Fantastico!: Little Italian Plates and Antipasti from Rick Tramonto's Kitchen

Fantastico!: Little Italian Plates and Antipasti from Rick Tramonto's Kitchen


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Rick Tramonto, one of America’s most renowned and award-winning chefs and author of Amuse-Bouche, among other titles, now has written a cookbook showcasing the best of Italian cuisine, the food he grew up eating and has explored in depth on his extensive travels throughout the country. The little plates in Fantastico! are all tempting, tasty dishes that can be mixed and matched for relaxed cooking and dining in true Italian style..

Italians have traditionally enjoyed this small-plate way of eating and now Americans have caught on. Increasingly, restaurants specializing in this kind of experience have been opening across the country. With Fantastico! fans of Italian food have the opportunity to reproduce at home the irresistible dishes served at enotecas, osterias, trattorias, pizzerias, and ristorantes throughout Italy, for quick weeknight meals or innovative entertaining.

Fantastico! is the ideal source for a stunning array of antipasti, assaggios, salumis, and cheeses, the perfect accompaniments to a variety of wines and surprising additions to everyday and formal meals. Tramonto’s terrific recipes, accompanied by wine recommendations and his tips on buying the best ingredients, provide readers with the inspiration and the know-how they need to make a big impression by thinking small. The selection includes such festive recipes as Tramonto’s Razor Clams Casino and Roasted Medjool Dates with Gorgonzola, Bacon, and Toasted Walnuts; innovative ideas for grilled breads with robust toppings (bruschetta) and little toasts with refined toppings (crostini); an extraordinary variety of panini, along with wonderful Venetian-style, open-faced mini-sandwiches (cicchetti); and a delightful assortment of simple-to-prepare dishes—including a spectacular canned tuna salad with a caper and herb vinaigrette—Tuna Conserva Cicchetti—that will enliven traditional antipasti platters and serve as the centerpiece of a light meal for family and friends.

With more than 100 simple recipes and beautiful full-color photographs, Fantastico! will inspire anyone who loves the casual charm of Italian cooking.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767923811
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/06/2007
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 8.36(w) x 10.31(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

RICK TRAMONTO Recognized in 1994 as one of Food & Wine’s Top Ten Best New Chefs and in 2002 as Best Chef: Midwest Region by the James Beard Foundation, Tramonto has garnered international attention and a host of prestigious awards for his work at Trio, Brasserie T, and his renowned four-star, Relais-Gourmand restaurant Tru in Chicago. Tramonto, who has written four previous cookbooks, has appeared on Oprah, Today, CBS This Morning, and on the Food Network’s Iron Chef. In 2006 he founded Cenitare Restaurants, a restaurant-management and development company, with concepts including Osteria di Tramonto, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood, and RT Lounge. He lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with his wife, Eileen, and their children.

Mary Goodbody is a nationally known food writer and editor. Her credits include Tru and Amuse-Bouche with Rick Tramonto, and Taste Pure and Simple with Michael Nischan. The editor of the IACP Food Forum Quarterly, she lives outside New York with her daughter.

Read an Excerpt


Little Italian Plates and Antipasti from Rick Tramonto's Kitchen
By Rick Tramonto


Copyright © 2007 Rick Tramonto
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780767923811

The Glory of Italian Food

Small bites, little plates—whatever you call them, these delicious tastes of assertive, mouthwatering foods are endlessly appealing. Whether you plan to serve an elegant first course, a meal made up of small dishes, or finger foods for a cocktail party, the recipes on these pages will blow your mind!

Okay, no lack of modesty there, but it’s true. I have prepared these little dishes for years and never tire of them. For this book, I assembled a collection of recipes that celebrate all that is best about Italian food and Italian ingredients. I tailored them for the American home cook, who I hope will find them inspirational as well as accessible. Some are refined versions of the antipasti of my childhood, while others were motivated by frequent eating and drinking trips to Italy. (By the way: Is there any other kind of trip to Italy?)

I doubt I would get much argument when I say Italian food is universally loved. Everywhere. And why not? Think of fat–streaked cured hams, lightly pickled fish, and golden–green olive oil. Or how about pungent, earthy mushrooms; chubby, glistening olives, both green and black; syrupybalsamic vinegars; crumbly, salty cheeses; plump, juicy tomatoes; and crusty bread with a crumb so soft and pliant it mops up every last drop of goodness on a plate?

If you are salivating by now, read on. It gets better. As I put these and other ingredients together, the flavors conspire to explode in the mouth and make you hunger for more. The “more” may be another small, savory assaggio or crudo, a second glass of wine, or it may be the pasta course that comes next. Regardless, these treasures will prime your taste buds for all sorts of culinary adventures, regardless of their sophistication or simplicity.

Bruschetta, panini, bocconcini, and antipasti—heck, all categories of recipes in the book—can be made with nearly any ingredient that catches your fancy. Good news for the curious cook who eyes the jar of imported white anchovies or can of Italian tuna on the shelf and wonders what to do with it. Exhilarating for the intrepid shopper who is tempted by ruddy Parma ham, crumbly truffle–specked Sottobosco cheese, or Black Mission figs. And equally thrilling for the cook who sees baby artichokes, cans of white ceci beans (also called chickpeas and garbanzos), wild mushrooms, fresh fava beans, and other more mundane foods in the markets and yearns to cook with them.

