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Tastes From the Kitchen – La Cantina

La Cantina Ristorante Italiano is a Kalamazoo institution. Family-owned and operated, this lively restaurant has been a part of the community for over eight decades. Ava Plaszczak, who co-owns the restaurant with Tony, Emilio and matriarch Norma Dacoba, proudly relates that they often host events for the grandchildren of some of their original customers. Being a part of the fabric of Kalamazoo’s dining landscape is incredibly important to this tight-knit family. So important, in fact, that Norma Dacoba (who is 95 years young) still makes her daily rounds at the restaurant. While most women who have made it to her age are enjoying some well-earned rest, Norma prefers to mingle with the guests who have become like extended family.

The family is proud of its Italian roots and the recipes, some of which date back to the 1936 opening of the restaurant, are inspired by the cuisine of Ava’s grandparents’ home regions of Naples, Campagna and Calabria in Italy. Many items on the menu feature her grandparents’ famous La Cantina Red Wine Vinegar…either to dress a salad or reduced to make the agrodolce sauce or glaze featured in their Chicken La Cantina or the Salmon Mediterranean.

Ava describes the restaurant as a friendly, family atmosphere in a lovely natural setting. Guests enjoy the festive, convivial feel of LaCantina and the beautiful, bustling patio overlooks scenic waterfalls for an ambience that’s hard to beat. While the food is excellent and the atmosphere welcoming, it’s the feeling of community that brings customers back year after year. The family and the staff try to treat each diner like a member of the extended Dacoba clan. This, and the fact that all the food is handmade with care, is what has allowed them to thrive for over 80 years in an industry famous for short-lived establishments.

Emilio Dacoba is typically in charge of recipe formulations and once he has perfected a dish the cooks are meticulously trained to recreate it to look, smell and taste the way it should be. The family is dedicated to staying true to the roots that has made La Cantina so successful but is always mindful to tweak and update items to suit the palates of today’s patrons. Ava and her family have graciously shared their recipe for Pollo Da Vinci for those who would like to recreate this popular dish for themselves.

Pollo Da Vinci RECIPE FROM LA CANTINA

  • 2 oz. olive oil
  • 4 oz. shredded, roasted chicken
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
  • ½ tsp. black ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg.
  • ¼ C. Artichoke hearts
  • ¼ C. broccoli
  • 1 T. fresh or frozen peas
  • ¼ C. fresh diced tomatoes
  • ¼ C. sliced fresh green and red bell peppers
  • ¼ C. sliced fresh purple onion
  • ½ C. fresh baby Portobello mushrooms
  • ¼ C. fresh sliced zucchini
  • ¾ C. heavy cream
  • ½ C. shredded Parmesan cheese
  • ½ C. grated Romano cheese
  • Cooked Fettucine noodles
  • Truffle oil (optional)

Heat olive oil in a hot sauté pan and then add chicken, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg. When the garlic is soft add artichoke hearts, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, peppers, purple onion, mushrooms and zucchini and sauté until slightly golden brown. Slowly add heavy cream to the pan and let reduce until thickened and creamy. To finish and further thicken the sauce, add Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Let the sauce come to a soft, rolling boil. Vegetables should still be somewhat al dente. Remove from heat. Add cooked fettuccini noodles (lightly salted) and toss. If desired, add 2 tsp. of high quality Truffle oil, toss and serve. The truffle oil will add a wonderful earthiness to the sauce. Delicioso!

TIPS AND TRICKS:

  • Experiment with different spices and favor profiles.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix savory and sweet.
  • Use quality ingredients, local and in season when available.
  • Be creative; you don’t always have to follow a recipe.
  • If you make the people you’re feeding HAPPY, you know you’re doing it right!

Erica Shier is a married mother of four who loves reading, scrapbooking & thrift stores. When she’s not driving her small pack of children around, she spends her time volunteering, writing & trying to keep on top of the laundry.

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