TODAY'S PAPER
52° Good Evening
52° Good Evening
LifestyleRestaurantsFood and Drink

Who's Cooking: Christina Conti, Wantagh

Wantagh resident Christina Conti with her pasta Caprese.

Wantagh resident Christina Conti with her pasta Caprese. Credit: Barry Sloan

CHRISTINA CONTI

Christina Conti, a personal assistant to a Smithtown/Manhattan dermatologist, lives in Wantagh with her children, Olivia, 16, and triplets Robert, Michael and Bella, 13.

 

Word is you're big on entertaining. What was your most recent dinner?

I braised clams and rock shrimp in a tin on the grill and served the seafood in a bowl, over toasted garlic bread. I also slow-cooked ribs, which I rubbed with spices, and finished them on the grill. I made a really big cucumber, tomato and red onion salad. And for dessert, I did a Chantilly cream with strawberries, raspberries and Champagne.

Do you have any signature dishes?

One is my pasta Caprese. The sauce can sit anywhere from one to 24 hours, so you can make it in advance. It can be an entree, an accompaniment to a grilled meal or even a first course. There's another dish I don't even have a name for. I braise a rump roast all day long in Vidalia onions, pepperoncini and beer and then I shred the beef and make sandwiches with provolone and topped with fresh raw Vidalia onions and pepperoncini. I serve this with jasmine rice and beans, which I cook with pig's foot for a smoky flavor.

Where did you get your culinary inspiration?

I grew up in Richmond Hill, Queens, and my mom and dad, who are second- generation Italian, both cooked all the time. Sunday was family day. We stayed around the dinner table three to four hours. Now, as a personal assistant to a dermatologist, I get to eat out a lot with her, so I'm always trying to mimic what I ate at restaurants.

If you could invite any chef to dinner, who would you invite and what would you make?

I'd invite chef Andrew Carmellini (of The Dutch in Manhattan) and make the lamb ragu from his "Urban Italian" cookbook. Then I would ask him how I did at it.

What are some of your kids' favorite dishes?

Ribs, chili and good old chicken cutlets with pasta.

Do they ever cook?

They do. In fact, my 16-year-old has all her friends over once a month to prepare something in the kitchen.

When you go out to eat on Long Island, what are some of your favorite restaurants?

Maroni Cuisine in Northport, Bryant & Cooper Steakhouse and also Limani in Roslyn. When I go out with the kids, we go to Corry's Ale House in Wantagh for burgers. They have a burger there that's topped with bacon, cheddar and an over-easy egg. For sushi, we go to Xaga and Merrick Sushi & Tea, both in Merrick.

 

CHRISTINA CONTI'S PASTA CAPRESE

¼ cup olive oil

A 16-ounce package mozzarella, cubed

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup chopped basil leaves (reserve a few leaves for garnish)

Crushed dried red pepper, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes

1 pound fusilli or other corkscrew pasta

1. Combine olive oil, cubed mozzarella, garlic, basil, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper in a large bowl, stirring together.

2. Place tomatoes in a saucepan; use your hands to crush them. Then simmer over medium about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from stove.

3. Add tomatoes to mozzarella mixture in bowl. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes -- or up to one day refrigerated.

4. Boil pasta as directed. Drain; then pour hot pasta over sauce. Mix and serve. Makes about four servings.