Alright, let’s just lay our cards right down on the table. Gothamist is obsessed with Molto Mario. Other than Lydia Bastianch, the PBS version of the Italian mom you never had, Mario Batali has got to be best Italian chef in New York City. Or the country, for that matter.

If you’ve seen his shows on the Food Network, you’d know that his knowledge of regional Italian cuisine is vast and encyclopedic. On the other hand, he has a quirky and edgy personality that keeps him exciting and interesting. The combination of his deep knowledge and dedication to serious Italian cooking and his alt lifestyle make everything he touches unique. Babbo is the epitome of this dichotomy. While Frank Bruni of the Times said that Babbo is “serving food as delicious as anybody else's,” he also used words like “pedigree” and “coddling” to highlight why it wasn’t worthy of the elusive fourth star that only five stuffy French restaurants currently hold. Babbo is the type of place where Molto’s iPod played an REM album from start to finish during a recent dinner and where a star struck Gothamist sat next to a t-shirt wearing Chris Martin from Coldplay. We’d trade a NY Times star and a reservation at a stuffy corporate midtown restaurant of ‘pedigree’ for the Babbo experience any day.

Lupa has taken over where the first Molto hit, Po, left off. The price is right, the food is great and it’s always full of energy. The pastas at Lupa are almost perfect and ever changing. A special one night was utterly fantastic – braised pork in a rich tomato sauce served with orecchiette pasta (you know the one, it means 'little ear' in Italian).

The rich, tender pork melded with the tomato sauce and perfectly captured in the indentations of the 'little ears'. To top it off, a little mound of fresh and light ricotta cheese was piled on top, adding a perfect creaminess to the rich pasta. The Gothamist Recipe keeps the same big flavors of the dish intact, yet adds a lighter touch and simpler cooking techniques fit for the summer season.

The obsession continues . . .

Gothamist Recipe 2004_08_food_lupapastafinal.jpg Summer Orecchiette with pancetta, basil, tomato and ricotta

--Joe DeSalazar

Lupa’s orecchiette featured a pork ragu that was most likely braised for three hours. Since your apartment does not need an oven roasting for three hours during the summer, we recommend a simple way to feature the big tastes of the same dish by using pancetta. To lighten the dish for the summer, we are using fresh tomatoes that are cooked only briefly with the pancetta to marry the flavors together. The basil adds a cool summer flavor, while the fresh ricotta adds a rich yet very light creamy element to the dish.

Ingredient Shopping List
Recipe serves two – just double it for a party of four.

1 box dried orecchiette pasta
½ lb whole piece of pancetta
1 small wedge of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 medium/large sized tomatoes (3 red and 1 yellow ideal)
1 bunch fresh basil
1 glove garlic
1 small tub of fresh ricotta
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Estimated cost of ingredients: $18 at Fairway

Buying the Tomatoes and Pancetta
The local tomato season is in full gear from July – early September. During this time, there is no reason to buy hydroponic tomatoes or the variety imported from Israel or Canada. The best during these two months are the ones you get locally (Jersey tomatoes or ‘heirloom’ tomatoes found at a local farmers market).

A whole piece of pancetta can be found behind the deli counter at most higher end markets. It’s important to get the pancetta whole so that you can prepare it at the right thickness for the dish.

Sauté the Pancetta
Chop the pancetta into a fine dice. Take a large sauté pan (large is important, as this will eventually be holding your pasta as well) and place on medium heat. Add a small glug of olive oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. When hot, add the diced pancetta.

Brown on one side for two minutes. Shake the pan and brown on the other side for two more minutes. The pancetta should be brown and crispy, but not burned. Reserve for up to a few hours on your counter.

Do not wash this pan, as it is important to use for the sauce.


Preparing the Fresh Tomato Sauce
The tomatoes can be diced up to a few hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

When beginning this step, get a large pot of liberally salted water on the stove and begin to boil. It should be ready for the pasta once you complete the sauce below.

Rinse and dry the tomatoes. Remove the top and bottom cores with the tip of your knife. With a sharp knife, place the tomato on its side and roughly slice them into medium sized pieces. No need to be neat about this as the tomatoes will break down in the sauce later. Do this for three of your tomatoes and leave one for garnishing later (ideally the yellow tomato). While slicing, your cutting board will become filled with juice. Don’t throw this away. Scrape this juice and the tomato slices into a large bowl. Peel and roughly chop one large clove of garlic and set aside. Rough chop a small handful of the basil leaves and set aside. Last, grate a nice pile of Parmigiano Reggiano and set aside.


Get the pan that you used to brown the pancetta up to medium heat. When hot, add garlic slivers and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if desired. After about thirty seconds (you don’t want the garlic to brown), add diced tomatoes into pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze the bits from the panchetta. Add a drizzle of olive oil and simmer for only two minutes. Add chopped basil, fresh ground pepper and a pinch of kosher salt. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add half of the pancetta you already sautéed and turn off heat and let sauce rest briefly.


Making the Pasta
Toss about ½ the box of pasta into the boiling water. Give the pasta a stir after a minute to ensure they are not sticking. Check one of the ‘little ears' after about 3-4 minutes for doneness.

While waiting for the pasta to cook, finely dice half of your yellow tomato and set aside.


Molto advises that you cook the pasta a little under done at this stage since we’ll be finishing it in the sauce so it will adhere to our sauce. It should be a little too al dente – firm yet not crunchy. It should not taste ‘raw’ either.

At this point, place your sauce back on a low medium heat and have your grated Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta and freshly diced tomato on hand.

Drain the pasta with a colander into your sink and immediately add to the sauce. Gently fold the pasta into the sauce. Add a pinch of salt and fresh pepper. After mixed, taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Add some more of the fresh basil. Turn off heat and add a handful of the Parm Regg. Fold into pasta. Add the rest of the pancetta.

Serving and Plating
Working quickly, lay out both of your large plates or bowls. Pile the pasta high and add a heaping tablespoon of fresh ricotta on top. Sprinkle some of the diced fresh yellow tomatoes and a sprig of basil as garnish.

Forget about your low carb diet for the night and enjoy.


-- Joe DeSalazar