Il Paesano is a cozy Italian restaurant that has a marketplace in the middle of it all. Just don’t expect to sit and eat an Italian meal and then you’re off. The owner won’t let you, in a good way.
Owner Vergilio Peixoto wants you to indulge in his Italian cooking – and he wants to make friends. Don’t be surprised if he serves you himself.
“This is our life,” Peixoto says. “I want to know the customers by name. I want it to be personal. This is all about family. I don’t want customers to eat to be full; it’s not a task.”
Il Paesano emphasizes fresh ingredients, quality food and spreading love. There’s no set menu, only daily specials determined by the fresh ingredients that are found in the market. During the week there are about 15 to 16 different dishes. And Peixoto has no freezers; from the pasta to the tomato sauce, everything is made fresh in-house. Il Paesano’s chef formerly owned Vesuvio, which was a popular Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale back in its heyday.
Peixoto wants to create an experience for each customer where they learn something along the way.
“I educate them on what they’re eating,” he says. “You can go to any restaurant. I want to teach them, and I want them to feel like they’re eating in Rome.”
Il Paesano has a wide variety of wines and the private wine room can also be used as a more intimate setting for couples to dine. (There have been marriage proposals, Peixoto reports.) And if you want to know more about wine, Peixoto hosts a winetasting class every month. But be quick – the classes tend to fill up within minutes of being announced.
Peixoto grew up far from both Florida and Italy. He was born in Mozambique and attended school in South Africa. The concept of a marketplace inside a restaurant is in Peixoto’s roots. His family owned supermarkets in South Africa dating back to the 1950s – similar, he says, to your local Publix. Peixoto has been surrounded by fresh food and family his entire life. Today il Paesano is Peixoto’s life and his wife’s life as well.
“This is my wife’s dream. My wife’s roots are from Italy,” he says.
“[This restaurant] is my life, and my wife wanted it.”
The Dish: Veal Ossobuco Ravioli
For Pasta Filling:
- 1kg beef ossobuco
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion (diced)
- 1 carrot (diced)
- 1 celery stick (diced)
- 300ml white wine
- 1.5 liters beef stock
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 sprig of sage
- 1 sprig of bay leaf
- 1 tbsp. tomato puree
- Salt and pepper for seasoning to taste
- 1 tbsp. breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- ½ tbsp. fresh sage (finely chopped)
- 250g strong white flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 200°C. In ovenproof saucepan, heat oil over moderate heat. Prep ossobuco for frying by lightly seasoning and flouring it. Fry for 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and add in onion, celery and carrot, sautéing for 5 minutes until softened. Add white wine and let simmer for 5 minutes on turned-up heat to reduce and thicken. Add tomato puree and stir well before adding ossobuco to pan with stock, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and cover pan with a lid before placing in oven. Cook for 2 hours, reducing the heating after 1 hour to 160°C.
Allow to cool for 30 minutes and remove meat and herbs. Gently remove the marrow from the bone and add to a food processor; add meat too (discard fat). Add in half the vegetables from sauce. Bind with the egg, breadcrumbs and fresh sage. Pulse into a coarse paste (adding a spoonful of sauce to thin or breadcrumbs to thicken). Add seasoning if lacking. Place in large bowl, cover and set aside to cool.
Whiz 500ml of meat sauce and remaining vegetables together in food processor. Sieve and cover to cool.
Bind flour, salt and eggs well together into dough. Knead for 5 minutes then cover in plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 parts and use pasta machine to roll it out into long, thin strips (reduce thickness setting as you go to level 3). Otherwise, use a rolling pin (1.5mm thickness). Flour each side to avoid sticking. Flour work surface and lay out one sheet of pasta; place walnut-sized balls of filling evenly over the pasta. Leave enough space between each to cut into individuals. Brush water around meatballs. Lay another pasta sheet over and carefully press the pasta together (around filling). Use a 60mm ravioli cutter around the filling and press edges together to seal. Arrange on a floured tray. Repeat with remaining pasta.
Boil a pot of salted water.
Drop in ravioli (not too many at once); cook for 4 to 5 minutes.
Heat a large frying pan and add a couple of ladlefuls of the reserved meat sauce. Let it bubble before dropping in ravioli; add some cooking liquid. Shake the pan to coat ravioli for 1 to 2 minutes. Top with freshly grated Parmesan, stir gently and serve.
(An extra sprinkling of Parmesan and fresh black pepper is optional for serving.)