Like most restaurateurs, chef Albert Di Meglio is adjusting.
The born-and-bred New Yorker heads up Barano, an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn’s South Williamsburg neighborhood featuring fresh pasta, handmade mozzarella, and impeccable wood-fired pizza. He also owns Spirit Animal, his wine and spirits store just a few storefronts down. But when COVID-19 hit, Di Meglio quickly realized the importance of adapting to the city’s new culinary reality.
“We originally closed both places when the city’s shelter in place order came into effect,” Di Meglio said. “But soon I saw other places making it work and I knew we could feed people in this way, too. It’s now just me, my two sous chefs, and my general manager making it happen six days a week.”
Brooklynites can call in for deliveries of comforting meals like macaroni alla vodka and pork bolognese from the restaurant, along with bottles of wine from producers that use natural, low-intervention farming practices from Spirit Animal.
Di Meglio included some pre-pandemic crowd favorites on his new delivery menu but is also offering dishes added based on customer feedback. “Like that alla vodka pasta; I asked people what they wanted to eat and took it from there.”
The change has created difficulty, but Di Meglio thinks some of the adjustments, including his approach with the restaurant’s clientele, might last beyond the pandemic.
“After this is all over, whenever that might be, I can see us changing our approach a little,” he says. “In normal times, we’re a busy place and when guests come in it’s been, ‘Hi, how are you? How are things? OK thank you, goodnight.’ I’m really getting to know both my regulars and new customers, and I want that to continue on past this.”
That newfound level of familiarity inspired Di Meglio to create Barano’s Cook At Home section of the menu, offering fresh pasta, sauces, and the runaway hit: pizza kits. “It’s my grandmother’s pizza recipe she used to make at home when I was growing up and learning to cook from her,” he explains. “It’s got everything you need to make your own pie: dough, sauce, cheese … I’ve had customers call in and tell me they had a great time making it with their spouse for a quarantine date night or with their kids for something to do.”
If either of those scenarios sound like they might make your time at home a little more fun, try your hand at Di Meglio’s recipe for yourself. Maybe bookmark it so your post-pandemic reality stays pizza-filled, too.
Nonna Pizza Dough
625g 00 flour
16g kosher salt
425g warm water
7g dry active yeast
Add yeast and water together and mix well. Add to the mixer. Add the salt and flour together and mix well with a gloved hand before adding to the water in the mixing bowl. Mix on medium for 10-12 minutes.
When done mixing, oil a half-sheet pan, roll dough into a ball, and place in the center of the sheet pan. Cover with foil and plastic wrap and allow to rise.
Stretch dough every 1/2 hour until it fills the full sheet pan. Refrigerate overnight and use the next day for a better crust, though it is perfectly usable after 2 hours of being out at room temp.
“For the toppings, we always use our regular tomato sauce that we would use for pasta. Then use fresh mozzarella, a little torn basil and roasted garlic sliced thin and cooked in extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top. This should be enough sauce for 2 pies or a pie and pasta tomorrow night.”
1000g peeled canned tomatoes
1 finely diced small onion
5 finely chopped garlic cloves
.5 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sweat the onions in the extra virgin olive oil until translucent, then add the garlic and cook till golden. Crush all the tomatoes by hand and add to the onions and garlic, simmer for 1 hour before chilling in the refrigerator.