Category Archives: Pasta

The New Italy in New York: Rossopomodoro Neapolitan Cuisine

Rossopomodoro is a restaurant in the West Village specializing in Neapolitan cuisine.  I would classify it as a modern take on Neapolitan cuisine that also highlights some of the classics like Margherita pizza and dishes like pasta
Genovese.  I met a dear friend here for lunch.  The host and waiter were friendly and made this a lovely experience.

For a starter, we shared the polpetta di melanzane, or eggplant meatballs, which of course, were vegetarian. And very good!

For our entrees, we got pizza to share. First, the Margherita pizza.  This pizza was very nice.  The tomato sauce in particular had a very fresh, sweet tomato flavor.  This pizza was not as “wet” in the middle as Neapolitan-style pizza tends to be.

We also got the Genovese pizza with mozzarella di bufala, basil pesto, pecorino and chili.  This pizza was a bit spicy with the chili but not unpleasantly so.  Just the right amount.

The bright red and green colors on our table were reminiscent of the Italian flag!

For a side dish and a bit of vegetable, I got the broccoli rabe, which was cooked perfectly–not bitter at all.

For dessert, we had the semolina lemon cake with strawberry gelato.  This had such pure, delightful lemon flavor that you really did not need the gelato.  The cake was that good on its own.

We also shared the Nutella panna cotta. Cream and Nutella, what more can I say?

A highlight about the menu for those with gluten issues is the gluten-free pizza, which from the sound of reviews, is pretty great.

Senza Gluten, Senza Worry

img_3302

In Italian, the word “senza” means without. Senza Gluten is an Italian restaurant in the Village that is completely gluten free. This restaurant is a great concept because Italian food, with its myriad of pasta dishes, is often hard to find gluten free.  It is nice for people with celiac disease and those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance to have a night out senza worry.

For starters, we had cauliflower parmesan, cauliflower breaded with cheese and tomato sauce. A nice way to eat cauliflower.

img_3192

My friend ordered a Cesare, or Caesar salad.

img_3193

My entree was a vegetable lasagna, so the restaurant is vegetarian friendly as well.

img_3194

My friend got the risotto ai funghi, risotto with mushroom, parmesan and truffle oil.

img_3195

Finally, one is lucky to find a gluten-free entree at the average restaurant, let alone a dessert. Here, there are a number to choose from of Italian classics like tiramisu and panna cotta as well as a chocolate torte and biscotti.

One good thing to keep in mind while dining here is that Senza Gluten is cash and American Express only, so come prepared.

San Gennaro Festival 2016

img_3265

New Yorkers are a resilient bunch with much pride in their city.  The bombing in Chelsea on September 17 would not deter them from carrying on.  The bombing occurred only two days into the ten-day San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, but it didn’t keep the crowds from coming.  That’s good because it’s an important year for the festival–its 90th anniversary.

img_3281

September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro and that is the day organizers celebrated with a mass and procession from the doors of the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street around Canal Street and up through Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood Church

Most Precious Blood Church

This year’s grand marshal was Joe Causi.  A Bronx Tale‘s Chazz Palminteri also made an appearance at the festival.  (Tony Danza was the grand marshal of the parade last year, but this year,  I had my second run-in with the actor.  I was shopping in Alleva Dairy, the country’s oldest Italian cheese store, when a man said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and brushed past me.  It was Tony.  Years ago, I ran into him on Bleecker Street and I asked for a photo to which he rudely said no.)

img_3228

Before Mass, I pinned a dollar on the statue of San Gennaro and got a pamphlet about him as well as a pin and prayer card.  Inside the church, there is a large presepio (Nativity scene) from Naples on display.

img_3235

Street vendors sell everything from American food to fair festival food like roasted corn,

img_3220

to pizza and cannoli

img_3223

to Italian tchotchkes

img_3257

to traditional Italian foods like these Italian cookies, taralli, mostaccioli and biscotti.

img_3428

I ate at Sal’s Pizza on Broome near Mulberry for pizza, sausage and broccoli rape.  At Sal’s, you get a side order of pasta with your entree, the traditional way.

img_3432

img_3433

For dessert, some cassata and coffee at Caffe Palermo.

img_3435

Bucatini all’amatriciana in Honor of Italy’s Earthquake Victims

Last week, the Italian town of Amatrice was preparing for the 50th anniversary of sagra, its food festival to celebrate its famous dish, bucatini all’amatriciana, when a devastating 6.2 earthquake hit, destroying much of the city and killing 291 people.  A number of restaurants and chefs, including Jamie Oliver, are serving the local dish and donating a portion of the cost to the Italian Red Cross to help the victims.

