The Literate Chef

Posts Tagged ‘Little Italy’

The Best Italian Restaurant

In General Articles on January 21, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Inspired by a dish that she had on our most recent visit to Roberto restaurant in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, my wife suggested the ingredients for Chicken Campagna. That is not the name that Roberto applied to one of the ‘specials’ that he offered that evening. We thought of the name because the dish that we developed in a failed attempt to replicate Roberto’s reminded us of a rustic Italian chicken preparation, one that you would find in a country restaurant practically anywhere in Italy. Campagna translates to countryside. Despite the fact that it is not à la Roberto, Chicken Campagna is delicious in its own right.

Roberto Paciullo, who with his brother opened his original restaurant in this Little Italy of the Bronx more than 20 years ago, is an incredibly superb chef. The current restaurant located on Crescent Avenue, around the corner from the well-known Arthur Avenue, is one block west of where the original was situated at the intersection of E. 186th St., Crescent and Belmont Avenues. For those of you unfamiliar with New York and especially with the Bronx, that is the same Belmont Avenue that gave rise to Dion and The Belmonts.

While the printed menu at Roberto contains plenty of excellent and creative dishes, the ‘specials’ offered on the blackboard each evening are replete with imaginative surprises. For his legions of fans, they are the only way to order. From the very beginning, Roberto’s cooking has been an inspiration to me as well as to many others.

His dishes are filled with ingredients and that are common to la cucina italiana, but are combined in inventive ways that are vastly different than the standard Italian restaurant fare. In my opinion, there is no equal, and I agree with John Mariani, the writer and columnist for Esquire and Bloomberg News, Roberto is ‘The Best Italian Restaurant in America’.

Thanks Roberto, for many years of good eating and inspiration. I can’t wait to return to see what you have developed next.

Brother Devil

In General Articles on July 27, 2011 at 4:27 PM

The first time I had Shrimp Fra Diavolo was about 45 years ago at a now defunct Italian restaurant on City Island, The Bronx. Fra Diavolo was not on the menu in our household, which is surprising, given that my mother loved hot spicy food, as exemplified by her homemade hot sauce. As pointed out by her granddaughters, she loved it so, that much to my embarrassment, she even carried a little jar of her hot sauce in her silver-metallic purse.

We took her to dinner once at Roberto, perhaps the best Italian restaurant in NYC, and she ordered a special homemade pasta dish for which Roberto is deservedly famous. Mom tasted it, said it was delicious and then proceeded to whip out her little jar and spoon some of its contents onto her pasta. Thankfully, no one other than my wife and I noticed this cardinal sin and when I commented that if Roberto had wanted it to be eaten spicy, he would have added the hot pepper himself. Mom completely unabashed merely smiled and said that’s the way she likes it and since she’s paying for it, what should he care! I didn’t bother pointing out that I was paying for dinner.

Fra Diavolo (Brother Devil) is the name given to a spicy hot tomato-based sauce that is usually married with some form of seafood: lobster, shrimp, calamari, scungilli, mussels or a combination thereof. It is also frequently served with a side of pasta, or over pasta, such as linguine. Purists will try telling you that you never add cheese to seafood pasta dishes. I was lectured about that once by a South American waiter in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, NYC. I told him thanks for the advice, but I always eat my macaroni with cheese, even if it has seafood it in, so please bring some.

For Linguine with Shrimp, Fra Diavolo, I tried making it several ways. First I made a hot sauce similar to an Arrabiata and merely added the raw shrimp to the sauce to cook them. The shrimp were lost in the sauce. Then I tried sautéing the shrimp in garlic and oil and adding them to the sauce at the last minute. That was preferable to my palate. Finally, I tried making a basic marinara sauce and then sautéing the shrimp as before, but adding hot pepper and white wine to the sautéing process, this proved to be the best approach in that the shrimp stood out against the sauce. This technique has the added benefit that if one of your family or guests is not a seafood lover, you can merely serve them linguine with marinara sauce and avoid having to make two meals.

In my recipe connected with this article, you can prepare it either way, by adding hot pepper to the sauce and the shrimp, or just to the shrimp; however the circumstances dictate. Buon appetito!

Continuing on with seafood, since it is summer and the grilling season is well under way, please see: Catching Wild Salmon in Alaska and Cooking Wild Salmon at Home.

Eat It! It’s Good for You!

In General Articles on April 17, 2011 at 9:06 PM

‘Eat it,’ my mother insisted, ‘broccoli rabe is good for you. It is full of iron and vitamins and it will help you go to the bathroom.’ Words any child with sense would immediately cringe at; almost as bad as ‘eat your liver’ because you won’t be able to leave the table until you do. As a child and teenager, I recoiled from eating broccoli rabe because it was bitter, smelly, soggy and overcooked. Then one day, when I was in my twenties, attending the Feast of San Gennaro, which is held annually on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, downtown Manhattan, I was drawn to a sausage stand by the aroma of freshly grilled sausage, fried peppers and onions. They had the usual hot sausage and sweet sausage, plus a third kind, which I had never seen before. The cook told me it was made by mixing chopped broccoli rabe with pork and spices before stuffing it into the sausage casing. Being adventurous, I tried one and was pleasantly surprised at how the spiciness and sweetness of the sausage meat provided a perfect counterpoint to the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.

As time passed, I began to notice in the pasta section of the menus at several Italian restaurants, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. It had probably been there all along, but I am sure that my brain never noticed it because of my earlier aversion to the vegetable. Remembering the delicious sausage from the Feast, I worked up the courage to finally order it from one of those restaurants. The combination of chopped broccoli rabe and sliced sausage was the perfect accompaniment to the al dente pasta. As I mentioned earlier in Everybody has a Story, trying to re-create a dish that was first consumed in a restaurant is challenging and fun. This was one of them. I first tried making it with sliced sausage, then with cubes of cooked sausage, but neither of these seemed to appeal to me. After several variations I finally hit upon the best method to my taste, which is removing the sausage meat from the casing, blanching, chopping and then sautéing the broccoli rabe in garlic, adding some hot pepper and white wine, and mixing it all together.

I hope that you, your family and friends enjoy this recipe as much as I and mine do. Mother was right as usual, broccoli rabe is good for you, it is full of iron and vitamins, and when mixed together with sausage and pasta, it is irresistible. So, all of you mothers and fathers out there, this is a good way to get your child to eat his or her veggies! Mangia!

My mother also made a delicious one dish meal that she called Pasta Fazool. Actually many Italian-Americans refer to this macaroni and bean dish similarly. But it wasn’t until I spent some time in Italy that I found out that over there, particularly in Northern Italy, which has a totally different dialect from that of Southern Italy, it is called Pasta e Fagioli. Please read Pasta Fagioli, or Pasta Fazool? to find out more about this controversy.

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