Let’s Have Dinner at Le Virtu’

Le Virtu dining room 2

Last December, my friend Helen convinced me to hop a train to Philadelphia with her and have dinner at a place called Le Virtù. I had heard of the restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Abruzzo, which (as you all know) is the region my family is from. But, let’s face it, on a chilly weeknight in December, I barely have the drive to drive into DC to dine out. Philly seemed an awfully long way to go for dinner.

Helen has a gentle but persuasive way about her (indeed, Abruzzo’s motto, forte e gentile (strong and gentle), might also be used to describe Helen, which is only fitting since she, too, has roots in the region.) And so, I found myself  sitting with her at one of Le Virtù’s heavy wooden tables, swapping stories with owner Francis Cratil while enjoying the beautifully crafted food ~ salumi, pasta and more ~ of Executive Chef Joe Cicala.

Le Virtu' liqueurs

There was a bit of magic about the evening, which I thought might be due to the selection of liqueurs (house made and from Abruzzo) that we shared at the end of the meal. But really it was about the way Le Virtù has succeeded in capturing the feel of a typical Abruzzese ristorante, one that might be tucked away in the countryside or on a cobbled street in a mountain village. It’s casual, convivial, genuine. So much so that when Helen and I stepped outside at the end of the evening I was a little startled to find myself looking out on a South Philadelphia street rather than that cobbled mountain one. (Here’s a piece I wrote about Joe Cicala and Le Virtù for American Food Roots.)

When The Glorious Vegetables of Italy was published, I knew I wanted Le Virtù to be part of the celebration. That celebration, I’m delighted to say, is happening next Thursday, Oct. 24, when Le Virtù hosts a multi-course Glorious Vegetables of Italy dinner. If you are in the vicinity and looking for something delicious to do, I hope you’ll come.

The dinner will feature recipes from the new book, including Pizza Bianca with Roasted Fennel and Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Kale; plus Chef Cicala’s own contributions ~ we’re talking whole-roasted suckling pig porchetta to go with those glorious vegetables. For dessert:  Autumn-Spiced Pumpkin Semifreddo, and, from the book, Sweet Potato Frittelle, as interpreted by Le Virtu’ Pastry Chef Angela Ranalli. There’s more ~ you can read the entire menu, plus details about the dinner on Le Virtù’s events page.

There are only a few spots left, so if you’d like to join us (we’d love to have you) don’t dilly dally. Even if you have to hop a train to get there.

I’d like to share one of the recipes that will be featured at the dinner: Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Kale. Buon appetito ~ here’s to fall’s glorious vegetables.

Makes 4 servings

Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Tuscan Kale

Whoever coined the phrase "opposites attract" must have had winter squash and Tuscan kale in mind. One is sweet and smooth and the other is pungent and hearty. And yet, here they are, happily hand in hand in this colorful cold-weather risotto.

Tuscan kale, also known as cavolo nero, dinosaur kale or lacinato kale, has slim, crinkled leaves that are deep blue-green in color and a flavor that is hearty and pungent, but also sweet.

From The Glorious Vegetables of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2013)


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 8 ounces Tuscan kale, coarsely shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 5 to 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth, heated
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Warm the olive oil and the onion in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the squash and kale and toss to coat them with the oil. Sprinkle in the salt. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the kale is completely wilted and the cubes of squash are just tender.

Pour in the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the grains are shiny and glassy-looking. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or so, until it is almost absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium-low and begin to add the broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost absorbed. You do not need to stir the risotto constantly, but be sure that you do stir it often, and take care that the rice grains do not stick to the bottom of the pot.

Continue to cook the risotto and add broth, 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice is almost but not completely cooked. It should be al dente--still rather firm and chalky at the center. Check by tasting a few grains. Stir in the butter and cheese. Then stir in a final ladleful of broth to achieve a creamy texture. The risotto should not be stiff or runny; it should mound softly on a spoon. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if you like.

Spoon the risotto into shallow rimmed bowls and serve immediately, with additional Parmigiano cheese on the side.

