Optimize ingredients you have on hand
It’s certainly important to consider and sample new items to incorporate into our menu to keep our customer base excited and interested. Although I do think it’s critical to periodically introduce new dishes, it’s not always necessary to bring in new ingredients. All too often we overlook the obvious –– existing inventory we already have. I know that I’ve said it over the years that when creating a menu, try to use your ingredients in as many places as you can, but now I want you to take a look at some of your basic ingredients and together, we’ll find new and exciting ways to create something fresh for your menu while increasing your rate of return with your current customer base.
Let’s take a look at some everyday ingredients and see what can be done with them. I’ll bet you use garlic in your restaurant. I use so much garlic and love it so much that I named my restaurant after it –– The Garlic Clove. I know it’s easy to use granulated garlic and I use some as well, but purchasing peeled garlic cloves adds a greater flavor. We chop some pretty fine in the food processor with a little bit of oil and use it in so many different recipes. I process it fine enough to then put into a squeeze bottle with a large enough opening to use on pizza and in sauté dishes, soups and sauces. You can also lightly coat garlic cloves with olive oil and slowly roast them in the oven. The first benefit is the aroma for all to enjoy; but, once garlic is roasted, it becomes tender and the natural sugars come out, so it’s not as abrasive as raw garlic. We served three cloves of roasted garlic in some olive oil to our guests for them to mash into the oil with their fork and dip their bread into. Customers feel like you’ve given them a pot of gold! The roasted garlic can be blended with butter to make a roasted garlic butter for use on bread, grilled chicken or steak, and it’s awesome as a pizza topper.
Spinach is also a favorite ingredient, and I don’t think it should ever be sautéed without garlic. They belong together. Most operators use spinach as a pizza topping, but I have come to find out that many use frozen chopped spinach. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d like you to consider switching to fresh baby spinach. This product is so much more user friendly than the spinach we used to buy with big thick stems that had to be removed, and was very sandy and needed to be thoroughly washed. Now it comes washed and ready to use. I love using fresh spinach on pizza (it’s important to make sure that it is under the cheese so it doesn’t burn). It’s a great addition as a spinach salad, or to add to our normal offerings like garden, Caesar, chef and Greek salads.
I top our spinach salad with sliced red onion, crumbled hard boiled eggs, fresh bacon bits, dried cranberries and goat cheese rolled in crushed pistachio nuts and finely minced sundried tomatoes. Serve it with the customers’ dressing of choice. We recommend our slightly sweet honey–poppyseed dressing. Spinach is great in a spinach artichoke dip, in sauté dishes, pasta dishes and even on sandwiches. We sell an eggplant Florentine with breaded or grilled eggplant, sautéed spinach and roasted red pepper with honey mustard on our homemade focaccia bread and melted provolone. It’s an amazing sandwich, even if you’re not a vegetarian!
What are you using for bread in your restaurant? Even if you’re simply using sub rolls, you need to stretch that beyond sandwiches. Like me, I’m sure you want to use the freshest bread, and we all get frustrated when an employee forgets to close the package or container or when it simply gets a day or so too old and they lose their freshness. Don’t make the mistake of throwing away the bread and spending money on croutons for salad. With a serrated bread knife, cube it, drizzle a little melted butter or oil over them with a little garlic salt and bake them at about 300 F until they are dried out and crisp. These make perfect croutons for salad and soup. Also consider drying out your bread and then grinding it into breadcrumbs to be used for breading your eggplant or chicken, or even to be used in your homemade meatball. I used to have so much leftover bread that I started making bread pudding, which added a brand new top-selling dessert!
Fresh tomatoes are certainly ingredients we all use in salads and on our sandwiches, but why stop there? Why not alternate sliced tomatoes with fresh soft mozzarella on a bed of spring mix with some fresh basil for a wonderful Caprese salad? How about dicing your ripe tomatoes and tossing them with some freshly chopped garlic, a drizzle of olive oil salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar and a dollop of pesto for a simple bruschetta to be served with some toasted or grilled bread? This is yet one more use for your day-old rolls.
Great northern or cannellini beans are very inexpensive and may be kicking around your pantry. Yes, they are perfect in soups, but why not use them for something I call Italian hummus? Drain your beans, place them in a food processor, drizzle a little olive oil and add minced fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Blend it until it is smooth and serve with toast points. This will be great to accompany our bruschetta tomatoes.
One more quick idea: Take the green, black and kalamata olives you have and add some capers, fresh garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. Course chop in the food processor — and you now have a homemade olive tapenade, which can also be served with toast points, spread on a sandwich or tossed with a pasta dish. Use these easy ideas to quickly add to your menu and take it to the next level!
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.