The Taste: Piazza Italian Market
Sep 29, 2015 01:53PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Story and Photography by Rita Calvert
Nestled in a plaza square of Easton, Piazza Italian Market is an extraordinary favored spot by locals and visitors alike. As an Italian herself, Gail Greco, a dear friend and writer for What’s Up? Eastern Shore, has great appreciation for Piazza and says it beautifully, “Piazza Italia is a European gem. Quality not quantity. Shopping in this negozio piccolo is as if stepping into a street side shop in a small town in Italy. Easton is a sweet town and I think Piazza is one example of how special it is.” When visiting, I chatted with Emily Chandler and had a chance to learn about the Old World Italian concept and sample the Piatti Pronti program in the scrumptious Chicken Valdostana (recipe given)… absolutely delightful!
How did you come to open Piazza Italian Market? How did the Italian concept evolve?I knew that I wanted to have a career in the food business and I took several different jobs in the industry. I worked in food manufacturing, farming, catering, and nonprofit for the advocation of heritage foods. It wasn't until I worked at the Bedford Cheese Shop in New York, that I found my niche. I knew that I wanted to own my own specialty food store and I was inspired by the shops I had visited in Italy.
What is Piazza Italian Market best known for?We are known for our deli case and it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. The case houses our meats and cheeses which make the panini and the dinners we have are so flavorful and therefore...so popular. We have things in our case that are hard to find elsewhere—even in other urban areas. Many of our customers tell us that they can’t get prosciutto like ours over in Washington or Baltimore.
What is your concept of “Piatti Pronti”?Piatti Pronti are our dinners to go. They are ready-to-eat meals that we make for you to take home and heat. They’re convenient, more wholesome, and better-tasting than a dinner from the supermarket. They’ve also become popular as a gift to take to friends who just moved or are feeling under the weather. We’re very excited about having the opportunity to cook good food for our customers.
What is the breakdown/percentage of each type of your retail: catering, restaurant, products?Dry groceries make up about 30 percent of our sales; our panini, prepared foods, and deli products each account for about 20 percent of our sales. We’re a pretty diverse store and the same foods weave through multiple sales departments. For example, the prosciutto or Fontina for sale in our deli case is the same as what we use to make sandwiches and dinners. We want to make sure that there is the same high level of quality in everything we sell.
You mentioned a new commissary/professional kitchen. Is that in the Easton area? How will it work?Yes, we are in the process of building a kitchen in Easton. Having a larger professional facility will enable us to increase the amount and type of prepared dinners we make, take on more catering, and enable us to expand our lunch menu. Foods will be brought from the kitchen to our current store for sale. As a bonus we will also have space to teach cooking classes, knife skills classes, and special tasting events there.
Tell us about your team of culinary folks.I have a great team of people, many of whom have been with me for several years. In the deli I have Dianne, Megan, Alex, Kerry, and Brandy, plus Martha and Anna are here just for the busy season. Those are the faces that customers recognize because they work on the floor taking orders and making sandwiches. Behind the scenes, Catherine bakes all of our cookies and Bianca and Rosario cook everything else—pasta sauces, eggplant parmesan, meatballs, lasagnas, etc.
Do you change your offerings seasonally?We try to sell a mix of classics that we stock all year round plus seasonal dishes. This past spring we made Pasta with Asparagus and Frittata with goat cheese and grape tomatoes. More recently we had Fourth of July Semifreddo with blackberries and raspberries. All year we sell our Basil Pesto, Tomato Basil Sauce, Puttanesca Sauce, Clam Sauce, Eggplant Parmesan, Lasagna, Meatballs, and so on. Our goal is to have those year-round-favorites available at all times, not just most of the time.
What is your earliest memory in the kitchen? Do you have an affinity for Italian food?My favorite early food memories are of spending Sundays going to the supermarket and buying things with my mom to make dinner for our family. I really enjoyed participating in the meal from start to finish. When I was little we would occasionally go to the “fancy” supermarket and I loved picking out a treat like a Swiss chocolate bar or hard candies in a tin. We would often go to the Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia, and get ravioli. When I got older we went to Whole Foods and I discovered their cheese section. That was my first exploration into the world of artisan cheeses. Growing up in Northern Virginia, I was exposed to a lot of great culinary options, but we usually cooked Italian-inspired food at home. When I was about nine, we started traveling to Italy for our family vacations. I remember thinking how strange everything there tasted—the orange juice was fresh squeezed, the pizza was baked in a wood oven, the mozzarella was made with buffalo milk. Looking back, those were very important culinary trips.
Chicken ValdostanaServes 4
This preparation takes its name from the Italian region of Valle D’Aosta. It features the valley’s most notable ingredient—one of the finest cheeses of the Italian Alps: Fontina Valle D’Aosta D.O.P.
2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, about 6 to 8 ounces each
4 slices Parma Cotto (Italian ham) thinly sliced about 2 ounces
4 slices Fontina Valle D’Aosta, thinly sliced, about 2 ounces
4 medium fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Trim the chicken breasts of all fat and connective tissue; butterfly to make thinner and of uniform thickness. Sprinkle both sides of the breasts with salt and pepper to taste. Lay butterflied chicken on a flat surface with the inside facing up. Place two slices of ham on each breast to cover all meat and then two slices of Fontina on top of the ham to cover it completely. Place two sage leaves over the Fontina. Roll up the chicken breasts and place them on an oiled baking dish with the seam side down.
Drizzle oil on the chicken, cover with aluminum foil and bake at for 25 to 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads 160 Fahrenheit. Remove the foil for the last five minutes of baking.
Let chicken rest for a few minutes before serving. When ready, slice the each breast crosswise in 4 or 5 slices and serve immediately with a sauce of Chicken Veloute Sauce (recipe below).
Chicken Veloutè Sauce with Shallots and Pinot GrigioA rich creamy chicken veloutè is the perfect sauce for this dish.
4 tablespoons butter, (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white wine (Lagaria Pinot Grigio)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Heat butter in a medium saucepan until bubbly. Add shallots and cook until translucent and soft; add flour to make a roux. Gradually add wine and cook to evaporate alcohol, about 4 minutes; add broth and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Add cream and mix well until velvety and smooth; add lemon zest and season with salt to taste. Quickly stir in the parsley and remove from heat.
Drizzle the sauce over the sliced chicken.