Year's Best: New Takes on Italian Classics
Spaghetti with Sunday Sauce
This tomato-based recipe gets its name from the Italian-American tradition of leaving a pot of sauce on the stove to simmer while the family is at church. Using a slow cooker makes leaving the sauce much safer.
Spaghetti with Fresh Soppressata
One of the most popular cured meats on restaurant charcuterie boards, soppressata is a hard salami from southern Italy. Andrew Carmellini's family grinds their own meat to make it, but much easier is buying Italian sausages and removing their casings. To give the fresh soppressata extra spice, use hot sausages instead of sweet ones, or increase the amount of crushed red pepper.
"I may never use ground meat in my peppers again," said Fran Parisi, Grace Parisi's mother, when she tried this super-flavorful sausage-stuffed version. Another revelation: Smaller Italian frying peppers are much easier to brown in a skillet than the typical green bell peppers, and they also cook faster.
Mortadella and Cheese Panini
To make these sandwiches, use 6-by-4-inch slices of dense white bread from a peasant loaf to accommodate the hearty filling.
Cookbook author Domenica Marchetti makes her stellar ravioli with three great fillings and one smart shortcut.
Grilled Fish with Artichoke Caponata
To top meaty mahimahi at Marea, Michael White makes a vinegary caponata (a Sicilian relish) with fresh artichoke hearts, not the traditional tomatoes and eggplant. Trimming artichokes can be time-consuming, so buy marinated artichoke hearts from the grocery store instead.
Layered with flatbreads, this cheese lasagna is easier to make than one with noodles.
Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Carrots
Starting with dried chickpeas instead of canned ones makes all the difference in this citrusy side dish. Although soaking and cooking the chickpeas takes a bit more time, the effort is minimal.
Chilled Chardonnay-Braised Calamari Pasta
Cooling this skinny pasta, then tossing it with Chardonnay-braised squid in a light, tangy sauce, makes for a refreshing first course. Chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega in Napa Valley used the 2008 Whetstone El Pajaro Chardonnay because its acidity is "a trampoline for flavor".
Spelt Focaccia with Kale, Squash and Pecorino
Paul Kahan serves dishes like spicy pork rinds at his Chicago restaurant, The Publican, but he was game to create a healthy alternative. His idea: a focaccia made with spelt flour, which is high in protein and gives the bread an appealingly hearty texture. Instead of using an excessive amount of cheese or meat, he tops the focaccia with tangy marinated kale, soft and sweet slices of winter squash and a few shavings of nutty, salty pecorino cheese.
Pizza Vesuvio with the Works
At Rustic, Francis Ford Coppola's new restaurant in Geyserville, Coppola's half-pizza, half-calzone is named for Italy's Mount Vesuvius.