Last Mother’s Day, chef Hillary Sterling and her wife had just recently welcomed their son; they had no time to think about doing anything special. “We didn’t even realize it. He was two weeks old—we were in survival mode!” laughs Sterling.
This year is a little bit more manageable. Sterling has settled into both motherhood and running her highly anticipated restaurant Ci Siamo, which opened in late 2021 as part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and has since earned a Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence. Located in Manhattan West, adjacent to Hudson Yards, Ci Siamo is known for its comforting yet modern style of Italian fare, including handmade pastas, dishes cooked on a wood-burning stove and simple-but-innovative takes on classic dishes.
Each season allows Sterling to update the menu to incorporate dishes from a different area of the Italian peninsula, whether she’s pulling inspiration from the fresh summer produce in the south or turning to a stew from the north in the colder months. Sterling is a devoted scholar of Italian cooking; after culinary school, she traveled across Europe for six months and found herself regularly returning to Italy. “I ended up using Rome as my homebase,” says Sterling. “I’d go to Spain, come back to reorganize. Go to the south, and then come back to reorganize. I’d really fallen in love with everything about that culture.”
After moving back to New York City, Sterling worked her way through the kitchens at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and Bolo, then at Lupa Osteria Romana in Greenwich Village, where she was able to dig deep into her love for Roman cooking. “[At that time] I went to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square and bought the three books that they had about Roman cuisine, and I still have them,” says Sterling. “It’s so funny to look at them now. I do pick them up every once in a while just to reset myself and bring myself back to that happy place.” Lupa was followed by A Voce, where she worked as chef de cuisine for Missy Robbins.
Cavatelli allo Scoglio takes inspiration from a restaurant near Sorrento called Lo Scoglio da Tommaso, which looks over the Amalfi Coast and out towards the island of Capri. Sterling describes cavatelli as a small, dimpled pasta resembling stones, or “scoglio.” When added to the sauce, lacquered in the briny mix of vermouth, tomato liquid and seafood stock, the cavatelli acquires an almost risotto-like texture.
The addition of dry vermouth to the combo of crab, Calabrian chile peppers and cherry tomatoes may raise an eyebrow, but Sterling assures that it’s the right call. Yes, white wine can be used instead in a pinch, but you would lose the subtle layers of herbaceousness and earthiness that vermouth lends to the dish. “With dry vermouth, people always say ‘Oh, I like it in my martini, but that’s it.’ I don’t think they actually think about the flavor,” explains Sterling. “Some unfortified wines are super acidic; they can be too strong and overpower the dish.”
The dish has become a staple at Ci Siamo, says Sterling, and is so popular with guests that it’s kept on the menu year-round, using either lobster or crab in season. She believes that people are drawn to seafood pastas because of how effortlessly they transport you to crashing waves and easy living, and this pasta provides diners a break from the popular-but-familiar classics like linguine alle vongole.
Though this pasta originated outside of Naples, Sterling opts to pair it with white wines from northern Italy when she eats it herself. She looks to the areas of Trentino and Alto Adige in particular for wines that aren’t overly acidic and have a bit more body and minerality.
For this Mother’s Day and those in the near future, Sterling says she’s happy to take the holiday to simply relax and spend time in the fresh air with her family. “I’m really excited to take [my son] hiking and explore the outdoors more with him as he gets older,” says Sterling. “He loves the trees and the plants and loves feeling them. Maybe that’s what we’ll do this Mother's Day; we’ll take a beautiful walk and just be outside. The pasta can come later.”
Cavatelli allo Scoglio (Pasta with Crab, Vermouth and Cherry Tomatoes)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 3 tablespoons crushed Calabrian chiles
- 2 ounces dry vermouth
- 12 ounces seafood stock
- 1 pound cavatelli
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 ounces Maine crab or jumbo lump crab
- 1/2 bunch Italian or flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- Oregano leaves for garnish
- Calabrian chile oil for garnish, optional
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and season with salt to taste. The salt level should be below that of an ocean but more than a lake; for 4 quarts of water, use 2 to 3 tablespoons of kosher salt.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until aromatic.
3. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes, then add Calabrian chiles.
4. Once the chiles have been incorporated, immediately deglaze the pan with vermouth. (White wine works well as a substitute.)
5. Once the vermouth has come to a boil, add the seafood stock and remove from heat.
6. Cook pasta according to package instructions, removing it from the water when it’s about 30 seconds from al dente.
7. Return sauce to heat, add pasta and reduce stock by half, about 3 minutes, adding butter to emulsify.
8. Once the sauce is creamy and glossy, add the crab, parsley, grated lemon zest and lemon juice, being careful not to break up the crab.
