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The taste of paradise: celebrities share recipes that say Sarasota.

The Taste of Paradise

Choreographer Eddy Toussaint, who moved his ballet company here from Canada last year, says, "Sarasota combines the two things I love: the theater and the sea."

Whatever their reasons, few can resist Sarasota's charms. Robins, bees and human snowbirds come to escape the cold; visitors such as Audrey Hepburn or fashion designer Adrienne Vittadini come for the beaches and privacy. And once they arrive, few can resist Sarasota's signature foods, from fresh seafood and tropical fruits to the fresh-baked pies and fluffy biscuits that keep lines long in front of homestyle restaurants.

For Toussaint, shrimp and Florida lobster top the list of favorite local foods. Toussaint was born in Haiti, and his cooking style reflects Creole influences. His favorite dish, Creole shrimp, combines fresh shrimp with vine-ripened tomatoes, thyme, fresh garlic and onions, creating a sauce that he describes as "spicy but not hot."

Hotel queen Leona Helmsley, who with her husband Harry maintains a suite at the Helmsley-owned Harley Sandcastle on Lido Beach, also loves the abundance of fresh seafood here, especially the meaty and delicious stone crabs. And she says she can never get enough of the spice-scented pumpkin bread the hotel serves. No stranger to the kitchen, Mrs. Helmsley often whips up a tart cranberry treat that's high in vitamin C, low in calories and, incidentally, delicious.

Sarasota's restaurants and markets have become increasingly sophisticated, so visitors with a global palate can find most of their favorite ingredients and dishes here. Victor DeRenzi, artistic director of the Sarasota Opera, satisfies his affection for all foods Italian when he's in town for the opera season. He often dines at Primo, where the oakfired oven toasts a perfect-crusted pizza. Victor says his wife, soprano Stephanie Sundine, has become a marvelous Italian cook. The couple likes to prepare risotto, a lovely, slow-simmered combination of arborio rice, freshly grated Romano and Parmesan cheeses and the earthy, comforting flavor of saffron.

Why risotto? Because Verdi cooked it, and "he's the composer closest to my heart," declares the maestro.

From his Sarasota headquarters, Allan Hill operates the Great American Circus, the second-largest tent circus in the country. Hill grew up in the circus tradition. His Dad was a boss and his mother a trick rider on horses and elephants. "I'm basically a steak-and-potatoes man," he says. "But my really favorite food is peanut butter pie. Any kind of peanut butter pie." Hill's version includes cream cheese blended into a peanut butter custard in a chocolate-lined crust that's topped with peanut crumbs. You don't have to hang around a circus to become addicted to this peanuty pie.

Cartoonist Chris Browne was part of January's Sarasota International Circus Parade. A bystander asked him how he got invited. "I'm a Danish ham," he quipped. Partially true. This ample-bodied, bearded, charming man has a quick wit and ready smile; he carries on the tradition of the comic-strip character, Hagar the Horrible, created by his late father, Dik Browne.

When he thinks of food, says Chris, he can't resist the "Viking in my soul" and heads for the smorgasbord brunches in town. Chris and his wife Carroll like to bake, especially Hagar's "Horrible Ol' Bread," a muffin-style, cake-shaped bread densely flavored with the Viking's favorite spice, cardamom.

Another cartoonist, Cathy Guisewite, creator of "Cathy," frequently comes to town to visit her parents, Bill and Anne Guisewite. In fact, says Cathy, the strip often chronicles the "annoying advice [my mother] gives me that I ignore." But Cathy never ignores her mother's home cooking - especially her strawberry pie. It's easy to understand why. Mom always bakes it from scratch and uses only natural ingredients. Cathy says she thinks of that strawberry pie, brimming with berries and strawberry sauce, its flavors accented with fresh lemon juice, whenever she thinks of Sarasota.



1 9-inch baked pastry shell


2 T. cornstarch 3/4 c. sugar 2 Grade "A" large eggs 1 1/2 c. milk 2 T. unsalted butter 3/4 c. chunky peanut butter 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature 1 t. vanilla


1 c. 4 X Confectioner's sugar 1/2 c. chunky peanut butter 1/2 c. unsalted, toasted pecans, crushed

Chocolate fudge sauce

3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate 1 T. butter 4 T. heavy cream

For the fudge sauce: Combine all the ingredients and heat gently to melt the chocolate. Beat until smooth, then spread in the baked pastry shell and set aside.

