Though Grandma’s Lasagna will remain a beloved classic, Italian food today has as many variations as it has devotees.
It is, after all, a regional cuisine and its ability to adapt to changing regional tastes and incorporate diverse ingredients has made it a consistent favorite. We talked with several venues that balance their menus with traditional and contemporary choices.
La Nonna Bella, Garden City, 516-248-0366
Chef Lino De Vivo and his wife, Erica, are serious about giving their customers a special dining experience. When they bought the restaurant in November 2010 they kept the name but not the menu, says Chef De Vivo.
“We changed the menu from Italian-American dishes to emphasize more traditional authentic recipes from Italy," he said.
Many are from his hometown of Conversano in southern Italy. His signature dish, Cavatelli Conversanese, is made with onion, fresh spinach and smashed fava beans and has been a hit from the start.
Erica runs the front of the house and says she feels a lot of Italian food is misunderstood.
“Pizza with buffalo chicken is not really food from Italy,” she said.
Though their menu does feature traditional favorites like stuffed shells, there is also strascinate pugliesi with broccoli rabe, sausage, roasted garlic and oil plus risotto al limone with shrimp, lemon and oregano. She says the secret to creating authentic Italian food at home is to search the specialty stores for the most authentic ingredients from Italy. Sounds molto bene!
PastaVino Italian Bistro, Mineola, 516-294-1715
The menu at PastaVino has a distinct Sicilian flair which reflects the owner’s heritage says manager Fabricio Strambeck.
Here you can find regional favorites such as Sicilian rice balls, Moroccan couscous and braised short ribs along with Grandma’s Lasagna. When cooking authentic Italian at home Fabricio suggests not straying too far from traditional ingredients such as basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, Italian parsley, garlic and onions. Pair your dish with a good Sicilian wine and buon appetito.
Cafe Symposio, Bellmore, 516-785-6097
This traditional Italian eatery is owned by Greek-Americans who have added a Mediterranean touch to the menu, says Konstantinos Eiyis.
This means along with plenty of Italian favorites you will find some dishes with subtle doses of lemon, oregano and even some feta cheese.
“Customers don’t always want the classic sauces," Eiyis says. "They want infusion."
He adds that fried calamari is one of their most popular dishes and the secret is a special marinade done over several days – but he is not parting with the recipe just yet.
La Nonna Bella’s Strascinate Pugliesi
1 pound Strascinate Pasta
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Fresh broccoli rabe-amount to taste
½ pound fresh Italian sausage, cut in small pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta, drain and set aside. Reserve some pasta water. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan. Sauté garlic until roasted brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add sausage and sauté for 2-3 minutes; add fresh broccoli rabe and sauté until sausage is cooked through, tossing frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add pasta and toss with a small amount of pasta water. Serve immediately.