Fitzgerald was 14 years old when he joined his family's restaurant business.
His main duty was to clean, alongside his older brother. While his older brother pursued a different career, Denis stuck with cooking, which had become his passion.
Fitzgerald graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He later worked at some of New York City's finest restaurants and chefs - at Aureole with Charlie Palmer; Oceana with Rick Moonen; Lutece with the legendary Andre Soltner; and Above with Larry Forgione and Jonathan Waxman.
Fitzgerald considers Andre Soltner his mentor and has modeled his work philosophy after him, involving himself in every aspect of the kitchen - whether making the salads or writing the specials. The native New Yorker believes such immersion in detail helps a chef to better understand his staff and detect weak spots in a restaurant's operation.
Fitzgerald is now the executive chef at Remi in Manhattan. He brings his contemporary cooking techniques to the traditional Venetian dishes for which Remi is known.
We asked him to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge to create a three-course meal for four for $30 or less.
Fitzgerald's menu: an appetizer of Stuffed Calamari with an Oven Dried Tomato, White Wine and Garlic Sauce; an entrée of Pici Pasta with Fava Beans, Asparagus and Baby Artichokes; and for dessert, Lemon Mousse Cake.
Stuffed Calamari with an Oven Dried Tomato, White Wine and Garlic Sauce
3 plum tomatoes, sliced in half
kosher salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 slices bread, crusts removed, diced into small cubes
3 slices prosciutto, diced into small cubes
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
8 pieces fresh calamari, cleaned, tentacles reserved separately
flour for dredging
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2/3 cup vegetable broth (Fitzgerald suggests using 2/3 cup white wine if you have it on hand instead of the vegetable broth)
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
lemon wedges for garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Place the tomato halves, skin-side down, on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and rosemary. Bake in the oven until tomatoes are dry, but soft (about 1 hour). Cool, gently remove skins, and chop the tomatoes into quarter-inch pieces. Reserve.
Meanwhile, combine the bread, prosciutto, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and fresh dill together in a mixing bowl, using your hands to toss ingredients. Using a spoon or your hands, fill each calamari body with a generous amount of the mixture, and close the opening with a toothpick. Season the calamari on both sides with salt and pepper.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the calamari to the pan and sauté on one side until golden brown. Turn, and transfer the calamari to a cookie sheet. Bake calamari in the oven for 4 to 6 minutes, or until centers are warm.
Remove toothpicks, and tent with foil to keep warm. Lightly dredge the calamari tentacles in flour. Warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a separate sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the tentacles and sauté until golden on all sides (about 1 minute). Drain, and keep warm.
To prepare the sauce, warm the remaining olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally until golden brown, being careful not to burn it. Add the tomatoes, vegetable broth (or wine) and lemon juice, stirring. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to reduce until it thickens slightly. Before serving, fold in the chopped parsley.
To serve, place two calamari bodies and two tentacles on each of four plates. Ladle sauce over the top, and garnish with a lemon wedge. Serve immediately.
Pici Pasta with Fava Beans, Asparagus and Baby Artichokes
Chef's Note: Please read the entire recipe before beginning.
* Frozen fava beans may be substituted for fresh.
1½ cups all purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1 egg yolk
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 cups water
2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 baby artichokes
1 cup fresh fava beans, shucked
1½ pounds fresh asparagus, cut in 1/8 inch segments
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup vegetable stock (may substitute canned broth)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
12 fresh sage leaves
salt and white pepper to taste
Start with 1 cup of flour on a lightly floured surface. Make a deep, wide well in the center and pour in the egg yolk, cheese, salt and pepper. Begin mixing the yolk and cheese with a fork, mixing toward the center of the well. Little by little, mix the flour from the sides until the dough is too stiff to mix with a fork. Continue mixing by hand, dusting the dough with additional flour, if necessary, to make it stiffer. Knead the dough until it's smooth and no longer sticky (about 5 minutes). Wrap the dough loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine the water and lemon juice in a large bowl. Clean the artichokes by removing the dark green outer leaves until the lighter, more tender leaves are exposed. Cut a half inch from the cone-shaped top. Peel the outer layer of the stem using a sharp knife, leaving some stem intact. Cut each artichoke in half vertically, and reserve in the water and lemon juice until all the artichokes have been trimmed. The lemon juice prevents the artichokes turning brown in color. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the baby artichokes, reduce the heat to medium high, and simmer until tender when tested with the point of a knife, about 8 minutes. Drain, and cool. Dice into medium cubes and reserve.
