This birthday a long-held dream of mine finally came true. After years and years, I finally acquired an honest-to-goodness Nonna, an Italian grandmother who knew how to speak Italiano and cook with wild abbondonza abandon.
Dear friends gave me this remarkable gift by joining me on the Staten Island Ferry for a celebration at a wonderful small restaurant named Enoteca Maria. What makes it particularly wonderful isn't a lady named Maria. No, in fact, what makes this restaurant completely unique is its rotating collection of real Italian grandmas that man the kitchen, devising an every-changing set of menus that feature regional family recipes passed down from Nonna to Nonna.
My Nonna was from the Northern Italian town of Bergamo and that night's menu reflected her Lombardy leanings. We went with it, ordering up dish after dish of delights, from a garlicky good Stuffed Artichoke to a rich rendition of Baked Eggplant and Tomato, and a tongue-tingling platter of Seared Hot Peppers with Anchovies to a melt-in-your-mouth sunny yellow Butternut Squash Risotto. Pictured above, the risotto was made even more delicious by a sprinkling of fragrant green sage leaves and shaved Parmesan Reggiano.
And did I mention the incredible homemade Focaccia? Or how about the night's riff on nose-to-tail dining?
That's right. My Nonna took head-to-tuchis quite literally as we tucked into a Split Roasted Sheep's Head crusted with herbs, garlic and breadcrumbs. That was followed by a dish of Roasted Veal Tails with Peas and Lemon that was luxuriously tender and utterly irresistible.