Olive Garden unveils new ‘Tastes of the Mediterranean” menu

Olive Garden Tastes of the Mediterranean Menu

I had the opportunity to attend a special preview tasting of Olive Garden‘s new ‘Tastes of the Mediterranean’ menu this week at a lovely event held at Haven’s Kitchen in NYC with a group of other food bloggers, writers and journalists.

Media Preview Haven's Kitchen

Olive Garden Team

We sampled a (generous!) variety of delicious food and wine, and learned more about the new menu ideas and inspiration from the Olive Garden team and Executive Chef, Jim Nuetzi

Olive Garden Tasting Event

Inspired by the flavors of Italy’s Mediterranean Coast, Olive Garden is evolving its popular Lighter Italian Fare menu to the new ‘Tastes of the Mediterranean’ menu, which celebrates the flavors and cooking styles from the popular Mediterranean region of Italy with all entrees under 600 calories.

Chicken Margherita

Beginning Jan. 2, two new entrees – Chicken Margherita and

Linguine Di Mare

Linguine di Mare – will be available in restaurants. Following, the fully evolved ‘Tastes of the Mediterranean’ rebranded menu section, which includes guest favorites as well as the new entrees, will be introduced on Jan. 23.

Executive Chef Jim

“Healthier dishes at restaurants can often be perceived as boring or unsatisfying. However, our Mediterranean-inspired Shrimp Scampi with its flavorful ingredients was our second most popular entrée on the entire menu last summer,” said Jim Nuetzi, Executive Chef for Olive Garden. “The positive reaction from our guests further showed that we could create indulgent and craveable entrees that just happen to have the added benefit of lower calorie counts.”

Shrimp Scampi

The guest-favorite Shrimp Scampi, which was introduced to the Olive Garden menu last year, has exceeded any other Olive Garden lighter fare entrée in popularity. Many guests were surprised that the flavorful and satisfying dish was only 500 calories.

Grilled Chicken Parmigiana

The guest reaction to the Shrimp Scampi inspired chefs to explore additional ingredients that would excite guests in the same way, leading them to the cuisine of Italy’s Mediterranean coast. The region is long known for healthier lifestyles and cooking with light, flavorful ingredients such as seafood, olive oil, fresh vegetables, whole grains and Italian spices.

Chicken Margherita & Zucchini

Chicken Piccata

Herb Grilled Salmon

The ‘Tastes of the Mediterranean’ menu features:


  • NEW! Chicken Margherita: Grilled chicken breasts topped with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil pesto and a lemon garlic sauce. Served with parmesan crusted zucchini.


  • Shrimp Scampi: Shrimp sautéed in a garlic sauce, tossed with asparagus, tomatoes and angel hair pasta.


  • NEW! Linguine di Mare: Shrimp and mussels sautéed with homemade pomodoro sauce and whole grain linguine.


  • Herb-Grilled Salmon: Filet grilled to perfection and topped with garlic-herb butter. Served with parmesan-garlic broccoli.


  • Chicken Piccata: Grilled chicken topped with a lemon garlic butter sauce, sun-dried tomatoes and capers. Served with parmesan crusted zucchini.

Olive Garden Tilapia Piccata

  • Tilapia Piccata: Delicate white fish baked in a lemon garlic butter sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and capers. Served with parmesan crusted zucchini.

Entrees on the rebranded menu start at $14.29.

Warm Chocolate Baci Cake

And last but not least, we enjoyed a gorgeous dessert, Warm Chocolate Baci Cake with coffee..simply divine. 

Olive Garden

..and got some take home goodie bags with a bottle of wine and some wine glasses!



Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with more than 800 restaurants, more than 96,000 employees and more than $3.8 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), which owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate over $6.8 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing more than 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. Olive Garden is committed to making a difference in the lives of others in the local community. As part of this commitment, Olive Garden restaurants have donated more than 35 million pounds of food to local community food banks across the country.

