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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Main Dish

Chicken Parmesan

This is a dish I used to offer as a feature in the Crescent City Grill, and it made its way to the menu at Tabella. It’s one of the best-selling entrees on the menu, probably due to its universal appeal.

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Salt Crusted Fish

Salt-crusted fish is a time-honored recipe. The first time I was exposed to it was at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. One of the chefs there salt-crusted a salmon. Though the best salt-crusted fish I have ever eaten was a sea bass cooked at Da Romano on the island of Burano. Any restaurant that has hosted Ernest Hemingway and Keith Richards during their run is OK in my book. It reminded me of an Italian version of the New Orleans mainstay Galitoire’s. The salt-crusted sea bass, however, reminded me of nothing I have ever eaten before. Perfect.

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“Kids today want to eat their risotto with curry and shrimp and sour cream, not risotto alla Milanese, like they should, in my opinion.”— Mario Batali Add a teaspoon of saffron threads to the stock in this recipe and top the finished product with Parmigianino Reggiano and you’ll have Risotto Milanese.

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Pork Loin with Prunes

Preheat oven to 350. Using a paring knife, cut a slit in the top of the pork loin about 2”…

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Pork Ribs with Polenta

In the American South we eat shrimp and grits. In Tuscany they eat ribs and polenta. In the small hilltop village of Montefioralle, just above Greve, the village’s only restaurant serves ribs cooked over a wood fire and seasoned only with salt and pepper. Perfect. Simple. Beautiful. That preparation is nice if all one is eating is ribs. This is a typical Italian home-style preparation of ribs. These ribs are baked in a hearty tomato stock and are perfectly matched with polenta.

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I learned this dish from Giuliana at the Viola Club in Tavarnelle. The Viola Club is not even the name of this place, though that is what is on the sign outside. The sign refers to the Florence football team’s colors— purple. We were given several answers on the name of the place, “Acli,” “The Viola Bar,” and other designations we couldn’t understand. Most of the locals just call it “The Bar.” We called it The Viola Club because that is what is on the sign. The Viola Club is the local hangout serving breakfast and lunch. It’s run by a family— mom and wife in the kitchen, dad behind the bar, and son waiting tables. The food is good and unbelievably inexpensive. We ate there six times and they nailed the food every time. Paolo, the son, serves all of the tables. He is overworked and the service sometimes drags, but it’s not because he’s not working his tail off. Hiring two additional servers would be huge for this place, but I don’t know if there are any more family members in the bullpen. I spent one morning in The Viola Club kitchen with Paolo’s mom, Giuliana and his wife, Elizabeth. They cooked, I tried to decipher. It was a blast. The recipe I was researching was Peposo, which is basically Italian pot roast with a ton of pepper. I backed off of the pepper.

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Mushroom Risotto

Porcini is the mushroom of choice for this recipe. If fresh or dried porcinis aren’t available, substitute your favorite— the more exotic the mushroom, the more complex the flavor profile of the dish. Finish each bowl of risotto with grated Parmigianino Reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil as desired.

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I was never a fan of meatballs until I developed this recipe for the meatballs at Tabella. Every Italian mother uses a twist or extra step specific to her recipe. I am sure that most Italians who grew up with a mother who prepared meatballs like their mother’s version best. My mother didn’t make meatballs she cooked gumbo and curry (though not at the same time). So I grew up with an open mind as to what constituted a great-tasting meatball. This recipe is the result. There’s nothing complicated here. Just use the absolute best ground meats you can find.

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Manicotti Gratinati

This is a recipe I created in the early days of our Italian restaurant, Tabella. Xxxxxx was a sous chef from Cuba. He and I worked this recipe up one morning and by the time we were finished, and had taken the first bite, we were high fiving each other in the prep area. It is definitely an Americanized version of an Italian dish— the first giveaway is the number of steps and ingredients. Most true Italian dishes use minimal ingredients and are prepared simply. Nevertheless, I believe this recipe is worth the time and effort and is perfect for a dinner party when paired with the Tabella House Salad (see recipe).

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