Chef creates a variety of avocado dishes at Florida Culinary Accelerator
There’s no potential for avocados that Chef Daniela Craciun hasn’t mined, developed and polished.
The Naples-based caterer and cooking instructor knows nearly everything about the prolific Florida fruit. She can work an avocado into every meal — and even every part of a meal, from avocado mash appetizers to festive-look- ing parfaits with layers of chocolate, whipped cheese and avocado cake.
So the months during which Florida avocado trees are bursting with ripe fruit are among her favorites. In her nascent Golden Gate orchard, Craciun has at least three trees, and when they start bearing fruit, Craciun isn’t wor- ried in the least about using them all. Too many?
“Freeze them. Like ice cubes,” she explained. “You can use them in guaca- mole and smoothies.”
“With an avocado you can do so many things,” Craciun declared, casting an eye on a day’s worth of meals she has just prepared at the Immokalee Culinary Accelerator.
Start the day, she suggested, with quail eggs popped onto a half avocado and baked with bagel seasoning with a confetti of tomato on the serving plate. End it with an elegant shrimp ravioli topped with bechamel and avocado. And in between? A blend of mashed avocado, cilantro and lime on whole wheat tri- angles with with tomato slices for lunch.
As you walk in, Graciun has a sliver of cake waiting for you to pop in your mouth, a party-green morsel, tender and light and wearing a coronet of sweet- ened cream cheese. The color and tenderness come from guess what. Its lower cholesterol quotient comes from the same place.
“You don’t need butter when you use avocado in the cake,” she said.
That same cake will be the base layer for the parfait, cut into discs and lay- ered with a cacao-date sugar-’cado cream and the aforementioned sweet cream cheese.
Naples foodies are familiar with Craciun’s creativity from her restaurant, Daniela’s, the North Naples go-to place for Hungarian and Italian foods that she operated for eight years. Since Craciun remarried and closed Daniela’s— over the cries of disappointment by fans of her homemade Transylvanian sausage — Craciun has concentrated on catering and cooking classes.
Her catering business still offers the Romanian, Hungarian and Italian spe- cialties her restaurant was known for. But she offers alternatives; the Italian cuisine she perfected from nine years working for chefs in Bologna, Italy, in- cludes a spinach lasagna, and she offers beetroot and spinach pasta. There are both traditional pork-beef cabbage roles and a vegetarian version.
“People want to eat more healthy,” she declared. “They ask a lot of questions in classes.”
Cooking healthfully is not hard, she continues: “People make it hard.” She’s not afraid to use a rich ingredient. The cream cheese has been softened to frosting consistency with heavy cream — “but just a tablespoon of it,” she said.
Craciun works in the spacious kitchen of the county-owned Culinary Accel- erator, an airy facility that serves both as an incubator to potential food com- pany startups and a membership-based location for food preparation by small food businesses. She offers classes at Neighborhood Organics (the next two are Aug. 24 and Sept. 20) and has created her own brand of pasta, which Food & Thought carries.
The avocado, however, is a fruit of opportunity, for the most part. They’re ripe now, and Craciun hopes everyone will try them in a new way.
Salad, two ways. Craciun segments an avocado and a grapefruit, but encourages trying any fruit or vegetable pairing with it, and alternates the wedges in a circle, drizzling them with a dressing made solely of avocado oil, salt and lime juice. If you don’t have avocado oil, olive or coconut oils work, too. The picuresque alter- native is to fan a whole tomato and stuff avocado wedges into it, again sprinkling the homemade dressing over the top
Open-face avocado spread sandwiches. Craciun blends mashed avocado with fresh lime juice, fresh chopped cilantro to taste and a touch of salt. If you crave a little heat, finely minced jalapeños will add kick. A slender slice of tomato makes a colorful gar- nish as well.
Quail eggs in a half avocado. You can find the eggs at Publix or Walmart stores, and the smaller size is a good fit for the cavity created when the seed is removed. Bake in a hot oven (about 425 degrees) — in a ramekin to steady the avocado shell — for 15 to 20 minutes; sprinkle your favorite blend of herbs or season- ing on top. For Craciun, it’s the “everything” seasoning sold for bagels.
Chef ’s secrets
If you love avocados for their use in guacamole, Craciun does, too, and she has a tip for keep the avocados fresh-looking longer: Stir in a little sour cream.
Presentation is part of the appeal. Topping with colorful minced vegetables, parsley or edible flower leaves such as purple hibiscus and garnishing with fruit or blooms adds to the anticipation: “We eat with our eyes,” she said.
If making avocado wedges seems daunting, there’s a tool that scoops perfect pieces out of a half avocado. Craciun found hers at Old Time Pottery, 3302 Bonita Beach Road SE, Bonita Springs.
Choosing your fruit
When is an avocado ready to use? When it yields a little to pressure, but isn’t totally soft, it’s ready to work with, but don’t wait long. The fruit will continue to ripen.
Avocado cake and parfait
1 cup sugar (or a stevia-based sweetener in proportions suggested by the manufacturer)
1 cup mashed avocado
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup flour
Add the eggs and sugar to the kitchen mixer and whisk. Add the mashed avo-cado, baking powder, and flour. Mix until smooth. Grease and flour the pans to be used. The batter browns rapidly so layers should be shallow. Bake at 340 degrees until a toothpick comes out clean.
For the parfait, Craciun cuts discs of a single layer cake and uses them at the bottom of glass dessert dishes. She blends cacao powder, date sugar and creamed avocado to make a chocolate cream layer, followed by a layer of sweetened cream cheese with a tablespoon of heavy cream.
Shrimp-avocado ravioli. The shrimp ravioli are a lit- tle trickier. Craciun uses her own proprietary recipe for her seasoned shrimp-stuffed ravioli, which can be a catered offering. There are recipes on the internet, however, for shrimp ravioli from Epicurious.com and playfulcooking.com. If you’re using either, boil the raviol and finish it in a bechamel sauce, either purchased or of your own, and add semi wedges of avocado to the dish just before serving.
Chef Daniela Craciun is a private chef and certified health nutritional consultant, Chef Daniela combines over 30 years of cooking experience to deliver fresh, gourmet flavors made with natural superfoods that heal and pack a nutritional punch. If you don’t have enough time and want to take a break from the kitchen, then you need to reach out to Chef Daniela who Provides Exceptional Organic, Vegan, And Gluten Free Catering of Hungarian, Romanian, and Italian Cuisine. She also offers her own line of fresh, organic and healthy, homemade pasta.