Pitch-perfect pastas from Cibo Matto (photo by Steve Dolinsky)
Don't think for a minute that with all of the offal and small plates and soft serve out there that Chicagoans have forgotten about pasta. Trends come and go, but like pizza, steak and hot dogs, we seem to love pasta as much as anything else. How else do you explain the tribble-like propagation of the Mia Francesca empire?
One of the hallmarks of the more serious Italian restaurants in town is whether or not they make their pasta from scratch. Oddly enough, it used to be the exclusive province of high-end pasta palaces like Spiaggia, but more recently, family recipes for gnocchi and pappardelle have found their way onto menus at places like Merlo, Piccolo Sogno and Cibo Matto at the Wit Hotel. Chef Todd Stein is a stickler for detail at Cibo Matto, employing one woman who's only job is to make the pasta. The squid ink spaghetti (background, pictured above) is cut on a chitarra, a guitar-like contraption with actual strings that cut the pasta sheets into perfectly uniform strands. Stein then sets to work, briefly boiling the pasta, adding it to a hot skillet with cherry tomatoes and a smattering of sliced chilies; fresh mint leaves provide a few herbal notes to heighten the flavor contrast. If you'd like to see how this dish - along with a killer carbonara - is assembled, be sure to watch the 11 a.m. news on ABC 7 today, or just click here.
Speaking of Mr. Stein, it's time for another giveaway. As some of you might know, he worked for Michael Kornick at mk a few years ago, and pretty much ran the kitchen operation. But he left Chicago for awhile before returning last year to open Cibo Matto at The Wit. The first person to correctly tell me where he worked in between his Chicago stints wins this elegant pig wine charm, to impress your party guests: