Buon appetito! cheeses form a solid foundation for a wide variety of appetizer dishes. At Fair Hill Inn, Shaw and co-chef/ owner Phil Pyle, Jr. feature their homemade salumi—pancetta as well as pork, lamb, venison and wild boar prosciuttos—and cheese— sheep’s milk cheeses, like ricotta salata, and cow’s milk cheeses, like Bra tenero—in appetizers, but they also incorporate them into à la carte entrées and the small plates on their seven-course tasting menu. “In the summer months, we offer a plate, more or less like a communal antipasti in the Italian style, which has vegetables from [our] garden and six to eight different kinds of cured meat, all made in-house. Now, into the winter months, a lot of those meats see their way onto salads,” Shaw says. “[In March], our boar prosciutto is part of a salad, our lamb prosciutto is part of our charcuterie board ... and one of our desserts incorporates the house-made ricotta,” he adds. In keeping with the restaurant’s philosophy of “farmstead cuisine”— growing, creating and, when necessary, pickling all of their own ingredients, as well as cooking meals entirely from scratch—the meats and cheeses served at Fair Hill Inn are the product of meticulous sourcing and centuries-old artisanal curing and/or aging processes. Shaw sources cow’s and sheep’s milk from local dairy farmers who adhere to natural milking cycles. He gets his lamb and pork from a nearby Amish farming community. He even pays a premium to have wild boar professionally iced and crate-shipped from controlled-hunt farms in the Carolinas and Texas. And that’s all before the aging process begins, which lasts between a few weeks for young, fresh cheeses and up to two years for some of the larger cuts of pork prosciutto. Blessed with accessible agricultural resources and the support of local patrons, Pyle and Shaw have leveraged their do-it-yourself mentality and passion for food to raise the bar on the Italian-inspired appetizer. But that doesn’t mean those higher-volume restaurants that feel the strain of time and labor costs more acutely are obsolete. In fact, thanks to the availability of quality premade products at affordable prices, no restaurant is without options. Take the All Beef Bias-Sliced Italian-Style Links from foodservice vendor Burke Corp.’s Premoro line of Italian meats (www.burkecorp. com). Seasoned with a blend of red pepper, cracked fennel, garlic and other Italian spices, these presliced links are perfect for an Italian meats appetizer, not to mention pastas, pizzas and panini. The links come fully cooked, saving your staff labor and training time, and Burke even offers the option to order its products in bulk or with private labeling. Need some cheese to serve with those links? Grana Padano (www. ELLA MORRIS Salumi aging in the grotto that doubles as a wine celler at Fair Hill Inn, Elkton, Md. granapadano.com) is Italy’s most popular PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese export—and with good reason. Made from raw, semiskimmed cow’s milk and aged for nine to 24 months, Grana Padano ranges in flavor from mild and sweet to nutty and sharp, making it the perfect accompaniment for salads, risottos or simply a glass of wine. To complete your Italian antipasti platter, consider a selection of gourmet olives from DeLallo (www. delallo.com)—or, better yet, check out DeLallo’s Antipasto Palazzo line of pre-made platters, and choose from options like Mediterranean Mushroom Medley and Marinated Artichokes Royale. Batter up! In authentic Italian cuisine, an antipasto (literally, “before the meal”) is more or less a small bite designed to tempt a diner’s appetite and bridge the gap between an aperitivo and a first course. However, from that tradition—and with influence from other cuisines—many chefs have Tony Baker, executive chef/co-owner, Montrio Bistro, Monterey, Calif., www.montrio.com; wine pairing by Marlene Rossman Yield: 4 servings 4 large Ocean Mist artichokes, cooked and halved 5 tomatoes, large and ripe 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped 1/2 bunch green onions, chopped 1 T. olive oil 1/2 c. brown sugar 1/2 c. golden balsamic vinegar 1/2 t. cumin Method (1) Place artichokes directly on grill over medium heat. Turn frequently until outside petals are evenly charred. (2) Cut tomatoes in half, squeeze to remove seeds. Roughly chop tomatoes, and add them and rest of ingredients to a large sauté pan; simmer for 30 minutes. (3) Serve roomtemperature tomato chutney over artichoke; add salt and pepper, to taste. Wine pairing: This creamy Clos Pegase Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (California), with Meyer lemon, grapefruit and melon flavors, will pull the artichokes and tomatoes together beautifully. FIRE-ROASTED ARTICHOKE WITH TOMATO BALSAMIC CHUTNEY redefined the Italian appetizer. “Our appetizers tend to be big, so people often share them,” says chef Riccardo Ullio. “I think all food is better that way. Sharing food adds to the experience.” At Ullio’s Fritti Restaurant (www. frittirestaurant.com/fritti) in Atlanta, his 22 varieties of authentic Neapolitan-style pizza (as certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana association) are the primary vehicle for cultivating that shared-dining experience, but his fried appetizers are a close second. “The name of the restaurant is Fritti [which means “fried” in Italian], so we often serve appetizers that are fried,” he says. Indeed, on Fritti’s menu, you’ll find everything from fried Robiola goat cheese to fried calamari. But arguably Ullio’s best fried appetizer is his innovative mushroom dish, the Funghi Fritti. Drawing inspiration from a meal of flash-fried vegetables he once had in a small trattoria near Naples, Ullio creates the dish by coating a mix of white, crimini, portobello and shiitake mushrooms in a rice flour batter that combines the properties of a traditional Italian pastella with a Japanese tempura. “Good fried food,” Ullio says, “really comes down to two things: batter and oil temperature—and that’s it. Once you’ve got those two things down, you’ve got the perfect fried item, but those two things can be pretty complicated to get right sometimes.” For those who heed Ullio’s words less as a challenge to perfect fried items, and more as a warning to avoid frying up other delicate items, fear not—even when it comes to fried eggplant. Rosina Food Products Inc.’s (www.rosina.com) IQF Eggplant Rollettes will add appeal to your appetizer menu, without demanding valuable prep time from your employees. Made from Rosina’s line of Celentano Grade A Fancy Eggplant, these cutlets are lightly breaded and stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese. Top with marinara sauce or serve as is for an Italian appetizer that’s hassle-free and customer-friendly. www.chefmagazine.com 16 | Chef Visit us at giftwarenews.com/readerservice