A Culinary Adventure

We’ve eaten our fill of delicate pastries, hearty pastas and appetizers of all kinds. Along with learning to make new dishes, we enjoyed the atmospheres, mingling and recipes offered by three area cooking classes. Now we’re here to share the delicious tale.


Perfect Paella

It was a Tuesday morning at Eaton’s Beach, the breeze rolling across Lake Weir. We were a little jealous of the jet skiers cruising by, but we didn’t have it bad ourselves. Our instructor, Chef Dave Del Rio, was stirring together a heap of what’s called the Holy Trinity: onions, peppers and garlic. This was the start of his paella Valenciana. There are many folktales about the origins of paella, and he shared his favorite as he diced the chorizo.

Long ago, a Spanish innkeeper learned a princess was coming to stay the night at his inn. Hoping to impress her, he gathered the best vegetables, saffron and olive oil he could find to prepare an incredible meal for her. “For her” translates, in Spanish, to para ella. Over time, it was shortened into paella, the name of the delicious dish the innkeeper created and the same one still enjoyed today.

Chef Dave—who has been in the industry since the 1980s, training cooks and kitchen managers as a corporate chef for Outback Steakhouse for 20 years—went on to tell us about his trademark Florisiana cooking style as he added a short, fat-grain rice to the massive paella pan.

“I was born in Ybor City, but I have a lot of family in Louisiana. My ancestors came from Spain. Half of them settled here, but some needed the ports in Louisiana; they were in the tobacco industry. So I spent a lot of time between Louisiana and Florida, and those were the foods I grew up eating.”

He said Florisiana is made up of three Cs and a little BS: Cajun, creole, low country, barbecue and Spanish. And that’s Chef Dave. He’s about teaching his guests the influences on their food in an entertaining way. There is a tradition when making paella to add the rice in the shape of a cross before stirring it in to ensure a good meal. Chef Dave adds his own blessing.

“I say I do the cross to honor the St. Don Quixote, who is not a saint at all. I’m serious about great cuisine, but I’m also serious about making cooking fun. I try to entertain and make sure everyone laughs a little.”

As much as we love a good recipe, what we loved most was Chef Dave’s appreciation for the dish. And although the promise of sangria didn’t hurt, that’s why the guests at our table came from over an hour away. The rich history of paella is not lost on him, and he imparted that appreciation to us.

Upcoming Classes

Classes include recipe, demonstration, lunch and beverage (usually alcoholic), $25 to $35 plus tax.

Wednesday, November 11, 10am—Seafood Paella

Call (352) 259-2444 to reserve seats.

Paella Valenciana

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, medium dice

1 red bell pepper, medium dice or strips

1 tomato, peeled and seeded

1 garlic clove, chopped

6 chicken thighs

2 tbsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp sweet Spanish paprika

4 oz Spanish chorizo, diced into ½-inch cubes

5 cups chicken stock

Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled and steeped in 1 cup hot chicken stock for 30 minutes

2 cups Arborio or Valenciana rice (15 oz)

2 oranges and 2 lemons

Season chicken thighs with olive oil, paprika, salt and black pepper. Cook over moderate heat, turning occasionally, or place on sheet pan and roast in 325°F oven until golden brown. Transfer chicken thighs to plate, and keep warm until ready to use. In paella pan or large deep skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. Add onion, pepper and garlic. Cook over low heat until softened (10-15 minutes). Add tomatoes and chorizo, stirring occasionally until mixture is soft (5-10 minutes). Add rice and seasonings to the mixture, stirring for several minutes until rice is coated. Add chicken stock and saffron. Bring mixture to a boil. Nestle chicken into the rice, and cook over moderately low heat until rice is nearly tender (about 18 minutes). Add peas and asparagus if desired, and continue simmering until chicken is warmed through (8-10 minutes). Finish garnishing with oranges and lemons or others, if desired.

Eaton’s Beach Sandbar & Grill

15790 SE 134th Ave., Weirsdale

eatonsbeach.com, (352) 259-2444

A Taste Of Italy

“If somebody rinses the pasta, just call me. I will shoot him.”

That’s Chef Giacomo. He’s the general manager and director of culinary operations at Ricciardi’s Italian Table in The Villages. Giacomo Guagliardo is from Sicily, Italy, and has a sense of humor as strong as his Italian accent. He’s been teaching cooking classes since 1994 and has been a chef since 1976 when he graduated from chef school in Italy.

He’s called Giacomo by his fans and returning guests, and we could see right away that the next two hours of wining and dining would be as entertaining as they were delicious.

We took our seats in a big room at the back of the restaurant where large wooden tables lined the side and back walls, forming a “U” shape with the chef’s table at the top. Nineteen people, including us, sat at the tables, as servers Jen R. and Jen C. (as Giacomo calls them) poured either white or red wine into each person’s glass.

Out came the appetizers, consisting of sliced prosciutto and ham, halved grape tomatoes and artichokes, and thick circles of soft mozzarella. As we munched, we were warned by the woman next to us to take it slow. This was her fourth time at one of Giacomo’s classes, and apparently, the next two hours would be filled with food.

Giacomo began the first recipe, Pasta D’Autunno, by roasting garlic. He held up a skillet of garlic for everyone to see, and then passed it off to one of the Jens to serve. After a few minutes, he poured the cooked pasta, covered in just the right amount of sauce, onto an oval platter.

