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Food & Dining // Heart-y Chef
Diana Helfand

A Taste Trip To The Isle Of Capri

Executive Chef Nawai Keko'olani of Romano's Macaroni Grill with his Caprese Salad. Lawrence Tabudlo photo ltabudlo@midweek.com

Nawai Keko’olani, executive chef of award-winning Romano’s Macaroni Grill at Ho’okipa Terrace in Ala Moana Center, is excited about the restaurant’s new PRIMO menu in addition to the regular menu! The new menu is offered Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. and features a soup or salad selection, a choice of entrée, Spaghetti Bolognese, Chicken Parmigiano or Fresh Island Fish, Italian Sorbeto for dessert, and coffee, tea or a soft drink. A fabulous deal at $25!

Keko’olani was born and raised on Oahu, and is a 20-year veteran of the Hawaii hospitality industry. Prior to joining the Romano’s Macaroni Grill team, Keko’olani was general manager and regional executive chef at Nordstrom Marketplace Café Restaurant, and also was executive chef and regional chef at Ruth’s Chris Steak House Hawaii.

When away from the restaurant, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Michelle, and their four children. He also keeps fit with martial arts.

With the holidays around the corner, Keko’olani wants to remind Santa’s helpers to visit Macaroni Grill for the gift of pasta! Purchase a $25 Romano’s Macaroni Grill gift card and receive a $5 bonus card for a future visit.

I love tomatoes, and one of my favorite salads is Caprese Salad, which originated on the isle of Capri in the mid-1950s.

The colors are representative of the Italian flag, and buffalo mozzarella is the cheese most used for the salad.

I asked Chef Nawai for his own salad creation, and he was kind enough to share this for MidWeek‘s home cooks.

Buon appetito!

CHEF NAWAI’S CAPRESE SALAD

Tools: Japanese mandolin, fryer

* 2 large local, vine-ripened tomatoes
* 1 Maui or sweet onion
* 6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
* 4 ounces baby arugula
* 4 basil sprigs
* balsamic vinegar
* extra virgin olive oil
* salt and pepper, to taste

Slice tomatoes 1/2-inch thick. Slice the onion 1/4-inch thick. Grab a nice salad plate and arrange the arugula in the middle to make a bed for the tomato and onions. Place one tomato slice, followed by an onion slice and a slice of mozzarella until the entire product is used. Thinly slice the basil and sprinkle over the salad. Place fried onions on top of stack or sprinkle around stack.

Makes three to four servings.

For Crisp Onion Stack:

* 1 Maui or sweet onion
* 1/2 cup all purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons blackening spice
* 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt ( omit or use less for lower sodium)

Thinly slice the onion with the mandolin (preferably 1/4-inch thick). Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and slowly mix onions into the bowl until coated evenly. Preheat fryer to 350 degrees. Slowly add onion; be sure to shake off any extra flour to avoid burning. Make sure the onions are golden brown and crisp. Place finished onions on a plate lined with a paper towel to soak up excess oil.

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