Food Taste ofItaly
A gent comes in every evening to enjoy a plate of pasta for dinner. A couple visits twice a week, once for the week’s special of “Il Giro d’Italia” (A Tour of Italy) and once for a dish selected from overhead chalkboards. And the owner of Packages Plus ’n’ More has ordered just about every dish on the menu of his next-door neighbor in the Mill Pond Shopping Center of Cos Cob.
“He’s addicted,” muses Federico Perandin, referring to Packages’ Don Migliardi.
Perandin is the owner of Il Pastaficio, which he opened last September. Within days of launching, it was the talk of the neighborhood. For one thing, this Greenwich neighborhood boasts a population with a strong Italian heritage, so it welcomed the shop with open arms and fork at the ready. Second, it’s a bright light in a mall that badly needed some animation and Italians can provide that with gusto.
A dine-in retail shop, it’s small by restaurant standards, with seating for only 12 guests. Two small tables for two diners each are opposite the glass case showcasing 12 to 14 different pastas on any given day. One table up front is meant for a communal experience, with eight chairs surrounding an oversized square table. Perandin is all for strangers forging new friendships over a bowl of gnocchi under a simple, perfumed Neapolitan tomato sauce (San Marzano tomatoes, some shallots, a bit of basil, a shower of parmesan cheese). It’s like being on Capri watching the fishermen on the Bay of Naples.
The space is starkly contemporary with lots of white on walls, floor, chairs and shelves. A polished oak service counter is topped with marble, and three-dimensional art works by hosiery fashion giant Emilio Cavallini adorn one wall.
“Everything in Il Pastaficio is made in Italy,” Perandin says proudly as he casts his eye from the large window up front to the glimmering stainless pots in the open kitchen in back.
At the age of 14, Perandin knew that he wanted to walk through the fabled gustatory corridors of his homeland, but after five years in culinary school, life intervened and for most of his working life Perandin became part of the advertising world of his father and brother. For 12 years, he ran his own advertising firm with clients such as the prominent Italian publishing houses of Cairo and RCS. But the lure of the table tugged at his heart — and stomach — and he was back in the world of rigatoni, fusilli and tagliatelle.
Two years ago, he went to a culinary school near Genoa to study pasta-making. He traveled the length of Italy visiting flour mills, pasta makers and pasta shops. It took a year of research before he was ready to open his own place not far from his home in Cos Cob.
At the far end of the shop, a wall of glass that ends abruptly just above a serving counter gives a view of the macchine per pasta alternately operated by Perandin and Italian-trained cook Roberta. Surprisingly, strains of music from a radio near the ravioli machine do not filter into the public space, nor does any aroma from the vast pans of sauces simmering away on the stove top. I missed that home-made tomato sauce smell, but Perandin is insistent that what goes on in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. In the public space, simple open shelving display cookbooks and bottles of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and olives. But you’re not here, really, to pick up a grocery item. You’ve come for pasta.
Like everything else in Il Pastaficio, the flour for the pasta—and this is critical, says Perandin— comes from Italy, mostly from Sicily. Durum, semolina, double-zero flours, all organic, make for lighter pastas. There are gluten-and chemical-free legume flours of chickpeas, beans, lentils or peas. Some doughs are made with what he calls “antique” grains much favored by cooks in central and southern Italy. Since these ancient tumminia, biancolilla and perciasacchi grains hover in the low-glycemic index, pastas made from them are easy to digest.
“They don’t hurt your stomach,” Perandin explains. “They are less fattening because they are made without eggs or butter,” says Perandin as he bounces his curly-haired 3-year-old son on his knees. His wife, Anissa, is close by to help out whenever Perandin’s heavily Italian-inflected English sometimes gets in the way of making sense to us single-language people. She is his muse, he is the cook in the family.
“I really love the flavor of the antique grains,” continues Perandin, who keeps a surprisingly tight lid on his emotions for an Italian, limiting them to lots of smiles. Years in the business arena dealing with clients is very evident. That said, he breaks away for a moment during an interview to greet friends seated at the big table, kissing one woman on each cheek. He returns and picks up the thread of the conversation.
“Antique grains have a completely different taste,” he says, and when pressed, he ranks his favorites: senatore cappelli, perciasacchi, maiorca and pane nero.
Who knew there was so much to learn. So you’ll do a Class 101 tasting at home. And when there, you’ll point to one of the pastas in the showcase ($8 a pound for rigatoni, $35 a pound for lobster ravioli) and pick up a ready-made sauce — pomodoro, bolognese, pesto or noci (tomato, meat, basil, or walnuts) to stir into your pasta. Or maybe spring for some ready-to-heat-up lasagna at home.
But you definitely won’t leave without a container of tiramisu, that decadent temptress of mascarpone, cream and cacao. Says Miglardi of Packages Plus. “It’s, it’s…”
Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.