In 1986, Margarita “Gaita” Fores packed her bags and flew to Italy for a crash course on Italian cooking. In a span of six months, she moved from Florence, Milan and Rome, soaking up as much as she could in Italian culture as well as learning about local markets, local ingredients and the home-style cuisine of three signoras.
She picked up a lot, including the confidence and discipline one needs when cooking. When it comes to food, you can find many of what she learned in her long-running restaurant chain, Café Cibo, which has been serving delicious Italian fare for more than a decade now.
Of the lot, it is the Pappardelle Al Telefono, which she has grown fond of.
“It was fresh pasta that was in this creamy tomato sauce with melted mozzarella and fresh basil,” she says. “I was happy one day to find the recipe in a lifestyle article of Women’s Wear Daily in New York. I was so intrigued by the chef who invented it. His name was Giacomo Gallina. I got a chance to meet him eventually because he ended up being the executive chef at Dolce & Gabbana’s restaurant called Gold in Milan. I found out why the dish is called as such.”
As Gaita recalls their conversation, Gallina apparently was in the process of cooking the dish when he got a phone call. He left the mozzarella in the pot, ran to the phone, and upon his return, saw that the cheese melted and resembled the color of the telephone cord.
Gaita applied it to Cibo’s menu in the form of Penne Al Telefono. It’s really one of those dishes that’s become a cornerstone of what Cibo is all about, including the Spinaci Zola, Tagliata di Manzo, Insalata Pacifica and the Tiramisu. To date, it’s still in the bestsellers’ list.
Pappardelle Al Telefono
500 g fresh pappardelle or dry semolina pasta
1 stick butter, unsalted
3 c homemade tomato sauce
1 L heavy cream
150 g mozzarella cheese, cubed
80 g local white cheese, optional
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3-4 grates of fresh nutmeg
1-2 pinches pepperoncini flakes
1 large bunch fresh sweet basil leaves, torn, plus extra for garnish
30 g Parmigiano cheese, freshly grated
1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, approximately four minutes for fresh and 10 minutes for dry. Keep testing for the proper doneness.
2. Prepare the sauce. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium flame.
3. Add tomato sauce.
4. Add cream and stir until mixed. Take off flame. Set aside.
5. When the pasta is nearly ready, place skillet with sauce back on flame. Drain pasta and add to the sauce, allowing some pasta water to drip into sauce for better consistency.
6. Add cheeses and toss pasta until well-mixed.
7. Season with salt and pepper, nutmeg and pepperoncini flakes.
8. Add torn fresh basil. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with basil and Parmigiano cheese. Serve immediately.
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