IN HER ZIO TOTO KITCHEN, CHEF ANNA NAPOLI CREATES AGE OLD SICILIAN SPECIALTIES
BY JESSICA JONES-GORMAN PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
When Anna Napoli was growing up in Italy, she spent a good portion of her youth in the kitchen, learning her family’s traditional Sicilian recipes from her mom and grandmother.
“Our family always had a passion for cooking,” Napoli said. “Together we made the sauce each Sunday, but it was the unique dishes that really made an impression veal spiedini, pasta with cauliflower all of the Sicilian recipes that were special to my family.”
So in 2007, when her family opened up Zio Toto in Bay Ridge, Napoli started cooking those specialties for customers.
“People loved them,” she noted. “They would come in and say, ‘I heard you make pasta with sardines, just like my grandmother used to make.’ They’re dishes that are hard to find on a restaurant menu; the veal spiedini that features the sweetness of the raisins counteracted by the salt of the aged provolone cheese. Finished off with pignoli nuts, tomato, and bread crumbs; it is truly my favorite dish.
”When Zio Toto opened a Totten Ville location several years ago, Napoli was tasked with bringing these Sicilian specialties to the South Shore.
“We wanted to emphasize that section on our menu because that’s where we’re from and that’s the type of food that really hits home for us,” noted Filippo Guiffre, Napoli’s brother and owner of both locations. “We developed a selection of six items, all traditional dishes like Pasta con le Sarde, Bucatini Cavolfiore, and Spiedini di Vitello. The dishes are my mother’s recipes, and are truly what make our menu unique.”
Napoli, a self taught cook whose family has been in the restaurant business for 30 years, places great emphasis on the pasta, and rigatoni with eggplant and hand rolled gnocchi are some of the top sellers. She also concentrated on what went into the pre dinner bread basket.
“It’s a Sicilian tradition to serve spingione a pizza with grilled onions and Parmesan cheese,” said the chef. “The dough is made a certain way and cooked to a particular temperature. It’s a very important part of the meal.”
As are the eggplant caponata and focaccia served with it.
“All of these touches bring a feeling to the restaurant,” Napoli said. “We wanted our guests to share in a little bit of our heritage.”
And while Napoli says all of her mother’s recipes are etched in her heart, she credits her kitchen staff with bringing them to life.
“They work hard to create all of these Sicilian favorites,” Napoli concluded. “But also bring many of their own dishes to the restaurant. The result is a nice mix of authentic Italian favorites that everyone enjoys.”
86 Page Avenue / 718.317.0373 / ziototo.com