Rod the Builder vs. Steve Garagiola in classic Italian cook-off (with recipes)

Rod the Builder returns for something a little different this year

DETROIT – Rod the Builder is back for another challenge this year, though it will look a little different because of the pandemic.

Rod Meloni is turning in his reporter notepad for a Rod the Builder apron and challenging our own Steve Garagiola to an Italian cook-off!

You can watch the competition in the videos below, or a quick recap in the video above.

“I’m no chef. I admit that,” Rod said. “I peel, I cut, I clean, I put things in the oven but I do not manage cooking as a regular course of action.”

“I love to cook,” Steve said. “I’ve been cooking for years. I even put some recipes into a cookbook. I don’t know how much Rod cooks but he is Italian. There has to be a cook hiding in there someplace.”

Rod and Steve are meeting virtually from their own kitchens to make a traditional Italian dinner with an appetizer, salad and main course.


Caesar salad:

Caesar salad
Caesar salad (WDIV)

Caesar salad is my favorite. It’s an excellent compliment to almost any entrée, or a meal by itself when you add grilled chicken or salmon. While you find Caesar salad on almost every restaurant menu, you rarely find the real thing unless you make it yourself. Let’s get one thing straight right now: Real Caesar dressing never looks like Ranch dressing. Creamy Caesar is a fraud. Caesar dressing is not even a distant cousin of Ranch dressing, and don’t let the anchovies scare you off. Keep an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.


  • 1 large head of Romaine lettuce
  • 1 can of anchovy fillets
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 coddled egg (See below)
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil.
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • Croutons


In a mixing bowl, dice anchovy fillets into nearly a paste. Blend in garlic powder. Add lemon juice, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Stir vigorously. Add coddled egg and stir. Slowly pour in oil stirring constantly. Add ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese and stir vigorously. The cheese acts as an emulsifier that creates a creamy texture.

Wash and trim Romaine leaves into bite-sized pieces. Toss with dressing and top with remaining Parmesan cheese and croutons.

NOTE: Many Caesar dressing recipes call for a raw egg. A coddled egg will give the dressing a smoother, creamier texture, and is also safer. Concerns about the risk of salmonella-based food poisoning often point to the eggshell. A quick bath in boiling water will kill bacteria. To coddle an egg, bring a pot of water to a boil. Gently place the egg in the water and cook for 30 to 45 seconds.

Toasted ravioli:

Toasted ravioli
Toasted ravioli (WDIV)

If you ever visit St. Louis, go The Hill for Italian food. Every restaurant will offer toasted ravioli, which is a favorite of mine because there’s a family connection.

It all began in the 1940s at Oldani’s -- one of the most popular restaurants on The Hill. A chef named Fritz mistakenly dropped an order of ravioli into hot oil instead of hot water. Realizing his mistake (and not wanting to waste good food) he removed the ravioli and gave the plate of fried pasta to a willing subject sitting at the bar: Mickey Garagiola (my uncle), older brother of Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe Garagiola (my dad). Mickey said, “Hey, with a little parmesan cheese and sauce, these would be great!”

A tradition was born. Others will claim they invented toasted ravioli. Don’t you believe it.


  • 1 bag of ravioli
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • Bread crumbs (Italian seasoned)
  • 1 large jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups of Canola oil


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook ravioli as directed on package. Drain and set aside.

In a bowl combine eggs and milk. Mix well.

In a separate bowl put a generous amount of breadcrumbs.

Place ravioli (a few at a time) in the milk mixture, then into the bread crumbs to coat lightly.

Heat oil in a sauce pan. Add ravioli a few at a time. Cook about one minute on each side. You want a nice golden brown.

Heat up your spaghetti sauce.

Arrange the toasted ravioli on a plate with a bowl of sauce in the middle. Sprinkle the ravioli with parmesan cheese and serve. Mangia bene!


Lasagna (WDIV)

Lasagna is not complicated, but it does take some time to make the sauce. The only mistake I occasionally make is not allowing the sauce to cook down long enough. You need to simmer a lot of the water out. You want that sauce thick when you start building the layers.

Ingredients (sauce):

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground lean pork
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic ½ cup onions (minced)
  • ½ cup green bell pepper (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons Canola Oil 1 28-ounce can tomato sauce 1 6-ounce can tomato paste (concentrate)
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 3/4 cup red wine (Don’t use cheap wine)

Ingredients (cheese filling):

  • 2 12oz. cartons cottage cheese
  • 1 12oz. carton ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon parsley flakes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon oregano

Ingredients (other):

  • 1 pound package Mozzarella cheese (shredded)
  • 1 package lasagna noodles

Directions (noodles):

Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water as directed on package. While they’re cooking, you can start the sauce. When noodles are done, remove to a bowl of cold water so the pasta stops cooking. Set aside for later.

Directions (sauce):

  1. Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add minced onions and green peppers. Cook for about three minutes. Add minced garlic. (If you add the garlic too soon, it will burn). When onions and peppers are soft, remove from the sauté pan and set aside.
  2. Brown the ground meat and pork in that same pan and set aside.
  3. In a large pot, blend tomato sauce, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add salt, basil, oregano, sugar, parsley, pepper and onion mixture, the meat mixture, and the red wine.
  4. Simmer on low heat, checking every so often to stir so it doesn’t stick. You want the sauce to reduce to a thick consistency.

Directions (cheese filling):

Blend all of the cheese filling ingredients together in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 375.

In a 13x9 baking dish start building your layers:

  1. Sauce.
  2. Layer of noodles
  3. Ricotta cheese mixture
  4. Mozzarella cheese
  5. Repeat.

Finish off with a layer of noodles and sauce. That final layer of sauce keeps the noodles from getting crunchy. Cover with foil and bake 25 minutes. Uncover and bake another 25 minutes. Let the pan cool for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese before serving.

You can watch Rod the Builder on Local 4 News at Noon, 4, 5 and 6, as well as right here on ClickOnDetroit.com.

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