REVIEW w/ pics: At last! A restaurant that serves my favorite "Filipino" food that is actually "Sicilian!"
So I bet the title of this particular posting has you wondering what the heck I'm talking about, huh? Well, simply, when I first came to Los Angeles from the Philippines, we lived in this small apartment complex on a street off of Melrose. One of our neighbors that my Mom got friendly with was a Sicilian woman and unfortunately, I can't remember her name. However, it's because of her teaching my Mom to cook one of my favorite dishes, that I will always remember her with fondness.
As a young child, I considered anything my Mom cooked as a part of Filipino cuisine. The fact that Philippines adopted spaghetti and made it their own made it even more fitting that I would think that a dish that actually has Sicilian roots would be part of my home food. By the way, just a brief note about Filipino spaghetti. It's definitely different from what you'd get from Italy. Our spaghetti sauce tends to be sweeter. Some recipes call for the addition of the Filipino banana ketchup and I've even seen one or two recipes where sugar is added. Apparently, in the Philippines, you can even purchase a sweet-style spaghetti sauce. Also, don't be surprised if you see hot dogs. Yes, chopped hot dogs are always part of the recipe. Ok, enough about Filipino spaghetti.
With my love for full-bodied flavors, you might be surprised that one of my favorite eats is Pasta Con Broccoli. It's a very simple dish, containing only 3-5 ingredients, two of which are optional. Basically, it's a dish made up of the pasta of your choice, fresh broccoli, extra virgin oil with the option of adding lemon and grated cheese. There was just something about the simplicity of the ingredients that was so appealing to my palate. Of course, now I know that there's definitely nothing Filipino about this dish, but it doesn't make me love it any less.
As an adult, I've done my share of dining at Italian restaurants, but never in my culinary travels, did I ever see Pasta Con Broccoli on the menu. Of course, that meant, I'd have to make occasional puppy dog eyes at my Mom so that she'd have enough sympathy to cook it for me. One day, I walked into Villa Italia in my hometown of Duarte, opened up the menu and almost fell out of my chair. Oh my goodness! I saw Pasta Con Broccoli on the menu or actually, it was referred to as Casareccia. So of course, I had to order it.
As I was sitting there, I asked the owner why I've never seen this dish on any Italian restaurant menu. Her response wasn't too surprising. Apparently, Pasta Con Broccoli is one of those dishes that are just simply cooked at home by Sicilian Mamas for their family. Upon reflection, I remembered my Sicilian neighbor having a family with young children. By teaching my Mom this dish, I think she was just sharing a little part of her culture.
When my order arrived, I savored my first bite and every bite after that. Yes, it tasted exactly like the way my Mom makes. Fresh crunchy broccoli. Pasta that's al dente cooked with olive oil. The slight saltiness of the grated cheese that I topped my pasta with. Delicious! Too bad that the other parts of my meal were just okay. The salad that came with the meal was quite overdressed and the lemon gelato I ordered was refreshing, but was probably more of a sorbet since it was quite icy.
At some of my other meals, I tried their Insalata Mista, a salad made up of olives, marinated mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and romaine, but like the lunch salad was just way too overdressed. Their baked gnocchi wasn't too bad. It could have been lighter and fluffier, but all in all, it was satisfying. Unfortunately, I didn't care much for their Siciliana Pasta, which is a pasta of your choice cooked with fresh mozzarella, basil, onions, eggplant and fresh tomato. It tasted a little bland.
Suffice to say, only the Pasta con Broccoli was the real hit in my book, but that's totally okay with me. I can probably better renditions of those less successful dishes elsewhere, but so far, only Villa Italia can take care of my craving for this childhood dish I grew up. By the way, I actually took my Mom there to check out "her competition" and after one bite, she pronounced it as good as her own recipe. Strong words from a non-Sicilian Mama! :)
1028 Huntington Drive
Duarte, CA 91010
Wow. Pleasurepalate, we have divergent tastes, but you have solved one of my burning culinary mysteries - the genisis of hot dog spaghetti. I've been served it once, at the mess hall on a Navy base in the Channel Isl. (San Nicolas). I couldn't believe my eyes. And banana ketchup - makes sense. Come to think of it, the kitchen staff at every base I've been to here has been Filipino.
Abby, thanks for your usual great review. If you are ever on the west side and want to try something similar to your beloved pasta con broccoli then give the penne sprazzo a try at Sprazzo restaurant on Westwood Blvd. just a block for two south of Wilshire (directly across from the south end of the block that has the Borders Books on it). Lovely, simple dish with pasta, broccoli and tender sauteed chicken.
Pleasurepalate: Nice post. Pasta with broccoli cooked with olive oil, garlic and sometimes a little red pepper is a traditional dish frome Avellino which is 30 miles inland from Naples. I think Batali has this recipe in one of his books. When I ordered it in Avellino in 1986, they said they couldn't serve it for a few days because of the Chernobyl fallout !! You're correct that it is one of those classic simple Italian dishes with only a handful of ingredients that are wonderful for home cooking. You will notice that the best Italian restaurants serve these simple dishes done well, and the lousy local places catering to the movie crowd serve dishes with 15 ingredients usually blended together with heavy cream - Ugh. No self respecting real Italian chef would do this.