5 comfort-food recipes: Local chefs from Duner’s to The Alley Light share cozy dishes for chilly days

A favorite among Tavola regulars, pappardelle alla ragu, braises for hours—but it’s relatively simple to make and the wait pays off big-time! Photo: Tom McGovern A favorite among Tavola regulars, pappardelle alla ragu, braises for hours—but it’s relatively simple to make and the wait pays off big-time! Photo: Tom McGovern

Few things are better in the cold of winter than spending time in the kitchen, whether you’re whipping up a tried-and-true family recipe or one from a new-to-you cookbook just waiting to have its pages earmarked and columns scribbled in. It’s all about comfort food at this time of year, of course, so we’ve rounded up five go-to dishes from local chefs: hearty pasta, soup with a “secret” ingredient (until now, anyway), a spin on Colombian street food, and more. These meals are best enjoyed with a candle lit or a fire roaring, and if you happen to be wearing your pajamas, we promise not to tell. When we say comfort, we mean it! Happy cooking!

Pappardelle alla ragu

Shown above; from Michael Keaveny, chef and co-owner, Tavola

Good news, Tavola fans. Charlottesville’s favorite Italian restaurant recently released a cookbook with recipes for some of its classic menu items, complete with recommended wine and music pairings. Compiled by Michael Keaveny (who co-owns the restaurant with C-VILLE Weekly arts editor Tami Keaveny), Tavola: 10 Greatest Hits—Music and Food is available through the restaurant’s website (tavolavino.com) and at New Dominion Bookshop on the Downtown Mall.

Serves four

Fresh pappardelle pasta ingredients (yields 8 ounces)

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup 00 semolina flour

1/3 cup No.1 semolina flour

1/8 tsp. salt


Sift flour onto the work surface and make a well in the center. Add the egg yolks into the well, then slowly incorporate them into the flour with a fork. Keep going until the dough is smooth. When the dough comes together into a ball, knead it for about 10 minutes until it’s a cohesive, smooth mass. Cover with a damp towel, and let it rest for half an hour. Divide the dough into two balls. Flatten them slightly and dust with flour. Using a pasta machine on the widest setting, feed the dough through three times. Adjust to lowest setting and put the dough through again. The sheet should be thin. Fold the sheet over three or four times for cutting, then slice by hand to inch-wide noodles. Unroll to separate and loosen before cooking.

Pork ragu ingredients

4 lbs. pork shoulder

1 medium onion

1 large carrot

6 cloves garlic

3 oz. tomato paste

6 oz. dry red wine

2 28 oz. cans San Marzano tomatoes

3 sprigs thyme

3 sprigs sage

8 basil leaves, chopped

1/4 tsp. toasted, ground fennel seed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Cut pork shoulder into one- to two-inch inch chunks. Season with salt and pepper and brown in a large sauté pan over medium to high heat. Remove the pork from the pan, add two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, onions, carrots, and garlic, and cook until vegetables are soft. Pour the tomatoes from the can into a bowl and crush by hand, removing undesirable pieces. In the sauté pan, add tomato paste, cook for two minutes, then deglaze with red wine and add canned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and add herbs. Slow cook until the pork is tender, about three to four hours. Cook pasta al dente. Strain, add desired amount of pork ragu to noodles, stir together to coat. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, sprinkle with chopped basil.

The Alley Light’s artichoke gratin is savory and satisfying, but not too filling. Photo: Tom McGovern

Artichoke gratin

From Robin McDaniel, chef and owner, The Alley Light

This simple, satisfying dish is traditional in the Provence region of southern France—and a favorite on the menu at The Alley Light, especially during cold spells. The light flavors of the artichoke and lemon balance with the richness of the bacon and Parmesan cheese.

