Father’s Day Italian style

For Father’s Day, Alessandra Noviello Hayes and her husband Micah are cooking dinner for her dad. Maybe they’ll fix some lamb, maybe they’ll fix a little pasta and rapini. One thing’s for sure, dinner will be Italian.

You might think this father and daughter see each other enough, working together every day. Hayes is the general manager of Nino’s Cucina Italiana on Cheshire Bridge Road, where Atlanta’s been enjoying white tablecloth Italian since 1968. Her dad, Antonio Noviello, is the owner.

Noviello purchased the restaurant in 1982 and Hayes has been working there full time for the past seven years.

“Italian families are different from ‘normal’ families. We watch out for each other and the more time we can spend together, the more we like it. [When it’s not Father’s Day] Dad’s in charge of family meals, but even then we all help,” said Hayes.

Noviello’s three daughters were home schooled. They grew up in the restaurant where bookkeeping provided lessons in mathematics and the kitchen was always open. “I used to make desserts and cookies with my sister and sell them in the restaurant,” said Hayes.

“Yes, they used my inventory and pocketed the profits,” Noviello added with a laugh.

As the girls grew up, Hayes’ older sister Gabriela did a stint as a bartender. When she was 14, Hayes began subbing in as a hostess. “It was so much fun. I love talking to people. When our manager left, my dad suggested I learn his job. I thought, ‘Why not?’ and the rest is history,” said Hayes.

Now father and daughter work closely together on everything from paying the bills to planning parties and ordering the wine and liquor. Not to be left out, younger sister Michela occasionally drops in to play hostess.

“I started working when I was 8 years old, helping my father who had a bar and game room in Italy. I’ll be 60 in August and it’s time to take it easy. I leave town as much as I can, and when I’m gone, she’s has to do everything,” said Noviello.

“My dad says he wants to retire but as much as he wants to let go, he always shows up, even on his days off. If he’s not playing golf or tennis, he’s here by 2 p.m.,” said Hayes.

Noviello is actually taking extra time off this summer, doing it now since Hayes is expecting the family’s first granddaughter in September.

For this Father’s Day story, father and daughter prepared a special early summer dinner and considered advice they’d give others considering working together in the family business.

First, they said, make sure it’s something you both have a passion for. It doesn’t work if it’s only for the money or because there’s nothing else one of you can do. “Keeping a business in the family is a great thing, but a restaurant is not an easy business. Every day is a new challenge. Alessandra really wants to do this. She loves it,” said Noviello.

Second, everyone needs to understand this is work and communication is king. “We’ve really had to work on that. He’s my boss, but he’s also my father. We’ve had to figure out how to communicate well,” said Hayes.

Topper: Serve this dinner the way the Italians would. Your first course or “primo”? Nino’s Pappardelle Verde. Then the main dish or “secondo,” Nino’s Petti Pollo Alla Alessandra. And finally the “insalata,” Nino’s Insalata Caprese. Add a crisp Italian white wine and toast Dad on his big day.

Nino’s Pappardelle Verde

Hands on: 25 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Serves: 2

Tony Noviello says Italians are very picky about their pasta. No grocery store brand will do. He prefers Maestri Pastai dried pasta which can be found at Publix, Alon’s Bakery and the DeKalb Farmers Market. He also likes Grano Padano for this dish. It’s the less aged version of Parmigiano-Reggiano and so has a milder flavor.

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1 medium zucchini

1 bunch asparagus (about 8 ounces)

1/2 cup fresh green peas

1/2 pound pappardelle

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced

Pepper

1/4 cup Grana Padano

2 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped, for garnish

In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil.

While water is coming to a boil, prepare vegetables. Cut zucchini in half, scoop out and discard seeds in the middle. Cut remaining flesh into 1/4-inch cubes and set aside.

Break off tough ends of the asparagus and cut remaining asparagus on an angle into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.

When water has come to a boil, add peas and reserved zucchini and asparagus. Boil vegetables for 1 minute, remove from boiling water and drain in colander. Do not discard cooking water. Set vegetables aside.

Add pappardelle to vegetable cooking water and boil until just done, about 7 minutes. Since the pasta will cook more in the sauce, better to err on the side of slightly underdone.

While pasta is cooking, make sauce. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth, cream, prosciutto and reserved peas, zucchini and asparagus. Add one cup of pasta cooking water. Raise heat and bring sauce just to a boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When pasta is ready, drain thoroughly, reserving 1 additional cup cooking water. Add pasta to sauce, stir to combine and add pasta cooking water if needed to make sauce that just coats the pasta. Stir in Grana Padano and toss. Divide pasta between two serving plates and garnish with fresh basil.

Per serving: 860 calories (percent of calories from fat, 42), 27 grams protein, 99 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 41 grams fat (18 grams saturated), 89 milligrams cholesterol, 766 milligrams sodium.

Nino’s Petti Pollo Alla Alessandra

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Alessandra Noviello and her mom made up this dish to feature two of favorite ingredients: eggplant and cheese. “As a little girl I would come into the restaurant and tell the waiters to ‘Give me my dish! Give me the Alessandra!,” Noviello remembers. When the restaurant menu was revamped about seven years ago, Petti Pollo Alla Alessandra made it onto the new menu and has been a hit ever since.

You only need 4 eggplant slices for this dish but an eggplant this size will yield 8 slices. Noviello recommends cooking the remaining slices and turning them into an eggplant and mozzarella sandwich the next day.

If you like, make a roux to thicken the sauce. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan and stir in 1/2 cup all-purpose flour. Stir, over low heat, until mixture is smooth. Stir it into the sauce by tablespoons and cook for 2 minutes before adding more. Remaining butter/flour mixture can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely.

1 egg

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 eggplant (about 3/4 pound), stem removed, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch slices

2 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

4 1/8-inch thick slices mozzarella

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup Marsala (or eliminate Marsala and use 1/2 cup white wine)

Salt and pepper

2 rosemary sprigs, for garnish if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a small baking sheet.

Break egg into a pie plate and lightly beat. Pour flour in a second pie plate. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

When oil is hot, coat both sides of one eggplant slice with flour, shake off excess. Dip slice into egg and coat both sides. Carefully slip eggplant into skillet. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices. Do not crowd pan. If necessary, cook eggplant in batches. Saute eggplant until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and drain eggplant slices on paper towel. Set aside. Continue with remaining eggplant. Reserve 4 eggplant slices for this dish and save remainder for another purpose.

In the same skillet, saute chicken until golden on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Arrange chicken on prepared baking sheet and roast 5 minutes or until chicken reaches 165 degrees.

While chicken is baking, make sauce. In the same skillet you used for sauteing the chicken, add the chicken broth, wine and Marsala. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Season to taste.

Remove baking sheet from oven and layer chicken with 2 eggplant slices and 2 mozzarella slices.

Turn oven to broil. Return chicken to oven and broil until cheese has melted, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven.

When chicken, eggplant and mozzarella are ready, arrange on two serving plates and divide sauce between the two dishes. Garnish with rosemary if desired. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 696 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 54 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 40 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 230 milligrams cholesterol, 281 milligrams sodium.

Nino’s Insalata Caprese

Hands on: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

2 cups baby arugula

4 Roma tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices

4 1/2-inch slices buffalo mozzarella (about 4 ounces)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

Chopped basil for garnish

Divide arugula between two serving plates. Arrange two slices of tomato on top of each plate of arugula and top with one slice of mozzarella. Continue layering tomato and mozzarella until all ingredients are used. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil and serve immediately.

Per serving: 417 calories (percent of calories from fat, 73), 15 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 35 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 263 milligrams sodium.

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