Old-School Italian Comfort from Josh Cellars and Chef Ken Vedrinski
Sunday sauce is the ultimate family meal, and Chef Ken Vedrinski makes a killer version. He’s the chef of Trattoria Lucca and Coda del Pesce in Charleston, South Carolina, but he grew up in the kitchen alongside his grandma, who prepared fresh and soulful food from her native Italy. She gathered family and friends around the table for her slow-simmered, meaty pasta sauce and glasses of red wine. Through those meals, she taught Ken how good food and good wine bring people together.
Ken recently teamed up with Joseph Carr, the founder of Josh Cellars, to celebrate the spirit of Sunday suppers. Like Ken, Joseph grew up in a family that cherished time together at the table. When Joseph tasted Ken’s comforting San Marzano Tomato Sugo with Chicken Polpettini and Pincenelle Pasta, he poured Josh Cellars pinot noir to make the whole meal even better. The wine’s hints of oak and cherry perfectly complement the subtle sweetness of Ken’s saucy pasta.
Long before crafting award-winning dishes and pairing them with great wines, Ken went to culinary school and trained at world-class restaurants. His Charleston restaurants have been heralded as among the best in the city, and he’s a three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast. But he never forgot his Italian roots. His homegrown passion for food and its power to bring people joy is what inspired Ken to pursue a culinary career and now defines his professional cooking. When he opened his own restaurant, he brought along his grandma’s little green recipe box. In it he finds inspiration for dishes that warm your body and soul.
This dish of saucy little meatballs with homemade pasta does exactly that. Starting with caramelized onion and garlic, the sugo takes on a deep red color and rich intensity from slowly simmered crushed Italian tomatoes. Ken then stirs in a surprising secret ingredient handed down from his grandma: orange juice! In his modern spin, he uses blood orange concentrate. Not only does it have a more complex citrus sweet-tartness, but it also deepens the brick-red color of the sauce. It brings a lively bright note, perfect for pairing with Josh Cellar’s pinot noir.
To make that tomato sauce even tastier, Ken tosses in chicken-and-pork meatballs. Tender with milk-soaked bread, the meatballs get a hit of spice from fennel and chile and freshness from parsley and oregano. That big pot of comfort gets spooned over pillows of homemade pasta.
Ken shows us just how easy it is to make pasta by hand. He simply mixes flour with milk, ricotta and egg to create a gnocchi-like dough. After a little rest, the dough gets rolled into a rope, then cut into pieces. The hands-on cooking process is as satisfying as the end result. The light-as-air pasta makes the tomato-slathered meatballs even more delicious and comforting. The mellow creaminess of the ricotta in the pasta gets a savory punch from pecorino cheese in the meatballs and Parmigiano-Reggiano in the sauce and sprinkled over top. Eaten all together, it’s an immensely satisfying spin on classic Sunday sauce.
As with the homemade sauce and pasta, great ingredients make for great wine. Josh Cellars pinot noir is sourced from the Central Coast of California, where cool ocean breezes ensure a long growing season, giving the grapes a chance to develop rich complexity. After years as a world-class sommelier, Joseph knew this well-balanced, elegant wine was one he wanted to pursue — and enjoy with delicious food.
That wine came from years of careful crafting, but it started with Joseph’s dream of honoring his dad through his wine. In the same way, Ken cooks with the soul of a grandma — his grandma — even after decades of culinary training and a slew of accolades. That’s what makes this the ideal dish for everything from a weeknight family dinner to a weekend party with friends. All you need to make the meal complete is a glass (or two or three) of red wine and the people you love around the table.