Monday, February 28, 2011

Involtini at Caprese Restorante Italiano

I just got back from a brief 2-night trip to Ottawa. I was there for work, which it was such a quick visit. Sadly, I didn’t take in much of the sites as I got there in after 5pm on Thursday night and was immediately focused on what to have for dinner and what I would eat the next two days. So after getting settled in my hotel I went grocery shopping. Luckily for me, my suite had a kitchen in it. If I can, I don’t get one without, as it makes life way easier when travelling. I was also lucky that the little grocery store I went to had a gluten free isle, so I stocked up on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having to adjust to a 3-hour time change, I had to force myself to bed early. Especially for the early start the next day.

Friday was spent with work related stuff. It was an excellent day, but probably very boring to you! It stretched into a networking event at a local pub afterwards. Then it was supposed to move on to a restaurant that had a gluten free menu for dinner, but plans changed and the dinner portion of the evening was moved to a pub that I saw no chance of either being accommodating or free of cross contamination (due to a close inspection of the menu online). So when everyone else moved on to dinner, I did too … just not to the same place.

I decided to try a restaurant a little out of the way, but that would guarantee I didn’t get bloated after eating it. I went to a quaint little restaurant called “Caprese Restorante Italiano”. It is Ottawa’s only 100 percent gluten free restaurant. In fact it’s the first 100 percent gluten free restaurant I’ve come across yet. Yes, there are bakeries galore and a yummy café in Qualicum, but a full on restaurant? That’s unheard of.  This restaurant was small but nicely decorated and it felt warm and inviting. It seemed like there were definitely a few regulars and some new (and soon to be regulars themselves) customers as well.

The menu is mostly pasta based, being an Italian restaurant, but still had a few other options. Being 100 percent gluten free means everything is made 100 percent by scratch as well. I noticed that there were deep fried and breaded items on the menu and made sure to order one of them. Where else can you get such a thing and not worry about getting sick? So I started with Zucchini fritters. I followed that up with something called Involtini. It’s spinach and mozzarella stuffed inside a chicken breast and topped in peppercorn sauce. I’ve been eating a lot of pasta and wanted to try something else. I did not regret my decision one bit. The meal was delicious, it came with a whole mini loaf of bread drizzled in balsamic vinegar, and that peppercorn sauce was to die for.  I wish I could tell you what dessert was like but I was too full to have any. Many of the other couples that night were also too full and ordered their desserts to go. As I was going to be on a flight back to BC the next morning the to go option wasn’t really there, but I could have had crème caramel, torte or cheesecake.

After my meal, the chef came out and talked to the customers. He was very nice and told me all about the specials I hadn’t ordered (seafood cannelloni made with fresh lobster, scallops, blue cod and one other magical seafood ingredient that I’ve forgotten and the carrot strawberry soup). He also told me of his past working for the 5 star Hilton Hotels and his transition to opening a gluten free restaurant. He is not gluten free himself, but saw a niche market that hadn’t been taken. From his conversation you can tell that he takes great pride in his food and described the difficult process of finding a sous chef that was willing to make food from scratch. His efforts into making fabulous tasty food do not go unnoticed by his regular customers.  I only wish I was close enough to become a regular myself.

Upon return to Parksville, I decided that I had to try and mimic my fantastic meal in honour of Caprese. So that is what I set about to do. I think I did a good job of making something tasty, but the sauce just wasn’t the same as at the restaurant. I’ll have to find out his trick, but this will do for now!


4 chicken breasts
4 slices of mozzarella cheese
1 bunch of fresh spinach
½ cup (lactose free) milk in small bowl
½ almond meal in small bowl
½ cup butter
¼ cup sweet rice flour
¼ cup quinoa flour
½ cup white wine
2 cups (lactose free) milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
generous helping of ground peppercorn to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray 9x13” pan with Pam and set aside. On a dedicated meat cutting board, pound chicken breasts flat with a meat tenderizer or with plastic wrap and a rolling pin.  Cover each half of the chicken with a slice of cheese and a handful of fresh spinach.  Fold the other side of the chicken on top. Hold together and dip in milk and then coat in almond meal. Transfer to baking pan. Pour just enough water in the pan to cover the entire bottom of the pan. This will help keep the chicken moist and any melted cheese from getting too stuck on the pan. Bake for 45 minutes.

While the chicken is baking you can prepare the sauce. Start with butter and melt in a medium sized saucepan until foamy. Then add all flour at once. Stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until well mixed. Add in whine and cook for 3-4 minutes on low-med.  Turn up the heat and add 2 cups of milk. Stir frequently. Once it starts to thicken, turn down the temperature and stir occasionally. Add in nutmeg and ground peppercorn.

Once the chicken is baked, plate it and coat in sauce. 

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