Review: ‘Patsy’s Family Cooking Cookbook’

By Orysia McCabe, Epoch Times
April 25, 2015 4:40 pm Last Updated: March 8, 2018 5:30 pm

I had the pleasure of browsing through the newest cookbook “Patsy’s: Italian Family Cookbook, ” by Sal J. Scognamillo. Sal is the third generation of Scognamillos to welcome patrons to Patsy’s restaurant.

Chef Sal Scognamillo cooking at Patsy's Italian Restaurant. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Chef Sal Scognamillo cooking at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The book is truly more than just a cookbook. It is an insight into the family that for more than 70 years has welcomed and fed New Yorkers of all stripes and celebrities from across the country. In fact Patsy’s has stood at the same address on West 56th Street near Broadway since its inception in 1944.

And the cookbook is not only about recipes—it is about tradition. Just as New York City is steeped in the traditions of the immigrants who built it, so Patsy’s is a reflection of that very tradition. The cookbook tells the story of an immigrant family coming to America to build a dream. Integrity, quality, and connections are the heartbeat of the restaurant. 

From the early days, movie stars like Cary Grant, Sammy Davis Jr., Carroll O’Connor, Tony Bennett, and of course Frank Sinatra, to the more current celebs like George and Amal Clooney and Sean “Diddy” Combs to name but a few have enjoyed dining at Patsy’s. They all came and keep coming for the good food and family ambiance.

In his introduction, Scognamillo refers to Patsy’s as a “red sauce” restaurant. All that means is that American-Italian cooking is the choice of the establishment and generally the dishes are of pasta or meat with a tomato base.  

The upstairs dining room of Patsy's Italian Restaurant in Midtown West. It was once Frank Sinatra's favorite restaurant. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
The upstairs dining room of Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in Midtown West. It was once Frank Sinatra’s favorite restaurant. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

So as I read through the recipes I looked for dishes that were more traditional Italian-American. I started with the Eggplant Rollatini. This is a delicate blend of ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, eggs, and seasonings, all wrapped up in slices of eggplant and blanketed in the most delicious tomato sauce. Using eggplant instead of pasta made the dish a lighter fare. 

And when I brought in samples for my colleagues to try they all agreed it was just amazing. I found it light yet satisfying, and the tomato sauce didn’t overpower the dish. And preparation time was minimal. About 10 minutes to peel and slice the eggplant and shred and grate the cheeses, and about 5 minutes to fry up the eggplant. And then 20 minutes in the oven. And voilà.

My next choice was spaghetti with veal meatballs, for what would an Italian cookbook be without the staple of Italian cooking—and eating. I have my own recipe for spaghetti and meatballs but I wanted to give this one a try. So I followed the recipe exactly and I wasn’t disappointed. The spices brought out the flavor of the veal beautifully and the sauce only enriched the taste. A colleague of mine enjoyed the dish so much he went for seconds. I must admit here that I didn’t serve the meatballs and sauce over spaghetti but fusilli pasta. I loved the way the rich sauce clung to the pasta, giving us more to enjoy with every mouthful. 

Because I wanted to truly test the recipes I also made Patsy’s own tomato sauce. Since many sauces are better when they sit a day I made the tomato sauce the day before I made the others. My kitchen smelled just wonderful. And the sauce had a rich tomato flavor without being heavy. I have never cooked with San Marzano tomatoes before, and these tomatoes have a fuller tomato taste but sweeter and less acidic than Roma tomatoes. It’s the perfect accompaniment to any of the dishes at Patsy’s. 

Next I tried the Giambotta or vegetable stew. This was a medley for flavors for the taste buds as well as a wonderful blend of crunchy vegetables (green beans and red pepper) and softer ones (zucchini, peas, tomatoes, and potatoes). I enjoyed how not one vegetable overpowered the dish and how I could taste each vegetable come into its own in my mouth—a true delight for the palate. I gave colleagues of mine samples since they are both vegetarians. Overall they thought the dish was good, but one thought it could use more salt. I told her it was my doing since the recipe said only salt and freshly ground pepper and no amounts. I tend to be light-handed with salt. And the other thought the dish could use more potatoes since he really likes potatoes.

While my cooking ended with these samples there are many more recipes to try out. In fact the book has over a hundred recipes. And while I know you’ll enjoy cooking and eating in the manner of Patsy’s be sure to take the time to read all bout the family and friends, and celebrities who have frequented the restaurant and offered their thoughts and shared there experiences.  

Grazie mille tanto Sal!

