Thursday, November 3, 2011

A SOUPer Winter Menu at Il Bambino

(Check out the recipe for this Roasted Pumpkin Soup below)

Il Bambino (34-08 31st Ave)

An edited version of this article appeared in the November issue of BORO.

“Someone could call themselves a chef for 30 years, and still never really understand flavor,” says Darren Lawless, chef-owner of Il Bambino, the beloved paninoteca and tapas bar—one of only three restaurants in Astoria to place in the “extraordinary to perfection” bracket in Zagat’s most recent rankings, with a food score of 26.  “[At Il Bambino] it’s all about flavor and technique…” he passionately explains in a cheerful Irish lilt,  “…knowing how to transform a carrot into a roasted carrot salad.”  The secret?  Quality ingredients and superb technique at extracting and layering flavors.

Most of the dishes at Il Bambino have only a few simple ingredients, but one bite of a panini or a spoonful of the daily soup, and it doesn’t take a food critic to recognize something special going on here.  The split pea and prosciutto soup is really only four main ingredients: peas, prosciutto, onions, and carrots.  Sounds simple, right?  Chef Lawless first sweats the prosciutto, drawing out the savory juices, to which the onions are then fed, until rendered sweet and translucent.  Next, the peas are cooked into the base, like a risotto.  “So much goes on before we even add water,” smiles Lawless, who never uses stocks.  “I always want the featured ingredient to shine through.”  Herbs are only added at the very end, allowing the heat to release the oils just in time to serve.  Vegetarian soups are given just a touch of cream for heartiness, or maybe even a pureed potato to add a velvety smoothness to the body.

While the soups hibernate throughout the summer, their resurrection each autumn is highly anticipated.  On a typical day, the restaurant can easily sell over one hundred 16 oz. servings.  The price for these gourmet ephemeral gems comes to $7.08 after tax, and each portion is accompanied by a toasted crostini slathered with homemade basil pesto, ideal for dunking.

(The Notorious P.I.G.)

Along with this year’s seasonal soups comes the extension of brunch to Fridays, as well as Saturday and Sunday.  New, cleverly-named breakfast panini include the Sir Oink-a-Lot (with sweet sausage), Wake & Bake (with “smoked” mayo), Sweet Ass (prosciutto and fig spread), and the Notorious P.I.G. (smoked bacon, eggs, artisan cheddar, and truffle spread).

(Assorted crostini--these mini sandwiches are exploding with exquisite flavors)

Daily specials this season have included a panini of smoked chicken with bacon mac & cheese.  Among the lineup of upcoming soups, patrons can anticipate the following: smoked tomato bisque (the best seller, usually featured Wednesdays and Saturdays), roasted pumpkin with sweet spices and fresh thyme, split pea prosciutto, potato with roasted mushrooms and garlic, potato-cauliflower with toasted almonds, and—for when it’s really cold—a sweet sausage minestrone with ditalini pasta.  “I froze some of this last year, and bring it out when ever my boys get sick,” smiles a visibly golden-hearted Lawless, who seems to treat his family and staff with the same loving attention he does each of his recipes.


Chef Lawless graciously shared the recipe for one of his most popular soups below:

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Nutmeg & Moscato

7-8 lb pumpkin
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2 oz of unsalted butter
1 pint milk
1 cup moscato or dessert wine
1 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and white pepper
Prepare the pumpkin by cutting it into quarters, and then into eighths. Remove seeds, and separate the meat from the skin (discarded skin). Cut pumpkin meat into smaller chunks and set aside. Melt the butter in a large pot, over medium high heat. Add onion and cook for 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the pumpkin and potato, and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the moscato, and boil to reduce by half. Add the milk and cream and simmer, covered, for 1 hour (or until completely soft and very tender). Puree the soup, and season with salt and pepper, freshly grated nutmeg and chopped fresh thyme.
Yields 6 servings.


SZ said...

Great article. Love those Bambino soups! The tomato is my favorite, but the pumpkin looks awesome, too. Thanks for the recipe. I will probably let Bambino make it for me. I wish they would post the daily soup on their web site, or possibly Twitter.

esther said...

I just went there a few weeks ago and loved it! Next time, I'll have to get the P.I.G :D

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