If you’ve ever wanted to wangle a dinner invitation from someone you hardly know, you’ll understand: Chris Ragusa’s Sunday meal is the holy grail of weekend feasting. Ragusa, the principal of CM Ragusa Builders, inherited recipes from his Italian grandmother and relishes cooking big dinners on Sunday afternoon, especially on nippy autumn days.
Ragusa is better known as a contractor of fine homes in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. But recreating childhood dishes is very important to him and his family. Until last year, however, he had a big problem. The kitchen of his Newburyport house was too small and lacked features that would allow him to cook efficiently. After all, hungry guests can wait only so long.
“We had a beautiful kitchen, but it wasn’t big enough,” Ragusa says. The island couldn’t accommodate gathering comfortably at dinnertime with his wife, Holly Ragusa, and their two teenage daughters, who attend Newburyport High School. When the couple hosted a big group, there was the inevitable aftermath: spatters of red sauce, from processing tomatoes and simmering, on the stovetop and everything nearby. The kitchen of the small traditional Colonial also didn’t flow gracefully into the living and dining rooms.
Today, with a brand-new kitchen, Ragusa hardly remembers how he managed cooking before. The new kitchen is more than double in size. The size of the island came close to doubling: The new island is eight feet square, a beauty of walnut topped with SileStone in the style of Eternal Calacatta Gold—offering plenty of room for a casual meal. The entire renovation, headed by architect Scott M. Brown in Newburyport, added 800 square feet to the original home’s 3,000-square-foot footprint.
With the extra space, the Ragusas got bigger countertops and much more storage space. “I essentially built very deep drawers,” Ragusa says. “A typical countertop is 24 inches deep, so you get that same size drawer. These are 30-inch cabinets.” He also created a large opening between the kitchen and adjoining living room.
In the old kitchen, Ragusa often spread the preparation to the dining room table, basically commandeering two rooms. Dealing with one oven meant his planning had to be impeccable. “There was never enough room,” he says.
The new kitchen boasts a 30-inch-wide refrigerator and freezer, both by Thermador. Ragusa also has two ovens, both equipped for standard and convection baking. One also offers the ability to steam cook. The island has a built-in mixer lift and built-in TV, both of which disappear with the touch of a button.
The extra room and upgraded features have dramatically lowered stress levels and workload for the cook. Under the direction of Frances G Hodges, of FGH Interiors in Newmarket, New Hampshire, the interiors of the space create an elegant, serene setting. White oak flooring; a light, creamy color palette; and artful details such as a mosaic tiled pattern over the stove, are evidence of Hodges’s fine art background.
Outside the kitchen’s French doors, just one step down, is an expansive raised patio for dining al fresco. “We wanted a really accessible outdoor space,” Ragusa says, also a request of many of his clients. This is a beauty of brick in a herringbone pattern. Near the pool is a stone fire pit by longtime colleague Seth Donaldson and a DCS grill.
In chilly weather, the new indoor kitchen’s efficiency, ease, and serenity shine when Ragusa cooks his traditional Sunday dinner—especially for anyone who knows the labor involved in making Italian dinners from scratch. Red sauce (or “gravy”) is on the stove for hours. Later in the day, Ragusa prepares homemade meatballs and an entrée, often a nice piece of halibut. Then comes the green salad. His uncle Michael and aunt Marsha bring Italian bread and “lobster tails,” crispy shells filled with cream pudding dough and sweet whipped cream and ricotta cheese.
While most cooks would blanch at the cooking this menu entails, Ragusa considers this a basic Sunday dinner: “I like things simple.” And he always incorporates his grandmother Marian’s secrets. Would Ragusa consider revealing one or two? “No,” he says politely, “I’m sorry, I cannot.”