Handmade From Scratch

Knife. Grater. Pan. Whisk. All are necessary for any chef, but Joseph DeNicola’s first culinary tool remains the staple he uses to prepare every dish: His hands. 

DeNicola, co-proprietor and executive chef of Ruvo’s two locations in Greenlawn and Port Jefferson (nicknamed “East” and “West”), registered his hands as culinary weaponry during adolescence, scattering flour and pounding dough on his family’s kitchen table with his mother and grandmother. While preparing ravioli, braciola and various sauces every Sunday for their communal dinners, DeNicola learned the importance of crafting food—not only with fresh ingredients, but with passion, as well.

“I come from a big Italian family and we would just make everything from scratch,” says DeNicola. “I also remember carrying fresh leg of veal and learning how to butcher at 16, when I worked for Ristorante Venere in Westbury. There was real love put into these things. It’s what I wanted for my restaurants.”

DeNicola owns and operates “East” and “West,” as well as La Tavola in Sayville and Del Fuego in St. James, with his brothers, Jim and Leo. Each Ruvo location has its own head chef—Anthony D’Amico (Greenlawn) and Wilmur Bedoya (Port Jefferson)—who work to bring DeNicola’s handmade philosophy to each dish and also help craft the restaurants’ down-home family vibe. “Anthony and Wilmur have worked as my head chefs since Ruvo opened. I couldn’t do it without them,” he says.

Many of the dishes come from vintage DeNicola recipes, including spaghetti with white clam sauce, which is the “true test of quality for any Italian restaurant,” according to DeNicola. He uses a personal vendor from Huntington to secure batches of littleneck clams. “I’ve been using my clam guy for 12 years, so we don’t even have to say much during the order,” says DeNicola. “I know that I’m going to get fresh stuff with my vendors, all the time, and it’s a must for me. If you start with quality, you’ll end with quality.”

And for DeNicola, quality is a reminder of his grandmother’s recipes. “Every time I see the ingredients on our butcher block, it brings me back to making it with my grandmother on my parents’ kitchen table.”

Signature Dish
Gnocchi Bolognese: Described by DeNicola as a “true labor of love,” gnocchi bolognese is more than a union of pillow-shaped dumplings in a thick, meat-based (beef and pork) sauce; the dish also represents family tradition.

Bolognese Sauce Ingredients
½ Lb. Ground Beef
½ Lb. Ground Pork
½ Lb. Ground Veal
1 Carrot, Pureed
1 Onion Purred
1 Celery Stalk Purred
1 Cup Chianti
6 Lbs. San Marzono Tomatoes Hand Crushed
1 Lb. Garlic Purred
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley Fresh
1 Tbsp. Chopped Basil Fresh
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Brown all meat well in a wide pot.

Add Purred Vegetables and Garlic to the meat and let caramelize.

Deglaze with Chianti and let reduce for 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, basil, parsley and bay leaf and let simmer for 1 hour.

Gnocchi Ingredients
3 Idaho / Russet Potatoes, Boiled & Mashed
1 Egg Whipped
3oz Ricotta Cheese
4 Cups Flour, 3 for the dough, 1 for table
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tsp. Salt

Place 1 cup of flour spread out on work surface. In a stainless steel mixing bowl combine all other ingredients. Knead by hand until dough is formed. Add additional flour until dough comes off bowl clean and is easy to work with, without being sticky. Transfer dough from bowl to floured work surface. Working with small amounts at a time, roll into long narrow rows, keeping the width of each consistent. Cut rows of dough into 1” segments and toss with additional four to prevent sticking. Layout even on a sheet tray. Do Not stack or overcrowd the tray. Bring salted water to a boil, place Gnocchi in water, wait for them to float to top, wait 1 more minute. Remove from water with a strainer or slotted spoon and layout on a lightly oiled sheet pan.

To Assemble:
Combine pasta with sauce. Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with shaved Romano cheese.

niko krommydas

Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.