The Lighter Side of Italian
From casual to fine dining, the push to use local, fresh ingredients is spreading, with chefs incorporating the practice in a variety of cuisines. In southeast Michigan, Chef Luciano Del Signore is bringing this approach to Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina, for a menu that offers lighter, healthier, and more authentic Italian cuisine.
Now in three locations, the Bigalora restaurants not only showcase Del Signore’s relationships with farmers and ranchers, but also his deeply personal commitment to menuing sustainable, organic ingredients that nurture the body and, of course, taste good. “If I wouldn’t feed it to my children, then I won’t serve it to our customers,” says Chef Del Signore.
Taking this lighter approach, Del Signore infuses his menus with grains such as faro, legumes, lots of fruits and vegetables, and protein in limited quantities. “It’s the traditional food pyramid chart flipped,” says Del Signore.
Protein that he uses is hormone and antibiotic-free, including organically farmed salmon sourced from Ireland. Cattle are 100 percent grass-fed. Even the charcuterie, much of it made in-house, is created from pork and beef that are hormone, antibiotic -free. Bigalora is in the midst of building a bigger kitchen to prepare all its charcuterie in-house.
A key ingredient at Bigalora is organic spelt—the American version of faro—which Del Signore treats as a whole grain or for grinding his own flour for pasta. “Faro dough is higher in protein, and has a lot fewer carbohydrates than semolina or white flour,” Del Signore says. “It’s darker in color, more nutty, with a nice texture. I love the way it feels in the mouth and the way it chews—it really holds the firmness when you cook it.”
Del Signore uses the housemade pasta for a mushroom ragù or served with spring favorites fava beans, ramps, or fiddlehead ferns. “It holds its own with ingredients with pungent flavors,” he says.
Using the freshest and highest quality ingredients lets Del Signore pay homage to his Italian heritage. “We come from east of Rome, where you wouldn’t find a pat of butter in anyone’s home,” he notes.
While reflected throughout Bigalora’s menu, that approach gets a lot of play on the pizzas. Unlike commercially made pizza doughs, Bigalora pizza dough is leavened with an all-natural proprietary pre-fermented style of leavening, which Italian bakers call a biga.
The dough does not contain any commercial yeast, has no added sugar, and is completely vegan. The end result is a better tasting crust, with a hint of tartness, as well as a better texture and chew, says Del Signore. “It’s much healthier than commercially made products—there is no bloated feeling after you eat it.”
Del Signore also brings the light touch to traditional Italian fare, like Spaghetti and Meatballs.
“In Italy, meatballs were created so poor families that couldn’t afford meat stretched out the servings with bread to feed the family,” Del Signore explains. “I pull the bread out of the meatballs; my meatball mixture is made with under 5 percent bread. We slow braise it in marinara sauce for hours. There’s a much lighter taste and texture to it.”
The first Bigalora Wood Fire Cucina opened in Southfield in June 2010, followed by Royal Oak in May 2012, and the most recent Ann Arbor location in November. Plans are underway for a fourth location, slated to open in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport within the next two years.
By Joann Whitcher