“Patsy’s Italian Family Cookbook” by Sal Scognamillo

St. Martin’s Press, 2015



Spaghetti and Veal Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs.  (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Spaghetti and meatballs. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Makes 4 to 6 Servings

With no false modesty, I have often heard that Patsy’s has the best meatballs in New York. These tasty icons of Italian-American cuisine do have a secret ingredient: ground veal, which has more natural gelatin than ground beef or pork, and provides extra moisture. For a little while, my dad Joe tool them off the menu, believing that they were old hat. I argued that the customers demanded them. As an experiment, we put them back on the menu for two days to see how many orders we sold. Our meatballs will never leave the menu again.

Veal Meatballs
1 1/2 pounds ground veal
1/3 cup plain dried bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of dried oregano

2 cups olive oil, for frying
1 pound spaghetti
4 cups Patsy’s tomato sauce (page 100 of the latest cookbook)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

To make the meatballs: Combine the veal, bread crumbs, eggs, pecorino Romani, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix them together thoroughly. Roll into 12 meatballs and transfer to a plate.

Line a platter or baking sheet with paper towels and place near the stove. Heat the oil in a large deep skillet and heat over high heat until the oil is shimmering (350° F on a deep-frying thermometer). Working in batches, without crowding, carefully add the meatballs and fry, turning occasionally, until they are nicely browned, 4–5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the paper towels. Reheat the oil to shimmering before adding each batch.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.

Bring the tomato sauce to simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the meatballs and reduced the heat to medium-low. Cover the saucepan and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

When the meatballs are added to the sauce, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain the spaghetti and return it to its cooking pot. Add about half of the tomato sauce and mix well. Divide the pasta and meatballs among pasta bowls and top with the remaining sauce. Serve hot with the Parmigiano-Reggiano passed on the side.

(Recipe from “Patsy’s Italian Family Cookbook” by Sal Scognamillo, St. Martin’s Press, 2015)


Eggplant Rollatini

Eggplant Rollantini. (Courtesy of Sam Martin's)
Eggplant Rollantini. (Courtesy of Sam Martin’s)

Makes 4 to 6 servings
These are a specialty of my mom Rose. She learned to make them from my grandparents, who served them on the original menu as eggplant involtini, the Italian word for “roulades” (stuffed and rolled food). Rollatini is an entirely American word. Call them what you wish, they are wonderful. Especially when made with love by my mom for one of our family get-togethers.

1 small glove eggplant (about 1 pound), trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/3-inch half-moons
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
3/4 cup oil, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded fresh mozzarella cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 3 ounces)
3 cups Patsy’s tomato sauce 

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1/3-inch-thick slices.

Spread the flour on a wide plate. Beat 3 of the eggs in a shallow bowl. Place the plate and bowl near the stove.

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels and place near the stove. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Working in batches, dip the eggplant into the flour, coat with the egg, and add to the oil. Cook, turning occasionally, until the eggplant is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the eggplant to the paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Beat the remaining egg in a medium bowl. Add the mozzarella, ricotta, and 2/3 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and mix to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly oil a 10-inch by 15-inch baking dish.

For each involtini, place a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture on the short end of an eggplant slice, roll it up, and place smooth side up in the dish. Pour the tomato sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons Parmigiano cheese.

Bake until the sauce is simmering and the cheese has melted, about 20 minutes.

(Recipe from “Patsy’s Italian Family Cookbook” by Sal Scognamillo, St. Martin’s Press, 2015)


Our Tomato Sauce

Makes about 7 cups
Patsy’s is proud to call itself a “red sauce” restaurant. Our red sauce is as good as it gets: it’s based on the one that my grandmother Concetta used to make in a huge pot on her stove in Forest Hills, Queens. She would often use fresh plum tomatoes, but it is just as good—and easier—when made with high-quality San Marzano canned tomatoes. I suggest making a double batch and freezing some to have ready when you need it. Or just buy a jar of our tomato sauce.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, halved
Two 28-ounce cans whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons hearty red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the tomatoes and their juices into a large bowl and crush the tomatoes between your fingers until they are in chunks. Pour into the sauce saucepan with the wine and bay leaves and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for 35 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and continue simmering until the tomato juices have thickened, about 25 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, basil, and parsley, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the garlic. (Now you know the secret to our sauce: It has garlic flavor, but no bits of garlic.)

Fresh Tomato Sauce: Make this when you come across beautiful plum (Roma) tomatoes at the market in the summer. Substitute 4 1/2 pounds of ripe tomatoes for the canned tomatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Using a small sharp knife, cut the stem core out of each tomato. Working in batches, add the tomatoes to the water and blanch just until the skins loosen, about 2 minutes. Using a wire strainer, transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl of cold water. Drain well. Remove the skins. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. Using as directed above.

(Recipe from “Patsy’s Italian Family Cookbook” by Sal Scognamillo, St. Martin’s Press, 2015)