Comfort Food, Italian Style: Five Portland Chefs Share Recipes

Oregonian’s MIX Magazine, March 2013

Ribbons of fresh pasta tossed with an earthy mushroom soffritto, plump potato gnocchi cloaked in gorgonzola cream, meatballs swimming in a bright tomato sauce. What is it about rustic Italian fare that stirs the heart and soul? “Good Italian food tastes like the food that your mother would make if she was a really great cook,” says Cathy Whims, chef-owner of Nostrana and Oven & Shaker. In other words, it’s more than just nourishing and familiar — it’s crave-worthy.

So for our annual comfort food issue, we asked five Portland chefs who have Italian souls to share some of their favorite recipes. As the force behind two of Portland’s best-known and most-beloved Italian restaurants, Whims offered her deceptively simple meatballs and tomato sauce, a deeply satisfying dish that requires surprisingly little effort.

From Artigiano, a food cart specializing in exquisite handmade pasta dishes, come rich potato dumplings bathed in a silky cream sauce. “There’s nothing more comforting than the melt-in-your-mouth texture of perfectly made potato gnocchi,” says proprietor Rachael Grossman.

Similar to gnocchi, but even lighter (and easier to make) are Rick Gencarelli’s ricotta gnudi. As the chef-owner of Lardo, Gencarelli may be better known around town for his ridiculously good sandwiches. But the man also has serious pasta-making chops, having spent years at the helm of some of country’s best Mediterranean restaurants, including Todd English’s Olives in New York City. “I think what makes these little dumplings so satisfying is the texture,” says Gencarelli. “When they are made properly they are an impossible mix of rich and ethereal.”

Rounding out the list is a gorgeous, elemental bowl of fresh pasta tossed with sauteed wild mushrooms, fresh herbs and crispy breadcrumbs from Jake Martin of Genoa and Accanto. And from Taste Unique, our favorite Italian take-out place, come plump, handmade cappelletti swimming in golden chicken broth from Perugia-born Stefania Toscano. “It’s my mother’s recipe,” she says. “Making cappelletti — literally ‘little hats’ — is traditionally a social cooking event, as there are always two or more people making them together.” An excuse to make good food with friends? We can’t think of anything more comforting than that.