Pelago: Elegant Italian, pasta from scratch

May 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Not only is the recipe crucial when making pasta - and deciding what kind of sauce to serve with it - so is the portion size. Both elements are perfectly in-tune at Pelago, a hidden gem in the Gold Coast. The chef is, of course, Italian, which means he's doing everything just as he was taught back home.

An Italian restaurant is often judged by the quality of its pasta. Anyone really serious about Italian tradition must, of course, make it in-house. At Pelago - tucked into the first floor of the Rafaello Hotel in the Gold Coast - every one of the pastas is made from scratch, each day.

"We spend a lot of time on the pasta, one of the main parts of my kitchen is work on my pasta. I have a person come in the morning and finishes at night," said Pelago Chef Mauro Mafrici.

Ravioli is but one example. Long pasta sheets are filled with dollops of hearty veal, then covered.. cut.. and boiled to-order. In the two minutes or so it takes to cook, Mafrici assembles a sauce of tomatoes, chopped pistachios and chicken stock.. plus salty pecorino romano cheese and butter. The cooked ravioli is tossed in the sauce, just until coated, then plated with another small shower of chopped pistachios.

"They have different kind of pasta that comes from North and South and plus we have a pasta made with eggs and some pasta made mostly with the flour," Mafrici said.

His trofie - a corkscrew-shaped pasta - begins with long sheets of pasta that are cut evenly in the pasta machine, then separated by hand, and in a technique that can only be described as Old World, hand-twisted and dusted with flour. They're cut into small pieces, then boiled in water. Cubed potatoes and string beans are heated in a saute pan with freshly-made pesto - the verdant green sauce of basil, garlic and pine nuts. Same goes for the gnocchi: these potato dumplings are paired with any number of sauces. Mafrici says he thinks about each pasta as much as he does the accompanying sauce.

"Trofie is from Liguria, maldoredo is from Sardinia, cavatelli is from know every region has a different pasta, and we use the sauce that normally they use in the region," said Mafrici.

If you can't make up your mind, the restaurant also offers a nice little pasta sampler with four or five different combinations.

201 E. Delaware Pl.

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