Geno Bernardo always comes to mind when I think of the term autodidact. The Jersey boy is an accomplished chef who taught himself to cook. He comes from the town where Bruce Springsteen used to hang out, Asbury Park, and he started cooking at the tender age of 15 in a little restaurant called Massimo’s.
Today he is executive chef at Nove, the cutting-edge Italian restaurant atop the Palms’ Fantasy Tower. And in its kitchen, he has never failed to blow me away with his skill, exhibited in fare such as a thin-crust white clam pizza, or his take on crudo, raw fish sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt.
Bernardo is a true renaissance man. He conducts cooking classes in the restaurant, and he is also growing his own vegetables at two farms in Pahrump—goodies such as heirloom Bloomsdale spinach and spring mesclun mix for his salads.
But he hasn’t neglected his roots. If you go to the restaurant, you must try Nana’s Meatballs, made with veal, pork, beef and a surprise addition: lamb. They will make you forget Mama back in Jersey.
For the serious home cook, Bernardo has created this simple but delicious recipe, Pork Braciole.
Serves 4 people
- 1 cup toasted bread crumbs (Japanese panko or seasoned Italian)
- 2 ounces thinly sliced salami (the chef prefers Fra’ Mani)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- Grated zest of 3 lemons
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 pieces (4 ounces each) thick-sliced boneless pork
- 2 blood oranges
- ½ bunch picked parsley, tops only
Combine all ingredients except the pork, oranges and picked parsley, in a mixing bowl; bind with oil to make a light stuffing.
Using a meat mallet, pound the pieces of pork thin. Season with salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of stuffing on each slice. Roll the pork lengthwise using a toothpick to secure.
For the grilling: Brush the pork rolls with oil, further season with salt and pepper. Place rolls over medium-heat grill, cook about 15 minutes until the meat is around 185 degrees. There should be grill marks.
Arrange on a platter, garnished with the orange slices and parsley, then drizzle everything with more extra virgin olive oil.
2003 San Felice Poggio Rosso
Nove’s charming sommelier, Anu Hawkins, has selected a fairly patrician wine for this dish (it’s $95 at the restaurant), from Italy’s Chianti wine region. “I love the dark fruit and the Sangiovese grape,” she says. “It is a perfect match for the orange in the salad and stuffing.” A less expensive Chianti, she admits, will work as well.