Fortunato Nicotra

“Cooking Italian is all about using seasonal and local products”


Fortunato grew up in the small town of Baucina, approximately 45 minutes from Palermo, Sicily. At the age of four, his family moved north to Torino, where he remained for most of his childhood and teenage years. His childhood friends were always over at his house for meals; Carmela Di Benedetto Nicotra was, and still is, a fabulous cook. Her specialties, which are still a requirement during his annual visits, include: pasta con le sarde (Palermo style pasta with a tomato based sauce of pine nuts, raisins, sardines and wild fennel); cannoli (a much lighter version than what you often find in Italian-American joints in the U.S.); capretto al forno (roasted goat with potatoes and herbs). The other major culinary influence in Fortunato’s life was Signora Delfina, a Piedmontese widow who cared for him while his mother was working. “She made the most amazing meat-filled agnolotti, but she did drink warm milk with a chunk of butter every evening for dinner which I never understood.”

After attending culinary school in Torino, receiving a Michelin star in Sicily and another shortly afterwards, he headed to New York in 1996 to become the Executive Chef of Felidia. He married Shelly Burgess, also part of the Bastianich team, and now lives in Bergen County, New Jersey where he has started growing his own vegetables and herbs with lots of help from his four year old daughter, who loves to plant AND pick. As for his seven year old son Alex, “He isn’t interested in gardening but is a great eater. In fact, I always tell the story of a Thanksgiving gathering when we lived in Manhattan. Chefs Odette Fada, Filippe Bertineau and Michael White were a few that attended. At the age of three, Alex ate wild boar pate and foie gras. At seven, he’s a little hesitant to eat everything he did at that age, but we keep trying!” Fortunato also loves to play soccer with Alex who aspires to become a goalie for the Italy soccer team when he grows up.

Restaurant: Felidia

243 East 58th Street
New York, NY 10022
(212) 758-1479

FORTUNATO’S RECIPE : Frittelle di Bianchetti (Nunnata)

Type of Dish: Appetizers, Sides, Small Plates

Cuisine: Sicilian


  • 2 egg whites
  • Sea salt
  • 1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chives, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh Pecorino, coarsely grated
  • 1 tbsp. fresh bread crumbs or panko Grapeseed or olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh bianchetti (little larval offspring (or neonata) of the pesce azzurro category (anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and the like)


In a large bowl, gently beat the egg whites together with a pinch of salt until they start to turn foamy. Whisk in the garlic, herbs, pecorino, and bread crumbs.

(1) Add the bianchetti and gently stir to combine, making sure not to break the fish. (If the mixture appears a little watery, add more bread crumbs.) Coat the bottom of a large nonstick sauté pan with approximately a ½-to-¾-inch layer of oil. Heat oil until very hot, between 325 and 340 degrees, but do not allow it to smoke.

(2) Using a tablespoon, scoop the frittelle mixture into loosely formed balls and add to the hot oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

(3) Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil, season to taste, and serve as is or with a spicy marinara sauce.

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