Italian from scratch at Ballaro in Highwood

HIGHWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- In north suburban Highwood, there's a new place downtown near the train station which is attracting a loyal clientele due, in part, to their commitment to making everything from scratch.

It's a good thing the pasta machine works well at Ballaro, because nearly every table has a plate of one of the restaurant's three or four daily options.

"When I lived in Italy it was all about the regional cuisine; every region has its cuisine, so what I do is that I've loved Italian food all my life, but Chicago is my region, so I use the food that's local to me," said Chef Mark Newman.

Newman cooks other dishes, of course, but it's his pastas that command a lot of the attention. Wide ribbons of pappardelle, cooked in a sauce of braised short ribs and homemade tomato sauce, finished with parmesan and olive oil. Another option, squid ink used to turn the pasta jet black, then guided through a cutter to create strands of spaghetti. In a pan with slices of garlic and calamari, he adds spicy Calabrian chiles and fresh mint. And maybe a little bit of butter, before adding the cooked pasta then serving immediately.

For a different option, consider his eggplant antipasti, which has very little to do with eggplant parm.

"It's take eggplant parmesan, and make a left turn and go down the street for a while," Newman said. "Little baby eggplants that we bring in and we fry it. And we put it over a Calabrian chile puree that we make with a little bit of honey and then we put some herbed ricotta on the plate with a little bit of honeycomb and finish it with just a little bit of fresh green salad and some crunchy breadcrumbs over the top."

So with all of these homemade pastas on the menu you'd think it would be difficult if you're gluten free, but the good news is they always have a homemade gnocchi on the menu made with rice flour so everybody can have some.

214 Green Bay Rd., Highwood
(847) 780-3396

EXTRA COURSE: Chef Newman on how to make better pasta at home

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