This article original appeared in the November 2016 issue of Buffalo Spree Magazine.
The heart of this comforting classic is Nani’s Famous Sunday sauce, a slow-cooked labor of love that is a near-cathartic culinary experience. Nani is Osteria 166 owner Nick Pitillo’s mom. She’s been making this recipe—and passing it down to family members—for nearly sixty years. It starts with a huge pot and a hunk of housemade salt pork. True to Nani’s instruction, chef Jeffrey Cooke adds ground beef and pork, good quality tomatoes (better than San Marzano, Cooke says), and a few secret ingredients he’s not at liberty to share. The meaty sauce is simmered for fourteen hours, pureed to a thick consistency, and finished with fresh basil. No onions, no tomato paste, no additional spices—nothing fancy, just simple ingredients and a lot of patience. “This is what Italians mean by gravy,” says Cooke.
The hearty sauce is folded into delicate strands of fresh spaghetti cooked al dente and piled into a shallow bowl. Nestled next to the spoon-twirling tangle are two six-ounce meatballs the size of tennis balls. Also Nani’s recipe, they’re 100 percent beef finely ground with Pecorino Romano, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, and white bread. The last ingredient lends a melting tenderness to the meatballs, readily soaks up sauce, and is a nod to the family’s roots in Naples, a poorer part of Italy where expensive meat was customarily stretched with a higher ratio of bread. Atop each meatball is a dollop of ricotta, a creamy complement that mirrors the sweet-tanginess of the tomatoes in the sauce.
This warm Italian hug on a plate, Osteria’s top-selling dish on the regular menu, is also served at the restaurant’s two offshoot locations: Villaggio in Ellicottville and Mercato by Osteria 166 at The Expo Market in Buffalo.
Photo by KC Kratt