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12 Italian Classics You Need to Try Now

Americans think they know everything about Italian food, but there’s a world to learn—starting with these unmissable, lesser-known classics, from the grilled flat-bread sandwiches of Emilia-Romagna to Sicily’s pistachio pestos.

Sicily

“Sicily is so small, but its food resources are so vast,” says Frank Castronovo. He and partner Frank Falcinelli visit Sicily at least once a year, where they go on a culinary spree, eating everything from fresh seafood to wild boar to bergamot oranges. The duo nod to Sicily in almost every dish on their menus, including the sweet Sicilian pistachios they use in their vividly flavored and extremely nutty-tasting pesto. Frankies Spuntino, 457 Court St., Brooklyn, 718-403-0033; 17 Clinton St., New York City, 212-253-2303.

Chefs’ Restaurant Picks

Ristorante La Siciliana (Viale Marco Polo 52/a, Catania; 011-39-095-376- 400) for clam pasta and marinated fish. La Bettola (Via IV Novembre 65, Aci Castello; 011-39-095-271-596) for wild boar ragù, sausages and seafood. Ardigna (Contrada Ardigna, Salemi; 011-39-368-722-3269) for warm ricotta cheese, grilled meats and homemade ragùs.

Emilia-Romagna

“The people of Emilia-Romagna are happy eating their 20 staples and nothing else,” says Paul Bartolotta, who spent more than eight years in Emilia-Romagna and became an expert at making those dishes. What sets the region apart, he says, is its use of cheese and butter and minimal reliance on olive oil. One recipe that shows off Emilia-Romagna’s spectacular dairy products: flat bread spread with fresh, milky ricotta. Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; 702-770-9966.

Chef’s Restaurant Picks

Trattoria Da Amerigo (Via Marconi 16, Savigno; 011-39-051-670-83-26) for terrific tortellini and tagliatelle Bolognese. Ristorante Cocchi (Via Gramsci 16, Parma; 011-39-0521-981-990) for an incredible selection of salumi and Parmigiano. La Ca’ De Be’ (Piazza della Libertà 10, Bertinoro; 011-39-0543-444-142), a wine bar at the top of a hill, for amazing views and stellar piadina and other breads.

Liguria

Liguria, on the northwest coast of Italy, is famed for both its seafood and the parsimony of its people, says Michela Larson. The cuisine relies heavily on fish and pasta, as well as produce like lemons, asparagus, artichokes and olives. Since there are few open stretches of land to raise larger animals like pigs or cows, Larson says, Ligurians “borrow the pig from other parts of Italy” and only raise courtyard animals like chickens and rabbits. Rocca Kitchen & Bar, 500 Harrison Ave., Boston; 617-451-5151.

Chef’s Restaurant Picks

Luchin (Via Bighetti 51, Chiavari; 011-39-0185-301-063) for farinata (chickpea pancakes) from the wood-burning oven. Al Carugio (Via San Pietro 9, Monterosso al Mare; 011-39-0187-817-367), in the Cinque Terre, for beautifully prepared Ligurian dishes like seafood risotto. Ristorante Marina Piccola (Via Lo Scalo 16, Manarola; 011-39-0187-920-923) for the glorious whole roasted branzino.

Piedmont

According to Scott Conant, Piedmont’s proximity to France explains why Piedmontese cooks, like French ones, follow traditional recipes so rigidly. He explains, “The people in Piedmont say, ‘This is the way the dish is made, and that’s that.'” Conant is passionate about the region’s chestnuts, offal, truffles and chocolate (Turin is home to numerous chocolate makers) and the fabulous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, which pair beautifully with the simple recipes here, including a luscious seared chicken liver salad.

Chef’s Restaurant Picks

Trattoria Antica Torre (Via Torino 71, Barbaresco; 011-39-0173-635-170), where local winemakers dine, for great pasta—especially ricotta-filled agnolotti. Da Cesare (Via Umberto 12, Albaretto della Torre; 011-39-017-352-0141), a tiny six-table place, for spit-roasted baby goat. All'Enoteca (Via Roma 57, Canale; 011- 39-017-395-857) for the polenta ravioli with hearty woodcock ragù.

Published September 2007
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