In love with Italy

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Photograph by Bob Rozycki

Dr. Richard Klein has a deep love of all things Italian, with food topping the list.

The Yorktown internist is known among his wide circle of friends as a stellar chef, and his lovely home set high atop a hill overlooking the Amawalk Reservoir reflects the grace and charm of a sunlit Italian villa.

Klein, a native of Alphabet City on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, studied medicine at New York Medical College and in Rome.

“To be honest, I had never thought much about Italy or Italian cooking, but I wound up studying in Rome and that’s where my affinity for things Italian got started. After finishing school, I came home and helped Italian doctors and their patients by translating medical records and was recognized as a knight of the republic of Italy for my work.

“I also went back and forth to Italy, visiting friends I had made and learning as much as I could about cooking fine Italian cuisine. I like to say you can never get a bad meal in Italy.”

One of the many things Klein learned about Italian cuisine is that it has been greatly influenced by the Jews who lived there dating from the Roman Empire.

“Food historians acknowledge that much that is outstanding in Italian cooking can be traced back directly to Jewish slaves. In Italian cuisine, whenever you come across a dish which uses no trafe or nonkosher ingredients, you can assume the dish derives from the earliest Jews in Italy.”

After joining Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx for additional training, Klein set up private practice in Yorktown in 1971 and says he has been at it ever since, cooking his favorite Italian dishes and holding weekly dinner parties for his friends as a form of relaxation therapy.

Regular events

“I have gotten my preparations down to an art and usually cook some things a couple of days before the party. Doing prep work in advance saves time the day of the dinner, and I have an able sous chef in my young son Matthew.”

The Sunday morning Klein was interviewed, the table was beautifully set and much of the food already prepared.

“Tonight we will start with an antipasto that includes assorted cheeses, peppers and bread, followed by pasta with Bolognese meat sauce; then on to the entrée of chicken marinated in lemon and rosemary and cooked in the oven with potatoes. I serve a salad with the main course and select wines from my cellar that will best complement the meal.”

Klein said his friends offer to contribute to the meal; he will ask them to bring an appetizer or a dessert.

“I have 10 to 12 guests at a time from my large circle of friends. Over the years, they have become ‘regulars’ at my table, and it is a group of people that like and know each other well, so it’s always a good time.”

When asked to mention some of his favorite Italian dishes, Klein said the chicken in the oven with lemon, rosemary and potatoes was high on the list.

“I also love spaghetti carbonara and spaghetti in cartouche. This is pasta cooked in a paper envelope with a sauce of shrimp, lobster and clams.”

Klein also likes to serve veal and eggplant parmigiana as a first course, enjoys vitello tonnato or veal with tuna fish sauce, and often finishes the meal off with zabaglione, a rich egg-custard dessert.

“Preparation for each of my parties takes about three hours. I have it down to a science and buy most of my ingredients right in Yorktown at Turco’s. They have everything I need.”

In good weather, Klein often starts his parties on his flagstone terrace, set among five acres of beautifully landscaped grounds accented with mature trees and shrubs and flowers in Italianate planters.

The large, sunny terrace, with a view of the reservoir, is topped by a canopied pergola and offers a dining table, comfortable couches and deep side chairs for the comfort of his guests.

Italian style in Yorktown

Over the years Klein has lived in Yorktown, he has transformed his original 2,500-square-foot raised ranch house into a 4,500-foot neo-colonial that is flooded with light coming through the large high windows that face the reservoir.

The first floor has a perfect flow for entertaining, with a large living room, library, “men’s room,” kitchen and dining room all linked seamlessly together. The dining room, the focus of so much fun and conviviality over the years, is graced with a large fireplace underneath a magnificent landscape of the seaside of Portofino.

A look to the rear of the home reveals a free-form swimming pool, a flagstone terrace under another pergola and a harmonizing building that is a combination garage, pool house and cabana.

“Once the renovations were completed, I painted the entire house and outbuildings a honey Tuscan shade with dark sienna trim. I changed the house dramatically. Now it has a totally different feel. It is exactly what I want at this point in my life and I enjoy it to the fullest every single day.”

Klein said he plans on giving his dinner parties well into the future.

“I love doing it and my friends always have a wonderful time. It’s an important part of my life and part of who I am. I like to think that good karma has brought me to this point.”

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