The Flavors Of Italy Emerge From A New York Chef’s Creative Pastas

Stefano Secchi is a chef renowned for his pastas at New York’s Rezdôra restaurant, a 2020 Michelin Star recipient. When asked which pasta is his favorite to cook, though, he says the question is “too loaded.”

Secchi, who grew up in Texas and trained in Italy, mentions multiple favorites and says his mood comes into play.

“When in one mood, I like to cook very al dente pasta from southern Italy — like spaghettoni and bucatini —made with semolina flour and water, extruded and hand rolled,” he says. “During Christmas, I like to cook an unbelievable baked lasagna with fresh pasta sheets and a delicious tortellini in brodo.”

Secchi says he’s also “nostalgic for culurgiones,” a stuffed pasta he made with his grandmother and aunt when he spent summers in Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean west of the Italian mainland. Many pastas on the Rezdôra menu are based on Secchi’s memories of cooking, eating or spending time in Italy. 

“We do a doppio tortello — tortelloni with two stuffings — reminiscent of an erbazzone tart you find in Reggio Emilia,” he says with a nod to the northern Italy city. “We have a very cool shape called Girasole. We use a black pasta and yellow pasta dough, shape it into a sunflower and fill it with lump crab. It is homage to taking the train from Modena to Rimini while I was living there and seeing sunflower fields on my way to eat seafood. We serve it simply with butter and chives.”

Reggio Emilia is located in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, one of the country’s top agricultural regions. The menu of Rezdôra aims to celebrates the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, and the restaurant’s name translates to “head of household,” often a grandmother who rolls pasta by hand.

The region has special meaning for Secchi, because he spent summers there with his family, beginning in second grade. He has happy memories of eating tortellini in brodo there.

“It was one of the fondest, nostalgic memories I had foodwise, so, selfishly, I guess I decided to focus on the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna to bring me back to my childhood,” he says with a laugh.

His childhood was also spent in Dallas, a long way from Italy.

“My father is from Sardinia, and we had grapevines, a fig tree and a peach tree in our backyard in Dallas,” says Secchi, who trained as a chef in Italy 2013-2016. “We were always surrounded by my family’s friends from Italy and England, and I think the open fire and smoke was the most influential part of Texas. We cooked like that in Piedmont (a region in northwestern Italy), Sardinia and Emilia-Romagna when I was there.”

Secchi’s home is now in metropolitan New York, an area well-known for home-cooked traditional Italian meals. What advice and strategies might he share with at-home chefs looking to raise their meals and pastas to a finer level?

Here are his expert tips:

*Always have pasta at room temperature before rolling it out.

*Get the best eggs possible for your pasta dough. It will make a difference in texture, taste and quality.

*Cook ragus for a long time on a slow simmer, and use inexpensive cuts full of gelatin (shanks, cheek, neck) for very rich ragus.

*Make your own chicken stock and store in the freezer.

*Season your pasta water with sea salt.

*Use one really delicious olive oil to finish your pasta. If you have a butter sauce, buy the most delicious butter.

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