Breaking bread

For Claudia Pruett ’83, MBA ’87, it’s a family affair wrapped in love and tradition—including 50 years of serving lasagna to SCU econ majors by her parents, Rose and Mario Belotti.

Bronco Profiles

Breaking bread

For Claudia Pruett, it’s a family affair wrapped in love and tradition—including 50 years of serving lasagna to SCU econ majors by her parents, Rose and Mario Belotti.

By Dona Leyva

Taste of home: Claudia Pruett in the kitchen with parents Mario and Rose Belotti
Photo: Charles Barry

The focaccia recipe that opens Claudia Pruett’s foray into the world of cookbooks is a family favorite. The prep time for this rustic Italian flatbread and humble cousin of pizza is five minutes, and the recipe is simple enough for a child to lend a hand—at least when it comes to spreading the dough in the pan. After all, the book is called Cooking Dinner: Simple Italian Family Recipes Everyone Can Make. As for the focaccia recipe—it serves 16. Enough for a big family, plus perhaps a few friends, to break bread.

“The book is much more than a collection of recipes,” Pruett says. “It’s about the lost art of cooking and eating together. Honestly, I understand that’s hard to do on a regular basis. There are demands in society that can slowly take control of your life. I have been guilty of giving in to those demands.”

That said, Pruett grew up in a food-centric Italian household and has worked as a chef professionally. Her mother, Rose Belotti, held down a career as a medical technologist while raising three children. Pruett and her siblings—along with her father, SCU Professor of Economics Mario Belotti—helped prepare school lunches and dinners. And as the recipe for Chicken Cutlet Milanese in Cooking Dinner notes, young Claudia helped her mother by pounding the chicken and soaking it in a mixture of egg, milk, salt, and pepper.

Now Pruett is a mother herself. She and husband Greg ’82 have two kids in college and one in high school. Pruett affectionately refers to the cookbook as her fourth child. It took two years from start to finish and was published by Hawaii-based Mega Productions last year. For the project she collaborated with friend and cooking partner Rima Barkett, a fellow Italian and a former restaurant owner who often turned to chef Pruett for help in the busy kitchen. “We always wanted to write a cookbook,” Pruett says. “We knew that customers wanted the recipes.”

Quantity theory of lasagna

Decades of Santa Clara students have already savored some of the foods of Pruett’s childhood. Mario Belotti began teaching at Santa Clara in 1959 and served from 1962 to 1984 as chair of the economics department and from 1988 to 1996 as director of SCU’s Food and Agribusiness Institute. For decades now, the family has hosted a summertime dinner party in their Saratoga home for graduating students of economics.

Merilee McCambridge Amos ’69, one of Belotti’s first students—and one of very few women econ majors in those days—reminisces about the time she and two of her fellow students enjoyed their first dining experience with the Belottis. “The meal included Rose’s unbelievable cuisine. Everything came from the garden, as all the vegetables and fruit still do, as well as the grapes for Mario’s outstanding homemade wine.”

“Every econ major has eaten my mother’s lasagna,” Pruett says. “That’s almost 50 years of economics parties. Let’s see, how many trays of lasagna would that be?”

Though Professor Belotti no longer serves as chair, the dinners continue. “He just doesn’t slow down,” Pruett says.

As for Belotti, he makes sure to give credit where it is due. “Rose fixes all the food for all of them,” he says.

Pruett adds, “He always wanted my mother to write a cookbook.”

One of the dishes that Rose Belotti is famous for is Chicken Saratoga, named after the town where the family makes its home. Alas, you won’t find the recipe in Cooking Dinner. It’s a secret so treasured that it is written in the family will. But on page 153 there is an adaptation that goes by the name Chicken Madeira.

“Start with science.”

Mario Belotti was born into a family of sharecroppers in the Italian Province of Bergamo, near Milan. Rose hails from Savona, close to Genoa. They met on the boat taking them to the United States.

“My dad had no money,” Pruett says. “He even got put in jail for three days on Ellis Island because he didn’t realize he had to have money for a return ticket home. And so he had to call his sponsor in Texas, and she had to wire him money.” She pauses. “Nothing but pennies in his pocket, determination, and a dream.”

Today, the family owns an apartment within a villa in the northern lake region, at Lago Maggiore, to which they retreat every summer.

As she raises her own family, Pruett has tried to instill the virtues of good food and good wine that she learned at home—pleasures not only for their own sake, but for the fellowship and conversation that go along with them.

At Santa Clara, Pruett completed an undergraduate degree in combined sciences and biochemistry—with her father’s encouragement. “My dad was very smart about life planning. He knew I liked science in high school and he said, ‘So start with science. You can always plan for an MBA later.’”

After graduating, Pruett served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Seattle, where she worked with elderly people, visiting them regularly and making sure they were getting the help and good food they needed. “It was like having a hundred grandparents,” she says. Then for a time she worked in marketing for a bank. “But I’ve always cooked, and I’ve always given cooking lessons on the side,” she says. Plus, “cooking has a lot to do with science—and teaching. I actually combined the traits of my parents. My mother was always feeding people and delivering food and making sure everyone was taken care of.”

A simple mix

For the past 20 years, Claudia and Greg Pruett have lived in Stockton, where he is president of Vaquero Farms Inc. The company grows tomatoes and owns a processing plant that provides tomato paste and diced tomatoes to companies that make tomato sauce, salsa, frozen pizza, and other tomato-based products. Now Claudia has her own product available for purchase as well: a private-label focaccia mix, for those who want a little help with prep.

