The old restaurant patron’s tale has stuck with Denise Silvano through the years.
“I once had a wedding at my house,” said the man. “A woman went up to the chef and told him, ‘The food was outstanding! Would you please share the recipe?’
‘Let me ask you a question,’ the wedding chef responded. ‘What side of the bed do you sleep on when you sleep with your husband?’
Shocked, the woman said, ‘Well that’s a very personal question to ask.’
‘Well the question you just asked was very personal to me,’ stated the wedding chef.”
The lesson, the man told Silvano: “When somebody asks you for the recipe, you don’t give it!” And that’s the answer you’ll receive when trying to get a recipe out of a true Italian.Silvano: “When somebody asks you for the recipe, you don’t give it!” And that’s the answer you’ll receive when trying to get a recipe out of a true Italian.
At Scolapasta Bistro, Silvano and her partner keep many of the old-country traditions – such as those closely guarded recipes. But in other ways, their straight-from-Italy restaurant does things its own way.
Yes, they serve pasta, and yes, they have meatballs, but you won’t find those two foods mingling on the same plate. The meatballs are made of eggplant and the pasta is short and fat – there’s no twirling of the fork on a spoon here. Their antibiotic-free, hormone-free, GMO-free, free-of-the-additives approach is not new to South Florida, but their light take on typically heavy Italian staples is new to Italians around the world. “It’s not the traditional Italian cooking that my parents do. I took what they do and made it lighter,” says Silvano, the American-born daughter of parents who came here from the old country. “For example, I’m making pork chop, peppers and potatoes here in the restaurant. My parents would have fried that, maybe breaded it. I grill it. We don’t have any fryers here.”
But it’s not just the food that Scolapasta does differently – it’s the atmosphere, too. Rosario Argentino, A new way with old country1.pngthe other half of the creative duo, got hands-on when Scolapasta’s location was chosen. He built the wooden tables that customers dine on, he built a rim of wine bottle storage shelves lined with burlap around the entire dining area, and he built modest shelves scattered around the bistro where colanders of all shapes and sizes are on display – and still in use. (“Scolapasta” means “colander” in Italian.)
Silvano and Argentino decided to repurpose old barn wood into the bistro’s bar, and they chose to keep a large mirror left by the space’s previous owner. That turned out to be a fabulous addition to Scolapasta’s dinner party table, an old Silvano family dining table topped with a fork-and-knife chandelier. They also brought in used Chicago bricks to lay the far left wall of the main dining area – a simple yet impactful touch for visitors to feel as if they are no longer amid the beachside hustle.
Despite their desire to go against the traditional grain in many areas, the duo refuses to budge on one Italian tradition – farm-to-table food. “I’m trying to get as much locally sourced and organic as I can,” Silvano says. She stresses that Scolapasta’s food is made how food should be – with fresh ingredients, meats and vegetables. And to take matters a step further, Silvano lined the front of her restaurant with large pots filled with herbs, which are used in Scolapasta dishes. It’s the family way.
“We still have a farm in Salerno,” she says. “My cousins still run the butcher shop. We have a little olive grove, we make cheese, we make wine…everything there is really, truly organic, because that’s what they do.”
On the other side of the ocean, that’s what Scolapasta does, too.
The Dish: Pasta e Fagioli con Cozze
Time: 40 minutes – Serving size: 4 people
- Virgin olive oil
- Garlic clove – 1
- Medium onion – 1
- Long stick of celery – 1
- Medium carrot – 1
- Mussels – 2 lbs.
- Short pasta – 1 lb.
- White cannellini beans – 16–20 oz.
- Plump tomatoes – 2
- Red pepper flakes
Coat large pan with olive oil and set to medium heat. Smash garlic clove and chop onion into small to medium pieces. Cut celery and carrots into small cubes. Toss garlic and onion into pan and let simmer. Toss celery and carrot pieces into pan with onions and garlic. Let simmer until the garlic is golden and the carrots soften, and then add beans. Let simmer on low-medium flame for a few minutes. Add water to mix and bring heat to medium. Add salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste. Let sit on medium flame.
In a separate pan, sauté mussels with olive oil, onion and garlic. Cover the pan and let simmer on low-medium heat. Allow muscles to open and let them cool for handling. Once cool, carefully remove mussel meat from shell and set aside. Before adding mussels to the bean and vegetable mix, test the beans for softness. The beans should break down into a mush in your mouth. Note: Bean and vegetable mix will reduce in size by 40 percent during the cooking process. Once this is achieved, dump mussels into the mix. Add salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add short pasta. Let pasta boil until noodles soften throughout. Note: Cooking times vary depending on type of short pasta. Once desired softness is achieved, strain pasta and return to pot. Add mussel, bean and vegetable mix to pasta or serve individually to taste. Buon appetito!