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CHEF DU JOUR

He Gives Dishes a Fresh Start

February 04, 1993|MIKE SPENCER | Mike Spencer is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

Although best known for some fairly complicated dishes, such as heart-shaped ravioli stuffed with everything from pumpkin to lobster meat, Marcello Apollonio believes the best meals are made up of simple food, simply prepared.

By simple, he means dishes that use "fresh, quality ingredients at their seasonal peak" and which can be prepared in minimal time.

"That makes food-lovers in Orange County some of the luckiest in the world," he says, "because almost everything is available here nearly year-round."

And as executive chef at Prego in Irvine, Apollonio enjoys demonstrating his principles on a regular basis.

The menu contains varying numbers of daily specials all based on what he's been able to purchase fresh that morning.

As a native of Italy, where he began kitchen training at the age of 14, Apollonio is very partial to Italian cuisine, especially pasta. (He's proud to point out, incidentally, that since he took over the Irvine Prego kitchen two years ago, "the pasta station is one of the busiest in the restaurant.")

"The reason Italian food is so popular," he says, "is because when made properly, it uses quality ingredients, is easy to make and is good for you; it's something you can eat every day."

And one of the most popular mainstays of the Prego menu is the following appetizer, the recipe for which he helped devise when he was at Prego in Beverly Hills. It's a delightfully refreshing and very tasty appetizer of shrimp marinated in fresh lime juice, mint leaves and olive oil and served cold topped with crumbled feta cheese.

While the recipe calls for grilling the shrimp ("it gives it a better flavor," he says), in a pinch you can saute it instead ("as long as you do it gently and don't overcook the shrimp").

GAMBERETTI MARIMATI

30-35 medium shrimp, raw

1 cup fresh lime juice

1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch fresh mint

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and devein shrimp. Place in bowl and sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill on barbecue until pink (3 to 5 minutes), turning frequently. When cooked, put aside to cool. Meanwhile, remove leaves from mint and chop them fine. In large bowl, mix lime juice, olive oil and chopped mint leaves. When shrimp is cool, add to bowl and mix so that shrimp is thoroughly coated with dressing. Refrigerate one hour before serving. Remove shrimp from bowl and arrange on platter. Sprinkle with crumbled cheese and garnish with whole mint leaves and quartered fresh limes (serves 6).

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