Vinny Knows Thanksgiving Cooking

Vikings linebacker Vinny Ciurciu is accustomed to cracking through human wedges on Sundays, but the Italian kid from Jersey is equally adept at putting together a good meal with a great sauce. He'll be back in the kitchen today.

For tens of millions of red-blooded American men, today means one simple reality – be a couch potato watching football and only taking a break to graze on a Thanksgiving feast.

You can tell these guys a mile away. They tend to wear their extra-stretchy pants and during commercial breaks are subconsciously pulled into the kitchen to take a whiff or maybe filch a piece off the bird while it's being basted. Some may make the rhetorical comment "anything I can do to help?" but by and large most guys are politely forced to leave the kitchen.

For NFL players, you can only imagine the process is magnified. Most are big enough and strong enough to risk a potential bout of salmonella by physically breaking off a small piece of turkey meat if they choose – and big tough guys don't cook, right?

Not so fast, Mr. Zubaz. Some men cook and do it well. Even football players whose primary job is to be a human battering ram in the most violent of professional sports.

Vikings linebacker Vinny Ciurciu is a special teams ace whose primary job on Sundays is to destroy a wedge of blockers for the opposing team. And he's not your average Thanksgiving Day guy who only leaves the TV to eat and return to unsnap the top button of his pants – except for those true Thanksgiving Day professionals have don't care and wear sweatpants merely for the comfort. You'll find him in the kitchen while everyone else is vegged out on the couch.

"I'll be cooking this year," Ciurciu said. "It's going to be a combination this year of me and my fiancée Jaclyn. I'll be cooking something and she'll be cooking something. It's just going to be us this year, so we'll do the traditional turkey and stuffing bit. Nothing too fancy, but things we enjoy eating."

Ciurciu's love of cooking began in his childhood in Paramus, New Jersey. The middle of three boys in an Italian house, his upbringing was typical of that of many an Italian kid from Jersey. The kitchen and the dining room tables were the centerpieces of activity in the house and, like many of his friends, for the first 10 years of his life, he thought his name was "try this."

His mother's affinity for cooking had a pronounced affect on him and, while he was the athletic star during the week in high school and college, he was still something of a mama's boy in the kitchen.

It was a love that he brought with him to Carolina when he joined the NFL and has brought with him to Minnesota. While many of his teammates will spend their free time watching Chris Berman and others on ESPN, you'll find Ciurciu is invariably watching Rachel Ray and the gang on the Food Network.

"I'm a huge fan of the Food Network," Ciurciu said. "I'll go home and flip through the channels, but I always seem to stop at Food Network. Cooking has always been an interest for me, so I enjoy watching how they prepare different foods and try some of them out myself."

Ciurciu enjoys cooking many different types of foods, but his first love has always been Italian cooking and, by his own admission, he "makes a pretty mean veal scaloppini." As with Italian cooking, getting the right sauce is critical. Serve something with sauce from a jar? Fugetaboutit.

A sauce is an Italian cook's signature and Ciurciu has refined his craft to the point that he can put his sauce up against any Italian restaurant in the Twin Cities.

"I can make good a pretty good sauce," Ciurciu said. "My mom is a great cook. So is Jaclyn, but I grew up watching my mom cook and she had it down to a science. She's taught me a lot of things and it made me a better cook – nowhere close to her, but pretty good."

So what does it take to make a good sauce? The easier question would be what does it take to make a bad sauce? That is much easier. Every cook uses different combinations of ingredients to get the taste they like and becomes their own. Ciurciu has thrown out untold gallons of sauce that didn't quite cut it and tells novices that it is truly a trial and error, but there are three key factors that go into a good sauce.

"It's got to have combination of texture and flavor and taste to it," Ciurciu said. "It isn't easy or else everyone could do it. You can tell when it's a good sauce or not, especially me since I grew up eating some of the best. You can experiment with difference spices or make it sweeter with some sugar. There's always a way to tweak things to make it a little different, but it is a skill and you learn how to do it."

Ciurciu says he doesn't currently aspire to be a restauranteur or look into a post-football career as a Food Network host. He prefers to keep his cooking on a smaller scale. But would he be open to the possibility of being a team chef when he calls it career as a player?

"Who knows?" Ciurciu said. "I guess it would depend on how much it pays."


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