I have divided the book into nine recipe chapters. While it’s tricky to categorize these little plates precisely, I explain the differences as I see them in the introductions to each chapter. But, if elsewhere you come across a recipe similar to one of mine that, say, is called a cicchetti rather than a crostini, no one is wrong. There is ample room for cross–pollination among these dishes.

Whether you indulge in a crostini, cicchetti, or a plate of fine Italian cheese, you will want a glass of wine to savor alongside it. These foods are nothing if not wine-friendly, and I am grateful to my friend and one of my sommeliers, Belinda Chang, for her spirited, thoughtful wine notes that accompany the recipes. Belinda shares my passion for all things Italian and my sense of fun when it comes to eating and drinking. I count on her to pour only the best wine for the food--and she succeeds every time!

go for excellence

The only hard–and–fast rule for these small taste treats is that the ingredients be the best you can find. This goes for meat and fish as well as for fruit, vegetables, and pantry items such as olive oil, vinegar, canned beans, canned tomatoes—even salt! Find a reputable butcher for prime or high–level choice beef and top-grade pork. Buy fish where turnover is constant and there is no odor in the air, except a whiff of the briny deep. Look for an Italian market or gourmet store that understands Italian salumi (all manner of cured meats), Italian sausage, and Italian cheese. Read through the recipes and their accompanying notes to learn more about these glorious gifts from the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Even if it means going a little out of your way, purchase fruits and vegetables in season and from local growers. I stand with the ever-increasing number of chefs who feel strongly about cooking with what is cultivated nearby, what is freshest, and what is least processed. How else, I ask you, can we guarantee the planet's abundance for our children and grandchildren?

This is the Italian way, too. When in Rome, literally do as the Romans do and feast on the produce from local farms and sip regional wines. Carry this philosophy to your own corner of the world. Of course, we hope you will buy the Italian wines Belinda and I suggest, but that should not be a problem. Experiment and have a good time with the food and the wine!

In the same spirit, buying seasonally can be fun. Where I live in Chicago, it’s exciting to spot the first slender spring asparagus in the market, to know that the peach I buy in July will be so juicy my mouth will fill with pleasure, and that August’s sun–ripened tomatoes will make all others taste like imposters! How about an azure October sky, red and gold leaves framing a country road, and a bushel basket of orchard-picked apples? Can you think of anything better? Because of this loyalty to the seasons, I arranged the recipes within each chapter so they progress from those best suited for springtime, though the summer and fall, to those perfect for a cold winter’s night.

A number of the little plates in this book give the home cook license to experiment with ingredients that might be unfamiliar, such as razor clams or bresaola. You also can try some that might be too expensive to invest in more than now and then, such as truffles and foie gras. Here is a chance to indulge in a little luxury without making the ATM sputter with outrage! You need only a few drops of truffle oil or slices of prosciutto de Parma for the recipes. Pour a glass of mature Barolo and go for it!

When it comes to kitchen staples, I always think you should buy the best you can afford. For instance, I talk about olive oil on page 78 and salt on page 67. I believe that good–quality olive oil satiates more completely than any other fat, and because a drizzle is often all you need, why not pour the finest? The same goes for balsamic vinegar. When aged, it becomes sweet and syrupy. And expensive. Aged balsamic is one product where price nearly always indicates quality. When it comes to salts, as I explain later in the book, not all are created equal. I season mainly with kosher salt but play around with any number of the sea salts and specialty salts now on the market. They are fantastic for finishing a dish.

I feel just as strongly about fresh herbs, quality spices (definitely purge your cupboard of those old, dried out, dusty little bottles), really good mustard, high–end butter, local honey, and freshly baked bread.This holds true for the wine. Italians make world–class wines that drink splendidly with this food. Wine suggestions accompany every recipe in Chapters 2 through 8. For the antipasti and the cheese course, Chapters 9 and 10, look for an umbrella wine note at the start of each chapter; these foods are so versatile when it comes to wine, we figured a wine note could occupy a page or more!

Finally, don’t neglect your equipment. No recipe in this book calls for anything that is not found in most well-stocked kitchens, but if you have not gotten around to replacing your mediocre knives with better ones or to buying that nonstick pan, do it now. It all matters. The knife will make slicing a tomato a breeze, and the pan will ensure success when you make a frittata. Cooking becomes more of a pleasure when you have a microplane grater for zesting citrus, a nest of nonreactive mixing bowls, and a few really good cutting boards. And your skill level improves, too. A little investment goes a long way.

