It's no wonder Kristin Sollenne developed a passion for food: "I was always in the kitchen with my parents and my grandparents for big Italian family dinners," she says. But when she noticed her parents gaining weight, she applied the nutritional know-how she got at California State to help them drop some serious pounds. Her folks' new healthy lifestyle was the kicker she needed to move to New York and make a name for herself. As the chef at Bocca di Bacco, which is opening its third location in the city Thursday, she's out to prove that Italian food does not have to be calorie-dense.
So what's on the menu?
As specials we've introduced fresh spinach spaghetti with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts -- just a very simple dish. I have a chestnut and porcini ravioli. We did an eggplant pasta. I like introducing things to people that taste amazing. It's not that you have to compromise on your taste, and it's healthier than the traditional Italian food.
What are some foods you're looking forward to cooking with this season?
Especially around this time I love incorporating pumpkin: pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin gnocchi. I love butternut squash for purees and soups. Chestnuts, I love making a really nice pureed sauce with those. I do a chestnut ravioli. A big thing for me this winter is definitely infused pastas. Instead of the heavy starches that the normal pastas are, why not fill them with spinach or eggplant, pumpkin or chestnut? We make all of our pastas fresh, homemade, so that's definitely something that I always look forward to.
Do you have a favorite item on the menu?
Oh, I have lots of favorites. We do something that's very rare that you probably won't find at any other restaurant: It's called our Cavatelli Di Grano Arso, which is burnt wheat cavatelli. It's a flour that actually comes from Puglia, Italy, and I was introduced to it by a colleague of mine. They don't distribute it to the U.S., so basically we had to develop our own way to create this flour. After several attempts, we came up with the perfect combination and we created this burnt wheat cavatelli. We serve it with a venison sausage and a light gravy sauce which is absolutely delicious. And that I like just because it's so different.
What would you cook to impress a date?
Is he Italian? [Laughs] Just kidding. The grilled octopus, the homemade fettuccine Bolognese -- you can't go wrong with it -- and then our pistachio profiteroles for the dessert. Pistachios I think are great for cleansing the palette. It's a great way to end the meal.
What should home cooks be picking up at the farmers market this winter?
I would definitely say butternut squash — you can do so much with that and incorporate it into a lot of different dishes. You can always pick up great spinach. I’ve noticed more people have brought up kale, which is interesting because that’s kind of something new. Fresh pumpkin, you can do so much with that this time of year, I would definitely say eggplant — all these great vegetables that you can use in so many different forms.