Reservations and Information: www.paolasrestaurant.com
|Paola’s Pici con Asparagi|
Not too long ago, I was early for a lecture in Carnegie Hill, a family-friendly East Side Manhattan neighborhood known to tourists by another name: Museum Mile. The Guggenheim and the Jewish Museum are right there. And later this year, the long-awaited reopening of The Copper Hewitt National Design Museum will draw even more people to Carnegie Hill. Though New York’s # 1 tourist attraction, The Metropolitan Museum, is outside its boundaries, it too is within easy walking distance. Carnegie Hill, I was about to discover, is also home to Paola’s, an ode to Italian cooking that’s the very definition of the perfect neighborhood restaurant. But in this case, it’s a neighborhood place that’s worth a detour for anyone who wants to indulge in some great food. It’s created by a truly original Chef who never stops inventing and re-inventing everything that makes her restaurant so popular.
Paola Bottero is celebrating 30 years at the helm of Paola’s. Its location at 1295 Madison Avenue at 92nd St. is the second in Paola’s history. The high ceilinged space is light and bright space takes up most of the ground floor of the iconic Hotel Wales. But don’t think for one moment Paola is resting on her reputation. She is constantly creating for new ways to present today’s favorites. Take for example her Lollipop Kale Salad (Insalata di Cavoletti). We may be on Kale overload but Paola has discovered two tiny leafed varieties that she pairs with pecorino cheese and Granny Smith Green Apples. Paola doesn’t confine herself to what’s available in New York. She sources her ingredients on the basis of what’s best. She found the Kale in California. It’s every bit as fresh as the local asparagus she uses with her Pici—wonderful hand rolled fresh pasta that’s right out of her kitchen. She presents the classics her own way too—such as the warm house-made Mozzarella that’s accompanied by Roasted Red Peppers, Fresh Basil and Taggiasca Olives Vinaigrette. There’s a deft hand in Paola’s kitchen whether its making specialties like Vitello Tonnato from her native Rome or a flawless lemon tart accompanied by a great dollop of Panna, an ambrosial whipped cream.
|Insalata di Cavoletti —
Note the size of the Kale leaves.
The story of Paola’s rise to culinary fame is a fascinating one:
Paola’s father, Alessandro, came to New York in the 60s to play violin with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The family settled here and Paola married and had two sons. Her youngest brother, at the ripe old age of 22, opened a wildly successful restaurant called 65 Irving Place. Paola was intrigued and, at the age of 36, jumped into the restaurant business with both feet. Her brother gave her an introduction to another well-known Roman restaurant family in New York on condition she would not reveal her relationship to him. Paola triumphed there and the family took her under their wings, training her and eventually backing her when she opened the first Paola’s on E. 84th Street. That handsome man running between the front of the house and the kitchen? That would be Stefano Marracino, Paola’s son and heir.
If you are anywhere near Paola’s, do not miss an opportunity to go there. As I sat through a splendid lunch, the people just kept on coming. Paola’s serves virtually non-stop from the moment it opens its doors at 11:00 am and doesn’t let up until 11:00 pm. It even delivers locally. But if you absolutely cannot make it, put it on your bucket list for your next visit to New York. And in the meanwhile, I’ve tried to recreate Paola’s sensational take on an asparagus sauce that tops her Pici but in my case, tops some Orechiette, with Paola’s blessing.
Recipe for Pasta with Asparagus,
adapted from Paola’s Pici con Asparagi
1 bunch (approx. 1 ¼ lbs. of fresh asparagus)
1 lemon, zested and juiced.
1 cup Reggiano Parmigiano cheese
(plus ½ cup to pass with the pasta)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
16 oz. Orecchiette, Gemelli or Pici pasta
Salt and Pepper
1. Take 6 or 7 stalks of asparagus, trim the ends and set them aside.
Cut the remainder of the asparagus into ½ inch pieces on the diagonal. Set aside.
Fill a large, heavy skillet with water. Salt the water generously.
Set the pan on high heat and bring it to a boil. Add the stalks of asparagus to the boiling water. Cook till tender, about 3 minutes.
Fish them out of the pan, leaving the water in the pan.
Put the asparagus into the bowl of a food processor with the
Metal blade in place. Add the lemon juice, the cheese, the butter and ¼ cup of asparagus water and process until the mixture is the consistency of soup. Add more water if necessary. Put the resulting sauce into a medium sized bowl.
Cook the pasta following the package instructions for timing.
(Orecchiette take 12 minutes). Three minutes before the pasta cooking time is up, add the asparagus pieces to the pasta. Cook pasta and asparagus together. This will up the asparagus flavor to the pasta. Set aside a half cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and the asparagus.
|My Orecchiette with Asparagus.
Paola’s Pici was better.
Add the pasta, asparagus and lemon zest to the bowl with the asparagus sauce and toss all the ingredients together. If the pasta sauce is to thick, add some of the pasta water. Salt and pepper the dish to taste. Serve at once passing the additional Reggiano Parmigiano cheese.