The Taste of Chicago, held annually in Grant Park, is the world’s largest outdoor food festival. An estimated 3 million visitors attend the 10 day event. Food is the main attraction, but there is also live music and spectacular fireworks displays. A portion of the proceeds from the event goes to support food programs for the needy in the Chicago area. This year, Dominick’s Supermarkets invited me to do a cooking demonstration and book signing. Charles and I decided to fly out for the long holiday weekend, do some sightseeing, and experience a little bit of Chicago.
When I arrived at Dominick’s Cooking Corner which was located near the magnificent Buckingham Fountain, I found that the event organizers had done a great job and everything was prepped and ready to go. I demonstrated a favorite summer recipe for Pasta with Sicilian Pesto that I first enjoyed in Trapani a few years ago. The audience was large and enthusiastic and asked lots of good questions. I enjoyed meeting everyone. Afterward, I had a chance to stroll around and explore the fair while sampling some Chicago specialties. My favorite was the Rainbow Cone, a colorful mound of orange sherbert, and pistachio, chocolate, strawberry and Palmer House ice cream in a fresh waffle cone. Palmer House ice cream was a new one for me, and turned out to be a luscious blend of vanilla with cherries and walnuts. I cant believe I ate the whole thing!
Chicago is a restaurant city, and I looked forward to trying some that friends had recommended. Roberto Caporuscio, the pizzaiolo at Keste’, had told me that Spacca Napoli made a great pie, so that was at the top of my list. I had a bufalina made with bufala mozzarella and DOP tomatoes. It had a perfectly charred and blistered crust and the topping was first rate. Though the restaurant is not exactly central, we had no trouble getting there on the subway.
Tru is one of Chicago’s top restaurants and it was easy to see why. Though the restaurant is formal, the welcome was warm and gracious. Charles found a great wine on the list that he claimed was a buy — don’t ask! The highlight of the meal for me was my main course of braised short ribs topped with unagi (Japanese style eel) in a miso broth. It was tender and the flavors blended beautifully. Charles’ suckling pig was delicious, too. The meat was moist and flavorful while the skin was crackling crisp.
Spiaggia Restaurant has been in the news quite a lot lately since it is a favorite of the Obama’s. I was excited to hear that the chef, Tony Mantuana, had a new and more casual place at the newly- opened addition to the Art Institute. Called Terzo Piano, it is located on the third floor of the new building that was designed by the great Italian architect, Renzo Piano. The design is simple yet dramatic with long windows on two sides overlooking Millennium Park. Charles and I shared the Recco style foccaccia, two thin layers of crisp and chewy dough sandwiched around a soft melted goat cheese filling. In Liguria, where this is a specialty at Manuelina, a restaurant in Recco, it is made with prescinseua, a soft, tart cow’s milk cheese that is not available here. The goat cheese, which was from Indiana, was an ideal substitute. Then I had a Spring Pea Salad made with fresh peas, pea shoots, and slivers of sheep’s milk cheese with crispy prosciutto. The chef focusses on local and seasonal ingredients and judging by our lunch, it won’t be long before this restaurant is as popular as his other place.
In between meals, we did lots of walking and sightseeing. We spent the afternoon in the Art Institute and really enjoyed seeing their dazzling collection of American art. The architectural cruise on the Chicago River was fascinating, even though it drizzled the whole time. There’s a lot more to see in Chicago and plenty more to taste. I look forward to returning.
Here is the recipe I demonstrated at Dominick’s. It was first published in my book 1,000 Italian Recipes . Now that tomato season is here, it’s a perfect dish for a hot summer night.
LINGUINE WITH SICILIAN PESTO
A food processor makes quick and easy work of this sauce, but for best texture and flavor, pound the ingredients in a mortar and pestle.
1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound very ripe fresh tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound linguine
1. In a food processor, combine the almonds, garlic, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Chop the ingredients fine. Add the tomatoes, cheese and oil and process until smooth.
2. Bring at least 4 quarts of water to boiling. Add the pasta and salt to taste. Stir well. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is tender. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water.
3. Pour the pasta into a large warm serving bowl. Add the sauce and toss well. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if needed.
Copyright 2004 1,000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone