Tre Scalini

Tre Scalini

Tread three shallow steps – the eponymous Tre Scalini – of this stately Federal townhouse ristorante located on East Broad Street, Bethlehem to enter a sanctuary of warmth and calm, an environment well suited to relaxing over a meal of beautifully crafted Italian fare. While crisp white tablecloths make a clear fine-dining statement, rustic ladder-back farmhouse chairs and a glowing gas fireplace speak to homey comforts. This intimate ambiance is also ideal for hosting small private events.

A changing menu reflects the differing culinary styles of Italy. “We can’t be one dimensional,” says Chef/owner Santo Ingarao. “There are so many regions, and we try to cover as many as possible.” That said, the native of Palermo, Sicily, accentuates southern dishes that he grew up enjoying – and learning to make the traditional way – from an assortment of relatives. “Your mom, your grandmother, your uncle, your aunt . . . so you walk around the kitchen and you taste and you taste, and you develop a palate. That’s what it’s all about – ingredients. You learn how to put them together.” He points to the simplicity of combining fresh, quality ingredients as the key to authentic Italian cuisine.

The vast majority of culinary components are imported from Italy, including tomatoes, cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. Pasta, from bucatini and capellini to rigatoni and linguine and more, come from Vicidomini, the oldest pasta factory in the country. That said, pappardelle and gnocchi are specialties crafted in-house by the chef.

Ingarao shops daily for whatever fresh ingredients are needed for that evening’s menu, and he relies on a SouthSide fish market and a top-notch Philadelphia vendor for swimmingly fresh seafood that is prominent on the menu. A local butcher in Nazareth supplies most of the fresh meats, which gain prominence (and popularity) in winter. Look for rib eye steak drizzled with balsamic, osso buco, short ribs, and occasionally even wild boar to satisfy heartier seasonal tastes.

At the suggestion of a friend living in Bethlehem, Ingarao arrived here in 1990. He immediately “fell in love” with the quiet city, so different from the larger and more chaotic environment of Palermo. “And, of course, I met my wife, and that was it,” he says. His spouse, Robyn, attends to front-of-the-house needs – and has done so since the opening of Tre Scalini in 2006. “She’s the real boss here,” he says with a laugh. 

Ingarao’s personal restaurant philosophy of taking the time to do everything right, extending from the kitchen where he is the only person cooking – no line cooks and no sous chef – to the long-time wait staff, ensures that every component clicks. The chef, who always tries to make a personal connection by finding time to chat briefly with guests, explains, “We cherish [Tre Scalini] and take care of it.”

While the menu is structured in three classic courses – Antipasti/Insalate (appetizers/salads), Primi Piatti (pasta), and Secondi (meat or fish entrees) – guests may pick-and-choose to suit their tastes, appetites, and dietary preferences, such as vegetarian and pescatarian – and perhaps expand their palates. For example, Polipo Alla Brace (grilled octopus) can convert anyone into a devotee of this tender, tasty delicacy. Other starters include Zuppa De Cozze (steamed mussels in white wine or fresh tomato sauce) and Antipasto Casa Lingo (an assortment of Italian meats and cheeses). In a pasta selection that encompasses diverse flavors and textures, Rigatoni Alla Norma (pasta with eggplant, pomodoro sauce, and ricotta salata) enables guests to savor Italian history: The dish was created in 1831 as a tribute to Vincenzo Bellini’s opera, Norma. (And Chef Ingarao graciously shares the recipe for this signature dish with Lehigh Valley Marketplace readers.) Seafood lovers can indulge in Capellini Bella Italia (angel hair pasta tossed with scallops, shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat, and Roma tomatoes in a brandy cream sauce), while bacon fans will find their bliss in Bucatini Amatriciana (bucatini pasta with smoked bacon, plum tomatoes, pecorino cheese, and red pepper flakes). Dinners kick off with warm ciabatta served with lightly seasoned olive oil, plus balsamic vinegar on request. For a sweet finish that’s light and refreshing, try a dish of imported limoncello gelato.

And remember to wave farewell to Chef Ingarao as you depart from your evening in Italy.

Rigatoni Alla Norma

6 medium eggplants
2 cloves garlic
3/4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
16 oz. can tomato sauce
3/4 tsp. salt (+ 2 T for cooking pasta and 1 tsp. to soak eggplant)
24 oz. rigatoni pasta
Handful chopped fresh basil + extra for garnish, plus several whole leaves
8 oz. package ricotta salata cheese (Note: do not confuse with regular ricotta, which is creamy and comes in a tub)

Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Soak in a bowl of salted water (use about 1 tsp.) for an hour. Drain and dry eggplant. Finely slice garlic cloves. Using low setting, warm a 16-inch sauté pan and add olive oil. Wait 1 minute before adding cubed eggplant. Sauté until golden in color. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggplant and place on dish. Add sliced garlic to pan and cook until lightly browned. Add sauce, chopped basil and 3/4 tsp. salt to pan. Return eggplant back to pan and simmer for 8 minutes on low heat. 

Bring large pot of water to boil and add 2 T salt to water. Boil pasta to al dente for best results. Drain pasta and put back into pot, removed from heat. Ladle 2 scoops of prepared sauce over pasta and mix until pasta is coated. Place a serving of pasta onto each dish and ladle a portion of sauce on top. Freshly grate ricotta salata onto each dish and garnish with sprinkles of chopped basil and a few whole leaves of basil. Enjoy!

Serves 4

Tre Scalini
221 E Broad St.

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