Monday, November 30, 2009


What connects a Manhattan restaurant, a work of historical fiction, and an old Burt Lancaster film? It's not just in the name.

I suspect the link has a lot to do with a romantic and profound attachment to heritage and a fierce dedication to quality. At least that's what ran through my mind during my lunch at Il Gattopardo last week.

It started with this: parmigiana of zucchini, smoked mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. A very good way to start.

And continued with a pasta dish: paccheri (typical Neapolitan artisanal pasta) in a rich sauce made from pork ribs.

And ended with a beautiful Pastiera, that most classic of Neapolitan desserts, a ricotta cake with lemony-orangey overtones.

An earthquake registering 10.8 on the Richter scale couldn't have pulled me away from the table.

The menu at Il Gattopardo is southern Italian in the way that may surprise some Americans accustomed to the ubiquitous red-checkered tablecloth variety of Southern Italian fare. Here the ingredients and flavors are certifiably of the Amalfi Coast, but enhanced by the the creativity of Executive Chef Vito Gnazzo who never veers far from the roots of his native Salerno.

Located a few doors away from MOMA, Il Gattopardo is under the watchful eye of owner Gianfranco Sorrentino from Naples.

So... as for the novel and the film, I highly recommend them, but nothing trumps a great meal in my book.

Il Gattopardo
33 W. 54th St.
New York, NY 10019
PH: 212 246-0412

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Following a recipe in Italy has nothing to do with measuring cups and spoons. There aren't any measuring cups and spoons as I discovered when I asked some Roman chefs, friends, and other members of the general population. They don't use them and, in fact, find the concept odd.

The only form of measurement used in Italian kitchens is quanto basta which means "as much as you need". And they always seem to know how much that is. It's an inherent ability, a genetically determined form of creativity that the rest of us can only struggle to learn.
Fine tuning the art of quanto basta is essential to replicating the dishes you fall in love with at the table in Italy (asking a chef for a recipe usually gets you a patronizing smile and a list of primary ingredients).

So it was in this spirit that I attempted to create at home an antipasto from Ristorante La Rocca in Fumone, "my" medieval town south of Rome. The main ingredients are zucchini, smoked provola, and salmon. Here's where it got challenging: I can't find smoked provola where I live and of the 3 or more times I'd eaten this dish, sometimes the salmon was
fresh and other times it was smoked.

With blazing determination, I made some wild and risky decisions, putting blind faith in my ability to know when quanto basta was enough.

Here's what I did:
*Slice zucchini in 1/3 inch rounds, place on lightly greased cookie sheet in 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes. Zucchini should be slightly soft but still firm.
*Arrange each portion like this: create a flower-like shape by over-lapping zucchini rounds, top with smoked mozzarella (unless you can find smoked provola), top that with salmon, either fresh or smoked (I used smoked).
*Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and finely chopped parsley.
*Place under broiler - not too close - for about 5 minutes, or until cheese melts and slightly browns.
*You can top with a sliced cherry tomato or not. I prefer more parsley.
And that's it!

This is more of a guide than a recipe, so please do your own riff on what I've done and let me know. Try your own hand at quanto basta, and free yourself from a dependency on those measuring cups and spoons.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Our world is full of signs steering us away from danger and disaster: SLIPPERY WHEN WET! BUFFALO CROSSING! ATOMIC BOMB TESTING SITE! You need to pay attention and run the other way.

It's in this spirit of civic and moral duty that I post this alert.

If you're hungry in Rome (or anywhere in Italy, for that matter)
and you come across one of these plastic signs, usually large and glaring, STAY AWAY! You will not eat well--which is hazardous to your sense of pleasure and overall great travel experience.

These signs lure you into what I call imposter restaurants, often located around the major piazzas, like Campo de Fiori or Piazza Navona, and equipped with waiters beckoning in what they guess is your native language. What you'll get is a good view and poor to really terrible food. If you're drop-dead exhausted or otherwise in need of a brief respite, take a table and order something to drink, enjoy the piazza scene, and then go elsewhere for your meal.

Consider yourself warned.