Chef Tony Mantuano
Chef Tony Mantuano

Tony Mantuano

F&W Star Chef » See All F&W Chef Superstars Restaurants: Spiaggia, Terzo Piano (Chicago) What’s your signature dish? Gnocchi in a ricotta cream sauce with black truffles. We can’t take that off the menu, we’ve tried. What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself? Pizza, including making the dough from scratch. I was probably in high school when I first tried it. If you take the time to let it rise properly, it can be such an easy thing to make. It’s also so satisfying. It makes you feel like it’s worth the calories and the time it takes to make. Who is your food mentor? My grandma from Calabria in southern Italy. Anything you had at her house was so flavorful you never forgot it. The way she cooked—and it’s true of all Italian cuisine—is that the fewer ingredients the better. Her tomato sauce was tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and pork neck bones. A little dusting of Pecorino Romano, and that’s Calabria on a plate. What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook? You need to understand how important browning is to flavor. Take the pork neck bone recipe from my grandmother. If the bones weren’t well browned or the garlic wasn’t perfectly golden, it wouldn’t have the same flavor. To be able to deglaze that pan to lift up all those brown flavorful bits, that’s a huge part of cooking. Best-bang-for-your-buck ingredient? Great fresh olive oil. It’s not the most affordable ingredient, but it can really change a dish, and elevate a dish, whether you’re finishing with it or cooking with it. Current food obsession? Tapas. I’m really craving that. The city that has great Spanish food right now, other than in Spain of course, is London. Barrafina is great, and a place called Tapas Brindisa. Best-bang-for-the-buck food trip: Where would you go and why? Miami. There’s a group there called Pubbelly that’s really good. There’s a little shrimp shack called La Camaronera where I had these grouper cheeks on the bone—I’d never seen them before, and they were incredible. And there’s so much great ethnic food there. What is the most cherished souvenir you’ve brought back from a trip? Truffle slicers. When you’re traveling in Italy you can get some really unusual ones. We picked one up that looks like an owl, that’s really cool. What’s your talent, besides cooking? I was a music major in college, before I realized I liked cooking more. Even though I haven’t picked up my trombone in 30 years, I keep telling myself I’m going to do it. If you could invent an imaginary restaurant project, what would it be? I would like to do something that serves dishes that were historically important to Chicago over the past couple of hundred years, using products from this area, like lake perch and frog legs. Not reinvent the wheel, but do them correctly, like shrimp Dijon and beautiful prime rib. If you were facing an emergency, and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring? Great olive oil, great balsamic, flour, good Parmesan, and honey from Mieli Thun in Italy, which is the most incredible monofloral honey. They have chestnut honey, artichoke honey. It’s made by this nomadic beekeeper who takes the bees to wherever certain flowers are blossoming. What is your favorite snack? I’m a real sucker for Cape Cod potato chips. There’s also a cheese made in Wisconsin called brick cheese. Some of that sliced really thinly, with Cape Cod potato chips and a cold beer would satisfy all the senses.
No-Cook Summer Tomato Sauce
Rating: Unrated
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This incredibly simple tomato sauce is Chicago chef Tony Mantuano’s secret weapon in the summer. He marinates peak season tomatoes with olive oil, basil and shallots before spooning the over grilled fish or piling it on grilled bread. Tony also loves to toss the sauce with chopped fresh mozzarella, cooked pasta and olive oil. Slideshow:  More Tomato Recipes 
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White Cheese Pizza with Ramps
Rating: Unrated
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The name Chicago comes from the Algonquin word chicagoua, which some historians say means "ramp"—a wild onion with a delicious garlicky flavor. That's one reason Chicago chefs like Tony Mantuano feel a sentimental attachment to the pungent spring plant. (Scallions are also great substitutes.) More Pizza Recipes
Tony Mantuano created this recipe, also adapted from Wine Bar Food, in homage to the Calçotada in Spain. The Catalan festival celebrates the harvest of calçots, which are slender onions similar to baby leeks. After peeling the charred outer layers, festival-goers dip the softened onions in a vibrant romesco sauce, which Mantuano makes with sweet red bell peppers. "It's fantastic," Mantuano recalls. "Everyone has black fingers from the char."
In this recipe, adapted from Wine Bar Food by Tony Mantuano and his wife, Cathy, lush ricotta-filled crêpes bake in a rich marinara sauce. Plus:  F&W's Ultimate Italian Cooking Guide 
For these delicious roast pork sandwiches, Chicago chef Tony Mantuano spreads a rub of garlic and spicy Aleppo pepper on boneless pork shoulder or pork leg. Slideshow:  More Tasty Sandwiches