Guests can join the conversation and connect with Olive Garden at Facebook.com/OliveGarden, Twitter.com/OliveGarden and Instagram.com/OliveGarden. For more information and to find your nearest Olive Garden restaurant, visit OliveGarden.com.

Food Gone Wild! Eating Aliens & Preserving Wild Foods Press Event @ Haven’s Kitchen NYC

Preserving Wild Foods & Eating Aliens
Preserving Wild Foods & Eating Aliens

I recently had the opportunity to attend a special press dinner in support of the upcoming launch of Jackson Landers’s book, ‘Eating Aliens’ and of Matthew Weingarten and Raquel Pelzel’s book, ‘Preserving Wild Foods.’  The dinner was a preview of some of the recipes from their upcoming book launches this Fall with Storey Publishing, held at the lovely cooking school and event space at Haven’s Kitchen in NYC. I met the Chefs and Authors, publishers and other journalists from the food media world. We learned about invasive species and foraging wild foods as well as the philosophy behind sustainable eating, hunting and cooking and sampled wild and amazingly delicious dishes from their books.

Haven's Kitchen NYC
Haven’s Kitchen NYC

So what kind of wild food did we actually eat? Delicious food it was, but stuff you wouldn’t normally think of or hear about or see on a restaurant menu for a Saturday night dinner out on the town. We ate Dandelion Jelly ToastsPan-fried Snakehead (a large, black, meaty invasive fish that is absolutely delicious and tastes like swordfish!), Lionfish with Furikake Seaweed Salt  (my favorite dish of the night, see recipe below), Chinese Mystery Snails, Fiddlehead Ferns, Wild Ramp Pesto, Pickled Garlic Scapes, Pickled Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms with Crostini (another one of my favorites! see recipe below), Homemade Sausage, and Duck Prosciutto, Mulberry Shortcakes and more delicious wild, foraged foods.

This event was a great learning, tasting and meet and greet experience with other foodies and talented chefs, hunters and cookbook authors. They made this wild food taste so good it made me want to start foraging my own wild mushrooms, ramps and berries and start canning and pickling my own gourmet creations, while supporting sustainably and reducing the amount of invasive species around the world all at the same time. I can’t say I’ll be hunting my own game or diving to catch fish with my bare hands anytime soon – I’ll leave that to the masters that I met that evening…

Jackson Landers
Jackson Landers

Jackson Landers, Author/Invasive Species Hunter/Adventurer. Check out all of Jackson’s adventures hunting, cooking and traveling and some great photos on his website The Locavore HunterPreorder the ‘Eating Aliens’ book online.

Matt Weingarten
Matt Weingarten

Matthew Weingarten is a New York City-based chef who has garnered great acclaim for his heritage comfort food. His food reflects a strong sense of place and season, and he is a committed proponent of sustainability and authenticity. He is a director on the board of Chefs Collaborative and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Read more/pre-order ‘Preserving Wild Foods’ Cookbook online.

Raquel Pelzel
Raquel Pelzel

Award-winning writer Raquel Pelzel has collaborated with professional chefs on thirteen cookbooks, including the James Beard-nominatedDamGoodSweet and Masala Farm. She is a former editor at Cook’s Illustrated and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Check out Raquel’s website for more info on her background, cookbooks and recipes.

Below are some great photos I captured from the event – CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULLSCREEN SLIDESHOW

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157630805695356″]

Mulberry Shortcakes
Mulberry Shortcakes
Dandelion Jelly Toasts
Dandelion Jelly Toasts
Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms
Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms
Snakehead Fish 2
Snakehead Fish
Snakehead Fish w/ Pickled Sea Vegetables
Snakehead Fish w/ Pickled Sea Vegetables
Dried Seaweeds & Sea Vegetables
Dried Seaweeds & Sea Vegetables
Chinese Mystery Sea Snails
Chinese Mystery Sea Snails
Prosciutto & Rhubarb Crostini
Prosciutto & Rhubarb Crostini
Pickled Garlic Scapes
Pickled Garlic Scapes
Pickled Beans
Pickled Beans
Pan-Seared Lionfish w/ Furikake Seaweed Salt
Pan-Seared Lionfish w/ Furikake Seaweed Salt
Homemade Sausage & Duck Prosciutto
Homemade Sausage & Duck Prosciutto
Dried Cured Meats2
Dried Cured Meats
Pickled Canned Veggies & Pesto
Pickled Canned Veggies & Pesto
Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddlehead Ferns

Snakeheads on a plate – Jackson Landers discussing the invasive species, Snakehead Fish, at the press dinner event, by Helenah Swedberg on Vimeo.

