Toscanini: Spicing up with a new summer menu
Chef Charles Hays is fresh off the farm.
Hays spent early summer studying on an organic farm and restaurant in southern Italy. He’s returned with several culinary urges and in effect, a new rustic Italian menu for Toscanini in Beaver Creek.
“It is learning to cook from the ground to the plate,” Hays said.
At the farm, growers make everything from honey to olive oil. They raise and butcher ducks and chickens, and fresh eggs are always available.
Hays utilizes southern Italy’s quick sauce concept. Opposed to heavy sauces that need to simmer, quick sauces can be made fresh. Hays orrecchiette ($18) dish is a great example.
Named “little pig’s ear” after its shape, orrecchiette is tossed with whole roasted butternut squash, fava beans, mint and then topped with grated pecorino romano. The sauce is made from a basic vegetable stock and the water used to cook the pasta. The starchy water thickens the sauce. The simple sauce allows the fresh vegetables to speak for themselves.
“I don’t like to drown out the natural flavor. I like to leave my dishes light and healthy,” Hays said.
The mint is unexpected, but serendipitous.
“Not many people use mint in pasta, but it was something I saw, and it works,” Hays said.
Hays retained one of Toscanini’s signature dishes, but tweaked it just a bit. The baked four cheese penne ($22) with house-made sausage, spinach and marinara has a spicy kick to it. It’s the most indulgent of the pasta dishes, but my plate was clean at the end of the sitting. All the pasta is homemade.
The entrees are rustic as well. Hays feels he doesn’t need a lot of ingredients because the ones he does use are the utmost quality.
The filet, cooked perfectly, with pancheta mashed potatoes, port marinated roasted shallots and creamy horseradish sauce ($34) is a staple.
“The horseradish goes with the sweetness of the wine sauce,” Hays said.
I also recommend the costolette, Salmon Creek grilled pork chop, with potato gnocchi, grilled artichokes and onion-thyme sauce ($27).
Hays also picked up dough-making in southern Italy. He’ll be baking focaccia and pizza in the oven at Toscanini.
Italy has refreshed Hays ” the proof is in his new menu.