9. Plate and garnish with oregano leaves and, if desired, some chile oil from Calabrian chiles. Serves 4.
11 Refreshing Northern Italian White Wines
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recent tastings. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Alto Adige Cuvée Terlaner 2021
Score: 92 | $32
WS Review: This vivid white leads with lovely aromas and flavors of graphite lime blossoms and lemon zest, which accent juicy nectarine and pineapple fruit flavors. Crackles with racy acidity and a tangy streak of salinity, and the tightly knit profile opens beautifully on the palate. Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Drink now through 2031. 15,000 cases made, 1,100 cases imported.—Alison Napjus
Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2020
Score: 92 | $30
WS Review: Silky and mouthwatering, this well-honed white expands on the palate with rich flavors of pineapple, blood orange granita, clover honey and lime blossoms, while remaining graceful and focused throughout. Delivers delicate spice and mineral notes on the long finish. Drink now through 2028. 3,500 cases made, 1,500 cases imported.—A.N.
Veneto White Capitel Foscarino 2021
Score: 92 | $25
WS Review: A poised white, with baked pineapple and yellow plum fruit flavors that are ripe and enticing, buoyed by juicy acidity and a subtle tang of salinity. Reveals hints of elderflower, slivered almond, chalk and ground ginger on the lingering finish. Garganega and Chardonnay. Drink now through 2027. 9,000 cases made, 1,000 cases imported.—A.N.
Pinot Grigio Friuli 2021
Score: 91 | $30
WS Review: A spine of racy acidity drives this lithe white, creating a mouthwatering frame for the finely meshed notes of crunchy pear, pink grapefruit zest, melon and salty mineral. Bright and hard to stop sipping. Drink now through 2025. 20,800 cases imported.—A.N.
TENUTA SAN LEONARDO
Grechetto Colli Martani Grecante 2021
Score: 91 | $27
WS Review: A sleek, mouthwatering white, with fragrant chive blossom and milled white pepper flavors serving as a subtle thread winding through white peach, pink grapefruit granita and chalk-tinged mineral notes. Drink now through 2025. 8,000 cases made, 1,575 cases imported..—A.N.
Friulano Friuli Colli Orientali 2021
Score: 90 | $33
WS Review: A sleek white, with ripe nectarine and strawberry flavors enriched by hints of vanilla-infused pastry cream and delicate herbs, while orange peel acidity creates a lightly mouthwatering frame. Stony finish. Drink now through 2025. 5,000 cases made, 800 cases imported.—A.N.
Kerner Alto Adige Valle Isarco 2021
Score: 90 | $30
WS Review: There's a fleshy feel to this balanced, light-bodied white, with orange and pink grapefruit flavors that show accents of fresh tarragon and marjoram. Bright acidity keeps this light on its feet, ending with a stony finish. Drink now. 10,000 cases made, 1,150 cases imported.—A.N.
CANTINE LUNAE BOSONI
Veneto White Capitel Foscarino 2021
Score: 90 | $25
WS Review: A ripe style, with hints of passion fruit and apricot underlined by fresh lemon and Mediterranean herbs. Brisk and tangy, leaving a mouthwatering impression. Drink now. 25,000 cases made, 2,000 cases imported.—Bruce Sanderson
Petite Arvine Valle d'Aosta 2021
Score: 90 | $25
WS Review:A juicy white, with peach, melon, grapefruit and lanolin aromas and flavors matched to a creamy texture. Vibrant acidity cuts through this wine, resulting in a fresh finish. Drink now. 2,000 cases made, 500 cases imported.—B.S.
Grechetto Colli Martani Grecante 2021
Score: 90 | $22
WS Review: A lively, light- to medium-bodied white, offering generous tangerine and ruby red grapefruit fruit flavors that show accents of fresh herbs, spices and smoke, all backed by tangy acidity. Lightly chalky on the mouthwatering finish. Drink now. 7,500 cases made, 1,000 cases imported.—A.N.
Pinot Grigio Alto Adige 2021
Score: 90 | $18
WS Review: Bright, balanced and eminently sippable, this offers a creamy mix of kiwi fruit, pear, orchard blossoms and ground ginger backed by blood orange-infused acidity. Stony finish. Drink now. 6,700 cases made, 3,000 cases imported.—A.N.