Craving a Poached Pear Salad (Insalata di Pere), featuring mixed greens, blue cheese, candied walnuts, Chianti-poached pears and balsamic dressing?
You can follow it up with an entrée of Butternut Squash Ravioli (Tortellacci di Zucca), composed of fresh butternut squash and ricotta ravioli, a brown butter-sage cream sauce, freshly ground black pepper and shaved Parmigiano cheese.
How about ending your meal with a pistachio-encrusted Homemade Italian Cannoli, filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, and dusted with powdered sugar?
If you’re in Los Angeles, you’re in luck. These are some of my favorite picks at Firenze Osteria, where Top Chef Season 5 contestant Fabio Viviani (above) serves as executive chef/owner. He also runs Café Firenze Italian Restaurant and Martini Bar in nearby Moorpark, where you can enjoy one of 18 “signature,” “luxury” and “dessert” martinis, including Pear Tinis, Blueberry Martinis, Key Lime Pie Martinis and Cosmopolitans. (The Poached Pear Salad, Butternut Squash Ravioli and Homemade Italian Cannoli are also on the menu.)
Viviani, who trained in his native Italy, recently coauthored the Café Firenze Cookbook, and even a cursory look through its pages will prove the man loves his olive oil. Chalk it up to the kitchen staple’s versatility, flavor and health benefits. Rich in polyphenols (antioxidants) that help fight against cancer, heart-healthy olive oil can be swapped for high-fat butter. Just substitute 3/4 teaspoon olive oil for every 1 teaspoon butter, which will cut the fat in recipes by 25%.
Here are some of Viviani’s favorite ways to use olive oil:
- Serve a simple appetizer of fresh bread with extra-virgin olive oil. Pour the oil into a shallow bowl for dipping, and season with cracked pepper or fresh herbs.
- Create a simple, yet flavorful, marinade of olive oil combined with either lemon juice or wine vinegar. Use it to flavor meats, poultry and fish.
- Give your favorite unsalted nuts a fine coating of extra-light olive oil. (You can toss them in a paper bag.) Add a sprinkle of salt.
Tune in tomorrow for one of Viviani’s special recipes: Roasted Tomato & Zucchini Salad.
Viviani photo courtesy of Bertolli