A TASTING PRESENTATION of Herb Gnocchi Provencal is a side dish favorite of Compass Group's Chris Ivens-Brown.
"Side dishes are crucial to plate presentation, because they are often what provides the color to enhance the whole dish," states Chris Ivens-Brown, vice president of culinary development for Compass Group North America and executive chef for the company's Bank of America fine dining account in Charlotte, NC. "There's a lot of brown in the protein element, so sides are good for bringing in reds and greens and oranges."
One of Ivens-Brown's favorite sides is an herb gnocchi provencal, which pairs the little, plump, Italian potato dumplings with a flavorful splash of tomato-red salsa full of fresh herbs, onions, eggplant and a zing of hot pepper sauce (see recipe).
"I like it because gnocchi is really an under-utilized side," he says. "Some people hesitate to make gnocchi because they think it's somewhat daunting, but it's actually quite easy to do."
What's more, he notes, gnocchi is the perfect side for today's customers, since, when made correctly, it's "actually lighter than many other starches." True gnocchi, Ivens-Brown explains, "should be light, fluffy, little pillows cooked to a golden brown—not a heavy splotch on the plate. People are always surprised at how light they can be."
Because operators have to juggle so many differing diet needs among customers now, Ivens-Brown finds one of the most successful approaches is to offer "little tastings and side dishes of lots of different choices" from which diners can pick. "With little bites and smaller portions, customers can control what they eat and still enjoy a wide variety of foods," he says.
Keeping sides simple broadens their appeal to a greater number of customers, too.
"When in season, just presenting a mix of heirloom green, yellow, striped and cherry tomatoes on their own with a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs is a wonderful side that can fit into just about any eating program. For customers who want them, different cheeses can be added."
Serving tomatoes hot is another option, "and simply baking, stewing, roasting or grilling them with herbs brings out the freshness of the product itself," he suggests.
At Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Chef Anthony Kveragas, CEC, has built a diverse and popular side dish repertoire by eliciting family recipes from staff members, some of whom hail from Laos, Burma, Cuba, China and Pakistan, among other countries.
One particularly favorite recipe of both customers and workers ("half goes to the staff as soon as we make it") is the Fong Zheng Yam Noodle Salad created by Team Leader Heng Xue (see recipe). Kveragas explains: "She infuses the rich ancestry of her mom's Muslim cooking techniques with the street foods of her hometown of Kunming, China, to create this and other innovative foods." Made with dried, vermicelli-like yam noodles (available from Asian grocery stores or suppliers), and flavored with fresh garlic, ginger, green onions and roasted red peppers, the salad is "a really unique option, with a nice texture and lower carb profile than pasta salad," he claims.
For a quick way to add interest and spice up a side of fresh soybeans, Kveragas sautÈs in a little Szechuan pepper or jalapeÒo and serves them hot or cold. To add variety to grain selections, a Saiy Minted Barley Salad offers the distinct texture of barley balanced with the colorful and refreshing taste of mint. Exotic and unusual, the dish is actually quick to prepare, since it's put together using several types of frozen vegetables.
PRESENTATION VALUE: Tomato shells make this medley of rice and vegetables into a price point builder.
A Rice, Grains and More Bar
To highlight side dishes in all their glory, Director of Food Services Richard Robinson of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago has created a separate, self-serve bar just for sides. It's dubbed the Rice, Grains & More Bar, and features several daily selections that run the gamut from Asian Sesame Noodles and Waldorf Couscous to "Bean Bourguignon," Mint Millet Cucumber Garbanzo Salad, Asparagus Risotto and Apple Cinnamon Rice Pilaf (see recipe).
Customers can make a full lunch or dinner of sides, using the nine-inch combo plate ($2.95) or seven-inch entrÈe plate ($2.25), or they may merely choose a...well, side plate (six inches, at $1.25). By keeping most of the selections vegetarian, and mixing in plenty of global choices, Robinson aims to appeal to the widest circle of customers.
"We've had the bar for about two years now, and it's very well used," he reports. "Customers are still excited about it. We have a lot of variety and a lot of recipes that we keep changing up so it stays fresh."
Stealing the Show
The number one selling item at JP's Chop House in the West End Market at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg is, of all things, a side dish. But it's not just any side dish; it's Executive Chef Mark Bratton's Garlic Mashed Potatoes that still, six years after they originally debuted, reel in the customers with the wide-wafting scent of roasting whole garlic cloves and the prospect of seeing the potatoes made fresh on the line (see recipe).
"We do about 600 orders of the garlic mashed potatoes a day," says Bratton, who has to cook up 225 pounds of spuds daily to meet the demand. (The Atkins diet clearly stands no chance when confronted with the comfort of Bratton's potatoes.)
One key to their appeal is that the mashed potatoes are batched in small amounts of about 15 to 20 pounds at a time, and made continually in front of the customers throughout the day. "We steam the potatoes whole, put them in the mixer with fresh milk, liquid margarine, roasted garlic and salt and pepper, and take care not to over blend, so we don't stretch the starch," Bratton explains. "It's a subtle thing, but it works, and the students really consume the heck out of it."
To view the recipes that appeared with this article, click here:
side dish recipes