A Tour Through Italy with Chef Coletta

Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 7:02am

When it comes to good food and talented chefs, it's a buyer’s market. The largest Michelin Star list to date and next year’s James Beard Awards are two of the many feathers in our chef's hat - er, cap. 

When it comes to Italian food, in the last six months we've welcomed Eataly to River North and seen a myriad of thin crust pizza restaurants open across the city. 

But for an authentic experience with a true Italian chef, a group of TLT readers met Chef John Coletta at Quartino Ristorante for a very special Chef's Table event. 

The diverse group of 25 diners had various levels of exposure to the Quartino experience. Some were regulars, others hadn’t been in a months, and a few were walking in for the first time.

To give us a sampling of the menu, Chef Coletta was our tour guide on a culinary vacation through the Italian regions. Chef Coletta spent his summers growing up in Italy, so it should come as no surprise that all of the dishes have authentic regional preparations and several of the menu items come from a family recipe book that dates back more than 200 years.

Our journey started in North-East Italy – near Venice – with Prosecco from the House of Carpenè Malvoti. Famous for more than 135 years of production, this was ideal as an aperitif.

Armed with a few bubbles, Chef Coletta led our group south to the western coastal Lazio region, home to both Rome and the Vatican.

The Quartino menu offers nine varieties house-cured Salumi Artiginale, but the most notable is La Spianata Romana al Punta del Coltello. Consisting of hand cut pork shoulder and pork belly, the salumi is marinated with a blend with traditional fragrant spices from Lazio and red wine before it tied, pressed, and allowed to dry for 3 months.

Italians seldom prepared salumi with as much attention to detail as this, making Chef Coletta salumi a rarity in both Lazio and Chicago. 

After our stop Lazio, the group moved even farther south to the Pulglia region ("Apulia" in English) for hand-cut pasta. Hundreds of years ago, poverty stricken Italians collected grano arso, meaning “burnt grain”, for pasta and breads. The result is a slightly smoky flour that adds a unique flavor and texture to the pasta dish.

Using a fresh batch of grano arso pasta, Chef Coletta tossed the hand cut noodles with fresh broccoli rabe and plump cherry tomatoes to create a Stracci di Grano Arso. The flavor was unmistakable, and truly unique.

Between the major stops on our culinary vacation, the group enjoyed a number of dishes like the minted spring pea salad with house-made mozzarella cheese and an amazing with vegetables, Pinot Bianco, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil. All of which was delicious and designed to shared.

We concluded our journey a dessert loved by all of the regions: Zeppole. The hot Italian doughnuts served with honey or dark chocolate were light, fluffy, and way too delicious to be healthy.

Good Italian meal is never quiet and this dinner was no different. Between conversations about food, photography and summer plans, you'd think the group has known each other for years. 

After three hours - one of the longest Chef's Tables to date, the evening concluded with advice from Chef Coletta, "Stay happy. Stay healthy and come back soon. Grazie."

We will chef. Trust me, we will. 

 

For future events please sign up at The Local Tourist: Chef's Table.  Photos by Donna Binbek Photography.

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Joe Piehl's picture
Chicago Editor Joe Piehl
Joe Piehl

A TLT contributor since 2010, Joe is the Chicago Editor. Outside TLT, Joe keeps an eye out for awesome activities and he writes a travel blog: Joe the Explorer.

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