After reading what I have written here, you get the idea. Go for excellence. Your guests will appreciate it, but most important, you will experience what I do when I serve the best and most honest food I can: the satisfaction of a job well done. Oh, and the chance to eat something that tastes fantastico!

a taste of something, a morsel

This salad speaks of spring, and when I first thought of pairing the beans with the radicchio, I knew it would taste splendid with the anise–flavored orange vinaigrette. My maternal grandmother, Adeline Gentile, made this vinaigrette more than any other, so star anise and Sambuca were staples in her kitchen. She spoke only Italian and had learned how to make the vinaigrette from her mother in Italy before emigrating to the United States. My grandmother’s house was flanked by the houses owned by her two sisters; these three houses formed a little community where we always felt safe, welcome, and extremely well fed!

fava and yellow beans with radicchio, goat cheese, and anise-orange vinaigrette
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups shelled fava beans
1 1/2 cups yellow wax beans
2 cups coarsely chopped radicchio
3/4 to 1 cup Anise–Orange Vinaigrette (see below)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup crumbled goat cheese

1. Bring two pots of lightly salted water to a boil. Blanch the fava beans in one pot for 3 to 6 minutes or until tender. Drain and immediately submerge in ice–cold water. Drain again. Dry on paper towels.

2. In the second pot, blanch the wax beans for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Drain and immediately submerge in ice–cold water. Drain again. Dry on paper towels.

3. In a large bowl, toss together the radicchio, fava, and wax beans. Add the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates. Top each serving with goat cheese and serve immediately.

about the wine

You could, of course, pour a red wine to accompany this salad, but we don't want to go there. This spring salad needs an open bottle of white chilling in a bucket on the picnic table, within easy reach! The southern Italian white wine treat, Fiano di Avellino, can be found in modern styles where the fruit is highlighted over the nutty, piney flavors that tend to lead in more classic bottlings. MandraRossa in Sicily produces an outstanding example.

aniseorange vinaigrette
makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 shallot, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon ground star anise
1 tablespoon Sambuca
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1. In a bowl, mix the shallot and orange zest. Add the orange juice, honey, vinegar, star anise, and Sambuca. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. If using within 3 or 4 hours, stir in the basil and refrigerate. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Stir the basil into the vinaigrette an hour or so before serving.


If you’ve never tried small, flat, disk–shaped cippoline onions, this is a good way to familiarize yourself with them. On a recent trip to Florence, when I ate at every little enoteca I could find, I discovered this dish, made extra special with aged balsamic vinegar and smoky, nutty chestnut honey. This honey is relatively easy to find in Italy, where chestnut trees grow, but is not as common here. If you must, use another mild honey.

roasted cipolline with aged balsamic and garlic bread crumbs
Serves 4

16 cipolline onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chestnut honey or other mild-flavored honey
Juice of 1 orange
3 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons Garlic Bread Crumbs (see below)
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and blanch the onions for about 1 minute. Drain and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to shock them. When cool enough to handle, drain again. Using a small sharp knife, trim the top and bottom of the onions and then peel the skins. They should slip right off. Leave the onions whole. (You can peel the onions without blanching, but blanching makes peeling far easier.)

3. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. When hot enough to coat the bottom of the pan, add the onions and garlic and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the salt and pepper.

4. Reduce the heat to low, add the honey and orange juice, and stir to coat the onions. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes longer, or until the onions begin to caramelize.

5. Add the chicken stock, rosemary, and thyme and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the stock is reduced by half and the onions are tender. Taste and adjust the amount of salt and pepper, if necessary. (The onions can be prepared in advance up to this point and refrigerated until ready to proceed. Bring the onions to room temperature.)

6. Transfer the contents of the pan to a baking dish just large enough to hold the onions in a single layer. Discard the herb sprigs. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the crumbs are lightly browned and the onions are warm.

7. Drizzle with the vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Garnish with basil and parsley and serve.

about the wine

Do the Florentine thing. These sweet onions will sing with the wines of the region. A bright, juicy Tuscan Chianti made from predominantly Sangiovese grapes, one that forgoes the new-fangled addition of fancy Cabernet, Merlot, or Syrah to the blend, is the right wine to pour.

garlic bread crumbs
makes about 4 cups

1 loaf day-old bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, cut into 1/4–inch slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Lay the bread slices on a work surface and rub or brush both sides with half the olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and peppper and lay the break on a baking sheet.

3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the bread is completely dry and golden brown. Check the bread every 4 minutes to make sure it does not overcook. Turn it once. Let it cool.

4. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the toasts unitl broken into 1/4-inch pieces.

5. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the bread crumbs, tossing often until well coated. Spread the crumbs on a tray lined with paper towels to drain and cool.

6. When cool, transfer the crumbs to a bowl and toss with the Parmesan cheese. Use right away or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


Excerpted from Fantastico by Rick Tramonto Copyright © 2007 by Rick Tramonto. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     XI
Introduction     2
The Glory of italian food     6
Assaggio: a taste of something, a morsel     10
Crudo: raw, salted, and marinated     40
Bocconcini: small simple plates of quintessentially italian foods     68
Bruschetta: grilled bread with robust toppings     110
Crostini: little toasts with refined toppings     132
Panini: grilled sandwiches     156
Ciccheti: mini venetian-style sandwiches     178
Antipasti: little plates before the pasta     190
Cheese: the cheese course     240
Sources: hard-to-find ingredients and equipment     257
Index     263

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