I’m sitting at Sora Lella, the New York outpost of a bustling Roman restaurant, where I’m sipping the exquisite signature cocktail made from a 40-year old secret family recipe. The tonnarelli pasta “cuccagna” that I’ve ordered is also a recipe from the past, this one dating back to 1961. I’ve noticed lately that Italian cuisine is taking a U-turn and returning to the days of yore, with Italian chefs who look to their parents and grandparents for inspiration.
“The tonnarelli was the first recipe my father Aldo created when he started cooking in 1961,” said Sora Lella’s chef and co-owner Mauro Trabalza, the grandson of the famous Elena “Sora Lella” Trabalza, who opened her namesake restaurant on Rome’s Isola Tiberina more than 50 years ago. This dish features more than 18 ingredients, including a luscious a concoction of sausage, pork belly, and walnuts and according to Trabalza, “has stayed on our menu to honor the passion that my father passed on to us.”
Chef, restaurateur, and all around food goddess, Donatella Arpaia, revamped her menu at Mia Dona last fall to reflect the food of her mother’s hometown, Torrito, in the Puglia region. “I see a definite trend toward authenticity in many restaurants, of using methods of Old World-style cooking, and this is something that defines the kitchen at Mia Dona today,” she says. The results are often sublime: eggplant parmesan with buffalo mozzarella, pork tenderloin confit, and of course, many pastas made by hand, including sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, cavatelli with seafood, and Arpaia’s aunt Rosa’s orecchiette with slow cooked Sunday ragu.
At cozy Spina, you see the pasta you ordered—malloreddus, taglioline and fettuccine—being made by hand in the dining room. “We thought it would be fun for our guests to see the pasta made before their very own eyes and connect with what we do,” says chef Roberto Patriarca. “They may not have had their mother or grandmother making fresh pasta for them but this way they can feel like they do now.”
Locande Verde’s chef Andrew Carmellini makes his grandmother’s recipe for ravioli and it’s actually named as such on the menu. “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” is filled with meat and topped simply with tomato sauce, basil, and parmesan for a comforting yet satisfying dish—exactly what you’d expect from a recipe passed down from an Italian parent or grandparent. Which, as chefs are showing us, is how Italian food is meant to taste.
To read more of Tracey’s food adventures, visit her blog at The Busy Hedonist.
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