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A taste of elegance

By Staff | Apr 15, 2011

Chef Jeremy Neppl, who was named Chef Par Excellence in the Iowa Pork Producers Association's Taste of Elegance competition earlier this year, prepares a batch of La Chiesa’s handmade fettuccini with roasted pork and a tomato-onion sauce.

SPENCER – Dinner wasn’t meant to be served from a paper bag, especially when it’s possible to prepare irresistible Italian cuisine in all its flavorful goodness.

For confirmation, ask Chef Jeremy Neppl, who runs La Chiesa, in Spencer, with his wife, Trisha.

“I fell in love with the flavor profiles of Italian food and like to add my own Midwest spin,” said Neppl, 30, a Milford native and 2001 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Neppl developed a taste for exceptional Italian food when he worked at restaurants in Napa Valley, Calif., Chicago and Philadelphia.

He wanted to bring a taste of Italy to Iowa when he and his wife, a fellow northwest Iowa native, decided to return home to start their family. Earlier this year, his culinary creativity earned him Chef Par Excellence honors in the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Taste of Elegance competition in Des Moines.

Chef Jeremy Neppl dusts powdered sugar on a batch of ricotta fritters, which are featured on La Chiesa's dessert menu.

A first-time competitor, Neppl won the $1,000 top prize with his Pork Belly and Apples Two Ways entree.

Neppl also serves pork in a variety of dishes at La Chiesa (Italian for “the church”), which is housed in Spencer’s 114-year-old St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church along the Little Sioux River.

While his handmade fettuccini with roasted pork in a tomato-onion sauce has become a signature dish since La Chiesa opened in December 2009, Neppl also enjoys cooking with a variety of other meat, including lamb.

“We change our menus seasonally,” added Neppl, who prefers to purchase fresh, locally grown ingredients from a farmers market in Spirit Lake, where he lives.

“I still like to experiment and play with my food,” Neppl said.

La Chiesa’s deep fried ricotta fritters are served with a berry sauce and are simple to prepare.

Ricotta fritters

Makes four portions

1/2 pound of ricotta cheese

2 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

“I still like to experiment and play with my food.” —Jeremy Neppl Co-owner, La Chiesa

1ounce honey

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup flour

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

1 pinch nutmeg

Powdered sugar

Place ricotta, egg yolks, vanilla and honey in a large mixing bowl. Mix together by breaking up the ricotta and whipping with the other ingredients.

Work the mixture until the ricotta is partially incorporated but there are still small chunks of ricotta present. In another bowl, mix the sugar, flour, baking powder and nutmeg.

Pass dry ingredients through a wire sieve onto the wet ingredients. Incorporate the flour and ricotta mix with a spoon or rubber spatula until the flour is 90 percent incorporated.

Using a tablespoon, drop desired portion of fritter batter into a deep fat fryer and fry until golden brown. Remove from the oil and allow fritters to drain. Place on fruit compote (see berry sauce recipe below) and dust with powdered sugar.

Berry sauce

1 cup frozen berries of your choice

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place the berries in a non-reactive pot (such as stainless steel) that will not react chemically with the acids in the berries.

Add the sugar, vanilla bean (scraped) and lemon juice. Simmer mixture on low heat until the fruit’s liquid is reduced by half.

Take the vanilla bean out, place the mixture in a blender, and blend until smooth. Cool sauce and serve with fitters.

Walnut and apple salad

Serves four

1/4 cup shallots, minced

1/8 cup garlic, minced

1/8 cup fresh thyme, chopped

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 to 2 Honeycrisp apples, sliced

1/4 cups toasted walnuts

1 pound spring salad mix

Salt to taste

Ricotta salata (a variation of ricotta that has been pressed, salted and dried)

For the salad dressing, mix the shallots, garlic and thyme together. Stir in vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil slowly until well mixed. (Before every use you will need to restir the dressing.)

For the salad, place apples, walnuts and spring mix in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle dressing over the ingredients, only to coat the greens. Season the greens with salt, to taste, and toss the salad. Finish with shaves of ricotta salata.

Chicken, porcini bolognese with

papperdelle pasta

Salt, pepper and vegetable oil

1/2 chicken, broken down to cuts

1/2 cup onion, minced

1/4 cup carrot, minced

1/4 cup celery, minced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped

1 cups red wine

1 quart chicken stock

1 quart canned tomato puree

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms (rehydrated and chopped)Start by seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper.

In a wide stock pot, add 3 tablespoons of oil on medium to high heat. Sear off all the chicken pieces until golden brown. Remove chicken from the pan.

Add the onions, carrots and celery to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Cook the vegetables until onions are tender and translucent.

Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until the garlic starts to brown.

Add the red wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half.

Add the chicken stock, tomato puree, porcini mushrooms and chicken back to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Cook the chicken until the meat is tender and falling apart.

Remove the chicken from the pan and pull the meat from the bones, making sure to remove any chewy connective parts.

Keep reducing the sauce until thick enough to coat the pasta (see pasta recipe below). Add the chicken meat back to the sauce.

(This is a large, very broad fettuccine)

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups semolina flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a stand mixer, put all the ingredients in the bowl.

With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer, and place the dough on the counter.

Flatten the dough and put it through a pasta machine on No. 10.

Fold the dough in half and run it through the machine (repeat this process until the dough becomes more elastic and smooth).

Now set the machine to No. 9 and run the pasta through the machine. Keep going down through the numbers till you get to No. 1.5.

At this time, run the pasta through the machine a second time.

Now cut the pasta into sheets 12 inches long.

Then cut the sheets length-wise about thumb width.

Be sure to flour the pasta heavily to keep the pasta from sticking together.

To assemble the dish:

Have a large pot with boiling, salted water. Add the pasta to the water and boil for 3 minutes.

Stir often to keep the pasta from sticking together.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add pasta to a large bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss. Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese over the pasta.

Serves 6.

You can contact Darcy?Dougherty Maulsby at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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