Jul 14, 2023

Tuck in to these star pasta dishes around Charleston this fall

Charlestonians have different interpretations of fall weather, but as soon as temperatures dip below 70, it's all about sweaters, hot toddies and the ultimate comfort food — pasta.

Few dishes are quite as satisfying in the cooler months than a cheesy, saucy bowl of your favorite pasta. Gnocchi dumplings mixed with braised meats and cooked in brown butter and sage, manicotti stuffed with an almost obscene amount of ricotta or tagliatelle topped with squash — you name it, Charleston's got it.

For some chefs in town, pasta isn't just a delicious comfort food, but a reminder of bygone days making pasta with their grandmothers. For others, it's the best way to embrace the fall fully.

Chris Orlando, owner of Mondo's on James Island, is a prime example. He's been serving pasta dishes for 25 years, but it still stirs up memories of time spent churning out pasta on Sundays alongside his grandparents.

"I learned how to cook from my grandparents," Orlando said. "They’re all from Abruzzo. They came over [from Italy] and that's all we did on Sunday, just cook all day long. So, it always smells like that in here to me, and it always reminds me of my childhood — even 25 years into it."

That kind of familial nostalgia resonates with Mondo's customers, many of whom are regulars who have frequented the pasta joint through generations.

"I’m almost on my third generation of clientele," Orlando said. "I have customers whose kids have had kids who are now coming in here."

Orlando, who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, said Mondo's focuses on "neighborhood comfort food" with simple, family recipes that pack big flavor. And pasta is the star of the menu. Mondo's serves up every kind of pasta an Italian foodie would want — ravioli, manicotti and a classic, spaghetti and meatballs.

All of Mondo's pastas are made and extracted in-house by Orlando, with the exception of the gluten-free pasta and raviolis. Raviolis are sourced from local pasta company Rio Bertolini's.

"I have no recipes," Orlando said. "We have no recipes here. It's all freestyle, like it's all verbal. I have guys who are 40 years old now that have been with us since they were 16, so it's different. It's just an instinct."

For anyone with Italian heritage, the manicotti at Mondo's is sure to bring you back to your nonna's kitchen. Stuffed with spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and topped with Mondo's housemade marinara sauce, this Italian version of a tamale is the perfect comfort food for fall.

Though mainstays like chicken parmesan, and spaghetti and meatballs are always top sellers, more fall dishes will make an appearance as the weather cools, like Bolognese (a meat-based pasta sauce), Italian Wedding Soup, stuffed pastas and lasagna. When City Paper interviewed Orlando, he said he was experimenting with a broccoli rabe and meatball lasagna.

Mondo's isn't the only place prepping for cooler temps with fall-inspired pasta dishes. Chef Tim Morton at downtown's Frannie and the Fox said he’ll be adding new dishes with the changing seasons.

Frannie and the Fox sources most of its pasta from a wheat farmer in Italy. To keep the wheat operation running, Morton said, the farmer uses his wheat to make and sell his own pasta. "But all of our fill pastas, we make from scratch in house," he added.

One of those fill pastas includes a new fall ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, brown butter and duck confit. But other staple dishes, such as the clam cacio e pepe, a simple cream-based pasta dish made with bucatini, will remain on the menu.

Morton described the popular cacio e pepe dish as being made with a generous amount of parmesan and black pepper. Using a small amount of pasta water, Morton then adds a little bit of clam broth and lemon juice to create a sauce.

"It's a comfortable thing. It's very traditional," he said of the cacio e pepe. "And I think sometimes there's a reemergence of just simplicity. Something that's super rich at its bones, very simple, but when it's done right, it's super special."

King Street Italian eatery Indaco is gearing up for the fall weather with its fall squash agnolotti cooked with sage and brown butter. Chef Mark Bolchoz said other fall dishes to hit the menu will include duck confit or a duck ragu.

"Fall is always very duck-heavy for me," he said. "Something about the flavors and what pairs well with it, you know, foie gras, dried cherries, that kind of thing. So, going into the fall, I would definitely say duck is a big one, and we pride ourselves on being a total utilization place."

Bolchoz explained Indaco tries to use as much of an animal as possible to avoid waste. Duck breasts are broken down for a piatti (or entree) dish; legs are added to a ragu sauce; bones are cooked to create stock, adding a level of depth to its flavor.

"With respect to the ingredient and, in this case, to the animal, it's great to be able to use every scrap," he said.

Indaco sources its meats from local purveyors as much as possible, including Spade and Clover, Keegan-Filion Farm, Tarvin Seafood and Storey Farms and its pasta is cut or extruded in house. Dense pastas like tagliatelle, ravioli and other filled pastas are made from an egg dough then rolled out and cut either by hand or with a rolling cutter. Firmer, drier pastas like rigatoni, spaghetti and bucatini are made from dough with just semolina and water and run through a pasta extruder.

Bolchoz said Indaco is "seasonal by design" as the restaurant sources produce and proteins based on what's in season, though some dishes, like the tagliatelle, have a permanent place on the menu.

"It was the opening dish and obviously it's a huge hit," he said. "It's gone through a bit of modification over time, but it's still pretty true to the original, which is house-cured pork belly from Keegan [Filion] Farms, pork stock butter, it's kind of a play on carbonara, so parmesan and then we finish it with that Storey Farms egg and recommend that the guests give that a stir at the table."

Wild Olive on Johns Island has been pumping out pasta since 2009. Chef and owner Jacques Larson, who took over the restaurant six months after its opening, said two of Wild Olive's current pastas have withstood the test of time, remaining on the menu since the beginning: the tagliatelle alla Bolognese and the pappardelle with guanciale, which is cured pork jowls or cheek. Guanciale is similar to pancetta, but a bit fattier. It's typically cured longer, creating a deeper flavor.

Aside from those two dishes, Wild Olive usually runs eight to nine pastas on the menu every night plus regular specials. Larson said some pastas change seasonally, particularly the filled pastas, while others remain.

For this fall, Larson said guests can expect some heavier fall dishes with new filled pastas and a bianca lasagna stuffed with roasted artichokes, spinach and caramelized onions. But, his favorite fall ingredients to cook with are brown butter and sage. "I don't know why but just like pancetta and sage, it just always screams autumn to me," he said.

Wild Olive's short rib gnocchi is another cool weather favorite.

"The gnocchi is the perfect example [of a fall dish]," Larson said. "Anything that's braised or stewed. People tend to prefer food that, you know, sticks to your ribs and is comforting. For a lot of people, braised meats are synonymous with comfort food."

With the exception of the gluten-free option, all of Wild Olive's pastas are made and extruded in-house by its pasta maker, Alberto Deramona, who has been with the restaurant almost since its opening.

Deramona started off as a dishwasher, but Larson said his knack for quickness and precision made it clear that he was naturally talented.

"All those years ago, I trained him on some basic folds, sheeting the pasta, cutting the noodles," Larson said. "Now, you look at his pasta and it looks like it's machine made. He's amazing. I can't say enough good things about him."

Larson said Deramoma developed a doppio (or double) ravioli dish filled with mushroom for the summer menu, but look out for new, creative takes on fall offerings using items like a milk-braised pork or candy roaster squash from Bradford Family Farms.

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