A native of Orsogna in Italy’s Abruzzo region, Marisa moved to the Boston area in 1990 and has spent the last nearly 30 years working in a variety of well lauded Italian restaurants. The first restaurant she opened was Galleria Italiana, which earned many raves. Since then, she has opened or assisted in restaurants including La Bettola, South End Galleria, Bricco, Umbria, Mare, Gennaro's Five North Square, and Scopa. Back in 2009, she helped to transform Spiga and that was the first time I experienced her stellar cuisine, including her sublime Bread Pudding. Last year, Marisa returned to Spiga, to become their Executive Chef, assist owner Carmelo Iriti, and transform their menu. For more insight into the mind of Chef Iocco, check out my prior Culinary Creativity Interview.
The Dinner Menu is divided into Guazzetti, single-serve pots of simmered stews of meat, fish or vegetables (6 options, in 2 sizes, for $15-$22), Cicchettis, Italian “tapas” meant for sampling and sharing (7 options for $14-$16); Insalate (3 options for $10-$14), Primi, pasta dishes (10 options for $19-$24), Secondi (9 options for $27-$32) and Contorni, sides (3 options for $8 each). The Lunch Menu is a bit smaller, with Guazzetti (6 options for $16 each), Cicchetti & Insalate (5 options for $11-$16), Paste & Secondi (6 options for $14-$23), Panini (4 options for $14 each), and Fame di Pizza (5 options for $14 each).
The menus have something for everyone, no matter what your preference, whether it is seafood or vegetarian, steak or pasta, chicken to lamb. Portion sizes are ample without being overwhelming. There are usually daily specials available which might entice you from ordering off the menu. A number of the recipes honor the Abruzzo region of Italy.
The Cape Bay Mussels & Manila Clams Guazzetto is prepared with chickpeas, smoked Italian peppers and a spicy, cherry tomato broth. The broth contained a great depth of flavor, with a mild spiciness, and was excellent for dipping your bread. The shellfish was tender, the broth making for a tasty coating, and the chickpeas and peppers were tender too.
And as a bonus, let me provide a copy of the recipe for Chef Marisa Iocco's Bread Pudding, which I've had since 2009. You're on your own for creating a sauce to top the bread pudding.
2 lbs. crusty, day-old Italian bread
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart whole milk
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
--Remove the bread heels and cut bread into small cubes
--In a saucepan, combine cream, milk, sugar and vanilla bean, and bring to a slow boil. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool and steep for one hour.
--In a bowl, whisk the eggs, then pour in the vanilla-cream mixture and stir. Next, add the bread cubes and allow it to sit just long enough to soak up most of the liquid.
--Pour mixture into a rectagular cake pan at least 4” deep. Cover tightly with foil. Place that pan into a slightly larger pan, then add about two inches of water to the larger pan to create what’s called a “bain marie” or water bath. This provides moisture during baking.
--Bake at 375 degrees for two hours. Remove from oven; let pudding “set” briefly. Cut into squares. Serves 8 generously.
It's great that Chef Iocco is back at Spiga. The food is diverse, plentiful, creative and delicious. And that Bread Pudding! Service was generally excellent, with one small issue at lunch that was quickly and professionally handled. It is easily accessible off Route 95, via the Highland Avenue exit, and it is also only a couple minutes from the Bin Ends wine shop. So, you can go wine shopping at Bin Ends and then have lunch or dinner at Spiga. Or vice versa.