaurants and cafes. Venturini helps make that happen.


A favorite cookbook of Dale J. Venturini’s — “A Kitchen With a View” by Letizia Mattiacci, of the Alla Madonna del Piatto Cooking School in Umbria, Italy. [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / GAIL CIAMPA]


Breadsticks and fresh rosemary in the kitchen of Dale J. Venturini, of Cranston, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / STEVE SZYDLOWSKI]

Pumpkin Malt Balls and Spiced Pumpkin Pecan Bark from Williams-Sonoma tempt guests in the kitchen. [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / STEVE SZYDLOWSKI]


Pumpkin soup with pasta and grated cheese and a sprig of sage in the kitchen of Dale J. Venturini, of Cranston, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / STEVE SZYDLOWSKI]

But when she takes off her high heels, she never forgets the rewards of a home-cooked meal. Pumpkin Soup

1 onion, diced

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1½ pounds (700 grams) pumpkin or squash, cleaned and cubed

1 quart boiling water or stock

8½ ounces fresh pasta

1 clove garlic, lightly crushed

2 tablespoons Parmesan, freshly grated

Fresh extra-virgin olive oil

Sage leaves, for garnish

In a large saucepan, soften the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the pumpkin, cover and cook slowly until it begins to fall apart. Add the boiling water or stock and simmer for 10 minutes.

(Optional: This is where recipe calls for ¼ saffron threads or powder to be added.)

Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and puree until smooth. Cover to keep warm.

In a separate pan, cook fresh or homemade egg pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini, a variation of tagliatelle, can be used and should take no more than 1 minute to cook.

Do not be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup. It will be chewy and starchy.

Drain the pasta and return to the hot pan and toss quickly with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a lightly crushed garlic clove. Once fragrant, remove the garlic clove. To serve the soup, ladle the pumpkin puree into bowls and top with the pasta. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

Cookbook notes: This soup is perfect as a healthy appetizer to a hearty main course.

Store-bought fresh egg noodles will do just fine.

What makes this soup so special is the drizzle of olive oil at the end. The fruity creaminess of the oil brings out the sweet intensity of the pumpkin.

If you are gluten-free, you can substitute the pasta with boiled rice or cooked cannellini beans. Warm the beans (2 tablespoons per person) in a pan with a little minced garlic and olive oil, before gently floating them on the top of the soup.

Serves 4 (doubles easily).

— Recipe from “A Kitchen With a View” by Letizia Mattiacci.

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