Savor: Mangia! Pasta!
BY Lia Kerner & Kelly Esposito
Say “pasta”and you’re likely to ignite a familiar feeling within yourself and those around you a feeling linked to fond memories of family dinners — slurping up strands of spaghetti or savoring puffy pillows of ravioli with rich red sauce. Here’s the indisputable truth: Pasta is one of our favorite comfort foods.
The Chinese were eating pasta around 2000 B.C. but the food now synonymous with Italian cooking didn’t make the leap to Italy until much later. It is believed that the Arab invasions in the 8th century A.D. — and not Marco Polo — brought the first dried noodles to Italy and the rest is delicious history.
Traditional Italian pasta is made from a dough of flour water and/or eggs. Not just any flour can be used though. Italian law mandates that semolina flour (which is made from durum wheat) be used and most cooks outside of Italy also adhere to this rule. There are approximately 350 different shapes of pasta from simple spaghetti and fettucine to complex types like quadrefiore (“square flower”) and creste di galli which is named for the crest on a rooster’s head.
With the advent of low-carb diets pasta has gotten a bit of a bad rap. But the high-carbohydrate content of pasta doesn’t spike blood sugar levels nearly as much as white bread does and in fact pasta contains a respectable amount of protein as well. It’s a popular meal for athletes looking to stock up on healthy energy before competitions and it is a staple at most American dinner tables. Alas Americans have a reputation for overcooking pasta so it’s important to remember to always make it the Italian way: al dente — firm to the bite yet still tender and cooked through.
No matter what form it takes from a simple noodle with tomato sauce to complex stuffed creations pasta is the ultimate comfort food. And according to these four local Italian hotspots both established (Terrazzo Trattoria and Nicola’s) and new (Siena and Osteria Cicchetti) comfort is an essential ingredient of every plate or bowl of pasta that leaves the kitchen.
Serving Wilmington authentic Italian food for more than 13 years Terrazzo Trattoria began as Pizza Bistro an 8-table café in downtown Wilmington. “When we started out we just wanted a New York-style upscale trendy pizza place ” says Maria Accattato owner of family-owned and -operated Terrazzo. “But as people have responded positively to our unique pasta favorites we’ve really evolved.” First-timers as well as a vast array of loyal local clientele flock to Terrazzo’s lengthy menu offering delicious appetizers salads pizza and pastas including their eminently popular Cioppino Fra Diavolo.
Cioppino Fra Diavolo
Quantities depend on number being served ask your seafood seller how much you need
1 tablespoon garlic
1 tablespoon parsley
Olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan)
Red pepper flakes
Saute the garlic olive oil and parsley in saucepan. Add the seafood and cook over medium heat until the clams begin to open. Once the seafood is cooked add the marinara sauce and heat until warm throughout.
Meanwhile boil a large pot of water and cook the linguini until it is al dente then drain and place on a serving dish. Spoon the seafood marinara onto the pasta sprinkle with red pepper flakes and parsley and serve hot.
The newest member of Ash Aziz’s fantastic family of restaurants Osteria Cicchetti boasts fresh Italian food at reasonable prices. Since opening in December 2007 Osteria has hooked locals with uncommon combinations that are full of flavor. “Our menu offers a lot of different concepts based on traditional dishes ” says manager Todd Parisi. “And our atmosphere contributes to the old world Tuscan-feel of the restaurant. For those who have been to Italy we hope Osteria brings them back to their travels and the hearty pastas they enjoyed there.” Rich and cheesy Tortelloni Michelangelo with pancetta mushrooms sun-dried tomatoes and peas for instance.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta
1 teaspoon shallot
4 ounces assorted sliced mushroom (portabella shitake crimini)
2 ounces pinot grigio
6 ounces heavy cream
3 ounces grated pecorino romano
1 ounce unsalted butter
1 ounce peas
1 ounce sun-dried tomato (julienne)
½ ounce fresh basil (rough chop)
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
8-10 cheese tortelloni
Add olive oil and pancetta to a hot sauté pan and render until lightly brown. Add shallot and cook until translucent. Add mushrooms and toss. Deglaze pan with white wine.
