Bella Italia

Interview by Josh Kopelman |
Culinary Personalities

Congratulations on making it in Little Italy. That speaks volumes about the quality of your food. What inspires your cuisine?

Growing up in Italy, I remember countless moments spent together with my family and friends cooking and eating simple, fresh food made with ingredients my mom and grandmother would purchase from local stores and farmers' markets. I try to recreate the same family-friendly atmosphere at Isola. This is especially reflected in our cuisine. All menu items are cooked in our wood-burning oven imported from Naples. We use straightforward recipes from my family, similar to what my Nonna and Mom would make.

What is your philosophy on your wine selection?

My brother Paolo owns a beautiful winery in Piemonte, Italy. Our wine list at Isola highlights his winery and features wine from small producers similar to my brother.

What's your favorite dish on the menu? Where did it originate

This has always been a difficult question for me to answer because I like every single dish on the menu. I try to cook what I love, but as I write this, I would love to be eating Gamberetti alla Diavola—wood-fired spicy shrimp in a light tomato broth served with olives, capers, and polenta. I am not sure where it originated, but in Italy we have many dishes "alla diavola," which means spicy. I added polenta in mine because the sweet corn polenta tames the spicy shrimp. I also remember my Nonna cooking polenta quite often.

What pearls of wisdom would you give to those thinking about opening a restaurant?

Cook what you love and be ready to work long hours. Pay attention to detail. Respect your customers and treat them like royalty.

A Taste of Isola

Gamberetti alla Diavola
serves four

Ingredients

1 lb 26/30 shrimp, tails on
2 Tbsp capers
2 large garlic cloves
10 Kalamata olives
1 c peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 c chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 c good dry white wine
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste
cooked polenta cut into 1/4-inch-thick squares

Method

Smash the garlic with the back of a knife, and sauté it in a large pan with the olive oil over medium heat. As soon as the garlic is golden brown, add the shrimp, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and cook for a minute or so.

To the hot pan, add the wine, capers, olives, chopped tomatoes, half of the parsley, and a cup of water. Cook for a couple of minutes to reduce the sauce and cook the shrimp, then adjust seasoning to taste.

Arrange two polenta squares in each of 4 bowls. Spoon the hot shrimp on top of the polenta and garnish with the remaining parsley, freshly-ground pepper, and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.