A Classic Roman Feast with Chef Jonathan Benno

Juicy, crisp-skinned porchetta is the key to dinner party magic

Kat Craddock

By Kat Craddock

Published on March 11, 2019

Serving the Italian pork roast with family-style Italian side dishes makes for a truly memorable dinner party.

New York City has long been home to chef Jonathan Benno. Although the Connecticut native cut his chops in iconic California kitchens Aqua and The French Laundry, he is best-known for helming two of Manhattan’s most elite white-tablecloth restaurants: Per Se and Lincoln.

After such a distinguished career, Benno easily could have rested on his laurels. Instead, the fine-dining luminary recently gathered an all-star team to launch a trio of new restaurants in the city's central NoMad neighborhood: Leonelli Taberna, Leonelli Focacceria-Pasticceria, and the eponymous Benno. Lincoln alum Ben Ciancioso leads the Leonelli kitchen as chef de cuisine; talented bread-baker Lisa Kalemkiarian runs the Focacceria and provides loaves for all three restaurants; and pastry chef Lindsey Bittner, who has worked at Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, and Gramercy Tavern, heads up the sweets program, turning out elevated classic Italian treats that would make your nonna pale.

Last week, the whole team threw one heck of a dinner party in the SAVEUR test kitchen.

Arriving guests, including Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats, Julia Berick of the Paris Review, and Adam Morganstern of Forbes, mingled with executive editor Stacy Adimando and other members of the SAVEUR staff over chilled spritzes. They nibbled on cheese-stuffed arancini and Kalemkiarian's perfectly pillowy focaccia, topped with wild mushrooms and crispy salumi.
Dinner began with the chefs' rendition of carciofi alla Romana—the classic Roman dish of petite braised artichoke hearts. They were served with mint and lemon aioli, plus plenty of dark, crusty sourdough pane di campagna.
Not one to hold back on carbs, Ciancioso sent out bowls of comforting, chewy cecamariti all'Amatriciana. The chef explained that the name of the spindly and toothsome hand-rolled pasta translates to "husband blinders," aptly describing their bewitching quality. If the cecamariti didn't help someone snag a spouse that evening, the dumpling-like pasta certainly captured our hearts, as did the satiny tomato-and-pork sauce with basil and sheep's milk cheese that accompanied them.
The centerpiece of the dinner was the chefs' massive, crackly-brown porchetta, which was greeted with oohs and aahs as it was presented to the table.
Chef Benno served the traditional pork roast as the kitchen team brought out bitter pink Italian chicory, delicately dressed with anchovy vinaigrette, and silky corona beans finished with Leonelli Taberna’s own extra-virgin olive oil.
Having tasted a box of Bittner’s top-notch Italian cookies around the holidays, SAVEUR editors knew they were in for a treat when it came time for dessert. She layered the darkest chocolate cake with hazelnut cream and paired each slice with goat’s milk gelato and caramel—it was a fitting end to an intimate, generous feast. The guests polished off the dessert course along with the rest of the wine, Caruso & Minini Terre di Giumara (a fruity, spicy Nero d’Avola from Sicily).
After dessert, chef Benno and the kitchen team joined the guests to discuss the New York City dining scene and what it’s like cooking Roman food for Americans. The takeaway for diners? Be adventurous. Be the person who orders tripe. The chefs know that the offal will never be one of their best sellers, but it stays on the menu because they care about keeping the spirit of traditional dishes alive.

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