A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
Pastor of the Good Shepherd Parish, St. Stephen’s Church in New Orleans, Msgr. Christopher Nalty is a familiar name and face around town. Noted for his cooking skills and featured on website articles, Msgr. Nalty even showed up recently to bless several stops for the Citywide Curbside Fish Fry that moved outdoors because of the pandemic — and viewers can get a glimpse of him holding his ritual book, holy water and a seafood takeout order.
Indeed, Msgr. Nalty confirms that food and cooking have been his lifelong passion — well, that and his faith. Raised in a devout Catholic family in New Orleans, he remembers that family members always prayed the Rosary together, and went to Mass together, and even when he was in high school, he would get to school early to attend daily Mass. “Even when I was an adult and practicing law,” he said, “I was never away from the sacraments, and during Lent I made it to Mass every day.”
As devoted as he is to his faith, Msgr. Nalty has about that same passion for cooking, noting that even as a very young boy, he loved to prepare meals. “My favorite was to go to restaurants,” he said, “and try to make at home what we ate at the restaurant. I would recreate a Big Mac or an omelet and that is where I got my start.” After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Notre Dame, lived in a dorm, cooked for others and liked cooking for his girlfriend.
After college, he moved to Washington, D.C., to attend Georgetown Law for its MBA/JD program. After receiving his degree — and enjoying D.C.’s numerous restaurants — Msgr. Nalty moved back to New Orleans, where he practiced law for six years. “There I was exposed to many types of cuisines,” he said, “and I would try to imitate them. I had no formal training, but I learned techniques from the chefs.”
During that time, a local priest asked him if Nalty himself had ever thought of becoming a priest. “I thought about if for eight years,” he said, “and the idea became more real. I realized that that was what I was supposed to do.” He noted that his mother has always wanted one her sons to become a priest, and during his years of discernment, he did not discuss this with his parents. But the day he told his parents that he was going to the seminary, his mother cried all the way home. “She comes to my parish for Tuesday evening and Sunday Masses,” he said.
Msgr. Nalty was first sent to seminary at Catholic University of America to study Philosophy, taking along his passion for cooking. There, he and his classmates became close friends because of the big dinners they ate together. Msgr. Nalty then continued his studies in Rome for five years, and that gave him an intimate look at a whole different cuisine: Italian food. “There I learned Roman and Italian cooking,” he said, “and I would try to imitate what I had eaten at restaurants.”
Msgr, Nalty returned to the United States to serve as a parochial vicar and as an official of the Metropolitan Tribunal, but three years later he was assigned back to Rome to work in the Vatican. “I lived with all the Americans who work at the Vatican,” he said. “I cooked for my friends more American food and barbecues. We had access to the Armed Forces TV Network, so we would watch games and eat barbecue.”
After the completion of his Vatican assignment, Msgr. Nalty moved back to New Orleans in 2008, and lives in a parish near the best New Orleans restaurants. Over the last 11 years, he said he primarily cooks on weekends, but admits to eating out a lot. “Because I like to cook and I can talk to chefs,” he said, “I have become friends with a lot of local chefs.”
“Gricia” pasta is a very popular pasta in Rome, and possibly the oldest of Italian pastas. It was known in Rome as early as A.D. 400, well before Italians were introduced to tomatoes and hot peppers. It was simply pasta with guanciale, cheese and black pepper, although many cooks also add onions. Griciatufo is a spin on gricia that adds truffle (“tartufo” in Italian) and parsley and removes the black pepper. Note that guanciale is a type of cured Italian pork.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 ounces diced guanciale or pancetta
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 pepperoncini peppers, chopped, or pepper flakes
- 1 pound mezzi rigatoni pasta
- 2 to 3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, for garnish
- Shaved truffles (substitute jarred minced truffles or truffle zest)
- 2 tablespoons of minced parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the guanciale until it is rendered. Add the onion and pepperoncini and cook until translucent.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water for 2 minutes less than the noted cooking time. Drain the pasta, retaining a cup of the starchy water. Return the pasta to the cookpot or add to the cooked guanciale and onions. Toss the pasta to combine, and slowly drizzle in the pasta water to bring all ingredients together. Continue to cook over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes more. You may not need all the water. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with 2 to 3 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese, finely shaved truffles and parsley. Serve at the table with additional cheese.