"I'll do all the stuff she used to cook for me and my brothers," Gagliano says. "Some of them have been on the menu as my take on the dish. I'll change it up just a little bit, but I always try to incorporate things that I remember growing up that my mom fed us. Put it on there as close to what my mom used to serve us."
Rouladen, a German dish his mother, who is German, made for them, will be a special January 8th and 9th at Ecco. The family-inspired dish also will be available throughout January at Libro, where Gagliano is executive chef and his brother, Mario Gagliano, is head chef.
- Armando Gagliano
Growing up, Gagliano and his brothers ate more pasta than potatoes. "My mom mainly cooked us Italian food 'cause German food is always braised meats and potatoes and onions.
"We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so we probably ate pasta five nights a week. It's so cheap. It's one of the best things somebody can eat."
They served Mama's Pasta, a "spicy Southern bacon pasta," as a springtime/summer special at Ecco. It's "like a South American dish mixed with Italian pasta. It's bacon that she rendered. She chopped up the rendered bacon with tomato sauce. And she'd usually put in a little hot sugar, hot sauce, and garlic. It was a spicy marinara, but instead of using ground pork or something like that, it was bacon."
Spaghetti puttanesca is a childhood dish that also shows up at Ecco. "That's a very old Southern coast recipe. There are different variations of it, but it primarily consists of garlic, capers, kalamata olives, anchovies, and then some sort of whole or diced-up tomatoes, or tomato purée. We use tomato purée. It's what the fishermen would get to eat after they came back into the docks after being out in the Mediterranean fishing. They would use anchovies to make this dish."
Rouladen, a Christmas tradition at their home, is "essentially a sirloin steak that you pound the hell out of with a mallet till it's really thin. You brush Dijon mustard on it and line it with bacon and thinly sliced yellow onions. You roll the whole thing up like a fruit roll and either tie it off or use toothpicks, then sear that in a large pan. After it's browned on all sides, take it out, and in the same pan put carrots, onions, celery and cook those down until they're soft.
"Then you're going to hit it with red wine. However much you want to use. You deglaze all those vegetables in chicken or beef stock. Preferably, beef stock since that's what you're cooking. Bring that to a boil. You return the seared rouladen that you set to the side back in the pot and reset the temperature to a very low simmer. Then after about two hours, they're done. And you can let them go longer if you want them more tender.
"You take them out. And all the vegetables and wines and juices it was cooking in, throw that in a blender. Blend it up really well and then press it through a sieve or a colander. Those juices are the gravy. With the vegetables, it's already thick enough. My mom would always boil some potatoes to go with them. You over-boil them till they're really soft. [We use] baby new potatoes. Put them whole on the plate and mash them. Put the rouladen on top of those mashed potatoes, and the gravy goes over all of it.
"It's a very rustic dish. Rouladen and gravy. It's a German pot roast kind of deal."
Ecco on Overton Park is at 1585 Overton Park; (901) 410-8200. Libro is at Novel bookstore at 387 Perkins Extended; (901) 922-5526.