Giada Brings Italy to Paradise

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South Beach may be famous for its sparkling blue waters, white sandy beaches and diverse culture, but when Giada De Laurentiis is in town, the focus here inevitably turns to food. For her first solo event at the 2013 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, she joined forces with the team at Casa Tua Hotel and Restaurant — a longtime favorite of hers in the area — to offer an Italian in Paradise Dinner to an intimate crowd of just 100 people. She promised an authentic Italian feast designed by herself in conjunction with Paolo del Papa, the chef at Casa Tua, and together they delivered an elegant yet comforting spread complete with five signature courses and paired wines.

Before Giada took to the kitchen to help with meal prep, she mingled with guests at a walk-around cocktail hour in the upstairs lounge of the restaurant, posed for photos and signed cookbooks galore, providing fans a seemingly one-time-only opportunity to get to know their Food Network favorite. Party-goers munched on an array of passed spuntini — snacks — like rolled zucchini stuffed with creamy goat cheese, plus bite-size eggplant parmesan and chunks of deliciously salty parmesan cheese straight from the wheel of grana padano as they chatted with the hostess. Looking ahead to dinner, Giada told us, "We've been prepping for three days. It's been awesome … Hopefully everybody will enjoy it."

Guests, of course, had no qualms about what they were about to indulge in. To start, Giada offered an antipasto of tender, nickel-sized bay scallops resting in a pool of herbed olive oil in sea shells, then followed the dish with a plated duo of pastas. Simple and satisfying, the mushroom lasagna was laced with spinach and a smooth cream sauce, while the lemon-scented gnocchi were fluffy pillows made with mascarpone cheese.

The heartiest dish of the night proved to be a meaty entree of beef tenderloin with foie gras alongside sauteed leeks and crunchy hazelnuts. Given Giada's own pension for all things chocolate, it's no surprise that her final course featured a decadent chocolate tart boasting a sweet crust and filling of cherry spread. She paired the rich cocoa treat with zesty lemon meringue that was a refreshingly light end to her standout meal.

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(Photo courtesy of South Beach Wine & Food Festival)