The publication of Cooking Dinner has filled Claudia Pruett’s calendar with book signings, television talk shows, and cooking demonstrations. She and Barkett launched the A Tavola Together Foundation to disseminate their philosophy that the kitchen is a wonderful place to teach life-long skills, give children a sense of accomplishment, and allow them to develop a sense of responsibility. But she still made time this past October to fly to Italy to run in the Venice Marathon.

With one cookbook under her belt, she has plans for more—plus a children’s story, “‘Anna Bakes Cupcakes,’ about a girl and her grandmother baking together.” She’s already made numerous television and radio appearances— but she’s not against more where that’s concerned.

»See Nonno’s polenta cake recipe here.
»Learn about Pruett’s A Tavola Together Foundation’s “Kids Can Cook 2” program

Sweet victory

The Bronco Orange Bowl trophy turns 60

By Dan Coonan and Sam Scott ’96

Heroes’ welcome: Broncos return.
Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/ Courtesy SCU Dept. of Archives and Special Collections

You didn’t need to be an expert to pick the favorite in the 1950 Orange Bowl. The disparity between the Broncos from Santa Clara and the Wildcats of Kentucky was literally as obvious as the hats on their heads.

The Broncos still sported the leather helmets of a quickly fading era. Kentucky had the shiny plastic headgear of the dawning age. It marked a gulf in resources that reflected in more serious ways. Under the tutelage of renowned Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, the Wildcats boasted the manpower for the new “two platoon” football—with specialists for offense and defense. Santa Clara’s players sucked wind both ways.

Not to say the Broncos were lightweights. They notched a season with seven wins, two losses, and one tie—nearly toppling No. 2 Oklahoma on the way. But they weren’t very big men. They weren’t very fast. Few expected much from the “Mystery Team from the Pacific Coast.”

The Wildcats flew into Miami in early December, giving them three weeks to adjust to the Florida humidity. The Broncos didn’t leave San Jose until Christmas night, when their 17-car Southern Pacific Special rolled out of the station with 200 friends, fans, and family. Even with stops for practice, a four-day, 3,300-mile train ride hardly augured well for the Jan. 2 face-off.

Photo: Courtesy SCU Dept. of Archives and Special Collections
What are the odds?

Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder—the mostfamed oddsmaker of his generation—was so sure of Kentucky that he plunked down $265,000 on them. “It should have been a walkover,” he said.

It wasn’t. It was one of the greatest upsets in college football history: Santa Clara triumphed 21–13 in a game that stunned the 64,000 fans and turned the Broncos into national heroes. The train ride back, needless to say, was nothing like the one there. “It was a party from Miami to the Bay Area,” says Len Napolitano ’51, a quarterback who went on to become dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine (and father to Janet Napolitano ’79, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security).

Sixty years later, memories of the game still resonate. This January, Napolitano was among the 17 members of the team who gathered at the annual Alumni Pasta Feed to honor a feat that remains one of SCU’s greatest athletic upsets.

The wall

The game didn’t start off going Santa Clara’s way. Establishing a 7–0 lead, Kentucky appeared ready to deal a death blow after taking the ball to Santa Clara’s 3-yard line. But the Wildcats could not break Santa Clara’s wall as time expired in the first half. “It was a big moment—you could just feel it was starting to go our way,” recalls halfback Bernie Vogel ’51, J.D. 56.

The Broncos’ defense again gave the spark in the third quarter, forcing a Kentucky fumble on the Wildcats’ 13-yard line. Santa Clara started a drive that ended with quarterback Johnny Pasco ’52 ramming in the Broncos’ first score.

The sides then traded touchdowns, though Kentucky missed its extra point, leaving the score a nail-biting 14–13. With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Vogel dragged a pair of Wildcats on a 17-yard run for touchdown. The Broncos made the extra point, and that was all she wrote. The players hoisted Coach Len “Cas” Casanova ’27 onto their shoulders and into Santa Clara history.

His brilliance that day was as much about conditioning as anything. The father of one of his coaches ran greyhounds in Florida and knew that out-of-state dogs raced better in the heat if their training was scaled back before the race. He shared that insight with Cas, who kept practices light. By contrast, Kentucky spent several weeks drilling. As the game ground on, the difference was obvious.

Casanova’s players loved him. When Earl Warren, the governor of California and later U.S. Supreme Court justice, joined the 10,000 fans who greeted the returning Broncos, team captain Hall Haynes ’50 broke up the crowd. “Having Governor Warren here kind of puts us on the spot. We were thinking of running Cas for Governor.”

Cas, though, was soon gone to coach Pittsburgh, a heavy blow as the fledgling San Francisco 49ers were shifting local football focus to the pros. After three unsuccessful seasons, in 1953 Santa Clara dropped top-flight football. And Cas went on to lead the University of Oregon’s team for 15 years.

But the trophy Cas helped win—a large, engraved silver bowl full of oranges— remains the first thing you see today when you near the Leavey Center trophy case. It’s a monument to a little team that shocked the world.

»SCU Director of Athletics Dan Coonan has written more on the 1950 Orange Bowl for the Winter 2010 edition of Bronco Sports Magazine. Read it here.

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