Charleston locals have different interpretations of fall weather, but as soon as the temperatures dip below 70, it’s all about sweaters, hot toddies and the ultimate comfort food: pasta.
Few dishes are as satisfying in the colder months as a bowl of cheese and sauce of your favorite pasta. Gnocchi dumplings tossed with meats braised and cooked in browned butter and sage, manicotti stuffed with an almost obscene amount of ricotta or tagliatelle topped with squash – you name it, Charleston has it.
For some city chefs, pasta is not just a delicious comfort food, but a reminder of the days gone by when people made pasta with their grandmothers. For others, it’s the best way to fully embrace fall.
Nostalgic comfort food
Chris Orlando, owner of Mondo’s on James Island, is a perfect example. He’s been serving pasta dishes for 25 years, but it still reminds him of the time he spent cooking pasta on Sundays alongside his grandparents.
“I learned to cook from my grandparents,” Orlando said. “They all come from Abruzzo. They came [from Italy] and that’s all we did on Sunday, just cook all day. So it still smells like that here to me, and it still reminds me of my childhood – even 25 years later.
That kind of family nostalgia resonates with Mondo customers, many of whom are regulars who have frequented the pasta restaurant for generations.
“I’m almost on my third generation of clientele,” Orlando said. “I have clients whose children have had children who now come here.”
Orlando, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia, said Mondo’s focuses on “neighborhood comfort food” with simple family recipes that are bursting with flavor. And pasta is the star of the menu. Mondo’s serves all kinds of pasta an Italian foodie would want – ravioli, manicotti and a classic, spaghetti and meatballs.
All of Mondo’s pasta is made and sourced in-house by Orlando, with the exception of gluten-free pasta and ravioli. The ravioli come from local pasta company Rio Bertolini.
“I don’t have recipes,” Orlando said. “We don’t have recipes here. It’s all freestyle, like it’s all verbal. I have guys who are 40 now who have been with us since they were 16, so it’s different. is just an instinct.”
For anyone with Italian heritage, Mondo’s manicotti are sure to take you back to your grandma’s kitchen. Stuffed with dollops of ricotta cheese and topped with Mondo’s homemade marinara sauce, this Italian version of a tamale is the perfect comfort food for fall.
Although main dishes like chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs are still top sellers, other fall dishes will appear as the weather cools, such as bolognese (a pasta sauce meat), Italian wedding soup, stuffed pasta and lasagna. When city paper interviewed Orlando, he said he was experimenting with broccoli and meatball lasagna.
Mix fall ingredients
Mondo’s isn’t the only place bracing for cooler temperatures with fall-inspired pasta dishes. Chef Tim Morton of downtown Frannie and the Fox said he will add new dishes as the seasons change.
Frannie and the Fox sources most of its pasta from a wheat farmer in Italy. To maintain the wheat operation, Morton said, the farmer uses his wheat to make and sell his own pasta. “But all of our filling pastes, we make them from scratch,” he added.
One such filled pasta includes a new fall ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, brown butter and duck confit. But other staples, like clam cacio e pepe, a simple creamy pasta dish made with bucatini, will remain on the menu.
Morton described the popular dish cacio e pepe as being prepared with a generous amount of parmesan cheese and black pepper. Using a small amount of pasta water, Morton then adds a little clam broth and lemon juice to create a sauce.
“It’s something comfortable. It’s very traditional,” he said of the cacio e pepe. “And I think sometimes there is a re-emergence of just simplicity. Something super rich in its bones, very simple, but when done right it’s super special.
Autumn is heavy here
King Street Italian restaurant Indaco is gearing up for fall with its fall squash agnolotti cooked with sage and brown butter. Chef Mark Bolshoz said other fall dishes on the menu will include duck confit or duck stew.
“Fall is always very heavy for me,” he said. “Something about flavors and what goes well with, you know, foie gras, dried cherries, that sort of thing. So as we approach fall, I would definitely say the duck is a big deal, and we pride ourselves on being a place of full use.
Bolshoz explained that Indaco tries to use as many animals as possible to avoid waste. Duck breasts are broken down for a piatti (or entrée) dish; the legs are added to a stew sauce; the bones are cooked to create a broth, adding a level of depth to its flavor.
“In terms of the ingredient and, in this case, the animal, it’s great to be able to use every scrap,” he said.
Indaco sources as much as possible from local suppliers, including Spade and Clover, Keegan-Filion Farm, Tarvin Seafood and Storey Farms, and its pasta is cut or extruded in-house. Dense pasta such as tagliatelle, ravioli and other filled pasta are made from egg dough then rolled out and cut either by hand or with a cutter. Firmer, drier pastas like rigatoni, spaghetti, and bucatini are made from dough with just semolina and water and run through a pasta extruder.
Bolshoz said Indaco is “seasonal by design” because the restaurant sources produce and protein based on the season, although some dishes, like tagliatelle, have a permanent place on the menu.
“It was the opening dish and it’s obviously a huge hit,” he said. “It’s had a few tweaks over time, but it’s still pretty true to the original, which is Keegan’s home-cured pork belly. [Filion] Farms, pork broth butter, it’s kind of a play on the carbonara, so the Parmesan cheese, and then we finish it off with this egg from Storey Farms and recommend guests toss that around at the table.
Wild Olive on Johns Island has been producing pasta since 2009. Chef and owner Jacques Larson, who took over the restaurant six months after it opened, said two of Wild Olive’s current pastas have stood the test of time, staying at the menu from the start: tagliatelle Bolognese and pappardelle a la guanciale, which are jowls or dried pork cheeks. Guanciale is similar to pancetta, but a little fattier. It is usually cured longer, creating a deeper flavor.
In addition to these two dishes, Wild Olive typically has eight to nine pastas on the menu every night, as well as regular specials. Larson said some pastas change with the seasons, especially stuffed pastas, while others stick around.
For this fall, Larson said guests can expect heavier fall dishes with new stuffed pasta and a lasagna bianca stuffed with roasted artichokes, spinach and caramelized onions. But, her favorite fall ingredients for cooking are brown butter and sage. “I don’t know why, but just like pancetta and sage, it always screams fall to me,” he said.
Another cool-weather favorite is Wild Olive’s Short Rib Gnocchi.
“Gnocchi are the perfect example [of a fall dish]”, Larson said. “Anything that’s braised or stewed. People tend to prefer foods that, you know, stick to your ribs and are comforting. For a lot of people, braised meats are synonymous with comfort food.
With the exception of the gluten-free option, all of Wild Olive’s pasta is made and extruded in-house by its pasta maker, Alberto Deramona, who has worked at the restaurant since almost its opening.
Deramona started out as a dishwasher, but Larson said his knack for speed and accuracy clearly showed he was naturally talented.
“All those years ago, I trained it on basic folds, flipping pasta, cutting noodles,” Larson said. “Now you look at his pasta and it looks like it’s machine-made. He is incredible. I can’t say enough good things about him.
Larson said Deramoma had developed a dish of doppio (or double) ravioli filled with mushrooms for the summer menu, but look for creative new versions of fall offerings using items like braised pork in milk or squash. roasters from Bradford Family Farms.
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