Indulging in Italian dining isn’t quite how many folks would consider keeping their resolutions to dine healthier in the New Year. However, it’s important to remember that Italian cooking varies greatly from region to region, and dining lighter can simply be a matter of drawing inspiration from a different region of Italy for either dining out or cooking at home in the Italian style.

Jay Smith, Executive Chef at Carrabba’s Italian Grill explains: “Authentic Italian cuisine is very regionalized. In the North, it is more indulgent with creams and proteins. In the South, food is prepared with olive oil, tomato and often citrus-such as lemon. It reflects what is available in the area. In America, which is a melting pot, Italian cooking has been influenced by other cultural eating habits which include enjoying larger meals with proteins. There is a trend to moving back to more authentic, elemental food preparation and that is why our new menu offers guests the classic dishes they love and new dishes that are lighter and made with fresh ingredients. And true to Italian cooking, it is all made from scratch in an open kitchen.”

New features include dishes such as a savory cioppino with loads of fresh seafood and lighter versions of favorites such as grilled chicken wings spiced up with Calabrian peppers, and a new chianti chicken entrée. Examiner.com recently visited Carrabba’s to sample some of the new entrees, and it’s safe to say that if you haven’t been to Carrabba’s in a while. Plenty of the old favorites are still around but there are new small plates to savor with a lighter touch, such as grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and fontina cheese with a balsamic drizzle. Carrabba’s also offers a gluten-free baste for meats, for those diners who must restrict or eliminate gluten from their diet.

For those who are good on gluten, Chef Smith also shared some insight on the age-old question – debated with much passion today, even by Italians: Fresh pasta, or dried? “It really depends on the dish,” he explains. “We use both fresh and dried pasta at Carrabba’s. For a creamy dish like Fettuccini Alfredo, the silkiness of fresh pasta is a perfect pair. For dishes that are heartier like Bolognese, dried pasta is a great complement because it is more firm and can hold up better.”

For those wanting to recreate a Carrabba’s Italian experience at home, Chef Smith offers the following tips:

Get the salt right. For every gallon of water, you should use one ounce of salt. Also, wait until your water is at a boil before adding it. This will keep the bottom of the pot from forming white spots.

Serve al dente pasta (al dente roughly means “firm to tooth”). Overcooking pasta is one of the most common mistakes to avoid. Pasta should be cooked to order. In Italy there is saying that you should not put your pasta in the water until your guests are in their seats. Using a large enough pot and enough water will also keep your pasta from becoming too starchy.

The ingredients are the hero. Use simple, fresh, high quality ingredients and season at every step. Create layers of flavor to ensure dishes have a proper balance. At Carrabba’s our new menu uses quality ingredients with more simple, but delicious dishes.

Be prepared. Stage your prep items ahead of time. It will help you make a better dish and you’ll enjoy cooking more.

Grazie, Chef!

Check out the author’s Instagram for more on the recent visit. Some meals were provided by Carrabba’s in preparation for this story.

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