We are busy here at Spacca Napoli. The holidays are upon us, and there is much to do. Beginning in early September we started on an expansion of the pizzeria that will almost double our indoor capacity! These plans have long been in the works, in some ways since our earliest days. This year the timing felt right, and we look forward to being able to share our new spaces with you! We are well under way with the construction and have several city inspections this week. Once we receive approvals on the work performed to date, we will close the walls and begin the fun stuff, such as lighting, tile, cabinetry and the introduction of color. I am confident that the additional two rooms will be pleasing to the eye and ease the wait time for a table. Reservations will be available on Friday and Saturday evenings. Larger parties and private events, no problem! Though starting my days earlier than usual to accommodate the crews has been a little rough, it also has been a lot of fun. I have always liked the demolition part of a project and the excitement of making a new space out of a raw space; this harks back to my pre-pizzeria construction days. All of the trades working on this project take pride in their work and have begun to coalesce as a family, in a way not unlike that of our staff.

Chefs of Inspiration Cafe Anniversary Dinner

Speaking of family, Keith Will, a guiding light at Spacca Napoli, and I participated as we do each year in the Inspiration Café’s Anniversary Dinner fund raiser. This was a particularly special night, a celebration of twenty years of service to the homeless community of Chicago. Keith shares my love for the Inspiration Café, it is truly in our blood. We always look forward to the call for help for this event. Though our main task is doing the dishes, we often are asked by award winning Chef Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110 (the event’s grand master) to work alongside his staff and those of the French Pastry School as the evening progresses.  It’s not a bad job!  And the treats Chef Dominique puts forth are readily available for all of us to enjoy.

On December 7th I will team up with restaurants Piccolo Sogno, Phil Stefani 437 Rush, and Italian Village, as well as with Isola Imports and Palm Bay International to sponsor the Italian Chamber of Commerce’s 2009 Christmas Reception. A portion of the funds raised by the event will be donated to the Cook Italy Education Foundation. Cook Italy was created to provide nutritional education to disadvantaged children in Chicago. We are serving bruschetta with ricotta and peperonata, octopus salad, roasted asparagus with walnut crème and pecorino tartufo, and lastly, Neapolitan meatloaf (Polpettone) with prosciutto, scamorza and parmigiano, made possible with much appreciated help by my own kitchen at Spacca.

The asparagus recipe mentioned above comes from Nate Appleman’s and Shelly Lindgren’s A16 Food and Wine cook book. I am never at a loss to find something new and delightful when I look to them for ideas. The Polpetone comes from a new book, Cucina Napoletana by Arturo Iengo.  Just added to my collection is Arthur Schwartz’s The Southern Italian Table, Authentic Tastes from Traditional Kitchens. I can’t wait to introduce new specials at the pizzeria that Arthur has so lovingly embraced and shares with everyone.

In early December Ginny goes to San Francisco to hear our friend Pasquale Esposito perform.  A wonderful voice (he has crafted a unique pop opera style) and a beautiful person, Pasquale, a native of Napoli, found us when he was here in Chicago in 2006. In October of this year Pasquale was here to sing again. Before flying out on Monday afternoon, he came by with his manager, musical arranger, and his adopted from the heart American parents to make some pizza and have a little Minestra Maritata. I couldn’t help putting Neapolitan Classic, Salsiccia e Broccoletti on the table.


Pasquale Esposito and family visit Spacca Napoli Pizzeria

While Ginny is on the West Coast, she will visit a very popular new spot, Flour and Water, which was just written up in the NY Times Travel magazine on Nov 22nd. Their principal pizzaiolo Jon Darsky was visiting family in the neighborhood (our neighborhood), and asked if he could spend a day with me at the pizzeria. It’s always a pleasure to share time with another of the pizza community.  Like San Francisco, in Chicago we continue to see new pizzerias open and are proud to be part of this camaraderie.  It’s an exciting time for all of us. My thanks to all of you. I enjoy what I do, I am inspired. Happy Thanksgiving!



Ferragosto has just passed and I’ve made my calls to Italy. Ferragosto falls on the 15th of August and is a day of celebration throughout Italy. This holiday predates the time of Christ when the Romans honored their Gods, in particular Diana, and the cycle of fertility and ripening. It was then called Feriae Augusti. I remember our first summer in Torre Del Lago, watching the children splash water on whoever was nearby. It is a day of feasting, toasting and being with those you enjoy. It brings me back to my beloved Rodi Garganico and the wonderful memories I have so close to my heart. Though we lived in Firenze (Florence) where Ginny was painting and Sarah was attending la scuola elementare, Gaetano Agnessi, on Via Mafia near Santo Sprito, our summers were in the Gargano in Puglia. For me, it was heaven. Rodi Garganico, both fishing and agricultural village, sits on a promontory along the Adriatic Sea.

