In summer 2000, Pazzo Ristorante — the restaurant adjacent to Hotel Vintage in Portland, OR — suffered a loss when Chef Kenny Giambalvo departed to open his own restaurant. Fifteen years later, Chef Giambalvo’s back in the Pazzo kitchen, ready to finish the work he started. We chatted with him about his background, cooking philosophy, and living in the Rose City — plus we coaxed a couple of recipes out of him that salute the end of summer.
Q: How’d you get started cooking?
A: I grew up in a large family with six siblings, and our grandparents lived with us, as well — there were 10 or 11 of us at the table for dinner every night. You had to help in the kitchen, so I started quite young. By the time I was a teenager, I realized I was kind of good at it.
Q: What’s it like to be back at Pazzo?
A: It’s been great. There are many things that have changed about Pazzo, but it’s still so familiar to me — just the vibe here is very family. There are employees here now who worked with me back in the late ’90s.
Q: What can people expect when they dine at Pazzo?
A: I am certainly true to classic Italian cuisine, although my heritage being Italian-American, I’m not strict about the interpretation of classic dishes. I was also trained in French kitchens and techniques, so a little bit of that comes through in my approach to Italian cuisine. The menu is fun and embraces the Northwest, certainly with ingredients and the sensibility.
Q: What do you enjoy about living in Portland?
A: Portland is very easy to live in. It’s well worn but there’s something modern about Portland, as well, and I embrace both. There’s a level of sophistication here, certainly in the culture and the arts — almost surprisingly so for a city this size.
Q: Do you have suggestions for some recipes to salute the end of summer?
A: Semolina gnocchi with zucchini sauce, and panna cotta with summer berries and citrus are two recipes that are very summer appropriate. Anyone with zucchini planted in their garden will appreciate having another recipe that features them. The panna cotta, although more common now than ever before on restaurant menus, is an easy, fun dessert to make at home and goes perfectly with Pacific Northwest berries.
Semolina Gnocchi With Zucchini Sauce
For the gnocchi:
1 quart milk
1½ cups semolina
3 ounces grated Parmesan
2 ounces butter
1 ounce extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, ground nutmeg
Bring milk to a simmer. Slowly stir in the semolina. Bring back to a simmer and cook while stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add eggs one at a time until well blended. Add butter, cheese and olive oil. Stir vigorously until evenly blended. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Turn out onto oiled sheet pan until cooled. Cut into round shapes and hold on a cookie sheet with parchment and generous semolina sprinkled on top and bottom.
When ready to serve, heat a nonstick pan with a little high-heat oil to almost smoking. Gently place each gnocchi in the pan, cooking just 3 or 4 at a time so as not to overcrowd the pan. Add a pinch of whole butter to the pan and reduce the flame to low.
Cook until golden brown, then carefully turn and continue cooking until browned on second side. Remove from pan onto a dinner plate, sauce and serve immediately.
For the zucchini sauce:
3 cloves garlic, sliced fine
1 medium yellow onion, sliced fine
½ cup whole basil leaves, loosely packed
3 anchovy fillets
1 pound zucchini, split and sliced thin half-moon
6 ripened Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, medium diced
3 Calabrian peppers, seeded, chopped fine (substitute pinch of dried chili flake)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
In a large, shallow saucepot or large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil over a medium flame. Add the garlic and cook just until lightly browned. Add the onions and continue cooking, moving the vegetables so as not to brown. Cook the onions until tender and translucent. Add the anchovy and cook another minute.
Add the sliced zucchini and continue cooking until the zucchini is al dente (about 5 minutes). Season with a little kosher salt and pepper. Add the basil, peppers and diced tomatoes and continue cooking while stirring every half-minute until the tomatoes are tender. Adjust seasoning, stir in the olive oil, and serve a large spoon of the sauce with each serving of gnocchi. Present with sauce around or over the top of the gnocchi, depending on preference.
Panna Cotta With Summer Berries and Citrus
For the panna cotta:
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
1 fresh vanilla bean split down the middle
Zest of one orange
Zest of half a lemon
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
In a bowl, combine the milk and gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes to soften gelatin. In a heavy-bottom saucepot, combine the cream, zest, vanilla and sugar. Bring the cream to one simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the milk and gelatin. Stir until all the gelatin has dissolved. Pass through a strainer into a clean bowl.
Ladle 4 ounces of the mixture into 8 containers of choice (ramekins, Pyrex glass cups, coffee cups, single-use aluminum cups, or 6-ounce heavy, clear-plastic drinking cups). Let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to refrigerator, and chill overnight.
To serve, hold each cup in one hand, tilting the cup on its side toward the center of the plate. Using your finger, gently touch the edge of the panna cotta at the top of the cup and pull away from the side. Once air has been allowed in along the side, touch one edge of the cup on the plate and turn the cup downward. The panna cotta should gently unmold from the cup onto the plate. Serve immediately with a generous spoonful of the berry sauce around the panna cotta.
For the sauce:
1 pint blackberries plus ½ cup for garnish
1 pint blueberries plus ½ cup for garnish
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
In a saucepot, combine 1 pint black berries, 1 pint blueberries, juice, sugar, vinegar, and salt. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes at a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and pass through a strainer to remove all seeds. Cool in a nonreactive container in the refrigerator.