Bucatini all’amatriciana is made with a tomato-and-bacon-based sauce with red chili, topped with pecorino romano cheese.  The bacon used is called guanciale, and it is a locally made bacon using the pork cheek, or jowl.  The fat is rendered from the bacon and used as the base of the sauce.

Of course, this is Italy, so there are different ways of making the sauce.  Some recipes add olive oil, onion, garlic, wine or basil.  These particular additions are usually made to “cut the fat,” as the guanciale can impart a gamey, fatty taste.

IMG_3088

Some substitute pancetta or bacon for the guanciale, but that’s only if guanciale is not readily available because all these products are different and will change the dish.  Some use a different pasta besides bucatiniBucatini is similar to perciatelli, which my family uses.  These are used interchangeably today, but I have seen them as two distinct pasta shapes in old cookbooks.  Some think spaghetti is a reasonable substitution but scoff at using a short pasta.  But there are reasons for using a particular pasta, such as how the sauce adheres to it.  Because tomatoes were not grown in the area, canned tomatoes are used.  (Before tomatoes arrived in Italy, the dish was made white, or in bianco.  The tomato-less version is called alla gricia.  Some think the dish only started having tomatoes after World War II.)  Finally, it is essential to use pecorino romano cheese and not parmigiano reggiano because the former is a sheep’s-milk cheese, which is from the local area with its history of shepherding, not cow’s-milk, like the latter.

I made bucatini all’amatriciana this weekend from the recipe in La Cucina:  The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine.  Luckily, I found guanciale and got it cubed, which is how it is typically cut for this dish.  I substituted perciatelli for the bucatini, since I already had some.  Really, you can do what you like because the resultant dish will be delicious no matter how it is prepared.  The only criticism of mine would be that I used a lot of sauce, but this is how we like it.

amatriciana

In addition to bucatini all’amatriciana, I made farro all’amatriciana with some farro I got from my cousin in Italy.  The farro recipe comes from Savoring Italy by Robert Freson.

IMG_3089

 

10 Foods to Try When Visiting Naples

If you are visiting Napoli, these are the 10 must-try foods that I recommend.  There are so many wonderful dishes, foods, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, seafood, etc that come from Naples or the Campania region.   It’s hard to narrow it down to ten.  But the average travelers don’t have an Italian nonna to cook local dishes for them nor do they have access to a refrigerator to buy groceries for themselves.  So I compiled this list with the vacationer in mind.  I think these foods are the best for visitors to try.

  1. Pizza–In the birthplace of pizza, there are many places to try the city’s favorite dish.  Neapolitan pizza is different from American-style and New York-style pizza.  If you prefer the crispy crust of a New York-style pizza, you may not like Neapolitan pizza.  However, the ingredients on Neapolitan pies are usually top notch.  A trendy place to try is Sorbillo.  My favorite was Vesi, although I liked Da Michele too.

    Da Michele

    Da Michele pizza

  2. Sfogliatelle–A Neapolitan pastry that can be eaten for breakfast or dessert.  It’s a popular one in Italian-American bakeries.  The sfogliatelle is a difficult pastry to tackle and master–not one for the home cook.  You must try one from Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio, a bakery not far from the main train station.  It is by far the best I’ve ever had.  It comes hot from the oven.  The thin layers are crisped to perfection for a wonderfully crunchy bite.  The custard and cherry ones are a special treat too.

    sfogliatelle

    sfogliatelle

  3. Pizza portafoglio–This pizza is the perfect fast food.  It is sold from carts outside pizzerias.  It’s a personal-sized pizza folded in quarters.  Unlike most Neapolitan pizza, this pizza is crispier and doesn’t have the “soggy” center.  It also doesn’t have much cheese. But the taste is divine.

    portafoglio

    portafoglio

  4. Taralli–A crunchy ring of dough, taralli is Neapolitan snack food.  It comes in sweet and savory varieties. IMG_2938
  5. Pizza fritta–Pizza fritta is a popular Italian-American snack too.  It’s a fried calzone with a cheesy filling in the center.  It is also sold from carts outside fry shops.

