The art of pasta at Nicola Restaurant + Bar
Since he was a boy in Siena, Tuscany, making a mess of his grandmother's kitchen with flour, pasta has never been far from Nicola Bedalli's reach. The chef descends from a long line of pasta makers, and he eventually married into another. For years, he worked in his father-in-law's restaurant, crafting ravioli, fettuccine and pappardelle in simple Tuscan fashion. When his father-in-law died and the restaurant was sold off, Bedalli was ready for a new adventure. So he and wife, Speranza, moved to Columbus (where they had family) in 1999, and brought with them a passion for sharing the rustic Tuscan cuisine of their heritage. Today, if you visit Bedalli's Upper Arlington eatery, NicolaRestaurant + Bar, you'll find the same fare-even made with the same ingredients-he cooked in Siena. Here, Bedalli explains why you won't find his style of pasta at any other Columbus restaurant. nicolacolumbus.com
On Tuscan-style pasta: "People think pasta, and they think South Italy, Sicily. That's different. You get a lot of sauces down there because they use a lot of tomatoes and spices. Important to us is stuffing. We don't have toppings. We make tortelli and ravioli with just a light drizzle of butter-sage, or a little bit of Bolognese or tomato-basil. Our pasta is about balance, and the stuffing-veal, kale, broccoli, carrots, spinach, mushrooms-is that extra touch."
His favorite dish: "Raviolo con Nido. It's special ravioli with a big bird-like nest. We use fresh ricotta, lemon zest, parsley and an egg yolk in the middle. It's something nobody else does."
The importance of cooking time: "I do semolina (from durum wheat) pasta, and it's cooked al dente. Some customers get it and say, 'It isn't cooked!' Pasta al dente, or 'to the tooth,' is completely different. It's not mushy or gummy. If you eat that, you'll feel bad. It's heavy. Al dente is lighter, cleaner, simpler. It makes such a big difference."
Sauce secrets: "Some restaurants will mix beef and marinara sauce and call it Bolognese (laughs). Our original Bolognese is made with ground beef-85, 90 percent-then you add ground pork, carrots, onions and cook it nice. Then you add tomatoes, red wine, a little bit of chicken broth and spices for aroma. And it cooks for eight to nine hours to get that flavor."
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, Nicola hosts Nicola Mercato, an Italian-style farmers market where guests can buy Bedalli's house-made pastas, sauces, infusions (think honey and vinegar) and a slew of imported Italian ingredients-all while snacking and sipping a cappuccino or bellini.