Rodi Garganico

I often slept outside under the stars, catching the early morning sunrise as well as the full cycle of the moon. I measured my time in Rodi by the full moons I would experience over the summer. From our terrace, you could see the old villas, the sea, and the Grecian style village of Rodi from afar.

Ginny Sykes painting at Rodi

Early morning visits to the market were wonderful. There was a certain quiet that was so peaceful. There were the local contadini selling fresh ricotta, caciocavallo, all types of fish, salumi, cactus fruit, peaches and so much more. Imagine what it is like to feast on fresh baked Pugliese bread and sfogliatelle just out of the oven.

Rodi was famous for its citrus, both lemons and oranges. I was once told that the nearby Tremeti Islands’ sheltered the coast line and the surrounding hills from the northern Alpine winds, creating a micro climate conducive to the growth of these lemons and oranges. La famiglia Ciampa, originally of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, had land in Rodi and won the premio, (first prize) for best of fruit at Chicago’s World Exposition in 1893.

La famiglia Ciampa won the premio

We have a wonderful book at home documenting the images and logos of the various local families who were significant exporters of these fruits. The paper cloths that were used to individually wrap these fruits bore their images.


By clipping the fruits at the stem and letting them drop into the cloth without touching them, they sustained their freshness all the way to the new world. A special moment for me was handing one of these cloths over to our dear friend, Michele Pilot, of Monte Verde, Roma and Rodi Garganico. The cloth had been given to me by the local priest and bore the name Ognissanti, Michael’s family name of origin.

Michael taught me how to make various fresh pastas including orchiette. Orecchiette, meaning “little ears,” is a pasta typical of Puglia. Michael also taught me his sugo, sauce, for amatriciana using guancialle instead of pancetta. Michael’s mother and father-in-law were second generation proprietors of what had been a very popular trattoria in Rome called Carlo di Trastevere.

Lorenzo di Carlo

I have a lovely memory of an early morning shop with Michael for artichokes before catching a flight back home to America. Carciofi Judaica are a local specialty and it was fun to see Michael and his father-in-law pare the artichokes to see who had the most expertise. I think Lorenzo’s hand and his wife Marisa’s finishing touches at the stove put Lorenzo on top.

I have so many food memories from Italy that fill my heart.

Sarah a la entrata

Visiting Rodi in the winter and having Giovanni Albano specially make me one of my favorites, calamari ripieni, or his son Nando preparing seppia (cuttle fish) in the actual ink are just two more. Nando’s wife, my beloved Anna, would always ensure that I had a piece of pecorino or prosciutto or something special from the fridge. We have known the Albano family close to twenty years. Our second summer in Rodi, 1989, I worked for them on the beach as their bagnino (“little bath boy”) Early every morning, I would go down to the beach, open the umbrellas and set the lettini and lounge chairs in order for the day.


I long for the time when I will be in Rodi in early September to stomp grapes by foot with Giovanni. These are the grapes they grow to make a gentle vino frizzante. Though a vino rosso, it is served from the fridge and gives me as much pleasure as a glass of any of the finer wines. It was several years before I realized that the clumps of grapes that I chose every morning for my walk down to the beach were the grapes that were to be used for their wine! Signora Sparta, Giovanni’s wife, never told me not to touch them. My Signora Sparta, she is the one who always has a bottle of ficchi cotto for me to bring home, even when Giovanni has said that the year has been seccho (dry) for the figs to grow in abundance to make the cotto. A drop of cotto on cappuccino gelato is such a treat. There are many recipes that have been given to me that I look forward to making. Skate fish, risotto with strawberries, and Easter lamb are just a few.

Giovanni a Pomodori

Giovanni and Sparta Albano

Come the end of August we will close for two weeks. It has been a wonderful summer, but I am ready to rest and pay more attention to the love of my life, my partner, Ginny. We are in the process of expansion and hope to showcase what we create by early to mid November. I will be sorry to see the last of our fiore di zucca (zucchini flowers) and granchio (soft shell crabs) come off the menu, but before we close I will make my own interpretation of Antonio Starita’s pizza that was made for Pope John Paul at the time of the Jubileo. We have beautiful organic yellow squash to be roasted and blended with bufala ricotta. The cream will be adorned with red and yellow peppers, a touch of artichoke, and the last of the fiore.

Jon displaying Jubileo Pizza

Buon Agosto! Ci vedremo a Septembre.