Italian is the go to American food. Think about it, every day people are ordering pizza, pasta salads and lasagnas without even thinking they are dabbling in another countries history. American Italian has seen some dark days but the sun is on the horizon and a new renaissance is blooming. Chefs are concentrating on regional specialties showcasing their interpretation of the history and culture of individual areas. We decided to try our hand at re-inventing some true Italian classics with modern twists and exciting ingredients.
Pasta salad has always been my go to during the hot summer months. It’s very easy to make, its filling, completely customizable, and won’t wilt at a picnic. But being my go-to for so long has made this dish stagnant, sometimes boring. Not anymore, a recent personal discovery of a fun and exciting pasta shape has reinvigorated my love of this dish. Presenting our newest summer salad, trotolle pasta salad with grilled eggplant, diced tomatoes, spinach, shredded asiago and finished with a light and refreshing roasted garlic vinaigrette. These funky little pasta shapes trap and hold bits bright dressing that bursts with every bite. The grilled eggplant adds a deep slightly smoky flavor creating a deep flavor to compliment all the light and fresh ingredients. The pasta salad has been reborn, and trotolle is its savior.
Lasagna is a true classic. A perfect example of Italian home-style comfort in a pan, with each layer a symphony of flavors and textures, yielding effortlessly to the next. So what can we do to put a new spin on history? What possible changes could we make to tradition that could make this dish better… take away the noodles! Introducing our newest, and gluten free, comfort creation; Italian Grilled chicken and vegetable spoon bread layered with orange scented polenta. We started with a layer of diced grilled vegetables, then poured on a thin layer of polenta enhanced with orange zest and shaved parmesan cheese. We followed this with alternating layers of grilled chicken mixed with mozzarella, more polenta and a traditional mixture of sautéed spinach with ricotta, eggs and a dash of nutmeg. With one final layer of polenta our newest classic was ready for the oven. The result was light and fluffy “lasagna” with a bright orange bouquet invigorating your senses before diving through each flavorful layer.
Many people view Italian food as heavy, rich sauce laden, cheesy pasta dishes that sit heavy in your stomach and are only balanced out by an even more powerful wine. This is simply not the case. The coasts of Italy are renowned for some of the best seafood in the world, creating the most amazingly flavorful yet light dishes around. In the spirit of the Amalfi coast fishermen we present our grilled pino grigio brined sword fish on a bed of parleyed orzo highlighted by bright lemon zest drizzled with lemon infused olive oil. The brine kept the fish moist and juicy, while the wine provided a perfect acidity and crispness to enhance the delicate flavors of the swordfish. The lemon and parsley orzo perfectly complimented the sword fish by enhancing the citrus notes of the brine while adding an herbal touch to balance each flavor. A true taste of the lighter side of Italy.
Now let’s talk cobbler. No matter what the season I love a warm and sweet cobbler topped with a big scoop of rich ice cream. So why not end our Italian adventure with a taste from the great explorers of Italy. Presenting a dish with worldly origins, our apricot and bing cherry cobbler with polenta biscuit topping and crystalized ginger ice cream. This creation was truly a treat, combining the juiciest ripe apricots with plump sweet and tart cherries that exploded with flavor all topped with a crisp and sweet polenta topping. The crust was a great discovery itself, with a flavor and texture reminiscent of a sugar cookie but with a beautiful grit and chew from the corn meal. This flavor bomb was then topped with a crystalized ginger ice cream with added a sweet and spicy bite to the rich fruit.
America is waking up to the true joy that is traditional Italian dishes, rich in flavor and steeped in tradition. It is now our job to take these classics and bring them into the modern age by adding our own personal touches and creating something new and exciting. Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!