The Washington region is home to a rich variety of top-notch restaurants, serving cuisine from all corners of the globe. But some say we’re missing what Baltimore, Philadelphia and states up and down the Eastern seaboard enjoy: good, cheap Italian food. Our Local Restaurant World Tour explores why that is, and examines the foundations of Italian and Italian-American cuisine.


  • Domenica Marchetti Author of "Big Night In: More than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style" and food blogger
  • Roberto Donna Chef and restaurateur, owner of award-winning Galileo restaurant.
  • Robert Tramonte Owner of the Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia

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From Roberto Donna

Bolognese Sauce

8 oz. Ground Pork Meat (Not too Fine)
8 oz. Ground Beef
4 oz. Pancetta
1 Medium Sized Onion
1 Stick of Celery
1 Carrot
4 oz. Butter
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 cup Dry Red Wine
8 oz. Plum Tomatoes (Peeled and Pureed)
2 cup Chicken or Veal Stock
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
2 Chicken Livers
3 oz. Soaked Dry Mushrooms
1 Bouquet Garni (Bay Leaves, Garlic, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Black Pepper, Corn)

To Prepare:
Saute the meat in olive oil until nice and crispy, then drain the oil. Saute the onion, celery, carrots and chopped pancetta in 2 oz. of butter or olive oil. When this mixture begins to turn a golden color, add the meat and the mushrooms (well dried). Add the red wine and bouquet garnish. As soon as the wine evaporates add the necessary salt and pepper, tomatoes (already cleaned from their seeds and pureed). Two hours later add the heavy cream and leave it to thicken quickly. Finally, add sauteed chicken livers and the remaining butter.

Salsa Puttanesca

2 Cup Tomato Sauce (Puree)
3 oz. Small Black Olives
1 oz. Caper
6 Filet Anchovies
1 Garlic Clove
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

To Prepare:
Smash garlic and place in a pan with cold olive oil and anchovies. Melt the anchovies over a slow fire and add the capers, black olives and saute for a few seconds or until the anchovies melt. Once the anchovies melt add the tomato sauce and simmer on low fire for 10 minutes.

Arrabiata Sauce

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Garlic Clove
1 Qt. Tomato Pulp (Passes through the Sieve)
1 Espresso Spoon Red Crushed Pepper
2 oz. Pecorino Cheese
4 Basil Leaves

To Prepare:
Slowly cook the garlic for a few minutes or until brown in color. Add the tomato, basil, crushed red pepper and adjust with salt and pepper. Cook at a medium heat for 25 minutes.

Serve with Penne Pasta and sprinkle with Pecorino Cheese (Pecorino Cheese is better for this dish than Parmesan).

Cream Sauce

1 Qt. Heavy Cream
4 oz. Sweet Butter
6 oz. Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese
12 oz. Mascarpone Cheese
1 Pinch Salt
2 Pinches White Pepper
1 Pinch Nutmeg

To Prepare:
Bring the cream to a slow boil and then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat immediately.

Salsa Alla Matriciana

4 oz. Diced Pancetta
10 oz. Vidalia Onions
2 oz. Pecorino Cheese
1 Pinch Pepper
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
14 oz. San Marzano Tomato (puree)

To Prepare:
Thinly chop the onions and cook until they start to get a golden color, then add the pancetta. When the pancetta is crispy add tomato puree, salt and pepper and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with pasta sprinkled with pecorino cheese.

Pesto Genovese

40 Basil Leaves
1 oz. Super Fresh Pine Nuts
1/2 Garlic Clove
3 Tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
1 Pinch Course Sea Salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

To Prepare:
Place all the ingredients in the blender and blend slowly. Stop blending periodically to prevent heating the oil or the basil dark.

Salsa Carbonara

3 oz. Pancetta or Guanciale
4 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Cream (optional)

To Prepare:
Cut the pancetta in very small cubes and saute until crisp. Add the cream (If you are not using the cream just add a pinch of salt and drain the pasta. Keep a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to place inside of the pan with the pancetta). Simmer for a few minutes, drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce. Add the black pepper and the egg yolk. Mix the pasta immediately when you add the egg yolk in order to avoid cooking the egg.

Tomato Sauce With Balsamic Vinegar

6-7 Peeled Tomatoes
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 leaves Sage (or Laurel Leaf)
1 Spoonful Balsamic Vinegar

To prepare the sauce:
Pour some olive oil into a small pan and then add the peeled tomatoes after draining them and mashing them with a fork. Add the sage (or Laurel) and the salt. Let cook for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove the pan from the fire and add the balsamic vinegar and stir. (This sauce is excellent when served over spaghetti mixed with butter and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese).

Carciofi Ripieni, Brasati con Aglio Dolce e Cipolline
(Braised Stuffed Artichokes with Sweet Garlic and Pearl Onions)

6 peeled artichokes, stem on outer leaves removed
12 garlic cloves, roasted
24 pearl onions, peeled
1 day-old Italian bread loaf
1 whole egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
3 anchovy filets
salt and pepper

To Prepare:
Take peeled artichokes and place in water with a lemon (to avoid oxidation).

