31 March 2014

Recipes of the Lost City: Spaghetti a la Grotto Azzurra

I haven't done one of these columns—in which I make a dish based on the recipe in a cookbook put out by a long-gone New York restaurant—in a long time. Nearly four years. Mainly I stopped because it's a lot of work and takes up a great deal of time. And, to be honest, the payoff usually isn't that great. Perhaps my cooking skills aren't what they could be; or the cookbook authors left some secret ingredient out of every recipe; or I don't have the required restaurant-level equipment. Or maybe the food of yesteryear just wasn't that good to begin with. Whatever it is, the result is usually underwhelming. 

That said, I have had successes. I can say that since making Luchow's Wiener Schnitzel back in 2009, I make it about one a month. And the Grotta Azzurra's meatball recipe is a winner. 

For this dish, I turn again to the Grotta Azzurra book, of which I'm pretty sure I have one of the last surviving copies. As I reported before, the Grotta Azzurra is not exactly lost. It still sits on the corner of Mulberry and Broome, where it was founded by the DaVino family in 1908. However, it shuttered for six years a while back, and, when it reopened, it was no longer run by the DaVinos and is reportedly not the same. 

The cookbook I have was self-published by John Davino in 1977. According to the introduction, all the recipes within come not only from the restaurant, but "have been handed down form father to son since the 1800's, and each dish has remained untouched from the original recipe."

Anytime I see a recipe named after the restaurant, I am tempted to make it. I assume the restaurant was proud of the dish. Otherwise, why would they make it their calling card. The recipe for tomato sauce they call for is a fairly standard meat sauce, with ground beef, onions and peppers.

The result is hearty and satisfying, in a proletarian sort of way. It's a pasta casserole, and the kind of stick-to-your-ribs, simple, unsubtle Italian-American cuisine that will be familiar to anyone who ate Italian food in the 1960s and '70s. Nothing special. But not awful. The quality mozzarella and tomatoes I used certainly made a difference. But I doubt I'll make this one again.


John Medd said...

This looks so good. I'll be doing this one night in the week. Very New York Italian.

Kevin said...

In the Fall I usually brine 4 eye rounds using Luchowe's recipe for Sauerbraten. After about a week, we then freeze each of the pieces of the uncooked meat separately in the brine. Great comfort food during the winter with some speatzel.

Yank said...

Thanks to you, I searched out a copy of this lovely book and bought it, a few years ago. It's a gem, and worth the $75 I paid.