Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Ambition is something we can all admire, but having the ability to pursue several dreams and remain sane and passionate is another thing altogether. Meet Salem Elkhatib — owner and chef at Italia Pizza and Pasta, full-time electrical engineer, and a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt.
Originally from Cairo, Egypt, Elkhatib’s experience with food is rooted in cultural Mediterranean dishes that were often cooked and shared in his local community. So when Elkhatib left Cairo to study electrical engineering in the states, he carried this tradition with him and would often cook for his friends. This was when he realized that cooking was something he loved to do. Not just because of his cultural DNA, but because cooking for people brings him to life.
After several years of working and traveling as an electrical engineer, Elkhatib decided to settle in Nashville to work and pursue his passion for cooking. Opening Italia Pizza and Pasta, a mom and pop restaurant in the heart of Lockeland Springs, Elkhatib merged pizza with his Mediterranean background. He serves a variety of unique savory dishes and innovative cuisine, such as his vegan pizza, gluten-free crust, and hummus pizza.
These dishes may seem normal now, but when he began this venture 12 years ago, most Nashvillians did not have “gluten-free” in their vocabulary. Yet, the appreciation Elkhatib received from the diet-conscious customers, his value for clean eating, and his drive for inventive cooking caught on, making him a forerunner in the industry. Italia is more than a restaurant; it is a product of Elkhatib’s heart and a place Nashvillians can call their own.
Try his hummus recipe to serve as a snack or buy one of his delicious crusts and make your own hummus pizza at home.
2 pounds chickpeas
1 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Olive oil (optional)
1 lime (optional)
Place chickpeas in a pot and cover them with water. Heat the water until it begins to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let them soak in the refrigerator overnight.
Place chickpeas in a bowl, cover with water, and refrigerate until they are soft.
Once the chickpeas are soft, rinse and wash them. Place them in a blender and add 1 cup of tahini. Blend for two minutes. Add cumin and desired amount of olive oil (up to 1 cup), then blend until pasty. At the very end, squeeze lime and add to the mixture. You can freeze the hummus, or serve in a bowl with pita bread and vegetables, or use as a base on pizza.