To Prepare the Stuffing:
Remove the crusts from the day-old bread. Place bread in Cuisinart to make fresh bread crumbs (2 cups total). Mix eggs, bread crumbs, flour, and cheese. Allow mix to rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Remove artichokes from the water and dry well; take peeled out interior of the heart and fill with bread mixture. Transfer stuffed artichokes to a lightly oiled baking dish (artichokes must be standing with stem up). Add them to the garlic, pearl onions, white wine, anchovies, and olive oil in the baking dish. Cover dish with aluminum foil.

Place in a 300 degree oven to cook for 45 minutes until artichokes are tender.

To Serve:
Place artichokes onto warm plates. Drizzle with sauce and decorate plate with garlic and pearl onions placed around.

Roasted Loin of Pork In Caper Sauce

1 lb. Pork Loin, remove all fat
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 clove Garlic
1 stalk Rosemary
1 cup Red Wine
1/2 Lemon
1 Tbsp. Capers
Salt and Pepper

To prepare the pork loin:
Brown the loin in the olive oil with the garlic. When the loin is nice and golden add the red wine and keep cooking covered over a low flame.

After 35 minutes the loin should be almost cooked. Add the juice of the lemon, the capers, salt and pepper. Simmer for 4 minutes. Serve very hot in slices pouring the sauce over each serving.

From Domenica Marchetti

Christmas Eve Calamari

This classic dish of calamari (squid) braised in a rich, spicy tomato sauce, graces many Italian tables on Christmas Eve. Because of the squid tentacles, my sister and I nicknamed this dish “creepy crawlers” when we were kids. We still serve it every year. Simmering the squid slowly in the sauce tenderizes them and brings out their subtle nutty flavor.

Makes 4 main-course servings

2 pounds cleaned calamari, both sacs and tentacles, washed and thoroughly dried with paper towels (see Cook’s Note)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic, passed through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

With kitchen scissors, cut the calamari sacs into 1/2-inch-wide rings. Cut each crown of tentacles in half lengthwise to yield bite-sized pieces.

In a large saute pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring from time to time, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until softened and translucent. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic and the salt to form a paste and add the paste to the onion. Add the red pepper flakes and oregano and stir to incorporate everything thoroughly. Stir in the calamari and saute for a minute or two. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Let the mixture bubble for two minutes and then pour in the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and let cook for 30 minutes.

Uncover and continue to stew for an additional 15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the vinegar, raise the heat to high, and cook for about 2 more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt if needed. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Serve in shallow bowls, with crusty bread on the side.

Variation: For a delicious pasta dish, toss the sauce with cooked noodles, such as spaghetti, cavatappi, or penne.

Copyright 2006 The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy, by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books)

Savory Cheese Biscotti Two Ways

Savory biscotti are every bit as delicious as their better-known sweet cousins, and the make a great addition to a holiday buffet table, placed near a bowl of mixed olives or a cheese platter. Once you get the hang of this recipe you can experiment with different cheeses, such as cheddar or dry Jack, and spices, such as rosemary or crushed fennel.

Makes about 7 dozen biscotti

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 cup coarsely grated or shredded aged Asiago
1 cup coarsely grated or shredded pecorino Romano or fiore Sardo
1 cup thinly sliced almonds (with skins)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 additional egg, lightly beaten, for brushing on the dough (optional)
1 cup whole or 2 percent milk

Put the flour, pepper, baking powder salt, cheeses, and almonds in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Combine the 3 beaten eggs with the milk and pour the mixture into the food processor, pulsing as you pour. Process just until the egg mixture and nuts are incorporated and the dough begins to form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and pat it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the waxed paper and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Arrange your two oven racks so that they are in the middle and lower parts of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and if it is very firm let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Place 2 logs on each of 2 rimmed baking sheets. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the logs with the remaining beaten egg, if using. Bake the logs for 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and vice versa after 15 minutes. The logs should be golden on top and springy to the touch. Remove the logs from the oven and using a wide spatula carefully transfer them from the baking sheets to a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Wipe the baking sheets clean (you will use them again).

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Place a log on a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut it on the diagonal into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to a rimmed baking sheet. Continue to cut the logs until the baking sheet is filled.

Bake the biscotti in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes, turning them once halfway through the baking process, until they are golden and crisp. Remove the biscotti to a rack to cool completely. Continue until you have baked all of the biscotti.

Cook’s Note: Sweet biscotti are traditionally served with a glass of Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine. As an accompaniment to savory cheese biscotti I recommend Prosecco, a sparkling white wine from the Veneto, or a light red, such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

The dough for the biscotti may be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen in a zipper-lock freezer bag for up to 3 months. Baked biscotti will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Copyright 2008 Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style, by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books)

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