Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day Repast -- Pappardelle alla Leonardo

     I first enjoyed the recipe recorded here, Pappardelle alla Leonardo, at the restaurant Castellano at 138 West 55th Street in Manhattan, sometime during the early 1980s.

     For the first two or three years after it opened, Castellano was one of those New York media scene “restaurants of the moment” – very glamorous,  constantly filled with “boldface names”, always in the gossip columns.  That sort of celebrity status rarely lasts forever and after a couple of years, when the white-hot incandescence had cooled, Castellano settled down into being what it really always was: a warm and welcoming place that served excellent, traditional but imaginative, food.

     For years we often went there for drinks after work and sometimes for lunches or dinners.   I think the only people who visited the restaurant more frequently than we did were the famous modern architect Philip Johnson (unmistakable in his “architectural” black owl spectacles) and his companion, the art exhibition designer David Whitney.  I’m fairly certain that they both believed we were Philip Johnson groupies, which was kind of funny and a little off-putting.   I admired Johnson’s architecture and was interested in his life and career (especially after learning of his involvement in the American proto-fascist “Gray Shirt” movement in the 1930s, a more-than-off-putting episode), but our mutual admiration for Castellano was purely coincidental.

     Pappardelle alla Leonardo, as Castellano styled this preparation of broad, ribbon-shaped noodles in a gorgonzola cream sauce laced with walnuts and parsley (I assume Leonardo was a person associated with the restaurant’s management or a friend of the establishment), is extremely rich, delicious and suitable either for maintaining holiday cheer or raising dampened or damaged spirits.   I have included two versions here, which both appear to us to be extremely close to Castellano’s preparation, and I think they form a good basis for creating a recipe that pleases you.  

     Castellano is one of those places I wish I could revisit but cannot.  Like most restaurants, it seems, the business eventually ran its course and the place rather suddenly passed into history fairly early in the era when people began to think it acceptable to keep cell phones glued to their ears in public places, including  restaurants.   It was an elegant, comfortable, beautifully designed room (I’m sure this was important to Philip Johnson, who ate the same dinner of linguine with tiny clams every single evening; The Four Seasons, which he designed, was his daily lunch spot), and I can’t recall a single unpleasant moment spent at Castellano.  I’m quite sure that its passing is one of the reasons Manhattan means a lot less to me than it used to.

Richard Gere was a "bold-face" celebrity who frequented Castellano and appeared to be surgically connected to his cell phone.  Now that he himself is a restauranteur in Bedford, NY,  I wonder how he feels about this?

 Pappardelle With Gorgonzola and Walnuts (Skye Gangell Version)
For the sauce: 

100g/31/2 oz young walnuts
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150 ml/5 oz heavy cream
50g/2 oz Gorgonzola (preferably dolce, the softer, milder variety)
300 g/10 oz pasta (preferably pappardelle (either dried pasta or fresh pappardelle can be used; vary cooking times accordingly to cook al dente)

Crack the walnuts, remove the walnuts from their shells and pound with a pestle and mortar until they are in small pieces.  Sprinkle over the Parmesan and add the garlic.  Season with plenty of black pepper and a small amount of salt.  Pour in the cream and stir well to combine. 

Place a large pot of well-salted water on to boil and cook the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, gently warm the sauce in a small saucepan.  Add the Gorgonzola and stir continuously while the cheese melts.  Now drain the pasta and dress with a generous knob of butter, spoon over the sauce and toss to combine.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Phillip Johnson, The Glass House, 1949, New Canaan, Connecticut

Pappardelle With Gongonzola, Mascarpone and Roasted Walnuts

500g/1 lb pappardelle pasta (either dried pasta or fresh pappardelle can be used; vary cooking times accordingly to cook al dente)


2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
300 g/10-12 oz Gorgonzola
300 g/10-12 oz Mascarpone
150 g/6 oz walnuts broken into pieces and dry roasted in a frying pan


Flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan, add the garlic and cook to soften (do not brown).  Add the herbs and cook for a few minutes, then add the cheeses and cook for a few minutes on low heat to melt.  Add half the walnuts.  

Combine the cheese sauce with the pasta, combining well.  

Serve topped with the remaining walnuts, parsley, Parmesan and black pepper.

Philip Johnson, The Glass House, 1949, New Canaan, Connecticut (Night View)

Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Girl, ca. 1483, Silverpoint and white highlights on prepared paper, Biblioteca Reale, Turin

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