As the wisteria blossoms at “Villa I Pini” (my home in Firenze), I am reminded that spring has sprung, La Primavera! — and I automatically think of a legendary recipe from my cookbook, The Delmonico Way: Sublime Entertaining & Legendary Recipes from the Restaurant that Made New York! — “Pasta Primavera, À La Sirio Maccioni.”
A feeling of joy surrounds me; the weight of winter has lifted, and all of the wonderful springtime vegetables are peaking through the soft soil (including asparagus and zucchini). The fresh Tuscan air after an April shower entices me to open the windows to the Duomo’s bells that are ringing, to the “uccelli” that are chirping. Time for a moment has stood still, and I think of my Babbo Mario, and my “Zio” Sirio Maccioni. I think of all the wonderful “al fresco” meals we shared over the many years; I think of Zio Sirio preparing his famous dish, Pasta Primavera.
My Nonno Oscar and Nonna Sesta had a special love for fellow Tuscan Sirio Maccioni. After all, Sirio’s first job in America was at Delmonico’s. Old Delmonico lore states “If you came from Tuscany, Oscar would give you a job, and if you had a Tuscan accent, you were considered family.” So naturally, Sirio was hired. At first he was given the tasks of busboy, but Oscar saw such potential in Sirio that he soon put him in charge of the Roman Room at Delmonico’s. The Roman Room was grand. It served the VIPs: the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, Aristotle Onassis, Gianni Agnelli, and King Umberto (the exiled King of Italy).
Over the many years, Sirio and my father, who were similar in age, became best of friends: Sirio from Montecatini, and Mario from Firenze. “Tuscan spring peas in a pod,” as my aunt would call them! Oscar knew Sirio was going to be a star in the hospitality industry. When immigration officers would visit 56 Beaver Street, Oscar quickly ushered Sirio to the penthouse of the building. At 70,000 square feet of restaurant space, the officers simply could not search the entire restaurant, so Sirio was safe. Oscar protected Sirio and trained him in the Delmonico way, methods and standards: Oscar’s techniques of elegant service, paired with a dash of sophistication and a sprinkle of refinement, were necessary for Sirio in his learning how to become a serious restaurateur.
“Oscar trained him well,” my Zia Mary would say. Sesta, my grandmother, paid for his trips back and forth to Italy and made sure he had all of his paperwork in order to become an American citizen. Soon after working at Delmonico’s, Sirio and his wife-to-be, Egidiana, were married at our New York penthouse at 1165 Park Avenue. My father was the best man, and naturally became godfather to their son, Mario (named after my father). The two Tuscans remained friends for decades, and when Sirio was thinking about opening Le Cirque, he took advice from my mother, who said to him, “You came from Tuscany, worked for Oscar and Mario and graduated from Delmonico’s. Do it!”
Before Sirio passed, I had a few wonderful phone conversations with him. He was proud of me for writing The Delmonico Way and continuing my family’s legacy. I asked him if he would contribute his signature dish, Pasta Primavera from his famed restaurant, Le Cirque. I can still hear his response, as if we were on the call today: “For you, anything,” he said. “Your grandfather, grandmother, father and Zia Mary gave me so much; now, I give to you.”
I want to share something private with you dear reader. When Rizzoli asked me to think of great culinary leaders to write the forward of my book, I thought of Sirio, so I called Zio Sirio again. Mauro picked up the phone and passed the call to Sirio. I asked him, “Maestro, would you be so kind to write the forward to The Delmonico Way?” He responded, “Certamente!” Unfortunately, as fate had it, Sirio passed before he could write the forward. I often think of what he would have written, but I find solace knowing he wanted to do it and that he gave me his beloved recipe, his creation to share with the reader.
In the spirit of The Delmonico Way and Sirio Maccioni, I give to you the wonderful recipe of Pasta Primavera, À La Sirio Maccioni directly from the Maestro himself!