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Articles by: Francesca Sarda

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Piccolo Fiore. Celebrating Seven Years in Midtown

    Midtown East. The area buzzes with people and traffic, everyone rushing from or to work. Everyone here seems late for a meeting or scheduling one as they walk blindly, face buried in their iPhone. Taxis honking and swerving from west to east side of the street at a mere sight of a possible customer.

    Hidden among the hustling streets is a true oasis you can find, Piccolo Fiore, an Italian restaurant and lounge. The inviting decor quickly makes you forget the noisy outside, as the friendly staff wisps you to your table and hands you a menu filled with Italian delicacies.

    The restaurant's cuisine is a clever mix of Northern and Southern foods of Italy focusing on the best each region has to offer. The Chef interprets classic Italian dishes to make them more American palate friendly serving even Cesar Salad, which although not truly Italian is among the American crowd favorites.

    Paired with a world class service Piccole Fiore is a perfect setting for various occasions, from a business meeting, when one tries to impress a client, to a quiet and romantic dinner date, where the ambience is set by replica artworks of Renaissance masters such as da Vinci, Bronzino and Raffaello.

    In the coming week there is a perfect occasion to experience the hospitality and cuisine of Piccolo Fiore Ristorante. On Wednesday, May 21st, 2014, the restaurant will hold a special event to celebrate its seven year success in delighting the foodies of NewYork with their take on Italian cuisine.

    The guest of honor during the evening will be Tony Lo Bianco, a renown American actor and a star of a one-man show Little Flower. Scheduled to appear during the same evening is the  Italian Tenor, Luciano Lamonarca, who is to perform a selection of arias from his wide repertoire.

    Lightning the atmosphere by bringing a few laughs to the audience is the job of comedian Regina DeCicco , whose performance is sure to be a success due to her brilliant and witty humor and bubbly personality.

    The evening is to start of wit ha cocktail reception, which includes hors d'oeuvres and open bar. A special dinner consisting of three courses, wine and beer is to follow. Both the cocktail reception as well as the dinner can be booked separately, but we do recommend treating yourself to the entire evening of good food, great wine, fantastic entertainment and signature Piccolo Fiore service.

    For more information and to reserve your seats CLICK HERE >>>>

    Piccolo Fiore is located at
    230 E 44th St between 2nd and 3rd Avenue
    New York, NY 10017
    Tel 212-922-0581

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    De Cecco: The True Colors of Pasta

    Let me start by asking you about the blue and yellow colors on the package of De Cecco pasta. They seem so simple, almost as if the package had been drawn by a kid, as if they reflected the basic, natural elements that go into your product.

    Yes, the colors symbolize the natural ingredients of our pasta, wheat and water, the sun and the Italian sky, and they are not only marketing logos. They stand for the passion, care, and expertise needed to make our excellent pasta. Our pasta is unique because it is the product of the De Cecco family’s traditional five-step process that has remained unchanged for more than a century. We only choose the best durum wheat. Then we mill these pale yellow grains in our own mill, keep the most valuable core and produce particularly coarse semolina. Freshly milled semolina from grano duro, or hard durum wheat (not flour, mind you, that’s not allowed in real Italian dried pasta) is immediately blended with natural, cold mountain spring water. The pasta is then shaped through state-of-the-art bronze dies and finally slowly dried for several hours at low temperatures. Only a mastery of these five steps can deliver the combined benefits of “natural, highly nutritional values,” “exceptional organoleptic characteristics” and “renowned cooking performance” associated with De Cecco pasta.

    Sounds like a very lengthy procedure. Each step requires a lot of patience.

    It is! And for the De Cecco family it’s crucial. They are descended from an old family of pastai [pasta makers] and are truly obsessed with quality. Take for example the process of checking gluten, which is carried out according to the original process—by “the owner’s bare hands.” Literally. It’s a ritual that has been running in the family for generations and it is one of the company’s assets. It allows us to choose the most suitable grains, with their beautiful pale yellow color.

    Speaking of colors... what about the blue? Any secret behind that? The blue chiefly symbolizes water.

    This is a very important ingredient for our pasta. We only use pure, cold mountain water from our own spring. The water comes straight from the mountains at a low temperature (<59 F) essential for “creating” pasta with a high consistency, which will ensure it stays firm while cooking. It’s no simple task to artfully mix our coarse semolina with cold water. Only very experienced pasta makers, proper masters, are able to prepare the right blends that bring over 160 types of pasta “to life.” That’s it. Spring water and fresh semolina. It’s very simple yet totally unique.

