In 2004, we opened Frankies Spuntino in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is traditionally Italian, because we wanted to take back our heritage. We knew that our grandparents made great food, but Italian-American cooking had become gimmicky: You couldn’t talk about it without someone bringing up Sinatra and red-and-white checked tablecloths. We were proud of what we learned from our grandparents, and we wanted people to respect this food. It’s not a joke. It’s pretty brilliant, actually. These foods were Depression-era dishes that were really well thought out: fresh food our ancestors grew in their backyards, prepared simply.
There was always fresh pasta; not with eggs, just semolina flour and water. Both of our grandmothers made it this way; if we saw the pasta board out on the table when we went to their houses, we’d know we were in for a treat. They rolled it all out: garganelli, cavatelli, tortellini. Frank C’s grandmother didn’t have enough space on her kitchen counter, so she’d carry the board, basically just a long piece of plywood, to the bed so the pasta could dry there. Sure, we’ve updated, and in some ways, lightened up their recipes; our rabbit ragu is made with garganelli we tint green and flavor with tarragon, and we don’t stuff our artichokes with breadcrumbs, yet still braise them with lemon and white wine. But we think they embody the best of Italian-American home cooking.