1220 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036 | (202) 835-0459

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Celebrating the Holidays the Italian Way

Spending Christmas in Italy can be an enlightening experience for those of us who are tired of the commercial frenzy surrounding the holidays here. Traditionally, family is at the heart of Italian Christmas – Natale – not packages and tinsel. Children do not write letters to Santa but instead to their parents, expressing their appreciation. In many households, the letters are ceremoniously read by the father after Christmas Eve dinner. Italians celebrate this joyous season from Christmas Eve (starting with the Feast of Seven Fishes) until the Epiphany on January 6 which is their main day of gift giving. In the Italian tradition, La Befana, a witch who tried to follow the three wise men, wanders around each Christmas bringing gifts to children hoping to find the Christ child.

Francesco told me that as a child, he would leave his shoes at the foot of his bed (no stockings hung by the chimney with care in the Ricchi’s house) on the night of January 5th in the hopes that the friendly old witch would fill them with candy and not coal. Instead of carrots for Santa’s reindeer, Italian children would leave hay for La Befana’s donkey. The first Christmas I spent at Cercina, I was surprised to see they didn’t put up a Christmas tree, but instead a presepio or nativity scene. Babbo Natale or Santa Claus was a figure from the northern European countries. The Italian Christmas holiday is more about spending time and sharing a meal together than exchanging presents. The emphasis is on family. The old Italian saying is “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” – “Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want.” Read more

Though the Feast of the Seven Fishes in not celebrated in Tuscany, it is in southern Italy and Sicily – and so it has become a tradition of mainly America’s Italian immigrants. They abstain from eating meat on the eve of Christ’s birth, but still find a way to celebrate by preparing a feast of a variety of fish. We have taken a bit of artistic license and have crafted a menu of modern day specialties that we are sure you will enjoy for 3 days leading up to Christmas. Join us for the Feast of Seven Fishes, Friday-Saturday, December 21-22 or on Christmas Eve – Monday, December 24, from 5:30-10 pm. We will begin with smoked river trout pâté crostini and prawn salad with cannellini beans followed by Tuscan crab fritters with crispy prosciutto and rich lobster risotto. Next we’ll serve the thinnest strands of hand-cut pasta with manila clams and roasted zucchini only to then finish with Tuscany’s famous fish stew, Cacciucco, a medley of 7 different types of fish. The sweet finale will be a panettone trifle with mascarpone chocolate cream and toasted hazelnuts. $95 (exclusive tax and tip). 

Change up your NYE routine, and experience an Italian NYE tradition as you indulge in pork and lentils which Italians consider a good luck meal. Plan now to attend our NYE Party – Cenone di San Silvestro, Monday, December 31 at 5:30 pm. Choose 1 of 4 options for each of your 4 courses including my favorite, Nonna Irma’s homemade, three-meat tortellini with veal reduction, or try our grilled swordfish steak with a divine lemon and fresh herb salsa. Toast the New Year with a complimentary flute of Italian sparkling. $95 (exclusive tax and tip). We will be prepared with hats, noisemakers, confetti, streamers and hundreds of floating balloons! 

Make it a family tradition (as many have done), and spend the night before Christmas with your extended i Ricchi family. Make reservations for both of these events now by calling (202) 835-0459. See menus and more info here

Taste the Art of Handmade Pasta

So you think, pasta is simple. The reality is centuries of Italian invention, industry, agriculture, hunger and politics have shaped pasta into its myriad forms and flavors. Pasta is different all across Italy. In the poorer South, pastas of semolina and water are shaped by hand into chunky peasant forms (ie: orecchiette). In South-Central Italy, the same semolina dough is extruded by machine into simple long shapes and complex short ones, then dried and packaged (ie: spaghetti, rigatoni, penne). North and North-Central Italy – wealthier by far – uses expensive egg yolks and refined flours to make silky ribbons and tiny stuffed shapes (ie: tagliatelle, tortellini). In the far North – cold and under the influence of Germany and Eastern Europe – white flour is often replaced by other starches: bread crumbs, chestnut, buckwheat, and rye (ie: pizzoccheri). The properties of each type of dough and the tastes and traditions of each region also determines what sauce to be used. Choosing the right pasta shape to go with the right sauce is a serious Italian preoccupation.

