UConn Dining takes Greek food seriously, paying tribute to tradition while at the same time coming up with plenty of cool new twists. Gyros, spanakopita (spinach pastries), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava are all staples across several venues on the University of Connecticut campus.
“A couple years ago we did a baklava contest between all the campus chefs,” says Robert Landolphi, chef/assistant director of culinary operations.
Chefs brought their baklava creativity to the competition, and all kinds of baklavas—including a savory version with rosemary—were sampled and voted on by students. The winner was a candy-inspired baklava with Heath Bar crumbles that’s now a signature UConn dessert item and a go-to for catering.
Dolmades—while labor-intensive—are a grab-and-go sensation at UConn. (See Chef’s Secret, at right). The leaves are stuffed with a super savory blend of rice, onions, garlic, olive oil, diced fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and lots of fresh dill. They’re served cold in snack boxes and can be garnished with crumbled feta and olives.
The school’s “American-ized” chicken-ranch gyro was created by a chef from the Middle East who thought it would be a hit. He was right!
“He said, ‘Why don’t we Americanize it?’ He added grilled chicken breast, bacon crumbles, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and a little ranch, all rolled up on a flatbread,” Landolphi says. “We wrap the bottom half in foil, so it’s like you just bought it off a street vendor. The kids love it.”
Chef secret: Grape Leaf Hack
UConn Chef Robert Landolphi has a trick for prepping Greek dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) that gets them ready to roll and gets the brine off at the same time. “Put the leaves in a bowl, then rinse and soak them in water. Lift them out and let them dry flat on a sheet pan. Then they’ll be ready to stuff,” Landolphi says.
Everybody Loves Hummus
Hummus is said to have originated in Egypt, but many parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean lay claim to the creamy chickpea dip that everyone seems to love. It’s a favorite dish at Phillips Exeter Academy, a private secondary school in New Hampshire, and fits perfectly into the school’s menu philosophy. Exeter is one of the few high schools taking part in The Culinary Institute of America’s Menus of Change (MOC) project. MOC principles include sustainability and plant-based food.