Blue Plate Special: Italian chef lives passion for cooking through Gianni Fig’s

  • At Gianni Fig’s restaurant in South Deerfield, chef and owner Gianni Calabrese serves potato gnocchi with bacon-wrapped scallops in a parmesan nest, along with a fig old-fashioned. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gianni Calabrese of Gianni Fig’s restaurant in South Deerfield displays his finished potato gnocchi with bacon-wrapped scallops in a Parmesan nest. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gianni Calabrese of Gianni Fig’s restaurant tosses potato gnocchi in a marinara cream sauce. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gianni Calabrese of Gianni Fig’s restaurant takes bacon-wrapped scallops out of the oven. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gianni Calabrese of Gianni Fig’s restaurant in South Deerfield makes a Parmesan nest by sauteing Parmesan cheese and then forming it over a bowl. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gianni Calabrese of Gianni Fig’s restaurant in South Deerfield makes a Parmesan nest by sauteing Parmesan cheese and then forming it over a bowl. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • WEISBLAT

For the Recorder
Published: 12/11/2018 3:36:40 PM

Gianni Calabrese first arrived in the United States in 2002 from his native Italy, bringing with him a love for local food and a passion for cooking he inherited from his father.

Fifteen years later, Calabrese brought his passion to South Deerfield, opening the classic Italian restaurant Gianni Fig’s in August 2017.

“The restaurant business is stressful overall,” Calabrese said. “It can be challenging. But … it’s all I know how to do. If I didn’t do cooking, I would be lost.”

His Elm Street restaurant is in a location that will be familiar to lovers of fine dining in the area. It formerly housed local favorite eateries Sienna and MRKT.

Calabrese was working in Westfield when friends contacted him to let him know that the space in South Deerfield was available — and that the Greenfield area could use a good Italian restaurant. An emailed photo of the space helped convince him to give it a try.

Calabrese has redecorated the restaurant’s interior to feature earth tones; he installed the glass tiles that adorn the tables himself. It took him a while to gain a liquor license, but in April he was able to hire Adam Reed as his bar manager.

Reed presides over a long bar and seems to know how to make every cocktail imaginable, including a Fig Old Fashioned, a sweet yet potent cocktail.

Figs abound on the menu, in fact. When asked about the restaurant’s name, Calabrese explained he has a close friend who adores figs. The friend started calling him “Gianni Fig,” and the nickname stuck. It seemed like a lucky name for the new venture.

Calabrese grew up in the coastal town of Amalfi in Italy, where his father, a notable cook, emphasized the importance of local foods.

“My father made everything from A to Z,” the chef recalled.

He still proudly remembers the first dish he created himself: stuffed tomatoes that took advantage of his father’s range of produce.

Calabrese began working in the restaurant business in Italy at the age of 14 and eventually attended culinary school. His love of travel brought him to the United States. He fell in love with this country, however, and proudly became a citizen in September 2017, shortly after opening Gianni Fig’s.

Calabrese said he is pleased with the geographic range of his clientele, who come from local towns but also from the south and the north.

“People are getting to know us,” he said with a smile.

The chef offers special dishes and deals most days of the week, as well as a catering menu. He tries to use local foods and produce as much as possible.

The kitchen at Gianni Fig’s is small, but well organized. Calabrese moved comfortably around the space as he prepared one of his special dishes: a rich, delectable concoction of potato gnocchi and scallops in a nest made of Parmesan cheese.

“I really love to cook. That’s my passion,” he noted as he kneaded, cut, fried and stirred.

Gianni Fig’s Gnocchi with Scallops in a Parmesan Nest

Gnocchi ingredients:

1 lb. potatoes, boiled in salted water and put through a ricer

¾ cup all-purpose flour (plus a little more if needed)

1 egg yolk

2 pinches salt

½ tsp. cornstarch

Scallop ingredients:

4 large scallops wrapped in bacon

A high-smoke-point oil (peanut, vegetable or canola) as needed for frying

Pepper to taste

Parmesan nest ingredients:

Enough grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to cover the bottom of a 10-inch frying pan

Sauce ingredients:

1½ T butter

2 pinches semi-dry sage (If all you have is dry or fresh sage, you may use either.)

A small amount of salt and pepper

cup heavy cream (Calabrese prefers cream from Mapleline farm)

2 T high-quality marinara sauce

1 T grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

For assembly:

Bits of tomato and parsley for a colorful garnish

Begin by making the gnocchi. Mix its ingredients by hand in a medium bowl until you have a ball of dough that is firm but not hard. Add a little more flour if you need it.

Dust a board with flour, and knead the dough on the board for six to seven minutes. Shape the dough into a long cylinder about 2 inches wide.

Snip off a piece of the roll of dough, and roll it into a long snake. Cut the snake into small pieces (about ½ inch long). You may use the pieces for your gnocchi as they are or make little scallops in them with a fork to render them more decorative.

For this recipe, you will need only about 15 to 20 small pieces of gnocchi dough. Feel free to wrap and refrigerate the rest of the dough for future use.

Set the pieces of dough you intend to use aside while you prepare the scallops and the nest of cheese.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a small cast iron skillet over high heat on the stove, and splash oil onto the skillet. Sprinkle pepper over the scallops, and pop them into the skillet.

Leave them on the stove for a few seconds to heat up; then place the skillet in the oven. Bake the scallops until they are brown and crispy (about 15 minutes), turning them once.

To make the parmesan shell/nest, heat a 10-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. Cover the surface of the pan with the grated cheese.

Turn the flame down to low. When the edges of the cheese begin to turn light brown, carefully loosen the disk of cheese with a heat-proof silicone spatula and flip the cheese over. Cook the cheese briefly on the other side.

Carefully remove the cheese disk from the pan and invert it over an upside-down bowl to shape it. Place another bowl on top of the cheese to firm up the shape. Set the cheese aside to cool and harden. When it has cooled, remove the bowls and turn the nest upside-down so that it looks like a bowl.

In another skillet, begin the sauce. Melt the butter and add the sage, salt and pepper. Stir in the cream, followed by the marinara sauce. Bring this mixture to a boil, and boil it, stirring, for three minutes. Stir in the cheese. Turn off the heat, but leave the sauce in its skillet.

Boil the gnocchi in salted water. They will be ready when they float to the surface of the water; this is a very rapid process. Drain the gnocchi and add them to the sauce. Quickly sauté them over medium heat so that they absorb the sauce.

Place the saucy gnocchi in the cooled cheese nest, followed by the scallops. Garnish with tomato and parsley. Serves two.

Gianni Fig’s Fig Old-Fashioned

Ingredients:

1 shot Elijah Craig bourbon

1 shot Black fig-infused vodka

1 dash simple syrup

A couple of drops of orange bitters

Pieces of orange to taste

Maraschino cherries to taste

Combine the bourbon, vodka, simple syrup and bitters over ice in a cocktail shaker.

Muddle the orange bits in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass.

Add ice, pour in the liquid, and garnish with the cherries. Serves one generously.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.




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