AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: Scampo at the Liberty Hotel DATE: 5/16/2008 08:55:00 AM ----- BODY:

Do you remember the days when hotel dining was considered second-class fare? The menus were dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, often leaving the more sophisticated diner unimpressed. Oh, how things have changed! At least in Boston… The hotels have become destinations for the locals as well as the tourists by offering exceptional food and service: Clio, Rialto, KO Prime, Eastern Standard, just to name a few.

The Liberty Hotel opened with great fan-fare last year. An old jail left vacant for years transformed into a tourist attraction with the same developer as the Charles Hotel in Cambridge (and home to world-renowned Rialto). The first restaurant, Clink, opened inside the lobby to mediocre reviews. Now Lydia Shire has moved in, and Scampo is bustling with hipsters, tourist and regular folk like me.

My memories of Lydia Shire’s food center around one of the last meals I had at Biba…. Five of us shared 2 appetizers to start. They were so rich and intense, that I was full after just that little bit. And I’m not one to get full easily. But I also attribute much of my culinary acumen to my time spent working in Lydia’s kitchen at Biba. So when we sat down and were handed menus, I expected the “old” Lydia: rich, decadent and eclectic.

Not here. It’s a fun menu of pizza, pastas and mozzarella. Yes, mozzarella. Just as a menu would have a section for pasta, pizza, soup or salad, this menu has a section for hand-pulled mozzarella in a variety of flavors and presentations. A few entrees round out the menu for those craving a little more.

We started with a fried artichoke and arugula salad with chick peas. A satisfying appetizer with pan-fried baby artichokes that are crunchy from a quick sear. The arugula is lightly dressed with slivers of prosciutto. The chick pea puree is garlicky and olive oil-y (??) – its strong flavor pulls out the arugula and balances nicely with the artichokes.

The pizzas offerings are a combination of traditional tomato sauce, and a more refined white pizza. The broccoli raab and shrimp pizza crust was brushed with garlic and shallot infused oil. The crust was a little soggy in the middle from all the juicy toppings. But better juicy shrimp and soggy crust than dry shrimp and crispy crust. I accept the trade-off.

Pasta carbonara is my weakness. I mean, how can you go wrong with bacon (or pancetta) and cheese? And with a few peas thrown in, I feel almost virtuous for eating my vegetables. Scampo’s carbonara does not disappoint. The pasta is firm and chewy, the sauce is creamy and cheesey and the pancetta is crispy and salty. Oh yes, and the peas were good, too.

If I had to guess a recipe for the pizza, it would go something like this:

Broccoli Raab and Shrimp Pizza
Since I assume that most cooks do not have a pizza or other contraption at home that would allow the cook to bake the pizzas at 700F, I recommend pre-cooking the dough to help get it crispy enough to hold the toppings.

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup sliced garlic
¼ cup sliced shallots
Pizza dough
2 cups broccoli raab, washed and coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 scallions, cut into rounds
½ cup ricotta salata grated
¼ cup parmesan, grated
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined.

1. Preheat oven to 500F

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add shallots and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until garlic is soft and shallots are translucent. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil, and set aside the garlic shallot mix.

3. In pan with remaining olive oil, return to high heat. Add chili flakes and cook until they start to sizzle. Add broccoli raab and cook until bright green. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice and set aside.

4. Using the same pan if you’d like, return to high heat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of garlic/shallot/olive oil. Cook shrimp for 2 minutes, or just until pink. It’s okay if they’re a little underdone.

5. Roll out pizza dough as thin and round as possible. You should have enough toppings for 2-3 10” pies. Put on a baking sheet and brush with a little olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes, or until crispy and lightly brown.

6. Top pizzas first with shallots and garlic, then scallions, then cheeses, then broccoli raab and finally the shrimp on top. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the piping hot. The cheese will not melt.

2 cups water
2/3 oz. fresh yeast
1 # bread flour
10 oz. semolina
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. salt

1. Heat water to 105F. Dissolve yeast in water. Combine flour, salt and semolina.

2. Using a dough hook, combine flours, water and olive oil. Knead for 10 minutes. Place dough in oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let rise in warm place until doubled. Punch down and form.

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