For the filling: Combine the cornstarch and sugar and set aside. Beat together the eggs and milk and add to the sugar mixture. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Cool slightly, then beat in the peanut butter, cream cheese and vanilla. Set aside to cool.

For the crumbs: Combine all the ingredients and blend until crumbly. Set aside.

When the filling is cool, spread over the chocolate-lined shell. Top with the prepared crumbs and chill for 3-4 hours or overnight. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream or whipped topping before serving.


2-3 pints fresh, whole strawberries, washed, drained and hulled - enough to line the pastry shell plus 1 pint for cooking 1/2 c. sugar 2 T. cornstarch 2 T. lemon juice 1 baked pastry shell

Arrange whole berries in the baked pastry shell, pointed end up and close together. Chill.

Coarsely chop one pint of strawberries and combine with the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. Set aside and cool. When cool, pour over berries in prepared shell, spreading it on top and between the berries. Chill. To serve, cut into wedges and garnish with whipped cream.



10 ounces fresh cranberries, washed and picked over

1 large orange, quartered and seeds removed

1 t. sugar

Combine the above ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until finely chopped. Chill and serve.



1/2 c. brown sugar, packed

1/3 c. shortening

2 Grade "A" large eggs

1 c. canned pumpkin puree

1/4 c. milk

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. ground ginger

1/4 t. baking soda

1/4 t. ground cloves

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Lightly grease and flour a bread pan and set aside. Cream brown sugar and shortening together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the pumpkin and milk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, baking soda and cloves. Stir into the pumpkin mixture and beat one minute.

Fold in the nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes in a pre-heated 350-degree oven.


4 T. butter

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil

4 T. shallots, peeled and chopped

1/2 t. saffron dissolved in 1 c. chicken stock

4-5 c. chicken stock, heated

2 c. arborio rice

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 c. grated Romano cheese.

1/2 c. Italian parsley, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Heat butter and oil and add the shallots. Saute gently until transparent. Add the rice and toss until each grain is coated with the oil/butter mixture. Add the saffron/stock mixture and stir over high heat until the liquid is absorbed.

Add one cup of the simmering chicken stock and stir over high heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock in one-cup portions and stirring until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. The idea is to add just enough stock to keep the rice from drying out without flooding it. The consistency should remain slightly liquid but not soupy. When the rice is tender, add the cheeses, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve at once with additional grated cheese, if desired.

Risotto is traditionally served as a first course or, with additions of seafood, as an entree. It is also the usual accompaniment for osso buco.



1 1/4 t. baking soda

3 t. baking powder

1 1/4 t. salt

2 c. all-purpose flour.

2 c. whole wheat flour.

1/4 t. ground cardamom or coriander

1 1/2 c. yogurt

1/2 c. water

1 Grade "A" large egg

Sift together all this (dry) stuff in a big ol' bowl. Beat the yogurt (while yelling at it, Viking style) with the egg and the water and then stir into the flour mixture. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for a few minutes. (My favorite part of any recipe is making a mess.)

When it's smooth, divide the dough into two parts (using your best battle axe - if one is handy). Shape each half into a flattened round (sort of like the flat, round globe of Hagar's day). Place the rounds into two small, buttered cake pans and press them into the edges. Now, with broadsword (or bread knife), slash the tops of each loaf twice in Hagar's signature - a big "X" crossing the top, each slash cut about a half-inch deep.

Now bake the darn things for 35-40 minutes at 375 F. This bread is best served warm, not hot, cut into wedges and then split and buttered.


1 8-oz. package cream cheese

1 pint sour cream

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 T. olive oil

1 lb. shrimp, cooked

2 t. thyme

1 small can tomato paste

salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, blend the cream cheese and sour cream and set aside. Saute chopped garlic and onion in olive oil until transparent. Add shrimp and seasonings. Saute for about one minute. Add the cheese mixture and blend well. Simmer as tomato paste is added. Simmer to blend flavors for about one minute. Serve on a bed of rice. Serves 3-4.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fine, Sally
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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