Another great video “Close to the Bone” – An intimate and suspenseful portrait about hunting, sustainability and love by videographer Helenah Swedburg.

Here’s a couple of my favorite recipes from the Preserving Wild Foods Cookbook that we sampled at the press event. Enjoy!


Pickled Chanterelle Mushrooms 

In a large bowl, put

2 pounds chanterelle mushrooms, brushed free of dirt and debris
8 shallots, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1tablespoon roughly chopped marjoram leaves
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Put in a skillet

12 black peppercorns
6 allspice berries
1 whole clove
1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Toast the spices over medium-high heat until fragrant and the fennel seeds take on a bit of color, about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup kosher salt. Stir in the salt and continue to cook until the salt is warmed through, another 1 minute.

Pour the salt and spices over the mushrooms and herbs and set aside while you make the pickling liquid. In a medium saucepan, boil

2 cups water
1 cup fruity olive oil
1/2 cup aged sherry vinegar
1/4 cup dried currants
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar

Pour over the mushrooms, tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside until the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch and the liquid is at room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.

Sterlize the jars and divide the mushrooms among the still-warm jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Clean the rim of the jars with a clean kitchen towel before covering with the lids. Fasten the lid and band. Set up a hot water bath and submerge the jars placing gently on a canning rack, covering with 1 inch of water. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

When processing is complete, use the canning tongs to transfer the hot jars to a kitchen towel-lined surface. Listen for the pops of the seals as the jars cool.

The next day, test the seal by pressing on the center of the lid (it shouldn’t bounce back). Simply put the jar in the fridge and use right away.

Store in a cool, dark, dry place preferably between 50 and 70 degrees F, for up to a year.

Eat alone or serve on an antipasti platter with smoked, cured meats, cheeses and vegetables with crusty bread or crostini and crackers.

Makes 2 pints (four 8 oz jars).


Furikake Seaweed Salt (Fish and Meat Seasoning)

Furikake gives a blast of umami to the most ordinary of meals. Sprinkle it on plain sticky rice and any type of noodle, simply prepared steamed veggies and lightly grilled or pan-seared meats and fish. The sesame seeds reduce the amount of salt in the seasoning and the mineral-rich seaweeds ensure that you’re body gets what its craving when you hanker for a salty snack.

In a small bowl,

2 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water

and set aside. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low and pour in

1 cup sesame seeds

Toast the sesame seeds, stirring often, until they are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour the salt-sugar water over the sesame seeds. The liquid will bubble violently; once it calms down, stir the sesame seeds so they don’t clump. Reduce the heat to low and continue to toast the sesame seeds for 30 seconds. The pan will be almost dry at this point. Watch the seeds, as you don’t want the sugar to burn. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble in

2 sheets nori
1 (6-inch) sheet dulse (or  1/4 cup dry dulse flakes)

Set the pan back over low heat and stir the dulse and seeds. The seaweed will soften up a bit, and then become fragrant and dry. Once the seaweed is crisp again and dry to the touch, after about 30 seconds, remove the pan from the burner and turn out the seasoning onto a large platter to cool. Put the furikake into a glass jar or shaker and use to season anything that needs a wake-up call. (This is the seasoning we sampled on the Pan-Seared Lionfish – it was absolutely AH-MAZING!!!!)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


All photos credited to Kristen Hess, The Artful Gourmet. Copyright 2012. Please do not share or distribute any of the photos or videos on this website commercially or for personal use without permission from the respected owners.


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