Casarecce alla Emilia-Romagna inspired by Chef Carolina Diaz
Last night we kicked off the 11th Annual Chicago Gourmet with an Italian Feast featuring Chicago’s top Italian Chefs and wines from Frescobaldi. Last year’s dinner was held on stage at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but this year we took the show on the river with a cruise and Italian feast prepared by Chefs Fabio Viviani, Tony Priolo, Federico Comacchio and Carolina Diaz. I was in charge of the wine pairings and Italian culinary expert Mario Rizzotti served as our gregarious emcee. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the whole dinner on a boat situation but when we arrived at the dock, I was most pleasantly surprised. Odyssey Cruises recently launched a new river boat and it’s absolutely top-toch. The boat is built like a barge with a front viewing deck and big open windows so everyone gets a view from their table. My friends and I had a wonderful evening enjoying a marvelous Italian dinner while taking in Chicago’s magnificent architecture.
All of the chefs did an incredible job but the culinary highlight of the evening for me was Chef Carolina Diaz’s Casarecce alla Emilia-Romagna, a short twisted pasta from Sicily tossed in a savory parmesan cream with slices of prosciutto di parma, finished with a drizzle of aged balsamic. Born and raised in Chicago, Chef Diaz is the Chef di Cuisine of Terzo Piano and last year she beat out 17 chefs from all over the world for the title of Barilla World Pasta Champion, becoming the first woman ever to do so. She is literally a Champion of Pasta! Italian food is stunning in its simplicity and Chef Diaz absolutely nailed it with this homage to all things Emilia-Romagna: parmesan cheese, prosciutto di parma and balsamic vinegar. I had paired it with the Nipozzano Chianti Rufina, figuring the umami notes from the prosciutto and parmesan would stand up to a red wine despite the cream sauce element and it worked beautifully.
I’ve been thinking about this dish so much that I decided to recreate it for dinner and it was almost as good as the one from Chef Diaz. I made the parmesan cream with three ingredients (Gently heat 6 tablespoons each of whole milk and cream and then add 100 grams of grated parmesan, this is enough for 2-3 portions of pasta). Don’t worry if the parmesan cream is a little “grainy”, it’s supposed to be. The casarecce is a sturdy, al dente type of pasta and takes a while to cook (I clocked in at 20 minutes). I’m thinking it would be a good shape for baked pasta dishes since it would hold up really well without getting too mushy. Once the pasta is finished, toss it in the parmesan cream sauce, then plate and garnish with prosciutto slices and a drizzle with a good quality, aged balsamic vinegar. I added crispy sage leaves as my personal contribution. I found the casarecce at Eataly but was able to source everything else from Trader Joe’s (including the aged balsamic). If you can’t find casarecce, any short pasta shape like gemelli, campanelle or even farfalle will do. This would be a really easy yet sophisticated dish for a dinner party. Pair it with a medium-bodied, tangy Italian red: Sangiovese, Chianti or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and your guests will love you. Buon Appetito!