Remove dough from plastic wrap. Dust a clean, dry work surface with some flour and place the dough on top. Dust dough with additional flour, and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough as large as possible, to approximately ¼ inch thickness. Using a crimper, cut quarter-inch squares from the dough. Roll each square back and forth between the palms of your hand to create a small log (approximately 1inch long). Lay each of the pici on a flour dusted cookie sheet. Cover the sheet with a slightly damp towel, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Meanwhile, blanch the vegetables. Bring two large pots of salted water to a boil. In one pot, cook the asparagus for 2 to 4 minutes, or until tender when tested with the point of a knife. Shock in ice water, drain and reserve. In the same pot, cook the fava beans for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender and bright green. Shock in ice water, drain, peel and discard the outer skin. Reserve beans.
Add the pici to the second pot of boiling water, cooking until the water returns to a rolling boil, about 1 minute. Remove and reserve. In the meantime, combine the olive oil and garlic in a sauté pan and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and butter, stirring frequently until butter is melted. Add the fava beans, asparagus and baby artichokes, tossing frequently to coat the vegetables. Add the pici and cook for 1 minute.
Sprinkle in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, parsley and fresh sage, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in four large bowls.
Lemon Mousse Cake
Serves 8, or 4 generously
Lemon Mousse Ingredients:
1 package (1/2 ounce) gelatin
2 tablespoons and 1/8 cup cold water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lemon, grated for zest
4 lemons, juiced
2 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup heavy cream
Combine the gelatin and 2 tablespoons cold water in a bowl; the gelatin will bloom. Meanwhile, combine the milk, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice in a sauce pot and place it over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat off, and let the ingredients steep for 30 minutes. Add the gelatin to the warm milk mixture and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar. While whisking, slowly add half of the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks, to temper (gradually warm) them, so they won't curdle. Stop whisking and pour the yolk-milk mixture into the warm pot. Return the liquid to a boil, then remove from heat, and strain the liquid into a bowl set over an ice bath to cool.
In a separate sauce pot, make a syrup by combining the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/8 cup of water, and do not stir. Heat until the syrup's temperature reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer (this is known as the soft ball stage). While the syrup cooks, whip the 2 egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Add the warm syrup and continually whip the whites until cool.
In a chilled bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form, and reserve in the refrigerator. Whisk the egg white mixture into the cooled lemon mixture, then fold in the whipped cream. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
Sponge Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon and 1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 mangoes, peeled and pitted
1 cut into chunks,
1 small piece for garnish
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon sugar extra mangoes, chopped for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and salt. Reserve.
In a bowl, whip the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, eggs, yolks, and vanilla until thick and lemon-colored, about 8 to 10 minutes. Fold the sifted flour mixture into the egg mixture.
Line a 11-by-17 inch sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the cake mixture evenly in the pan, about 1/4 inch high. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Using eight 3-inch ring molds, cut out 8 circles of cake; leave each mold in place around the cake and raise it so it gently rests on the edge of the cake's top. (Note: If you do not have ring molds, you can use a clean tin can with the top and bottom removed; or do as Chef Fitzgerald suggests and simply leave the cake in the pan, uncut, spread the lemon mousse on top, and refrigerate it.
Fill a pastry bag (without the tip) with the lemon mousse, and pipe mousse into each mold to fill. Refrigerate mousse until set (about 4 hours). Fitzgerald also suggests using an ice cream scooper if you do not have a pastry bag. Combine one peeled and pitted mango, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon sugar in a blender and puree until smooth. Strain into a bowl and reserve for sauce. In the center of each of eight dessert plates, unmold one lemon mousse cake. (If serving, four, put two cakes on each plate - they are small.) Drizzle some mango sauce around the cakes, and garnish with fresh mango pieces.