Re-inventing cuisines with uber-regional foods is a happy edition of eating locally; Enzo in Newburyport is mastering it. Owners Mary and Dave Reilly have created a unique little restaurant with a Ligurian, trattoria stamp. The menu is short, and everything on it is made from scratch – from the warm squares of focaccia to the pickled tomatillos that animate a fonduta, the bubbling, melted Taleggio and Fontina D’Aosta cheese appetizer.
The Enzo homemade handkerchiefs of fresh pasta floating in a light tomato sauce, dolloped with house-made ricotta cheese, taste like the best of Northern Italy, but the light-as-a-breeze homemade pappardelle is piled high with pale pink Gulf of Maine Shrimp and cannellini beans. (Quick! – The shrimp season ends soon; this dish leaves the menu this week.)
Roasted Tomato Soup is an Italian grandmother standard; the Enzo version is as traditional as zuppa gets: smooth tomatoes graced with Parmigiana Reggiano and homemade croutons. Farther down the appetizer menu is a Kale Salad with Roasted Squash, an Italian insalata remade with the best of a New England farm in February.
Golden, pan-roasted gnocchi nestle within a thicket of locally grown Shady Oaks mushrooms and threads of crispy leeks. Along with the kale and kohlrabi delivery, Heron Pond Farm supplies Enzo with wheatberries, an American version of Italian farro, the grain which appears as soups and salads all over Umbria. The Heron Pond Farm wheatberries, scented with saffron, welcome a filet of roasted, prosciutto-wrapped monkfish, a catch from the fishing vessel Hope + Sidney.
Chicken under a brick never leaves the menu; Reilly cooks each flattened chicken to order under about twenty pounds of weighted skillets. Call it the restaurant’s chicken standard, until you taste the agrodolce focaccia stuffing, homemade bread seasoned with the classic Italian combination of sweet and vinegar, nothing standard about it; It’s novel and delicious.
This brussels sprout recipe is Enzo’s answer to the question, “how do we make a panzanella salad – the traditional Italian bread salad made with summery red tomatoes and fresh basil – in New England in the winter?”
The result looks nothing like its parent, but it has a brilliant future. A perfect arrangement of tastes and textures; it should be our winter salad paradigm as panzanella is a summer Tuscan one. My teenage daughters declared it “the best thing they’d ever eaten,” and asked if we could have it every night.
There are many steps, but they’re easy, and each could be completed a full day ahead, the whole assembled quickly.
50 Water Street #304 Newburyport, MA 01950
Enzo’s Brussels Sprout Salad
4 cups brussels sprout leaves (Cut the bottom off each sprout and then loosen the leaves off with your fingers. Keep cutting the core back as you peel the leaves off.)
2 oz thinly sliced pancetta
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups cubed or torn bread (from a country-style loaf)
3 cups mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, cremini or portobellp), sliced or torn into ½-¾” strips
Pancetta-molasses dressing (recipe below), at room temperature
4 poached eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Lightly blanch the sprout leaves by dropping them in the water for about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside on a sheet pan to cool. (this can be done a day ahead)
Lay the pancetta slices on a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan and sprinkle them evenly with sugar. Roast pancetta in oven until sugar is melted and pancetta is crisp and brown. This may take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depnding on how thin your pancetta is – keep an eye on the oven and watch for burning pancetta! Set aside and let cool. (this can be done a day ahead)
Toss the bread cubes with olive oil and place them on a sheet pan. Toast in the preheated oven until evenly browned and crisp, about 7-10 minutes.
Toss the mushrooms with olive oil and place them on a sheet pan. Roast in the preheated oven until evenly browned and softened, about 10 minutes.
Toss the drained sprout leaves with the croutons, mushrooms and a big dollop of dressing (you want to make sure the croutons are not dry). Divide tossed salad on to four dinner plates. Crumble the pancetta over the top of the salads, season with salt and pepper, and top each salad with a poached egg.
Yields about 3 cups
3 oz pancetta, sliced or cubed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup molasses
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups oil (we use a blend of olive and canola oils)
Cook pancetta in a skillet until crisp and browned and the fat is rendered out. Cool slightly and then place pancetta and all the rendered fat in the bowl of a food processor. Add the mustard molasses, and vinegar to the processor bowl. Turn the processor on and let it grind up the pancetta. When the mixture in the bowl looks semi-smooth, pour in the oil. When the dressing looks cohesive and smooth, turn of the processor and check for seasoning. Depending on your pancetta, you might want to add a little salt, or more molasses or vinegar: it should taste sweet, sour and salty. This dressing should be stored in the refrigerator and brought up to room temperature (or heated) before use.