Add cream pecorino romano and butter and continue to cook over a medium flame constantly stirring to avoid burning or scorching the cheese. Reduce until the sauce coats the back of spoon. Add the peas sun-dried tomato and basil. Toss the tortelloni in boiling water until they float. Mix well with the sauce and serve.
There are a lot of good restaurants in town ” says Nicola’s owner and chef Nick Pittari. “But what makes us different is that everything is made from scratch every day. Fresh is everything.” Open since December 2006 Nicola’s keeps it genuine but adds a twist to standards that keep customers coming back for more. Pittari who spent his youth in Sicily says his specialty honed with the guidance of his Sicilian grandmothers aunts and uncles is pasta — which he makes with a pasta-making machine imported from Italy that churns out 30 pounds of pasta per hour. “If you grew up in an Italian neighborhood ” he says “you’ll feel right at home at Nicola’s.” And even if you didn’t you’ll feel right at home anyway.
Massimo’s Lobster Ravioli
2 tablespoons flat parsley
28 ounces of lobster tail chopped dry and cold
1/3 cup of garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon Hungarian paprika
½ cup blanched baby spinach
2 teaspoons sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend for 30-60 seconds. Refrigerate.
3 ½ cups of 00 flour Doppio Zero (a very finely ground flour)
½ teaspoon salt
3 full eggs extra large
2 egg yolks save the whites for later use (Chef’s tip: Organic eggs are better because the yolks give the pasta more color)
Combine all ingredients in a countertop mixer and blend until it starts to look like coffee grains.
Remove the pasta from the bowl and separate it into five equal parts. Wrap four of them in plastic wrap so they do not dry out. Pass the dough through a pasta press constantly folding it and moving the settings thinner and thinner until you reach the last setting. At this point you should have a long thin pasta sheet.
On a well-floured table (preferably with semolina flour) cut 4 by 4 squares out of the dough. Take your lobster mix out of the cooler and put 1 ½ tablespoons in the middle of each square.
Use the egg whites to brush the outside of the ravioli. Take one corner and bring it to the other so it forms a triangle remove the air from the pocket and seal it shut. Make sure there is no filling at the seal or the ravioli will open. To seal it tight use a fork to push down on the ends.
Boil a pot of water with one tablespoon of salt. Add the fresh ravioli and boil for five to eight minutes. (Chef’s tip: Be sure to make a few extra so you can test them at five minutes.)
Fresh herb butter sauce:
½ cup butter
1 tablespoon parsley
½ tablespoon thin shallot
½ tablespoon chives
1/8 tablespoon garlic
1/8 tablespoon sage
Mix all the ingredients and refrigerate. Take out as much as you need and warm in a pan on a low flame. When it starts to bubble add the ravioli and toss in the pan just enough to coat. Plate and mangia! (Chef’s tip: For a little spice add 1/8 tablespoon of crushed red pepper to the mix.)
Siena Trattoria and Pizzeria
Opened in January 2007 Siena Trattoria and Pizzeria offers Italian food in a warm and eclectic atmosphere. “We pride ourselves on our fresh product ” says manager and head chef Jonathan Staber. “All our bread and dough is made fresh daily in-house.” Siena puts its personal touch on design-your-own pizzas as well as more traditional dishes such as Linguini Alla Vongole oven-roasted little-neck clams in olive oil with pancetta garlic white wine and grape tomatoes served over flat pasta. “We’re not just a Saturday-night restaurant ” says owner Jeff Silver. “We want to offer the true trattoria experience of a neighborhood restaurant.”
Linguini Alla Vongole
8 clams with shells
2-3 tablespoons shelled Manila mini-clams
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup white wine
1 tablespoon pancetta
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh basil
6 halved grape tomatoes
1/8 cup clam juice
7 ounces linguini
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic tomatoes whole clams (with shell) white wine clam juice and parsley and stir briefly. Put the pan in a 450-degree oven and heat until the clams open approximately 4-5 minutes. Once the clams have opened remove the pan from the oven put it back on the burner and add the fresh-shelled Manila clams and the basil.
Meanwhile cook the linguini until al dente — the time will vary depending on the thickness of the pasta. Over medium heat toss the cooked linguini into the clam mixture until warm throughout. Transfer to a serving dish; add the extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of parsley on top. (Serves 1)