    I thought the blue also symbolized the sky. But De Cecco is, after all, the third largest pasta producer in the world. It’s not as if they can just roll out the pasta and leave it to dry in the sun, like in bygone days...

    Before De Cecco, pasta used to be dried out in the open, under the sun; the process was artisanal and could not be performed on rainy days. De Cecco—which was (and still is) located in Fara San Martino, at the foot of the Majella Mountain—wasn’t blessed with a favorable climate. So in 1889 the company’s founder, Filippo De Cecco, invented and licensed a new drying device and built the first industrial low temperature drying plant. This allowed them to respect the old art of making pasta, which requires that you dry the pasta slowly at low temperatures in order to preserve the pale yellow color of the wheat. To this day, unlike many other companies, De Cecco still dries its pasta at low temperatures, resisting the temptation to use heat to speed up production. It still respects the natural pasta making process, putting quality over quantity. They’re not joking about “pasta according to tradition.”

    In other words, De Cecco strikes a balance between industrial demands and a respect for nature and tradition.

    Absolutely! You can see it for yourself. Look closely at a De Cecco fusillo, a spaghetto, or a rigatone. You’ll notice that they’re slightly coarse; they are precise, right down to the pasta’s porosity. And what plays a key role in all this? The bronze drawing. Drawing is a special process that gives the pasta its shape. In our industry the dies can either be bronze or Teflon. The large majority of pasta makers use Teflon, but bronze creates a product more in line with “what it used to be,” because in the past all dies were bronze. Bronze drawing gives pasta that unique porosity that makes sauces and condiments stick to it.

    I have heard there is a famous “tasting ritual” at De Cecco. They say it evokes legends of faraway kingdoms...

    You’re right, but it is far from being a legend. It is an “all De Cecco” tradition, passed down from generation to generation. It has to do with the family’s love for good pasta. Tasters verify that plain pasta, without sauces or condiments, retains the color, fragrance, elasticity and firmness during cooking. Each penna or spaghetto must smell like wheat and it must have that typical pale yellow color we were talking about. Then they make sure that tastes right. Finally, they check the consistency and elasticity of the pasta. After the first tasting, the pasta sits for 5-10 minutes and is then tasted again. This point is essential for making sure the pasta doesn’t get soft and overcooked when you transfer it from the colander to the plate. To pass the test, it must taste like it’s just been cooked. Tasters really have the last word on quality. And you know what? Tasting is also performed by members of the De Cecco family, personally.

    In light of all that, it seems only natural that De Cecco pasta is a little more expensive than other brands...

    We are a few cents above average, it’s true. But it’s a price many people are willing to pay once they learn what an excellent pasta it is, what it’s made of and how it’s made. We don’t just make an Italian- sounding pasta. We make the real thing, and we make it in Italy according to tradition. Our target is the pasta lover, the foodie, the real connoisseur.

    *In fact the “De Cecco people” strongly recommend that connoisseurs and gourmets try their pasta with just a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (De Cecco’s, naturally!) to fully appreciate the quality of their wheat. The next time your generic-brand pasta gets overcooked by a warm sauce, or “upsets” a condiment, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    De Cecco: How a Love of Pasta Conquered the World

    De Cecco. For decades, New Yorkers have enjoyed the same quality of pasta Filippo De Cecco used to make in his Abruzzo abode in 1886. Filippo’s story covers a wide swath of Italian history, from the nineteenth century to the present day, beginning with his father Nicola, who produced “the best flour in the county” in his stone mill, then handed over the reins to his son. It was Filippo’s idea to build a small pasta factory next to the family mill on the Verde River.

    Today, De Cecco is the third largest pasta producer in the world. Its unique story is a blend of semolina and family, water and culture, air and Abruzzo—the little Southern Italian region on the Adriatic sea. Clearly, there is more to the story than a company’s mere rise to success. 

    Industrial, yet artisanal
    From the very beginning, Filippo’s company was industrial by nature. As early as 1926 the authoritative “Italian Touring Club Guide” mentions De Cecco, which was then exporting “pasta from Fara” as far as America. In all likelihood, much of De Cecco’s fortune came about as the result of a difficult situation. Unlike, say, Naples, where pasta is dried in the sun, De Cecco wasn’t blessed with favorable climes; the factory was located in Fara San Martino, a town on the slopes of the Majella Mountain. So another method had to be invented. In 1889 he built a large barn, the first industrial low-temperature drying plant.

