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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Picazzo’s Fall Flavors for the Holidays

Chris Disney says it’s quite unusual in Italian cuisine to have so many vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free and allergy-free options. And judging from the enthusiastic response from customers, it’s something diners appreciate.

Arizona’s Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen first opened its doors in 2002, when original founders Rick Freedman and Doug Stanton moved to Sedona and craved some really good pizza. Since that time, the restaurant has evolved and the menu has expanded, with a focus on vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and allergy-friendly options.

Picazzo’s Managing Partner Chris Disney says that interest in eating a plant-based diet has grown tremendously in recent years, and Picazzo’s has responded with a separate menu that is 100% vegan. Its wide selection of items like salads, entrées, pasta, pizza and desserts uses brands that support the plant-based diet, such as Follow Your Heart, Daiya and Beyond Meat. He also notes that Picazzo’s sources 95% organic produce.

“It was a guest-driven direction,” Disney said of the decision to focus on healthy Italian cuisine. “After the push we made for gluten-free items, it became natural for our guests to begin requesting items such as organic, non-GMO, antibiotic-free and even other dietary options.”

Chris Disney displays delicious dishes from Picazzo’s.

Disney says it’s quite unusual in Italian cuisine to have so many vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free and allergy-free options. And judging from the enthusiastic response from customers, it’s something diners appreciate. Earlier this year, Picazzo’s won the 2021 Best of the Valley award for Best Italian Restaurant from Phoenix Magazine. And this summer, Picazzo’s opened its sixth location in Gilbert, Ariz., located at 884 E. Williams Field Rd. Ste 102, and features a spacious indoor-outdoor layout with a garage door that rolls up to connect 3,300 combined square feet of indoor and patio space. While the menu remains the same as the other locations, Picazzo’s is debuting a new modern look at its new Gilbert location, and gradually rolling out these design cues into its Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe/Chandler, Arrowhead and Sedona locations.

“We thought a lot about our consumer when designing the new restaurant,” explains Disney. “That means creating a space that can accommodate solo diners and couples just as easily as large families. We also focused on selecting aesthetically pleasing textures and surfaces on everything from countertops to walls to the patio decking. We think our guests are going to love the experience here – and we hope they take advantage of the Instagram-worthy setting for taking photos with family and friends!” 

Fall Specials

Picazzo’s is offering two fall seasonal dishes, both available through November: Pumpkin Hummus and Moroccan Chicken (or vegan Moroccan Chick’n). “Fall is my favorite time of year,” says Disney, who not only runs the operations of Picazzo’s six Arizona locations, but also develops many of Picazzo’s recipes, including the new Pumpkin Hummus and Moroccan Chicken. “For the Moroccan Chicken, I developed a special spice blend that gives the dish a deep, rich and complex flavor – perfect for the cooler fall months. I really love Moroccan sauce with fig jam!”

For the Pumpkin Hummus, Disney says he kept the fall flavors light and fresh. “It’s the perfect match for dipping seasonal vegetables and our popular flatbread, which guests often can’t believe is both vegan and gluten-free.” A seasonal twist on Picazzo’s traditional, creamy hummus, the Pumpkin Hummus is blended with a touch of pumpkin and a hint of fall spices, including cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Topped with olive oil and toasted pumpkin seeds. Served with vegan, gluten-free flatbread, watermelon radish and heirloom carrots for dipping.

The Moroccan Chicken is a grilled chicken breast, braised with a Moroccan sauce of rich vegetable broth and vegan butter, reduced and spiced with a blend including clove, allspice, turmeric and coriander. It’s then garnished with a sweet fig jam, heirloom matchstick carrots and cilantro. Serve with lemon, olive oil and garlic dressed broccolini. It is also available as a vegan option. 

Giving Back

Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen has teamed up with Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), Arizona’s leading autism nonprofit, to raise funds for autism programs, services and research with a “Chip in for Autism” chocolate chip cookie give-back program. For every chocolate chip cookie sold, Picazzo’s will donate $1 to support SARRC programs for Arizonans with autism. 

This popular Picazzo’s dessert is no ordinary chocolate chip cookie. It is served warm in a skillet and topped with premium local-made vanilla bean gelato or coconut ice cream and drizzled with a choice of organic chocolate, raspberry or salted caramel sauce. The dessert is gluten-free and dairy-free, with the exception of the vanilla bean gelato.

“At Picazzo’s we have many regular guests who have family members with autism, so we have been looking for a partnership that would enable our entire team to get involved on a number of levels,” Disney said. “When we connected with SARRC earlier this year, we identified several ways we can work together and give back.”

Picazzo’s kicked off the partnership with SARRC with the “Chip in for Autism” cookie campaign and has plans to expand the partnership through group volunteer activities, event participation, and as an Employment Partner through SARRC’s Employment Services program – aimed at increasing competitive employment opportunities for adults (age 16+) with autism.

“We’re extremely grateful Picazzo’s chose to partner with and selected SARRC in their Chip in for Autism campaign,” SARRC President and CEO Daniel Openden, PhD, BCBA-D, said. “Opportunities to team up with community partners who are committed to raising awareness and acceptance of autism is critically important to SARRC’s mission of advancing research and providing a lifetime of support for individuals with autism and their families.”

Picazzo’s Moroccan Chicken Recipe

Moroccan Sauce:

6 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup minced garlic

1/4 cup potato starch or bread flour 

6 cups vegetable broth

3 cups water

1/4 cup Moroccan seasoning 

(Purchase a Moroccan seasoning blend, or blend Picazzo’s custom mix: 1 Tbsp ground cloves; 1/2 Tbsp ground cardamom; 2 Tbsp each ground coriander, ground cinnamon, granulated garlic, ground ginger and ground cumin; and 7 Tbsp each ground turmeric and ground allspice.)

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper


Moroccan Chicken:

2 chicken breasts (8-9 oz each)

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/4 cup fig jam

4 cups Moroccan Sauce


To make the sauce:

Sauté carrots and onions on medium-high heat with olive oil until browned.

Reduce heat to medium and add butter, garlic, spice blend and starch or flour; mix until paste forms.

Turn heat to high, add broth and water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, add salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Blend with an immersion blender or cool and pour into a blender. 


To make the chicken:

Preheat the oven to 375.

Add 2 Tbsp olive oil to a sauté pan and heat to medium-high.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper; sear for about 3 minutes on each side. 

Place chicken breasts in a 3″ deep baking dish and cover with Moroccan sauce.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the internal temperature is 165.

Remove from the oven, plate each breast and spoon sauce from the pan over the top.

Garnish with about 2 Tbsp. fig jam and cilantro.

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