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Way off the tourist track, Vallo di Diano occupies the semiarid lower stretch of Italy's Campania. On a hillock in the center sits Teggiano, a town whose history harkens back to the Greeks. During the last century, hard-pressed paisanos emigrated from the valley, first to overcrowded Naples, then to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Now debuting in nearby Greenpoint is ValDiano, a pizza parlor and restaurant founded by Teggiano immigrants. The brightly lit dining room is decorated with gorgeous color photos of the land left behind, and a recumbent San Conothe town's 11th-century patron saintmanages a wan smile and a wave from atop the china safe. Wonderful bargain-priced small dishes and pastas are the heart of the menu, as befits the poorer southern regions of Italy. It would be a challenge to find better in the city at any price.
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Campania is particularly proud of its fresh cheese, which finds its most perfect use in mozzarella in carrozza ("in a carriage"$4.50), which slabs the white stuff between two pieces of bread, dips the assemblage in egg batter, then fries it into a crisp and oozy toasted cheese sandwich. This peasant classic is sided with a gravy boat of excellent chunky marinara for dipping. Involtini di melenzana ($5) is another dairy masterpiece, rolling fried eggplant around a filling of fresh ricotta, topping it with tomato sauce and mozzarella, and roasting it to bubbly brownness. Even more remarkable is the salad of broccoli di rapa ($4), a strong-flavored relative of turnip greens popular with southerners that appears frequently on ValDiano's menu. The sautéed and steamed vegetable is glossed with a bitterness-softening dressing of olive oil and garlic.
Begin with one of the soups and you may decide to share a main course. Pasta fagioli ($4) juxtaposes navy beans and broken pasta in a creamy chicken broth. Not quite so tasty, stracciatella introduces tortellini to the standard egg-thickened Roman soup. Many of the pastas are breathtaking, not only because the hearty servings cost $6.50 or less. Most characteristic of the region are penne boscaiola, clobbered with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and plenty of garlic and basil; and orecchiette, little ears of pasta tossed with rabe in a light, buttery sauce.
Breathtaking for quite another reason is an idiosyncratic penne all'Arrabbiata, drenching noodle cylinders in a thick sauce that's tweaked with scorching green chiles, the kind you're likely to see roasted and served whole on sausage sandwiches at Williamsburg's annual dancing of the giglio. Borrowed from the nearby region of Apulia, cavatelli is one of the few fresh pastas at ValDiano. It's dressed in a clean-tasting tomato sauce flavored with fresh basil, allowing the rich grooved and gnarled morsels to shine.
If you're interested in the meat or seafood plates, which are not what this place is for, your best bet is pollo luna bianca ($9), a flattened breast batter-fried and topped with asparagus and artichoke hearts in a light lemon sauce, and a veal paesana smothered with mushrooms and mozzarella. Both come with a generous side of pasta. Though Campania is not noted for its wines, ValDiano serves up a very drinkable white with a fruity nose and a sugary finish. It'll set you back $10 for a half-gallon pitcher.