Serves six to eight


3 slices bacon, coarsely chopped

5 pearl onions, quartered

1 medium shallot, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

4-6 fresh artichokes (frozen artichoke hearts may be substituted; Trader Joe’s are good)

2-3 carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces

1 bay leaf and a few sprigs thyme, tied together with kitchen twine

Juice of one lemon

½ cup white wine

32 oz. unsalted chicken or vegetable stock, warmed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for topping


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Warm stock in sauce pan. (If using fresh artichokes, remove all outer leaves, peel stems and cut off bottoms, scoop out the “hairy” part of the hearts, cut lengthwise into quarters or eighths, blanch or steam until tender but firm, and then set aside to cool.) Over medium heat, cook bacon in Dutch oven (or other dish that can be transferred from stovetop to oven) until rendered but not crispy. Add onions, shallot, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add artichokes, carrots, and herbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Add lemon juice and wine. When carrots begin to soften, add stock, salt, and pepper. Reduce liquid until a few tablespoons remain. Top with grated Parmesan, and then bake for about 12 minutes or until warmed through.

Duner’s chef Laura Fonner’s soup is a spicy-sweet one-pot wonder. Photo: Tom McGovern

Chicken, corn, and tortilla soup

From Laura Fonner, executive chef, Duner’s

You may be skeptical when a chef invokes a “secret” or “magic” ingredient, but Fonner swears by Lizano sauce, a Costa Rican condiment, in this recipe. “It’s spicy, sweet, and tangy—basically, magic in a bottle.”

Serves six to 10


3 cups roasted, boneless chicken thighs (or the meat of a whole rotisserie chicken) cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed; diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

2 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed; diced

4 ears corn, cooked, kernels removed; cobs set aside for stock

2 large tomatoes, diced

1 Tbsp. chopped garlic

1 bunch fresh cilantro; leaves chopped, stems discarded

2 cups Lizano sauce (available at specialty food stores like Foods of All Nations)

10 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 pack corn tortillas cut into strips (about 3 cups)

Optional garnish: shaved white cheddar, minced scallions, chopped cilantro, crispy tortilla strips


In a large soup pot, sauté onions, garlic, peppers, celery, and corn until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, and corn cobs. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Discard corn cobs. Stir in heavy cream, chicken, cilantro, and Lizano sauce, and simmer 20 minutes longer. Add tortilla strips, stir, turn off heat, and cover pot. Let rest for 10 minutes. Stir and serve immediately.


What would TJ do? Maybe like this, a little sparkling wine with his macaroni and cheese. Photo: Tom McGovern

Monticello macaroni and cheese

From Shelby Poulin, chef, Monticello Farm Table

Monticello Farm Table, formerly the Café at Monticello, uses high-quality cheeses (including Parmesan, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s) to create a unique take on this iconic comfort food. Sodium citrate in the recipe is a natural emulsifier that replaces a cream-based sauce, making this dish a snap.

Serves 10 to 12


3.5 cups water (for cheese sauce)

1.16 oz. or 33 g. sodium citrate, weighed

12 oz. Cabot very sharp clothbound cheddar (often also sealed in wax)

12 oz. traditional Gouda

8 oz. Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese

3 lbs. dry macaroni noodles


Grate all cheeses. Bring water to a boil. Add sodium citrate. Gradually whisk in grated cheeses until melted and smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Bring five-gallon pot of salted water to boil. Cook noodles until al dente, strain, add immediately to sauce, and stir.


This dish is as simple to make and as satisfying as a hot shower after building a snowman. Photo: Tom McGovern

Maicitos con pollo

From Harvey and Danilo Mayorga, owners, Guajiros Miami Eatery

The name of this dish translates simply to sweet corn with chicken. It’s a popular street food in Colombia. Here, the Mayorga brothers, whose Cuban-style restaurant is on 29 North, adapt the recipe for you to make at home.

Serves two


1 cup boneless grilled breast, chopped

1 oz. each, extra-virgin olive oil and butter

1 cup sweet corn kernels

½ cup blended cheese, shredded

2 oz. milk or half and half

Lay’s potato chips for topping

Pink sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup ketchup

2 oz. lime juice

1 oz. hot sauce

Garlic mayo:

1 cup mayo

2 tbsp. garlic, finely diced

Salt to taste

Cilantro crema:

1 cup of sour cream

1 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped, stems discarded

Salt to taste


In three separate bowls, whisk together ingredients for each sauce. Heat oil and butter in a frying pan, add chicken, and cook over medium-high heat for three to five minutes. Add corn and heat through, about three minutes. Add milk and cheese and mix well with a wooden spoon until cheese is melted and all ingredients incorporated. Serve the mixture in a bowl, top with crushed Lay’s chips, and drizzle with sauces. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.

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