Monday, March 31, 2014

Incredible Empanadas & Fresh Pasta in Sarasota

This evening, we had wonderful empanada dinner from Peperonata Pasta in Sarasota. It is run by a family of Italian immigrants from Argentina, which accounts for the strange-sounding combination of empanadas and pastas.

As we were leaving Trader Joe's this afternoon, I remembered recently reading a Herald Tribune article about a place that had some kind of specialty food in the shopping center on the south side of Trader Joe's. We drove into the shopping center parking lot, and quickly realized the place I had been thinking about was Peperonata Pasta (

I went inside and was delighted with what I found. First, there was a counter with many types of empanadas - at least 12 varieties, including:

Arabian lamb "fatay"
Cheese & Onion
Four Cheese
Ham & Cheese
Mediterranean beef
Spicy Chicken
Steak & Cheese

I chose the Arabian Lamb, Humita, Spinach, and Margarita. They were all fantastic. The ingredients were:
1. Arabian lamb - ground lamb, lemon juice, onion, tomato, red bell pepper, spices. These were created from the cuisine of Arab immigrants to Argentina - principally from Lebanon & Syria. The flavor reminded me very much of the Arab meat pies my mother used to make.
2. Spinach - spinach, onion, canola oil, nutmeg, garlic, and béchamel sauce.
3. Humita - caramelized onion, corn, peppers
4. Margarita - mozzarella, basil, tomato

The empanadas cost $3 apiece. They are fully cooked and can be reheated in 6-7 minutes in an oven at 450 degrees. The heating time depends on the type of empanada. For example, the open-top fatay only take 6 minutes.

In addition to the empanadas, Peperonata Pasta produces an incredible variety of fresh pastas, including a number that I had not seen before. The pastas included: amori, angel hair, bucato, bucatoni, campanelle, canestri, casarecce, creste di gallo, fettuccine, fusilli, linguini, mafalda, pappardelle,  penne, radiatori, rigatoni, rotini, and tagliatelle. They also sell ravioli and gnocchi. They carry a line of vegan soy flour pastas.

They also make their own chimichurri sauce and pasta sauces, etc., etc., etc.

You can dine in or order to go. Additionally, you can buy their pastas on line.

Their pastas are so good that they sell to Whole Foods.
Mr. Fochi, whom I assume is the owner spent a lot of time explaining his products.

The bottom line is that if you like empanadas and/or pastas, it is well worth a visit to their store or their booth at the Saturday Sarasota Farmers Market.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Potatoes Braised in White Wine - Patate all'Umido

This nice Tuscan side dish is from the book Tuscany the Beautiful Cookbook, by Lorenza de' Medici. The book has authentic recipes from throughout Tuscany. This one if from Siena, a town that we love.

This versions serves 6

- 1 tbsp. tomato past
- 1/4 cup light meat stock
- 3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 fresh rosemary sprig
- 2 lbs boiling potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/8 inch thick
- 1 cup dry white wine
- salt & freshly ground black pepper

- Dissolve the tomato past in the stock and set aside
- Warm the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat.
- Add the garlic, rosemary, and potatoes, and cook until the garlic is golden, about 5 minutes.
- Pour in the wine, lower the heat, and continue cooking gently. As the liquid evaporates, gradually add the stock to keep the contents moist.
- After about 20 minutes, the potatoes should be tender. Season to taste. Remove and discard the rosemary. Serve very hot.

Pork Chops with Apples - a Delicious & EasyTuscan Dish

One of my favorite sources of Tuscan recipes is a delightful book entitled, "A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany." The author describes one-day trips to different areas of Tuscany. She found wonderful small eateries and chose delicious dishes from each.

One nice and easy recipe is Pork Chops with Apples - Costolette di Maiale alle Mele. This recipe is from Ristorante Pizzica in Campiglia Marittima, which is south of Livorno near the Tuscan coast.

This recipe is not only easy to make, but can easily be scaled up or down to serve different numbers of diners. This version serves six.

- 3 slightly tart green apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into half-inch widths
- 3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- s tablespoons cognac
- 3 tablespoons cream
- 6 thick pork chops
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper

- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan and sauté the apples until just soft and browned.
- Throw in the cognac and allow to evaporate for a minute.
- Add the cream, cook for another minute, and remove from heat.
- Salt and pepper the pork chops, and brush with the remaining olive oil.
- Either grill or fry the pork chops, and serve with the apples and their sauce.

The way that I generally cook pork chops is as follows:
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees
- Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in an oven-safe skillet or grill pan
- Heat the olive oil on the stove over medium-high heat
- Put the pork chops into the skillet, and cook for 3-4 minutes per side (turn the pork chops over with tongs, not a fork.)
- Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 4-5 minutes
- Remove the skillet from the oven, using oven-safe gloves or other protection to hold the skillet.

