The Spot; Eating Italian
Anthea McGibbon, Gleaner Writer
1: A lobster dish topped with callaloo garnish. - Photos by Patrick James
Italians no longer eat as they used to - traditionally speaking. Such whims are now reserved for holidays and special occasions, for example, the anticipated 10-course which has routinely been compressed to a three-course meal.
Restaurateur Lella Ricci and her brother, P.G., a chef, both naturalised Jamaicans who hail from Italy, exposed Saturday Life to secrets on how to dine Italian.
Located at Harmony Hall in St Ann and St Mary, their Toscanini's Restaurant is characteristic of Italian dining - lots of energy, flavoured with a dash of gusto and lively conversation, chased by fine wine. The expected Italian dining atmosphere of relaxation is also recreated.
Italian dining is a major social event. With its fabulous fare, it places much emphasis on the ingredients or elements of the meal, says Ricci.
As with any other Mediterranean country, Italian dining is still considered among the healthiest, using a variety of vegetables, fruits, pastas, rice, cheeses and pulses.
Modern-day Italians shy away from the traditional influence of northern Italy in the generous use of butter.
keeping with the habits
According to Ricci, in keeping with the habits of southern Italy, olive oil, which is low in cholesterol, is widely used. The same occurs at Toscanini's.
Back home, Ricci explains, the 10-course meal is generally a thing of the past, mainly because of time constraints.
"Not many (persons) have time to prepare the 10-course meal anymore, so now it's simply appetiser, entrée, which can either be pasta or another main course, followed by dessert," she said.
The ever-changing menu at Toscanini's is one reason for the high return of customers.
Ricci gets very passionate and personal in her duty as host. After detailing the menu from a chalk-written blackboard to each customer, guests are left to dine on complimentary freshly baked focaccia while their meals are being prepared.
Another high point of the restaurant is the incorporation of fresh Jamaican products by chef P.G.
Similarly, the menu incorporates fresh fish and live lobster delivered daily, and fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs cultivated locally.
The appetiser, loosely called antipasto, can either be meat, fish or seafood. One might have a salad of, for example, traditional cold cuts such as prosciutto ham, salami or Mortadella served with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated roasted vegetables, chunks of parmigiano reggiano (Parmesan) or fresh buffalo mozzarella with tomato and basil. Appetisers can also be in the form of a soup or marinated fish or seafood like a spicy saute shrimp.
The entrée, or main course, can be a pasta dish, fish, seafood or a meat dish.
With pasta as the main dish, this menu could consist of spaghetti with chunks of fresh lobster sauteed in extra virgin olive oil and garlic with slithers of fresh tomato and basil.
For vegetarians, there is home-made fettuccine tossed with fresh roasted vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers and Portobello mushrooms.
Fish at Toscanini's is all local. The options are Mahi-Mahi dolphin, red snapper, grouper or Amber Jack, served in a sauce of roasted tomato, fish reduction, white wine and herbs. Seafood, apart from the delicious lobster thermidor, can be Jamaicanised, for example, jumbo shrimp on a sugar cane skewer flambeed with Appleton in a wine herb sauce.
Meat dishes can include rack of lamb, roasted duck with a wild orange liqueur sauce or chicken stuffed with seasoned callaloo and mozzarella in Chardonnay sauce.
2: Signatures of former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, the current secretary of state, on their visit to Toscanini's.
3: Proprietor Lella Ricci and her brother, P.G.
4: Shrimp kebab on a sugar cane skewer with pineapple, prior to cooking.
5: Tomato, lettuce and callaloo on toast.