By Anthea McGibbon
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 is now a three (3) course meal.
Restauranteer Lella Ricci and her brother P.G., a chef, both naturalized Jamaicans from from Italy , exposed the Gleaner to secrets on how to dine Italian.
Plotted on an old Jamaican pimento plantation, nearing the border of St Ann and St Mary, their Toscanini Restaurant offers characteristics of Italian dining — lots of energy, flavoured with a dash of gusto and lively conversation, chased by fine wines. The expected Italian dining atmosphere of relaxation is also recreated.
First off dining Italian is a major social event occurring daily, and a fine offering of nourishment it places much emphasis on the ingredients or elements of the meal, says Lella.
As with any other Mediterranean country, Italian dining is still considered among the healthiest, with the common use of a big variety of vegetables, fruit, pasta, rice, cheeses and pulses.
In these modern times, Italians shy from the influence of Northern Italy in the excessive use of butter as a major change in tradition. According to Lella, in keeping with the habits of southern Italy , olive oil which is low in cholesterol, is used a lot in Northern Italy . The same occurs at the Toscanini, as Jamaica ’s climate is similar to South Italy .
Back home, Lella explains that the ten course meal has now been reduced, as a result of time constraints. “Not many has time to prepare the 10 course meal anymore, so now it’s simply appetizer, Entrée which can either be pasta or another main course, followed by desert.”
The ever changing menu at Toscanini is one reason for the high return of customers.
Lella gets real passionate and personal in her duty as host. After detailing the menu from a chalk-written blackboard to each customer, they are left to dine on complimentary freshly baked Focaccia garlic bread while their meal is being prepared.
Another highpoint of the restaurant is the incorporation of fresh Jamaican products by chef P.G., while the authenticity of Italian cuisine is maintained in the three course meals.
Similarly, the menu incorporates fresh fish and live lobster delivered daily and fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs cultivated locally.
Appetiser, loosely called antipasto, can either be meat, fish or seafood. As an appetizer, one could have a nice salad for example of traditional cold cuts such as Prosciutto Ham, Coppa ,Salame or Mortadella served with olives, sundried 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 are homemade fettuccine tossed with fresh roasted vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers and portobello mushrooms.
Fish at Toscanini is all local; it can be Mahi-Mahi Dolphin fish, Red Snapper, Grouper or Amber Jack and it is served in an “Acqua Pazza” sauce of roasted tomato, fish reduction, white wine and herbs. Seafood, apart from a delicious Lobster Thermidor can be a “Jamaicatalian” item such as Jumbo Shrimp on a sugar cane skewer flambeed with Appleton in a wine herb sauce.
Meat dishes can include a Rack of Lamb, a Roasted Duck with a wild Orange liqueur sauce or a Chicken stuffed with seasoned Callaloo and mozzarella in a Chardonnay sauce.
For desert, there is a wide range in offering, but including classics like Tiramisu’. At Toscanini there is homemade Swiss Chocolate sauce Profiteroles or a Lemongrass Panna Cotta served with a compote of local blackberries from a neighbouring farm (Joya Hairs farm).
By tradition, white wine is served with fish and seafood. Today, light bodied reds, such as a New World wine also can be an accompaniment and again at Toscanini, the range is limitless.
It is typical to have red, white and green settings in Italian restaurants. At Toscanini you are exposed to “Jamaicatalian” setting. Natural food colours set on fine damask linens are used to compliment the al fresco garden setting. Toscanini colours – elegant bitter chocolate brown, butterscotch and pale lime are applied.
When it comes to utensils(flatware), eat from the outside in, as with most other restaurants.
- I am delighted to serve you. I have been a chef for over 10 years and I have worked in the finest of Jamaica's restaurants. I now teach cooking privately, as well as do private catering. I also take orders for items such as hams. I am going green in support of the green gold of Jamaica. Look out for my special smoothies coming soon. Meantime appease your appetite here. Click here to contact me. ...or email me here