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Verona Cooks: Carmen Quagliata’s ‘Barcaiola’

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Chef Carmen Quagliata, Union Square Cafe
Chef Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe

You may already know about the restaurants in Verona. But you may be less familiar with the restaurants run elsewhere by people who call Verona home. People like Carmen Quagliata, executive chef of New York City’s Union Square Cafe.

A native of upstate New York, Quagliata moved to Verona in 2005, shortly after joining the staff at Union Square. He had come there after stints at Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia in Manhattan, The Vault in Boston and Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne in Napa Valley. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1988.

When he got the job at Union Square, he and his wife Palma Quagliata (now a realtor at the Prudential New Jersey Properties office in Verona) began scouring the suburbs for a home. “Our real estate agent said, ‘There’s this nice town for you, Verona’,” he recalls, “and as soon as we came here we loved it.”

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Quagliata says he’s found a passion for food among the people of Verona. “I talk to people at baseball games and they’ll tell me about a great Portuguese restaurant they found in Newark,” he says. “I’ve gotten to know people like John Gabriele. He’s a mason and he has a really cool wine collection. There’s a very interesting mix of people here.”

During the week, Quagliata draws on a wide repertoire of Italian cuisine and the local produce and protein he finds at the Union Square Greenmarket to create dishes such as a wild mushroom sformato and Berkshire pork lasagna for his Union Square customers. On the weekend, when he isn’t busy being a Verona baseball, basketball or wrestling dad, he’ll make an artichoke-stuffed braised lamb shoulder and meat tortellini in his home kitchen.

Since we are now in the period of Lent, Quagliata wanted to share one of his favorite sauces to go with fish, Barcaiola. “This easy-to-make, delicious, piquant sauce is a great one to have in the refrigerator to serve with most meaty grilled or roasted fish like tuna, swordfish or bass,” he says. “It’s a perfect ‘go to’ on a busy Friday night when there is no time for too much creativity. Barcaiola means fisherman and in this case it is a sauce made up of ingredients that don’t need to be refrigerated and therefore you might find on an Italian fisherman’s boat to dress the day’s catch for dinner…..or so the story goes.”

Carmen Quagliata’s Barcaiola

1 cup drained and sliced pepperoncini peppers
1 cup capers (drained)
1/4 cup chopped fresh garlic
1/3 cup drained anchovy filets
1 1/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup pickled pearl onions (like the ones in Martinis)

Put all the ingredients in a 2 quart saucepot and over a medium flame bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and then puree with a hand mixer while it’s hot. Puree only for 1 minute. You want it blended but not very smooth.  Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Quagliata says he likes to serve his grilled fish Barcaiola with polenta and broccoli rabe. “Roasted potatoes are a good substitute,” he adds, “if you are not fond of polenta.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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