It’s not everyday you get to pick a chef’s brain.
I did when I sat down recently with Executive Chef Debbie Frangipane to talk about her new venture at Della’s After Dark. It’s located at 608 Oakfield Drive in the same space as Della’s Delectables, a Brandon breakfast and lunch tradition for the past 25 years.
Taking full advantage of the opportunity, I was eager to learn everything about how she makes menu selections, what inspires her and why on earth my marinara sauce always turns out watery.
Debbie took over the helm at Della’s After Dark in February, about six months after it closed when Chef Alex DellaGrotta moved to Colorado.
She told me she wasn’t looking to open a restaurant. She was quite happy working at Armani’s in Tampa, where she assumed she’d be until she retired. But she confessed the thought of owning a place of her own had crossed the deep corners of her mind once or twice.
So when this opportunity knocked, she took it.
Della’s After Dark combines the best of French and Italian cuisine. It all comes together in a quiet, simply decorated dining room with few airs or pretensions.
A southern gal – Alabaman and Texan to be exact – Debbie may be more well known for her Bolognese and Manicotti, cherished recipes handed down three generations from her husband’s Italian-rooted family, but she considers herself an “equal opportunity food lover.”
A sampling of the menu shows starters of grilled Caesar salad, caprese salad and onion soup. Entrees include steak au poivre; pan-seared salmon drizzled with beurre rouge; lamb lollipops with Kalamata olive pate and saffron risotto; shrimp stuffed with ground pork wrapped in bacon; and pastas.
Very few restaurants make the pastas they serve. I’ve read even the expensive northern Italian gourmet palaces generally purchase their pastas.
Yet at her modest storefront bistro, Debbie makes all of its pastas, crepes and desserts from scratch. I was especially impressed by the fact that she grinds her own meats, using a blend of three different types, and then bacon and mirepoix.
Anyone expecting a sweet punctuation to the meal won’t be disappointed.
Della’s After Dark offers three good choices among desserts: flourless chocolate cake with fresh raspberries, Chambord whipped cream and white wine raspberry puree; ricotta pear chocolate torte; and a sponge cake drizzled with sweet Marsala wine and stuffed with cannoli filling and topped with lemon mascarpone gelato and pistachio brittle.
But back to my marinara dilemma.
I told Debbie I have yet to make a marinara sauce that doesn’t taste good; however, it always seems to separate somewhat once I plate dinner. She said the solution might be simple.
She suggested I try under-cooking the pasta, and then transfer it straight from the pot of boiling water into the cooking marinara sauce. The pasta will keep on cooking, absorbing the sauce and water at the same time.
She added that in case the pasta isn’t cooked or the sauce becomes too dry, add some of the boiling pasta water to help it cook until perfetto!
Della’s After Dark is open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturdays. Reservations are recommended.
For more information or reservations, call (813) 684-3354 or visit www.dellasafterdark.com.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist and blogger. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel or look for her blog at www.lynnkessel.blogspot.com.
POLENTA WITH HERBS
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup polenta
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped sage
2 tablespoons fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
In a saucepan, saute the olive oil, garlic and shallots until the aroma of the garlic and shallots are strong, about 2 minutes at medium heat. Add chicken broth and let come to a boil. Once the broth has come to a boil, in a slow stream add the polenta, stir constantly with a whip.
Once completely blended and it has begun to thicken, add the cream and blend thoroughly. Add goat cheese and stir.
In a separate pan, melt butter and add herbs. Let herbs sit in butter for about 30 seconds to a minute and add to the polenta mixture. Stir completely. Add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, stir again and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.