Italian comfort food -- arancini, lasagna -- stars at Bensenville deli

January 4, 2013 9:35:21 AM PST
There are several dishes in the Italian kitchen that conjure up comfort, but two of them are the stars at a Bensenville deli that the Hungry Hound recently checked out.

He says they're both homemade, and obviously, a lot larger than their Italian cousins.

When you think arancini in Italy, you think of a small, bite-sized appetizer. As for lasagna, that's usually a Sunday-only, special occasion dish. But, in Bensenville, both items are not only available everyday. They're quite a bit larger than the versions you might see across the Atlantic.

The regulars know they're going to leave fairly stuffed, because at the Asti Italian Deli in Bensenville, portions are indeed ample.

"Arancini is actually an appetizer. I turned it into a meal. It's actually a Sicilian thing," said Mario De Astis, co-owner of Asti Deli.

But here, it becomes a bit more American, thanks to its size.

They start with cooked, long-grain rice, adding parmesan, eggs and parsley to it, before mixing it up by hand, to fully incorporate the flavors. Then, De Astis takes a large palm full, pressing it flat; he adds a cube of mozzarella and some ground beef, then covers it up with another handful of rice. Into some beaten eggs then a quick roll in fine bread crumbs, before hitting the deep fryer. At the table, it arrives in a pool of homemade ragu, with another container on the side.

"We use whole, plum tomatoes, we grind 'em up and make sauce from scratch; that's another item my mom taught me," De Astis said.

The size of the arancini ball pales in comparison to the heft of the lasagna slices, which are sold everyday, despite their traditional origins.

"It's more of a Sunday item, not a weekday item. In Italy, you have lasagna on Sunday only; it's something special," he said.

At Asti, it's a matter of layering. Homemade sheets of pasta come each day from Perfect Pasta in Addison, plus a few ladles of that homemade tomato sauce. Also, parmesan, mozzarella and fresh ricotta cheeses. One of the layers gets ground beef, but the others remain meatless.

The procedure is repeated at least four or five times, or until the top level of the baking pan is reached. Baked in the oven for about a half an hour, the lasagna is sliced into individual pieces, which could easily feed two.

"I always liked sitting with my mom, watching her make food and stuff, so she taught me how to make lasagna, how to take fresh ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and layer out with ground beef," said De Astis. "If you come during lunch, probably be prepared to sleep after that."

The deli does a lot of catering and carryout, but there is plenty of room in their newly expanded dining room to dine-in as well.

Asti Deli
1410 Irving Park Rd., Bensenville
(630) 350-1874