During the past 25 years, many requests have arrived for recipes from eating establishments, not only in or near Madison, but on occasion, out of state as well. Being prepared at all times, credibility is established by having a portfolio kept in the car with copies of past columns to share with owners and chefs. While understanding the value of keeping signature recipes a secret, I’m delighted when I can share a reader favorite.
That’s why I decided to speak up recently while visiting Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Panama City Beach, Florida. Because of having something in common as offspring of Sicilian immigrants, there must have been a little magic in the air at my favorite restaurant on the beach when my husband and I were seated and began to study the menu that always intrigued us with authentic, handmade recipes passed down for more than four generations.
After finishing our meal, I confessed to being a food columnist in Madison, Wisconsin, and I asked for a recipe to feature in my column. After a few minutes of behind the scene conversations, their chef approached me with a smile and Carrabba’s No. 1 favorite, Chicken Bryan.
Already owning two of their hardcover CIAO! cookbooks, “CIAO y’all”and “CIAO Sicily” with recipes from their PBS series “Cucina Amore,” I already had important information back home to share about the families of Houston, Texas owners, Johnny Carrabba and Damian Mandola that began in Cefalu, Sicily, to pass through Louisiana before settling in neighboring Texas. I knew the books were a treasure when the first recipe I turned to happened to be for a Sicilian-style pizza we Sicilians know as faccia di vecchia or sfincione. Amen.
The success of their passion for Sicilian food today finds Carrabba’s restaurants located throughout the country, two being close by in Milwaukee that I haven’t had the opportunity to visit, but soon will.
Unfortunately, when I returned home the Chicken Bryan recipe left me with a few questions. I’ll try to get those answered so the recipe can be shared in the future. In the meantime, here are a few other Carrabba’s recipes their Panama City Beach restaurant thought you’d enjoy.
Lemon garlic grilled zucchini
4 zucchini, sliced
Juice of one lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Parsley for garnish
Place sliced zucchini, lemon juice, chopped garlic and olive oil in a large freezer bag to mix.
Allow zucchini to marinate for 30+ minutes in the refrigerator for best flavor. Place zucchini on heated grill pan and grill 2-3 minutes on each side, or until zucchini is cooked to your preference. Garnish with parsley.
Using 1 loaf stale rustic Italian bread or French bread:
Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Take stale leftover bread and cut into cubes. Spread stale bread cubes evenly on a sheet pan and put pan into the oven. Let bake for about 45 minutes until very dry and light brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Place bread crumbs in a food processor and grind very fine. Place bread crumbs in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the pantry.
3 cups homemade breadcrumbs
2 cups finely-grated Pecorino Romano cheese
6 green onions, finely chopped
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
ª cup finely-chopped fresh basil
½ tablespoon kosher salt
½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. To store, refrigerate in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag. This is perfect for most recipes calling for breadcrumbs.
Makes about 7 cups.
While Italian recipes continue to rank as a favorite, and considering summer’s favorite vegetables now growing to ripen in backyard gardens, here is a simple and delicious item from Phyllis Meras’ book, “The New Carry-Out Cuisine” featuring tested food items often available on outdoor street corners and shops like Fettuccine Brothers in San Francisco and Bob Battaglia.
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, halved vertically and cut into ½-inch wedges
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium fresh tomatoes, seeded and cut into 2-inch wedges
2 medium green peppers, cut into ½-inch-wide strips
2 medium sweet red peppers, cut into ½-inch-wide strips
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves, or 2 tablespoons dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan and add onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Cover the pan and cook vegetables for 5 minutes. Add peppers, basil, and salt and pepper to taste and cook mixture for 5 minutes longer. Serve at room temperature as a salad or leave hot and toss with hot pasta. Note: For a heartier entrée, add 1 can of tuna, drained, or 1 cup of cooked and sliced Italian sausage. Serves 4 to 6.
Also, when using fresh garlic and slicing each clove, if there is a tiny green “stem” in the center of the clover, remove and toss to prevent a bitter taste.