Crostini with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, Fig Jam

This is a wonderful appetizer, which I found at the Italian Dish Blog (

- 1 fresh baguette
- 1/8 cup of olive oil
- sea salt or kosher salt
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons fig jam
- 3 slices prosciutto, each cut in half
- 6 fresh basil leaves

- Preheat over to 375 degrees
- Slice six 1/2 inch slices from the baguette. Slicing on the diagonal yields longer pieces
- Place on a baking sheet and brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt on each slice.
- Bake for about 10 minutes, or until crisp and slightly golden. Watch that they do not burn. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
- Spread some goat cheese on each crostino (singular of crostini).
- Spread about a tablespoon of fig jam on top of the goat cheese.
- Fold the half slices of prosciutto and place on top of each crostino.
- Lay a fresh basil leaf on each, and serve.

A Nice Tuscan Dinner

When our niece and her boyfriend visited us from Ontario in January, my nice and I prepared a mostly Tuscan dinner for them and our family. The reason I chose Tuscan is because she accompanied my wife and me on a trip to Tuscany and Umbria several years ago. In addition to sharing our love for food and wine, she has a sparkling, exuberant personality which made our trip a fun, unforgettable experience.

During her visits, she and I love to cook dinner together.

Four of the five dishes were Tuscan, but the dessert was a cheesecake gift from a family member. the wines were also Tuscan. I'll post each of the recipes separately, but thought it would be useful to post the menu:

- Crostini with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, Fig Jam
- Three types of Tuscan pecorino cheese from Pienza
- Carabaccia (Florentine onion soup - I have previously posted this terrific dish.)
- Pork Chops with Apples - Costolette di Maiale alle Mele
- Potatoes Braised in White Wine - Patate all'Umido

When many Americans think of pecorino, they think of Pecorino Romano, which is used for grating in many dishes. However, pecorino simply refers to cheese from sheep milk. There are many types of Tuscan pecorino, aged with a variety of flavors. Pienza, Tuscany produces terrific pecorinos. Our niece, my wife and I stopped at a small restaurant in Pienza and had a fantastic lunch with an assortment of pecorinos.

Tuscan pecorinos are generally not easy to find. However, I found these at the terrific cheese department in Mazzaro's Italian Market, St. Petersburg, FL.

The wines were:
- 2012 Vecchia Cantina Chianti with the appetizer and pre-dinner chatting
- 2007 Poggio Antico Madre, 50% Sangiovese & 50% Cabernet Sauvignon

I chose wines from these two wineries not only because they worked perfectly with the meal, but because we visited both wineries during our trip with our niece. Both wineries treated us wonderfully. I have been to Poggio Antico three times. They produce some of the very best Brunello, which is one of my favorite Italian wines.

For those looking for a reliably good everyday red wine, the Vecchia Cantina Chianti sells for about $7.99. Vecchia Cantina, which is a coop in Montepulciano, produces a nice variety of quality wines.

Carrots and Pineapple Side

This carrot and pineapple side dish was the perfect accompaniment to the maple-glazed ham steak I described in my previous post. This one, from Taste of Home (, serves four, is very easy, and takes about 20 minutes to prepare.

- 2 cups baby carrots
- 1 can (20 ounces) pineapple chunks, undrained
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter

1. In a saucepan, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Place carrots in a steam basket over the water. Cover and steam for 8-10 minutes, or until crisp-tender.
2. Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Set pineapple aside.
3. In another saucepan, combine cornstarch and cinnamon. Add the brown sugar, butter, and reserved pineapple juice. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for two minutes, or until thickened.
4. Stir in the carrots and pineapple, and heat through.

Maple-Glazed Ham Steak - Delicious, Fast, Easy

If you're looking for a delicious, fast, and easy ham steak recipe, chances are you'll like this 5-star recipe from ( The side that I made to accompany it was carrots and pineapple, which I'll describe in my next posting.

It serves 3-4 and takes about 25 minutes.

- One (1 lb) ham steak. I actually used two small ham steaks from Publix.
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (I used the incredible Sauble River Farms maple syrup from Ontario.)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

- Mix maple syrup, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl
- Brush one side of ham steak with mixture and place glazed-side down in skillet over medium heat.
- Brush top side of ham steak.
- Cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until cooked through and glaze has thickened.

Sauble River Farms Maple Syrup - Wow!

My wife and I are not only blessed with terrific children and grandchildren, but with wonderful nieces and nephews.

One of our nieces, who lives in Ontario, came to Florida in January to bask in the warmth of weather, family, and friends. She brought us an incredible gift of Sauble River Farms 100% pure maple syrup. While she has previously brought us delicious maple syrup, this one is extra special. It is has a very rich flavor.

Since she brought us a large bottle (1 liter), we have not only used it on pancakes & waffles, but I have also used it in recipes like maple-glazed ham steak and maple-glazed salmon. The results are mouth-watering.

The syrup is produced by Bob & Donna Lesperance, who started their farm in 1981. I see that they sell their product on their web site ( The prices range from $4 Canadian for 125mL to $57 Canadian for 4 liters. Shipping is extra. I do not know if they ship to the U.S.