    pizza fritta

    pizza fritta

  6. Rum baba–This pastry can be seen all over Naples.  It is also a popular pastry found at Italian-American bakeries in the United States.  IMG_2870
  7. Neapolitan ragu–aka Sunday gravy in the United States.  Ragu is a slow-simmered tomato-based meat sauce for pasta. IMG_2660
  8. Frolla–The frolla is the easier version of the sfogliatelle that can be baked by home cooks.  Or just as easily bought at numerous cafes in the city.

    pasta frolla

    frolla

  9. Gelato–There are many gelateria in Napoli. One of my favorites with multiple locations is Fantasi Gelati.  There are many flavors to choose from.  I liked the cioccolato–so rich–and fior di panna. IMG_2755
  10. Mozzarella–Try some mozzarella di bufala made from buffalo milk.  Yes, this is available in the United States, but it loses something on its refrigerated trip here.  It is absolutely creamy and wonderful fresh. You can order it as antipasto or in a Caprese salad. IMG_2630–Dina Di Maio

Tandem, a Ragu Restaurant in Napoli

IMG_2662

Tandem is a restaurant just steps off of the main drag, Via Tribunali, in Napoli’s Centro Storico district. The restaurant is dedicated to Napoli’s claim to fame, ragu, or gravy, a slow-cooked tomato-based sauce with various cuts of meat like beef or pork.   Tandem’s website says it is the first restaurant dedicated to only ragu, and that ragu is virtually unknown outside of Napoli.  This latter statement is a fallacy, as ragu is known in other parts of Southern Italy and in the United States where millions of Neapolitan and Southern Italian immigrants settled over 100 years ago.  Ragu is what is known in America as Sunday gravy.

At Tandem, the gravy is cooked for 6-8 hours similar to how it is cooked at home.  Opened just three years ago, the restaurant is trendy and not to be missed for the visitor to Naples.  It is a popular destination, so I would suggest a reservation.  However, I did not have a reservation and was able to be seated immediately outside.  (While I enjoyed dining outside because the restaurant is located on a side street with much local color, the general downside of dining outside in Napoli is the panhandler.  Panhandlers in Napoli are more aggressive than the ones I’m used to in NYC, and unlike the ones in NYC, they don’t just want money, they are happy with food or anything you are willing to give them.  I won’t get into a discussion on how one feels about panhandling, as people have different views, some see it as a nuisance and others want to take a more spiritual route and give.  I tend to fall in the former camp–I’m a New Yorker–and it’s always good to have a healthy suspicion so you do not fall prey to crime.  So yes, if you surmised that there was an aggressive panhandler there that night, you would be right. However, he eventually went away and he did not detract from the delightful experience.)

While ragu has meat in it, the great thing about Tandem is that there are plenty of vegetarian alternatives, including seitan.

I got the manfredi with ragu and ricotta.  It was delicious.
IMG_2660

My friend got the gnocchi with vegetarian ragu and provola.  It was also delicious.

IMG_2661

We shared grilled eggplant, and this was probably the best eggplant I’ve ever eaten.

IMG_2663

We also shared grilled provola cheese from Sorrento that was wonderful.

IMG_2664

If you are visiting Napoli, I highly recommend a visit to Tandem.

Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina in NYC

I tend to avoid Chelsea Market/Meatpacking restaurants because, for the most part, they are a bit touristy.  Although now and again, I do visit them, and Chelsea Market itself for some of the stores there.  When an acquaintance from Milan told me that Giovanni Rana ravioli was good ravioli, I had to try it.  Ravioli in the United States has been pretty disappointing.  What is available commercially in the grocery stores isn’t very flavorful, and the ravioli are small.  I tried a few of Giovanni Rana’s store-bought ravioli, and I really liked the cheese “delicato” ravioli.  So I was excited to try his NYC restaurant, Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina.  The restaurant has a large, rustic dining area with wooden tables and pots hanging from the ceiling.  The space was not so intimate, but on the plus side, with a lot of seating, there was no wait on a busy weekday for lunch.  Our waiters were friendly.  The focaccia and olive oil were good.

IMG_2106

We came purely for the ravioli, so we didn’t order antipasto or anything else.  I ordered the Quattro Formaggi Ravioli, Walnut Pesto.  This dish was delicious.  I really like the walnut pesto.

IMG_2107

My friend got the Truffle Mushroom Ravioli, Black Truffle Butter.  This dish was also very good.

IMG_2108

I would recommend dining at the restaurant because the preparation of the sauces for the ravioli is very good.  So even if you make the ravioli at home, unless you are a chef, it is nice to have an expert hand making the sauce.