Sunday is a day of rest in many countries, but not in Italy. That’s when families gather in the kitchen to prepare epic dinners that bring generations together. For those who crave a feast — but not the intense provisioning, cooking and cleaning necessary to create such large meals — a host of local Italian restaurants salute the Sunday mealtime tradition with special menus that highlight Roma classics. And it’s even more fun when you bring your friends and family. “People can be loud and pass food around,” says Carmine’s chef Terry Natas. “The idea is to relax and enjoy yourself.”
Chef-owner Peter Smith recently got his hands on a cookbook handwritten by his great-grandmother. “She was Italian, but my grandmother [her daughter-in-law] was German,” he says. “This was her saying, ‘You’re marrying into this family, so this is what you need to know how to cook.’” These recipes are the foundation for the restaurant’s Sunday-styled dinners that happen every other Thursday. (The next one is Feb. 23.) Dishes include creamy linguini carbonara dotted with chunks of pancetta ($12.50) and deep-fried arancini rice balls filled with a melted mélange of mozzarella and ricotta dotted with micro slivers of salami ($6.50).
PS 7, 777 I St. NW; 202-742-8550. (Gallery Place)
Better bring your appetite when you dine at this Penn Quarter pasta palace. The Sunday-only special ($38) comfortably feeds six and weighs more than 6 pounds. Four pastas served family-style vie for your attention: creamy pesto cavatelli; lasagna; homemade gnocchi tossed in a Bolognese sauce of fennel sausage and ground beef; and tortellini coated in a sage-spiked cheese sauce of fontina, mozzarella, Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano. Just because it’s family-style doesn’t mean you have to bring Mama and Papa. “I’ve seen a single person take it on,” Natas says. “He almost got through everything, but he could only finish half the lasagna.”
Carmine’s, 425 7th St. NW; 202-737-7770. (Archives)
Executive chef Amy Brandwein loves showcasing Italy’s diverse culinary traditions. So every month she highlights a different region for her Sunday night meals ($28 per person). To make it even more interesting, she switches the dishes every week, which can be challenging. “I’m very well versed in northern Italian cooking,” she says. “But if it’s a region I’m unfamiliar with, I spend a lot of time researching in cookbooks, online and through friends.” Since starting the series more than a year ago, she’s explored 14 regions, including Lombardy and Piedmont. She’s focusing on Emilia-Romagna in February, so menus will feature items like hand-stuffed tortellini and homemade salami.
Casa Nonna, 1250 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-629-2505. (Dupont Circle)
The weekly Sunday supper ritual he enjoyed when he was growing up made a lasting impression on Italian-American executive chef Steve Mannino. “My style of cooking is based on what I learned while helping make those meals,” he says. Rustico’s three-course Sunday dinner special ($20 per adult, $10 per child) features Mannino family favorites, such as gnocchi Alfredo. Individually portioned entrees change from week to week but always come with buttery garlic bread; Caesar salad or soup; coffee; and crunchy chocolate-cherry biscotti from Buzz Bakery
Rustico, 827 Slaters Lane, Alexandria; 703-224-5051. (Braddock Road)