Saturday, November 19, 2016

Another Terrific Meal at Ortygia - Bradenton Sicilian Restaurant

We have waited far too long to return to Ortygia Restaurant in Bradenton, which offers wonderful Sicilian, French, and Mediterranean-fusion cuisine. It also has a very reasonably priced wine list. The owner-chef, Bob Gaetano, clearly loves his culinary endeavors and interacts frequently and warmly with his customers. We had last dined there twice in 2011, and enjoyed terrific meals both times. Since it's about a 45-minute drive from our house, we tend to go to closer restaurants. We won't wait so long before we return.

My wife's appetizer was the Torta di Carciofi, a torte with artichokes and caramelized onions in a handmade crust for $8.50. It was wonderful.

My appetizer was a set of two different patés:
- The Paté della Casa (house paté) with chicken livers, pork tenderloin, Szechuan peppercorns, and Mediterranean spices. (As Chef Gaetano informed me when I asked, it was only mildly spicy, despite the Szechuan peppercorns.)
- The Paté delle Due Sicilie (Paté of the Two Sicilies) - a mushroom paté with capers, olives, and dry Marsala.
Both patés were terrific.

My wife's main dish was the Pasta Siciliana - penne pasta with San Marzano tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, basil, and ricotta for $13.50. She really loved it.

I decided to try the Timballo di Penne which my had enjoyed twice in 2011. Timballo is an Italian dish that can be made with pasta, rice, or potatoes. This one had penne, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, prosciutto, provolone, and roasted peppers in béchamel and parmesan cheese with house-made, slow-cooked tomato sauce for $14.50. It was fantastic. (The name of the dish is derived from timbale, the French word for kettle drum.)

Our wine was a 2013 Feudo Disisa Terre Siciliane Nero d'Avola. It was very nice. I believe the price was $32.

We also had delicious desserts, and I had a cup espresso.

Our server, April, was very nice.

The name Ortygia evokes fond memories for my wife and me because we spent several days with two other couples in the charming Sicilian waterfront town of Ortygia. One evening, when we were dining at a waterfront restaurant called Le Papere, four Italian diners at a table next to us were singing as one of them played the guitar. One of our friends, who is Italian-American asked if he might play the guitar. (He is an accomplished singer and guitarist.) They invited him to do so, and we all began singing. It was a terrific evening - friends, great food, wonderful wine, and perfect temperatures - bellissima!

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Meal From Four Regions of Italy - the Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Umbria

My wife and I recently hosted a lunch for friends with whom we had enjoyed a wonderful trip to Italy. We decided to serve a meal with one dish from each of the Italian regions we had visited with them. The wines we served were from some of the same regions. The dishes we served were:

- Shrimp with Pancetta and Rosemary (Gamberi al Rosmarino) from Venice
- Tilemakers' Beef Stew (Peposo dei Fornaciari dell'Impruneta) from the small town of Impruneta in Tuscany. (This can be made a day in advance.)
- Asparagus, Peas, and Basil (Piselli con Asparagi e Basilico)
- Walnut Cake with Zabaglione (Torta di Noci con Zabaglione)

My wife learned to make the dessert in a cooking class at Verduno Castle (Castello di Verduno - where our group stayed in the Barolo area of the Piedmont. 

I served two red wines and one white wine. The reds were from two wineries we visited during the trip:
- Fiulot Barbera d'Asti red from the Prunotto Winery in Asti in the Piedmont
- 2007 Poggio Antico Altero Brunello. from the Poggio Antico winery which we visited during our trip and which is near Montalcino, Tuscany. This is a very special red, deservedly rated 98 points by James Suckling.
- Cren del'Ape Cortese white wine from the Piedmont.

I highly recommend a visit to the Poggio Antico winery. The wines are incredible and the views of the Tuscan countryside are superb. There is also a very nice restaurant located there. The owner, Paolo Gloder, is terrific. When I sent the winery a short-notice request for a fact sheet on the wine just 12 hours before the lunch, the response was immediate.

I have posted the recipes for the appetizer, the main dish, and the side dish.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Asparagus, Peas, and Basil - An Easy Umbrian Side Dish

In searching for a side dish from the Umbria Region of Italy, I found this delicious and easy recipe for Asparagus, Peas, and Basil (Piselli con Asparagi e Basilico) on ( It should serve 6. I served it with a Tuscan beef stew - Peposo dei Fornaciari dell'Impruneta - which I described in a previous post.


- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- peas, fresh or frozen (3/4 pound shelled fresh peas, or 1 & 3/4 pound in pods or 10 ounces of thawed frozen peas - I used the thawed frozen peas.)
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- about 3/4 cup of torn fresh basil leaves


Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender - about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt, then seal skillet with foil. (Rather than the foil, I simply used a tight cover for the skillet.) Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender, but still slightly al dente - about 8 minutes.

Stir in basil and sea salt.

Shrimp with Rosemary and Pancetta - a Venetian Appetizer

Venice, Italy is well known for a type of bar snack called cicchetti, which are similar to Spanish tapas. In looking for an appetizer recipe from Venice, I found this delicious and easy recipe from Saveur magazine ( The Italian name is Gamberi al Rosmarino.


- 8 oz. pancetta, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 16 medium shrimp. (I used 24 medium shrimp already peeled and deveined.)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup white wine (I used a Cortese wine from the Piedmont Region of Italy.)
- 2 sprigs of rosemary, stemmed
- 1 medium tomato, cored, seeded and finely chopped. (I think it would also work nicely with chopped cherry tomatoes. That might be a bit faster.)
- Crusty bread for serving. I used a baguette, coated with olive oil and baked at 450° for about 7 minutes


Heat pancetta and oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until crisp - 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a plate.

Add garlic to skillet and cook for 1 minute.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper, and add to skillet. Cook until pink - about 2 minutes.

Add wine, rosemary, and tomato. Cook until wine is reduced by half - 2 to 3 minutes. (In my case, it took 5 minutes.)

Sprinkle with pancetta and serve with the bread.