Animale embraces 'odd bits' in authentic Italian dishes

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Tripe, kidney, stomach, and sweetbreads are on every menu in Rome and Florence, yet few Italian restaurants in Chicago bother to cook them. (WLS)

Columbus Day is coming up on Monday, a time when Italian pride swells.

While there are dozens of great Italian restaurants in the region, only a few cook the truly local dishes, which often include parts of the animal you may not be familiar with.

They're called offal - the odd bits, if you will. Tripe, kidney, stomach, sweetbreads. They're on every menu in Rome and Florence, yet few Italian restaurants in Chicago bother to cook them. But at a new spot near Milwaukee and Armitage, they're embracing offal on much of the menu.

There are some predictable dishes at Animale, located almost beneath the Western Avenue Blue Line stop in Logan Square. It's Italian-focused, so homemade pastas, including toothsome gnocchi - sauteed with duck, chicken and tarragon, then topped with potato crumbs - would be expected. But there's much more than just pasta here amid the casual booths.

"When I trained in Italy and lived out there, I saw a lot of fun things: spinal column, chicken's crest, kidneys, livers," said Cameron Grant, the Executive Chef at Animale. "Offering offal, off-cuts, innards, whatever you want to call them, they are such a great part of butchery...and just part of the Italian cuisine."

Take sweetbreads, for example.

"Sweetbreads are the thymus gland; it can be from the neck or from the heart of veal or lamb or pigs. We use veal," he said.

They wrap 'em in bacon then fry in some beer batter, adding Belgian endive and mustard honey for an acidic, sweet and crunchy contrast. Rabbit livers are sauteed with butter and fresh thyme - an Italian version of pté.

"We broke it down a little bit and did mushrooms and used Madeira as a fortified wine with some crusty bread; I made a really nice preparation, almost a play off of British cuisine serving something on toast," said Grant.

A light pancake, made from chickpea flour, called a farinata, is griddled, then added to a bowl of stewed tripe that's been topped with a fried egg and green onions. It's as Italian as any pasta.

"It's fun using different things where you don't see them in menus all over the city," he said.

In this week's Extra Course, Steve checks out some of the truly Italian desserts at Animale, including panna cotta and some serious gelato.

Extra Course: Italian desserts at Animale
1904 N. Western Ave.
(872) 315-3912
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