cheffed-up

Autogrill

Italy's answer to Howard Johnson's

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I’m back after a short and required hiatus due to Bite by Bite. Miss me? Don’t be awkward—I know you did. At least you had two weeks of dining content to fill the void. Maybe you even discovered a few new eating spots to try—I did.

If you wonder what I did during the lull … I went to Italy.

What’s so fun about Italy is that Italians take their cuisine’s amazing quality for granted. They are so spoiled.

A perfect example of this is a place called the AutoGrill. Y’all have seen the service areas along interstates and turnpikes. They’re places where you pull off the road, fill the gas tank, stretch your legs, and grab indigestion-inducing fast-food from a corporate vomitorium.

In Italy, major highways are called Autostrada, their version of our turnpikes. The Autostrada service areas are wholly different from U.S. service plazas. First, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Only the truly adventurous and fearless should attempt driving on most Italian roads. These streets are akin to goat paths; each Italian driver is proving he can outdrive any Formula One race driver in the world. But on the Autostrada, the driving is just as easy as any American thoroughfare; one immensely pleasurable reward is the wondrous AutoGrill.

One morning after several hours of tooling through the Tuscan countryside, my senses itched for lunch. Lo and behold! What appeared on the horizon? A service plaza with an AutoGrill. And what a Cheffed-Up AutoGrill it was! It was set up like a modern cafeteria—one station for pasta, one for salads of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto crudo, salami and panini, and the last for grilled meats. The food’s quality was as good as any in an expensive Italian restaurant—but this was a roadside eatery! Fantastic! And this AutoGrill was partners with a culinary school. In the back of the dining room, there was a separate kitchen where all of the day’s pasta was made by hand, along with bread and pizza dough. I sat down to an incredible lunch of freshly made lasagna produced with the region’s traditional green pasta, pristinely fresh, succulent mozzarella and regional salumi. So terrific, especially compared to a U.S. service plaza, where the only lunch on offer would’ve been in vending machines or Mickey D’s. That’s why I love Italy. Here’s my version of biscotti—not as good as being there, but not too shabby.

Chef Bill’s Limoncello Biscotti

Ingredients

• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 lemon, zested
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 2 tbsp. limoncello
• 1-2/3 cup all purpose flour; extra if needed
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 cup macadamia nuts, rough chopped

Directions

1. In a large bowl, place sugar and lemon zest. Add eggs, baking powder and limoncello.
2. Mix together, start adding the flour in two batches. Stir until combined. Mix in macadamia nuts.
3. Divide the mix in half; form into two 10-inch cylinders on a sheet pan lined with a silicon mat. Don’t fret if it’s misshaped; it’ll shape itself.
4. Bake in a 325°F oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely brown. Lower the temp to 300°F, bake 10 more minutes.
5. Remove from oven, cool a bit. Cut with a serrated knife, on the bias, into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices.
6. Place cut-side-down on sheet pan; bake eight more minutes.

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Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at cheffedup@folioweekly.com, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!

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