    The company method of drying pasta would later spread throughout the world, yet unlike other companies, De Cecco dried its pasta indoors at low temperature; to this day it doesn’t heat the area to speed up production. So that, while the new method of production wasn’t subject to meteorological conditions, the company still respected the natural pasta-making process, putting quality over quantity and subsequently extending the product’s shelf life.

    Conquering the World
    In 1893, the De Cecco family showcased its pasta at the Chicago World Fair and won the World’s Columbian Commission for “superior manufacture, color and firmness of form after cooking.” From that moment on, they’ve never looked back. They began regularly exporting pasta to the United States in 1904. De Cecco even infiltrated Hollywood, most famously in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (a box of De Cecco pasta appears in the last act). But the best ambassador of the product was the large Abruzzese community living in the United States. For many families from Abruzzo, the pasta was an absolute must.

    The company suffered a brief setback during the Second World War, when retreating German troops destroyed a large part of the factory in an act of retaliation. After all, the family had proudly proclaimed its anti-fascist stance, supplying partisan soldiers in the Majella massif with provisions. After the war, the factory was rebuilt on the same site, and to this day the third largest producer of pasta in the world—and the first company to have met the international SA800 standards for social responsibility—makes its home in the coarse and courteous Abruzzo region. The leader in manufacturing quality dried pasta continues to balance innovation and tradition. In fact, the company follows the same recipe it used 127 years ago, gets its water from the same source, and employs the
    same procedures to maintain quality wheat. Yet it also avails itself of modern facilities and avant-garde technologies. This is why the De Cecco brand, precursor of the “made in Italy” model, continues to champion Italy’s image and its own in over 120 markets.

    The De Cecco secret
    If you happen to be vacationing in Abruzzo, pay a visit to Maiella National Park, the town of Fara San Martino, and the historic De Cecco plant. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience. You might just run into Mr. De Cecco himself while he’s performing his daily taste test. The only thing you can’t do is buy in! The business is indissolubly connected to family. Each of the twenty controlling shareholders belongs to the family, now in its fifth generation. And they have little interest in letting go; supposedly, in the 1970s, Frank Sinatra sent a couple of envoys to Fara to propose buying the company for a million dollars. Needless to say, the De Cecco family didn’t bite. So how can you experience De Cecco if you live in New York?

    Well, give it a taste. It’s found in most places, and even if it costs a little more than other brands, remember, there’s a good reason for that. Because there’s only one secret to a excellent pasta dish—use excellent pasta!

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Pizzetteria Brunetti; Italian-ness Can be Taught, and Learned

    ll It’s considered a little Neapolitan gem in Westhampton Beach (103 Main St). A must for many folks. After five years, during which time the restaurant’s success continued to grow, Pizzetteria Brunetti opened a branch on 626 Hudson Street in Manhattan. We stopped by just a few days after the opening.

     

     There had been a lot of buzz in the neighborhood in the preceding months, especially after a gigantic wood oven arrived from Italy. One New York magazine wondered: could this pizzeria compete with others in the neighborhood?
     

    Since New Yorkers’ palates have become increasingly sophisticated, pizza doesn’t always mean the same thing. We say yes, indeed, we ate one of the best Neapolitan pizzas in New York! But who are the Brunettis? Whence the passion for pizza and Napoli?
     
    Their story is worth telling. Mike and Jason, Italian Americans, only discovered Neapolitan pizza about five years ago. It was a whole other experience! Their enchantment prompted them to enroll in a Neapolitan school in San Francisco, then apprentice at Neapolitan restaurants, and finally open their own Neapolitan pizza business.
     
    Mike, also a well-known hairstylist in the Hamptons, confessed that when his son told him he wanted to open a pizzeria, he was a little disconcerted. “I thought, ‘A pizzeria? Another pizzeria?’ Why on earth?
    I had always wanted to work with Jason. He didn’t want to work in fashion, but still…” 
    Among the contributing factors for their opening the restaurant were an article about the rebirth of Neapolitan pizza and a dinner at Keste, then a brand new restaurant managed by Rosario Procino and Enzo Caporuscio (today Rosario manages Ribalta in the East Vilage while Enzo is still at Kestè).

    Mike and Jason had never eaten authentic Neapolitan pizza before. And we should note that it was this little pizzeria in the West Village that proudly introduced Manhattanites to Neapolitan pizza.
     

    We asked both men what they thought the first time they tasted it. “It was heaven. Unexpected. I could make out the flavors. It wasn’t heavy. I could taste the flavor of what I was eating. And I discovered real mozzarella! It was love at first sight. I thought, ‘What had I been eating up to that point,’” said Mike.
     
