Luca Di Pietro craves polenta in the winter. The dish, served “alla spianatora,” spread thick on a wooden board, brings him back to his native Abruzzo, in Central Italy.
“I was reminiscing on way of the way I grew up,” the owner of the Tarallucci e Vino restaurants tells me. “When the weather got very cold, especially when it was snowing, you’d have polenta.” Following a recent earthquake there, his mother told him over the phone that the market was completely out of cornmeal.
He’s brought that tradition to the East Village location on Wednesdays and to 28th Street daily through March 15, near the official end of winter. There are various toppings and a vegan version is available, as the polenta itself isn’t made with butter or cheese. The meal begins with an antipasto course, either of salumi or bruschetta, and then you move on to the main course, with polenta toppings that change regularly: bolognese ragu, taleggio cheese, roasted cauliflowers, braised Tuscan kale, roasted wild mushrooms and cipolini onions, roasted acorn squash, white bean and tomato ragu. Di Pietro recommends pairing it with an earthy, full-bodied red; if you’re vegetarian, an earthy but heavy white would work.
Then, even though you’ll probably be quite full, there’s dessert, with chef Jerry Katzenberger experimenting in vegan baking on a pumpkin and chocolate chip brownie accompanied by a light aquafaba foam. It comes out moist and chocolaty—his non-vegan fiancée enjoys it so much she’s asked him to make it for a big family dinner.
You can make a big family dinner out of the polenta at Tarallucci e Vino: At 28th Street, they have larger boards that can be shared among four. That was Di Pietro’s hope: “It invokes good vibes—the idea of doing something that you can share with friends and family.”