One of our focuses has always been to serve a variety of handmade pastas, an art that even in Italy is becoming harder to find in restaurants today.  When you have a pasta craving, put your carb-free diet on hold for the day and dive into a bowl of steaming homemade pasta! If you’d like the toothy experience of a thick, handmade spaghetti-like pasta, choose Pici All’Aglione with the simplicity of tomato and garlic sauce garnished with ricotta. For a taste of Tuscany, try Rigatoni Strascicate – literally means the pasta is “dragged through” our classic 12-hour simmered sugo.

Handmade spinach and ricotta filled tortelloni is a dish we have been serving since we opened with three sauce variations – classic butter and fresh sage; Florentine tomato and cream; or the seasonal corn and roasted mushrooms. Taglierini Alle Vongole (pictured) is a fine egg pasta gently tossed with little neck clams and roasted zucchini, while Cavatelli Neri is pasta flavored with squid ink and extruded through a brass die to form short, twisted cylinders sauced with our house-made fennel sausage, gulf shrimp and diced, fresh tomato. Consumed with a glass of Italian wine, a good plate of pasta is one of life’s little pleasures! Give yourself a mid-week treat, and stop at our bar for a quick flavorful dinner.

Seasonal Favorites at Welcome Autumn Dinner

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is a fond memory of crisp autumn nights spent around our trattoria’s kitchen table. Nonno Biagio would roast them in embers from the stove and then wrap them (still in their shells) in a kitchen towel after sprinkling generously with red wine or grappa. They would steam in that hot parcel creating the most flavorful roasted chestnuts I have ever eaten. Chestnuts have been a staple of the Mediterranean diet for centuries. There are European, American and Asian types of chestnuts on the market today. In Italy, they are found in two varieties: castagne – usually smaller and relatively flat sided – and marroni – rounder, larger and firmer to the touch. Chestnuts are considered a fruit and are low in fat, high in fiber and full of vitamins and minerals. They are often dried and milled into a very fine flour, perfect for all kinds of breads, cakes, pastes and pasta. Put a pinch of it on your tongue and it is just like biting into a sweet chestnut. More ways to use chestnut flour We will be featuring our own homemade chestnut tagliatelle with marjoram, walnuts and crispy chestnuts at our Welcome Autumn Dinner menu next week.

Enjoy the very welcomed brisk air under stars and twinkling lights at our Benvenuto Autunno: Welcome Autumn Dinner, Wednesday, October 10 at 7 pm on our Piazza.  Savor Tuscan kale bruschetta, fennel salame and pecorino fritters before the chestnut tagliatelle mentioned above followed by filet of pork with roasted grapes and wild mushrooms. Savoy cabbage and potato gratin will make the perfect autumn accompaniment. We’ll finish with a nod to the old Italian standby with a playful twist – pumpkin tiramisu. Buy tickets today

Kicking Off New Taste & Graze Series

Leading up to the wine harvest in October, we are kicking off our new Taste & Graze wine tasting series in September.

  • Sip & Savor: Taste the intricacies of high quality Italian wines.
  • Graze & Enjoy: Eat delicacies from our “grazing” buffet.
  • Connect & Discover: Meet famous vintners and learn about their wines.

We will be begin with outstanding Pio Cesare wines which have been rated many times in the 90s, hailing from the Piemonte region. Enjoy tasting 6 of their most renowned wines while grazing at our Antipasto table also featuring Risotto al Barolo at our Taste & Graze with Wines of Pio Cesare, Wednesday, September 5 from 6-7:30 pm. You will have the unique opportunity to meet famous vintner, Pio Boffa, during one of his rare trips to America. Learn how women are making major advances in the Italian wine industry with the introduction of Pio’s daughter, Federica, as his successor. $49 (all inclusive). Get your tickets today

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