Living in Jersey, you almost certainly know the food: Gutsy, robust, tummy-filling, a time-honored part of Italian-American tradition called Sunday Supper. It’s found in what might be called the Red Sauce Belt, that geographical swath that runs from roughly South Philly through most of New Jersey, New York City, up into New Haven and Providence, finally reaching greater Boston.
The classic dishes of Sunday Supper and the Red Sauce Belt are second-nature to Meghan Cattani, chef-owner of the new Cattani Catering & Kitchen in Ewing. The Jersey native learned the classic recipes (served in bountiful portions) from her two grandmothers, or nonnas, who always had pots of sauce and pasta simmering on their stoves.
Cattani Catering & Kitchen is a public version of those grandmotherly kitchens. Cattani’s proudly classic fare is made in the old-school style that encourages digging in and letting out the belt a notch on the ride home.
The meatballs, with polenta? Hearty and tender. Made from beef, pork and veal, the balls are pan-fried, then slow simmered in red gravy before being served over ultra-creamy polenta in a cast-iron skillet, finished with a scattering of caciovallo cheese.
Rice balls, with a core of meat, come in a wooden trough with more of that zesty sauce and cheese. Pears poached in zinfandel crown a mixed-greens salad sprinkled with glazed pecans and potent Maytag blue cheese.
These two apps and the salad could easily suffice as dinner and leave you happily sated. But then you’d miss Cattani’s “Figgy Piggy” panini, which arrives upright, a terrific way to show off an interior of creamy gorgonzola, prosciutto di Parma, peppery arugula and a smack of lusty fig jam. (A quibble: The sandwich comes with a side of crackers in a paper-lined cone. They were crisp, slightly garlicky and fine, but why pair a sandwich with crackers?)
Cattani is a pasta maven. Her gnudi, made from mild ricotta, is cosseted by shreds and chunks of long-braised beef, punched up by green peas and given a quick shake of grated romano. Straight from the family’s native Umbria comes stracinati, which are penne tossed with lots and lots of sweet sausage punctuated by nibs of applewood-smoked bacon and finished with beaten egg yolk and a wash of cream. Simply delicious.
Given a do-over, I’d have another pasta rather than the crème brûlée plied with pomegranate and raspberry. Not bad, but it didn’t warm my heart like the rest of chef Cattani’s cooking. For a night, I felt like I, too, had a nonna in the kitchen.
1569 Parkway Avenue, Ewing. 609-323-7190. cattanicatering.com. BYO.
Note: Cattani does a brisk catering business on weekends. That limits dinner hours. Though the restaurant opens for lunch Tuesday through Saturday at 11 am, dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is served only until 8 pm. Friday and Saturday dinner is served only until 5 pm. Sunday brunch is served from 10:30 am to 2 pm. Closed Mondays.Click here to leave a comment