Monday, October 1, 2007

Copycat Recipes

I checked out Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurant Recipes from the library last week. It prompted me to make multiple attempts at creating my own Olive Garden meals at home. I was somewhat successful in recreating the Zuppa Toscana and breadsticks, but the Alfredo sauce was less than desirable.

The first recipe I started with was the Zuppa. It's a combination of chicken stock, heavy cream (I used whole milk), cooked ground Italian sausage, chopped kale, potatoes and paprika. I omitted the red pepper flakes because the sausage I purchased was "hot" and more than spicy enough for me. The recipe goes together the same as most good soups, toss everything in the pot and let simmer for an hour. The results were excellent and could be a dead ringer for the version served at the restaurant. I was more than happy that I doubled the recipe so we could have it again the next night. **Note: The spiciness intensified overnight.

Of course I couldn't have "Olive Garden soup" without breadsticks. Wilbur's book doesn't have a secret recipe for breadsticks, so I hit the Internet to search. I found multiple versions that started with frozen bread dough. I also found a couple of posters claiming to be Olive Garden employees (or former ones) who said the bread sticks are nothing more than store bought sticks slathered in butter and garlic powder. I wanted to start from scratch, so I kept searching until I found a recipe at Visual Recipes. I tried out the recipe, but found it a bit flawed. Namely due to the shaping of the bread sticks prior to the first rising. So, I revamped it the second time around and came up with the following recipe. It's not exactly Olive Garden, but it's a close second.

Olive Garden Breadsticks at Home

makes 8 breadsticks

1/2 cup + 3 scant tbls warm water

1 tsp yeast

1 tbls sugar

1 tsp soft butter (I used Smart Balance spread)

2 cups bread flour

1 tsp salt

Melted butter, salt and garlic powder for topping

Combine water and yeast. Let sit for a few moments as yeast activates. Add sugar, butter, flour and salt. Mix by hand or in stand mixer until dough is soft and kneaded. Allow to rise in oiled, covered pan until doubled, about 1 hour (indent in dough will remain if fully risen).

Punch dough down. Shape into log. Cover and let rest 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 4oo degrees during this time. Cut dough with a bench scraper into eight equal pieces. Roll with your hands into cigar shapes about 6 inches long. Place on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Place in hot oven, toward the top to avoid over browing on bottom. Bake for 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake an additional 4 minutes, brush again with melted butter and sprinkle liberally with garlic powder. Return to oven and bake a few more minutes until just starting to get color on top. Watch the bottoms carefully to avoid over baking on the bottom of the sticks.

Of course I couldn't have Olive Garden soup and breadsticks without pasta, so I studied Wilbur's Secret Alfredo recipe. I also consulted the Olive Garden website, which lists their recipe for Alfredo sauce. I was scared off by the six jumbo egg yolks, so I went back to Wilbur's recipe. His version called for heavy cream, butter, garlic powder, black pepper and grated parmesan cheese. My fridge was devoid of both butter and heavy cream. I thought I could get away with using light margarine, 1% milk and a couple of tablespoons of flour. I was wrong. The resulting concoction was a bland, thick, floury sauce. Definitely not even close to Olive Garden. But, I decided that's ok. If I'm going to consume an ungodly amount of fat, calories and cholesterol from all the heavy cream and egg yolks, I'd rather do it at the restaurant where I don't know what's in my food.

I'll take the two out of three and keep the soup and breadstick recipes.


granati said...

thanks for coming by my blog. i'll check out the link you gave me.

Kelly Malloy said...

I'll have to try this one! I love Olive Garden bread sticks!