We recently invited Anthony Castonzo of the Indianapolis Colts to cook with us in the Edible Indy kitchen. This six-foot-seven Chicago-born, Italian-rooted gentle giant soon confirmed that he knows his way around the kitchen with very little assistance.

He politely took his shoes off before walking into the kitchen, lugging with him his favorite kitchen appliance, a Cuisinart food processor, along with a cookie tray and aluminum foil. He came prepared to cook us one of his favorite Italian dishes, Chicken Pesto Pasta with Pine Nuts.

Anthony, best known as #74 left tackle of the Indianapolis Colts, is also known as the Italian who loves to cook. Growing up in Hawthorn Woods, a suburb of Chicago, he became acquainted with the kitchen at an early age. His parents, Bill and Shari Castonzo, owned Oregano’s Corner Café from 1998 to 2011, a down-to-earth Italian eatery. His mother, Shari is the cook in the family.

“My mother is very impressive in the kitchen,” Anthony told us before he joked about the fact his nani (grandmother) made Shari, who isn’t Italian, learn how to cook her inherited Italian dishes as prerequisite for marrying her son.

Cooking Italian food comes naturally to Anthony. He reminisced about one of his earliest memories of making homemade pasta in his preschool class with his mom. He recounts cranking the pasta machine and how exciting it was to watch the machine turn dough into pasta.

While attending Boston College, he studied biochemistry, was a Rhodes Scholar nominee and had a record 54 starts on the football field. Coming to college at 240 pounds, he was still required to gain 60 more to continue to play college football. It is this time that he accredits with the growth of his diverse and healthy food tastes.

He extensively researched gaining healthy weight rather than using the mentality of eating as much of whatever and whenever just to increase weight. He explained, “I needed to gain the weight gradually and had to eat consistently, but I didn’t want to just get fat.” During his research, the availability of East Coast seafood and a television in his dorm turned his slight love for food into more of a passion.

“I discovered and watched the Food Network all the time,” he recalls. Tyler Florence, Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten quickly taught him how to whip up great dishes with heart and soul.

“Giada [of the Food Network] used pine nuts on the regular, so I thought I would give it a whirl,” he explains while munching on them in the kitchen. Pine nuts are one of his favorite foods. Toasting them up in the oven during our interview, he threw them in some olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper. His first experience with pine nuts was at his family’s restaurant with a tomato, basil and pine nut pizza—still popular the menu at Oregano’s. He tends to eat them often as a snack or throw them into a pasta dish like the one he made for us, to add a little extra flavor and protein.

While Anthony has clean and healthy eating habits, he does have a few food weaknesses.

“My ultimate cheat meal that I could eat everyday of the week is my mom’s Sunday gravy. You wake up in our house at 8 m and it smells of fresh garlic.” He continues to talk about how adding in meat is what makes it “gravy.” His mother puts braciole—a butterflied beef filled with cheese, garlic, Italian parsley, basil and prosciutto, rolled together and braised—into the sauce along with her secret ingredient: neck bone. She simmers the meat in the marinara sauce all day. Before serving the gravy, all of the meat and neck bone are removed and served separately from the pasta and the sauce. Then, the gravy is served up with perciatelli, a pasta that is like a thicker spaghetti with a pinhole through the middle.

He also has a few must eats around Indianapolis. One of his favorite local establishments is Bluebeard in Fletcher Place, where he and his girlfriend visit frequently. Living in Zionsville he also loves to hit up Noah Grant’s, where he says he has found the best sushi in Central Indiana. After spending years in Boston, where the fish is of optimal freshness, he said the fish at Noah Grant’s tastes the closest to what he fell in love with on the coast.

The meal he splurges on the most is breakfast. He also loves to grab Hoosier grub created by Café Patachou and Jacquie’s Café, both Hoosier favorites for creating dishes with local ingredients.

He grills when he can, as he prefers the least mess possible and the freshest cooked meals. His refrigerator tends to be bare, as he frequents the store on a near-daily basis. Eating five meals a day and between 4,000 and 5,000 calories, he strives to keep his meals appealing and new.

One of his favorite meals to make at home is a mushroom garlic bison burger tortilla. Moody Meats is his go-to butcher to get fresh meats like ground bison, salmon and even sea bass. Another must-have are Cherub tomatoes; he says he eats them like candy and can’t get enough of them.

Rounding out our afternoon of cooking and conversation with Anthony, he quickly whipped up the pesto with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts, a couple handfuls of basil, olive oil and salt and pepper. Then he sliced up the seasoned sautéed chicken breasts and strained the penne. He arranged the plate beautifully in his Anthony Castonzo manner with just one dish, plated with the lovely pesto spread over the chicken and pasta.

He then said, “Can we eat it?” and Matt Conti, assistant director of communications for the Indianapolis Colts; Kolton Dallas, our intern and photographer; my husband, daughters and I each grabbed up a bowl. Silence took over as we savored this simple, fresh and deliciously prepared dish cooked up by a man so overwhelming in size, yet so humble in nature.

It is enlightening to see how at home Anthony is in Central Indiana and how strongly he feels about eating well and being embedded within the local movement. He does all of this while making it a priority to support the local community, from the markets to the feasts, and to celebrate the bounty under his nose.

Sample Daily Menu for Anthony Castonzo

• Breakfast: three egg whites, two egg yolks, toast, yogurt and oatmeal
• Protein shake
• First Lunch: a sandwich with some wheat pasta and a salad
• Protein shake
• Second Lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
• Dinner: fish or other lean protein, pasta, salad and vegetables
• Late-night snack: high protein and fat, such as nuts or beef jerky

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