You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Dom's Cooler Cuisine: Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar excels with cactus

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 9/5/2018 Dominic Armato

With just one ingredient left in the cooler, chef Danielle Leoni didn’t have much of a choice.

But for anyone who has visited The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, Leoni’s contemporary Jamaican restaurant in downtown Phoenix, it will come as no surprise that she rocked our cooking challenge.

"Dom's Cooler Cuisine," a new video series hosted by The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com dining critic, features six Arizona chefs cooking with Arizona ingredients. But there's a twist. The first chef has six ingredient options, the second has five, and so one. By the time we get to Leoni, she is stuck with catcus.  

Desert flora don’t get any more iconic than the cactus, even if it’s more widely known as landscape than food. But many culinary traditions — Mexican, in particular — make regular use of various types of cactus, taking advantage of its cool, crisp, verdant flavor.

Of course, you have to get past the needles, first.

Cactus, the perfect veggie?

Our cactus was harvested from a backyard in Sedona, a few palm-size paddles with the spines left fully intact.

Leoni, who had never worked with cactus before, sent more than a few curses in my direction (joking, I think) while picking tiny spines out of her palms. But after battling the accursed little stickers, she had the perfect vegetable to use as the base for a bright, flavorful chutney.

“I’m going to make a cactus-pineapple chutney, so we can do a little bit of Jamaica and a little bit of us,” Leoni said.

food on a wooden cutting board: Chopped fruit, waiting to be turned into chutney at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix. © Dominic Armato/The Republic Chopped fruit, waiting to be turned into chutney at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix.

She kept the chutney simple to let the fruit’s flavor shine through. She carefully minced and combined cactus, pineapple, red bell pepper and a little bit of fresh fig, dressing them with lime, salt, coriander and pimento — the spice Americans refer to as allspice.

To pair with a sweet, fresh chutney? Something spicy, naturally.

Making jerk marinade

Leoni dressed some shrimp with her house jerk marinade, a complex blend of aromatics, herbs and spices with a healthy vinegar kick and an intense blast of pure habanero fire.

This dish is not for the faint of heart.

a man cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Danielle Leoni chops pineapple for a dish at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix. © Dominic Armato/The Republic Danielle Leoni chops pineapple for a dish at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix.

A quick sear on the grill, a few more slivers of fresh cactus and Leoni’s jerk shrimp with cactus-pineapple chutney was ready. This was a dish of contrasts, a diminutive amuse with enough flavor for an entire dish.

On one hand, plump shrimp bathed in a thick layer of spice, thyme and chile fire, strong enough to set anybody ablaze.

On the other hand, a gentle, sweet chutney that capitalized on the cactus’ succulent qualities, perked up with just enough dry spice to tie it to the shrimp.

Leoni fended off the thorns and came up with a fantastically delicious dish that was both poison and antidote, all in one bright, explosive package.

a plate of food with broccoli: Jerk shrimp with cactus-pineapple chutney at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix. © Dominic Armato/The Republic Jerk shrimp with cactus-pineapple chutney at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix.

Reach Armato at dominic.armato@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8533. Interact with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

DOM'S COOLER CUISINE STORIES:

BINGEWATCH THE ENTIRE VIDEO SERIES:

AdChoices

More from Arizona Republic

Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon