When Henry Segerstrom couldn’t forget a heavenly pasta he enjoyed in Rome in the late ’70s, he implored restaurateur Antonio Cagnolo to recreate the dish at the newly opened Antonello Ristorante. With no name or address to work from, Cagnolo made a pilgrimage to find and taste the dish for himself. He searched the ancient streets near the Pantheon, only to discover the pasta’s source at Palazzo Lante, a Renaissance palace built for the Medici family in 1520.
Inside the historic building, Cagnolo traced the mystery pasta to the kitchen of L’Eau Vive (est. 1969), a humble bistro still operated today by French nuns of the Order of Carmel. The menu offers mostly French fare and a few Italian favorites, including Spaghetti alla Salsa di Pomodoro, the improbable muse of this tale. After making his way to the tiny kitchen and conferring with the cuisinière, Cagnolo returned with his own memory of the straightforward dish and Spaghetti alla Segerstrom was born.
How ironic that Henry Segerstrom, a worldly man with sophisticated tastes, should fall for unpretentious pasta pomodoro. Cagnolo stresses that ingredients of the highest order are essential for making this rustic dish memorable, which dovetailed into Segerstrom’s passion for quality. Not just any canned tomatoes—San Marzano tomatoes. Not common Parmesan, but Parmigiana-Reggiano. Not garlic, but gentler shallots. Don’t be thrown by the touch of European butter—renowned chefs including Scott Conant, Marcella Hazan, Pierre Franey and Mark Bittman add it to their pomodoro recipes.
South Coast Plaza’s restaurants offer other exceptional pastas. Mezzet Mediterranean Cuisine has a reassuring portion of lasagna starring handkerchief-flat sheets of tender house-made noodles. Alternating layers of fresh whipped ricotta, Parmesan and a ragu of lean meat and tomato transform a standard into a savory dream. Pans are baked to a bubbling finish in the brick oven fired by premium almond and olive wood. A whisper of nutmeg adds essence to an addictive dish that’s surprisingly light.
Pizzeria Ortica goes all in on the artisan pasta front, extruding some intricate shapes made fresh daily from semolina flour. The simply named “fusilli” is set off by mellow, braised rainbow chard and house-made lamb sausage, seasoned with coriander, cardamom, orange and honey. The corkscrew pasta’s rougher surface better captures sauce. It’s topped with mint salsa verde, bright with lemon and mustard accents. Soulful, simple and complex all at once, it’s a dish that reveals new flavors with every bite.
For Antonello’s Spaghetti alla Segerstrom recipe, please visit southcoastplaza.com/dining.