The room filled with “ohs and ahs,” and Giacomo looked up and said, “You gotta present your food good, but it’s gotta taste good, too.”

He topped the pasta with strips of roasted chicken, added a touch of “Mr. Basil” and, as the last step of the recipe, exclaimed, “Then serve immediately!”

While we ate, one guest complimented Giacomo, saying, “You make us feel like this is your home.”

Giacomo smiled and nodded, “I bring you to my table. That’s why it’s called Ricciardi’s Table.”

Then he called for helpers to demonstrate the dish again and topped it off with extra cheese, adding, “Boom,” for emphasis.

He jumped right into his second recipe, Pesce Boscaiola, and arranged fish fillets in a skillet along with a generous amount of Chardonnay.

“This fish is gonna get a little vino,” he joked.

As we talked to some of the guests, we noticed that most of them have been to Giacomo’s classes before.

One woman explained it, saying, “He’s got that Italian charm.”

Upcoming Classes

Each class is $65 per person, not including tax and gratuity.

Wednesday, November 4, 2-4pm

Wednesday, November 18, 2-4pm

Wednesday, December 2, 2-4pm

Wednesday, December 16, 2-4pm

Call (352) 391-9939 to register.

Pasta D’Autunno

2 oz extra virgin olive oil

3 oz mushrooms, sliced

3 oz roasted chicken breast, julienned

1 oz sun-dried tomatoes, julienned

6 oz roasted garlic cream sauce

3 oz grated Parmigiano

8 oz pasta of your choice

½ tsp sun-dried tomato, julienned

½ tbsp fresh basil, julienned

¼ tsp black pepper, ground

¼ tsp salt

Pour 2 ounces of olive oil into a 14-inch sauté pan. When hot, add sliced mushrooms and sauté for two minutes. Add 3 ounces of sun-dried tomatoes, and cook for an additional two minutes. Add roasted chicken breast, and cook for two minutes. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Pour in roasted garlic cream sauce, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add cooked pasta, and toss together. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano, and continue to simmer. Mix well, transfer to a platter and garnish with sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Serve immediately.

Ricciardi’s Italian Table

3660 Kiessel Rd., The Villages

ricciardisitalian.com, (352) 391-9939

Celebrating Autumn With Gild A Lily

Marilyn Byer’s passion for elegant food began over 40 years ago with her custom cakery and event production business. After moving to The Villages from Connecticut, she missed sharing recipes with her staff and guests, so her Gild A Lily cooking classes were born. She now hosts them monthly in her kitchen at home.

Classical music playing and wine on the tables, she served her hot spinach, artichoke and crab dip next to a brie en croute and strawberries dipped in white chocolate. And those were just appetizers. This must be why her classes are so popular.

First, she whipped up a delicious pumpkin bisque sweetened with maple syrup. Marilyn served hers in a pumpkin shell, perfect for a dinner party. She suggested topping it with sour cream designs or crushed graham crackers for good measure.

Next was an elaborate torte de Milan, a puff pastry loaded with layers of ham, cheese, spinach and peppers. Although it’s an impressive-looking dish to serve at a gathering, it doesn’t take gourmet experience to recreate. Chef or no, she’s not one to fuss over her food, as she explained during her demonstration.

“I sautéed the peppers on a higher heat; then covered them and let them steam on a lower heat. Then I watched half of CSI.

That’s the real beauty of Marilyn’s classes, said her husband, Alan.

“Marilyn’s thing is taking gourmet food and making it so anyone can make it.”

She next shared her recipes for pumpkin ravioli plated beautifully with bright green pea pesto. She filled the house with the sugary smell of her almond pastries with glaze and, as if we weren’t full enough, finished the day with warm apple roses. With each step, she shared hard-earned knowledge we could use in our own kitchens (like placing a wet dishtowel under a cutting board to prevent sliding) and pointers on making these recipes dinner party perfect.

More than impressing our future guests, Marilyn wanted us to enjoy playing with our food.

“Get comfortable with the recipe. I can’t think of a recipe I’ve ever made exactly as it was written. I always read it first and think about how I can put my own spin on it. I hope by taking my class, if you learn nothing else, you learn to use your head and get creative.”

Upcoming Classes

Tuesday, November 17, 1pm

Tuesday, January 26, 1pm

Email 1gildalily@gmail.com to reserve your seat.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Warm Pea Pesto Drizzle

For the ravioli, you’ll need…

1 package of wonton wrappers

1 can pumpkin pie filling

Mascarpone cheese

1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water

²/³tbsp oil

Empty pumpkin pie filling into large bowl. Add equal amount of mascarpone cheese (for easy measuring, add cheese to the empty can of pumpkin until full), and mix together. Lay out two rows of wonton wrappers, one below the other. Brush each wonton wrapper with egg wash. Put a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrappers on the bottom row. Lay a wrapper from the top row over each filled wrapper, pressing down around the filling to seal the edges. Chill for 10 minutes to set the egg. Bring water to a boil in a wide pan, adding salt and 2-3 tbsp oil. Carefully drop a few ravioli into the water. They are done when they rise to the top. Lift the raviolis out, and place in a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray.

Pea Pesto

1 8-oz bag of frozen peas, thawed

1 cup of fresh basil leaves

3 tbsp extra light olive oil

Place all ingredients into blender or food processor, and pulse until mixed finely. If mixture needs to be more liquid for drizzling, add more oil.

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