    And Jason, an athletic guy with an impressive build you won’t soon forget, exclaimed, “It was an unforgettable experience that changed my life. I decided I had to let others in on the secret too.”
    Although their roots are in Calabria, this is the first time anyone in the family has launched a business with ties to Italy.
     
    Why Pizzetteria? “I like the name. But it doesn’t mean we make small pizzas,” said Mike, smiling.
    “A lot of our clients from the Hamptons come here looking for the same pizza they eat on vacation. Now they’re telling their friends.”
     
    The concept of this new venue is to combine a wine bar and a pizzeria. But unlike the place in the Hamptons, it doesn’t serve just pizza. “I decided that our chef shouldn’t prepare too many Neapolitan dishes. Our menu includes some dishes from Campania besides the pizza. For those who want something else. My clients love knowing the story behind a dish, about the culture, where it comes from. It’s a learning experience for them.”
     
    Chef Gerardo (“Don”) Guarino, originally from Campania, stopped by our table as we were digging into dessert – unforgettable and very light zeppole and a Torta caprese. He brought us coffee made in a percolator. Just like home. Under his chef’s hat he flashed that broad smile of Italian hospitality.
     

    The Brunetti family’s “pizzetteria” is proof that the culture of Italian food can be transmitted, taught, loved, and made even by those who weren’t born there or haven’t lived under the Bel Paese sun. Italian-ness can be taught. And learned. We recommend the margherita, the fried pizza, and the parmigiana. Not to mention the zeppole. Perfect for dipping in Nutella.


    PIZZETTERIA BRUNETTI- MANHATTAN
    626 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014
    (212) 255-5699

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Old Fashioned Salumeria on the UES

    Already famous for serving one of the best Neapolitan style pizza pies in the city Fabio Casella takes on a new challenge, opening an old fashioned salumeria, merely a block south of San Matteo. Why so close to his other establishment you ask? Well, the answer is simple… the young and inventive chef needs to be present at both locales: the popular pizzeria and il Salumaio, the newest addition to the prestigious Upper East Side gourmet scene.

    Small and cozy, it mirrors a typical salumeria in an Italian town. Inside you will find all of the best Italian cold cuts, cured meats (try the san Pietro prosciutto!), as well as a selection of hard and semi-soft cheeses any cheesemonger would be excited to see. But Casella did not stop there, making sure there is a fresh selection of soft cheeses such as burrata, mozzarella di bufala, and ricotta. He also offers a wide variety of olives, among them the delicious and oh so hard to find Castelvetrano olives and condiments such as balsamic vinegar glazes.

    "The idea is to recreate an old fashioned salumeria," states Casella. "One where you establish a relationship with the staff, where they know likes and dislikes, where you call and order a half a pound of speck and a quarter pound of pancetta, a fresh burrata and some ricotta salata and you have it delivered right up to your door." He continues proudly: " We want to make sure you can count on the freshness and authenticity of our products, hence why everything is delivered daily and only the highest quality products end up on your table."

    What adds to the already wide array of products, are the ready to tickle your taste buds, hot and cold sandwiches, appetizers and pasta dishes. Stop in for lunch to try Fabio's creative sandwiches such as the Via Capone, boasting mortadella, marinated eggplant and provolone cheese or the hot Salsiccia e Broccoli (Italian sausage and broccoli).

    Make sure to check out the daily soup specials and bring home home made hot pasta dishes such as Trofie al Pesto or the spicy Penne all"Arrabbiata. The health conscious are not left out with a selection of the sandwiches offered in a form of a wrap instead of the more caloric focaccia, hero or ciabatta breads, or can chose one of the six salads (do not skip the Insalata di Rucola made of arugula, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes topped with olive oil and just the right amount of balsamic glaze).

    Il Salumaio also serves true Italian espresso, one that delightfully hugs your tongue without the bitter left over taste that many coffee shop espresso's leave behind. "To make a good Italian cup of coffee, one needs to know their equipment, the coffee beans, the right measurements and even take the humidity into account, it's a form of art," adds Fabio.

    The UES is in for a treat, there is nothing better than being in the delivery zone of this salumeria and having the ability to have Italian delicacies delivered to your door. But, don't sweat if you live cross town… stop in, buy your groceries, have a sandwich and say CIAO to the friendly Italian staff, I have a feeling you will become a regular…

    il Salumaio is located at 1731 2nd Ave and is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
    For deliveries call: (646) 852-6876