, , , ,

24 Responses to Let’s Have Dinner at Le Virtu’

  1. Majella Home Cooking October 18, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Ciao Domenica, I reeeeaaalllly wanted to make it, but just couldn’t coordinate all of the necessary pieces. I’d love to organize a Le Virtu’ dinner with Helen and Linda, perhaps after the holidays. In bocca al lupo for what I’m sure will be a fabulous event! I really am sorry to miss it. Un abbraccio forte, amica mia. Michelle (P.S. – I agree – Helen is truly “forte e gentile”)

    • Domenica Marchetti October 19, 2013 at 10:23 am #

      Michelle, I love your idea of organizing a dinner at LV ~ let’s try to do it after the holidays. Wish you could be there next Thursday but I know you are just a LITTLE busy these days. xo

  2. helenatvine October 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    That was a date to remember! I think we were both so busy, that a train ride seemed like a spa day. I love seeing how all of these relationships have grown. And yes, Michelle, to that reunion at LV . We are all forte, gentile e un po’ pazza.
    Domenica, enjoy your well deserved new cookbook celebration.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 19, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      It was such a nice and much needed break for both of us. Thank you for making that introduction. You will be missed but we’ll do it again. xo

  3. stacey snacks October 18, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    I just posted the same recipe w/ squash and kale but with farro, instead of arborio rice (glad you found it!).
    I am going to really try for Le Virtu next week, we so want to join you!
    Enjoy your weekend!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 20, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

      Stacey, it would be wonderful to have you there! I’ll keep my fingers crossed. And I love the idea of doing this with farro. Perfect for fall.

  4. Ciao Chow Linda October 19, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Domenica – I’ll be there with bells on (and friends) to help celebrate! Any chance to eat at LV is a treat, and enjoying your recipes there is a double treat. I totally agree with you about Helen – forte e gentile rings so true in her case — and yours.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 19, 2013 at 10:26 am #

      This is wonderful news, Linda! We are going to have a blast. A presto, cara.

  5. elisa October 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    I wished I could come!!! While there enojoy one of my favorite liqueurs,
    Centerbe!!! I drink it,when I have a cold. It will kill any germ!


    • Domenica Marchetti October 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

      Thank you. I’ll toast to your good health, Elisa.

  6. bettyannq @Mango_Queen October 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Oh my, I would have gone to this event because Philly is my 2nd home (my sons live there) and would have loved to partake of this delicious spread….but we will be away to receive my awards. I’m sorry to miss this event. Hope you have another one soon nearby, I’d love to go next time. Best of luck for this event, Domenica!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 20, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

      Best of luck to you, too, Betty Ann. And congratulations, my friend!

  7. jamielifesafeast October 20, 2013 at 4:13 am #

    Would I like to join you? Oh yes indeed! I’d give most anything to attend but the trip would be a little ridiculous. The restaurant sounds fabulous and I am so thrilled for you that they are hosting a Glorious Vegetables event! Fabulous, Domenica! The menu sounds so so good! It must be exciting for you to have this in Abruzzo away from home 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti October 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      This is one dinner I am looking forward to, Jamie. I wish you could be there. Hoping we’ll have a chance to catch up at IACP in Chicago? (and before that, Skype?) xo

  8. Frank @Memorie di Angelina October 20, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Le Virtù has been on my bucket list ever since Linda Prospero told me about it. I’ve got to make it up there some time soon! I also have an old college buddy in Philly who I haven’t seen in years, great excuse for killing two birds with one stone, so to speak…

    • Domenica Marchetti October 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Frank, why don’t you come? Think about it…and bring your college buddy. Do it!

      • Frank Fariello November 4, 2013 at 9:05 am #

        Oh, Domenica, how I wish I could have been there! Unfortunately, work got in the way. Way out of the way—I had a conference in Lima, Peru… I checked out the menu on Linda’s blog; the meal looked incredible. :=(

        • Domenica Marchetti November 6, 2013 at 10:16 am #

          I know you would have enjoyed it Frank. You must get yourself to Philly for dinner at Le Virtu’ soon. You won’t be disappointed.

  9. paninigirl October 22, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I finally got your book and I love it! If I lived closer I would be at the dinner in a heartbeat.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

      Thanks so much Janie. Looking forward to hearing about what you make from the book. Have fun with it.

  10. Tracy October 29, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    I’m sorry I missed this. We were on vacation last week and a quick train ride to Philly would have been a nice little adventure.

  11. Domenica Marchetti November 6, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Tracy, how nice it would have been to meet you! Next time maybe?

  12. Jess Gulash November 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    This was a wonderful dinner! I took the advice that you gave me at the dinner and ate at Le Mani In Pasta when I was in Rome. It was a truly wonderful meal. I had the best steak of my life! Thanks again, and have happy holidays!

    • Domenica Marchetti November 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

      Jess, thanks so much for reporting back. I’m glad you enjoyed Le Mani in Pasta. I hope you had a fantastic trip. Cheers and happy holidays to you!

Leave a Comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: