You've Heard of Tex-Mex, But Mex-Italian? Si!, Si!

John Da Loia is a keep-the-ingredients-simple cook. The chef at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Ariz., says he sees a lot of parallels between Mexican cuisine and Italian cuisine.

Da Loia graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, and has been strongly influenced by the cuisines of Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia-Romagna. So when he found himself in the Southwest, he naturally started seeing similarities.

"Mexican food has a lot in common with Italian food in that it's rustic and simple - it's comfort food," he says. "And both involve similar cooking techniques," he adds.

That in mind, Da Loia has found himself doing a bit of "fusion" food whereby dishes borrow from both Italian and Mexican traditions. A grilled pizetta, for example, might be topped with chorizo sausage and tomatoes with epizote (an herb from the Yucatan) as well as some asiago cheese. And lest we forget: Italy got the tomato from Mexico in the first place.

The following recipe looks complex, but it's quite a simple process of chopping vegetables and preparing them for the tortilla roll-ups and the sauce.

Marinate the first set of vegetables overnight. Then, invite friends over for the next day to grill with you.

"This flauta is light, flavorful, and satisfying," Da Loia says, "I quite like it, myself."

Grilled Vegetable Flauta

With Chile-Tomato Sauce and Salsa Verde

For the Flauta

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 cup soy sauce

3 cups olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 medium zucchini

2 medium yellow summer squash

1 large red onion

2 large green bell peppers

2 large red bell peppers

1 bunch scallions

8 10-inch flour tortillas

2 cups cooked black beans

1 cup Jack cheese

Combine garlic, shallots, soy sauce, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cut the vegetables in half and place them in marinade overnight.

Hold tortillas, beans and cheese aside for assembly.

For the Chile Tomato Sauce

1 large yellow onion

1 large green bell pepper

1 large red bell pepper

2 medium Jalapeo peppers

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons chile powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon dry oregano

6 large, tomatoes, chopped

1 quart vegetable or chicken stock

Dice onion, all peppers, and garlic. Place them in large saut pan Add olive oil and saut over low heat until soft. Add spices and tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cook and pure until smooth. Hold warm. Season to taste.

For the Salsa Verde

8 large tomatillos

4 medium jalapeos

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup vegetable or chicken stock

Chop vegetables into a small dice. Heat olive oil in small saut pan. Add vegetables and cook over low heat until soft. Add stock and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cool, and pure in blender of food processor until very smooth.


Remove vegetables from marinade and grill them over hot coals until soft. Chop them into small dice. Grill tortillas over coals until toasted but still pliable. Fill with some of the vegetables, two tablespoons of black beans, and one tablespoon of Jack cheese. Roll them firmly and place in 400-degree oven, Bake until the center is hot. (About 8 minutes.)

To serve, place some of the Chile Tomato Sauce on the left side of a dinner plate and a tablespoon of the salsa verde on the right. Place two extra hot flautas in the center of the plate.

Garnish WITH:

Sour cream

Diced green chilies

For a milder sauce, remove seeds from the jalapeos before chopping them. If tomatoes are not as sweet as you like, add a teaspoon of sugar to the sauce. If you like your sauces hot and spicy, use habaero chilies in place of the jalapeos.

Serves 4.

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