By Abby Weingarten

Viva Italia!

We scout out eight of the best Italian dishes in town.

1Some traditions are worth honoring, and it doesn’t get more traditional—or tastier—than the seafood cannelloni at Valenti’s Ristorante. In this classic pasta dish, dollops of ricotta cheese, chunks of lobster and crabmeat, and shrimp fill the cylindrical, starchy cannelloni. The ingredients are baked in the oven in a mild sherry cream sauce, and the dish is served warm, cheesy and soul-soothing for $13. 1200 E. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 484-1888.

2For a delicious riff on classic spaghetti, order the spaghetti con polpette di agnello at Cassariano Italian Eatery on West Venice Avenue. Warm, homemade spaghetti noodles are topped with rich, hand-rolled lamb meatballs, fresh goat cheese and juicy tomatoes for $18.50. A primo mix of light and hearty flavors, it will convince your taste buds they have died and gone to Northern Italian heaven. 305B W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 485-0507.

3Ophelia’s Pasta House in Nokomis Village Plaza may be beloved for its noodles, but we can’t resist the baked lasagna, a meatless dish with cheese and spinach, topped with marinara sauce, for $13. It’s “Ophelia’s family recipe” and “everybody’s favorite,” says the menu, so the exact ingredients are kept an in-house secret, and for good reason. 1097 Tamiami Trail N., Nokomis, (941) 485-6818.

4Insiders frequent Made in Italy on West Venice Avenue for the cheese-and-herb-rich tronchetti di Brie con prosciutto, rucola e funghi. A wedge of creamy Brie cheese, fresh sprigs of arugula and mushrooms are wrapped with prosciutto, for a savory, filling treat that’s just $11.95. Find it on the antipasti menu as an alternative to the typical caprese salad or beef carpaccio. Bellissimo. 117 W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 488-8282.

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5Italiano’s (formerly Il Panificio) in Venice is jam-packed with the kind of deli subs only an authentic Italian eatery can craft. The prosciutto sub is stacked with prosciutto, provolone, lettuce and tomatoes, and drizzled with oil and vinegar on freshly baked bread for $8.99. Top it with mush-rooms, cherry peppers, feta cheese, banana peppers and capers. 4191 Tamiami Trail, Venice, (941) 488-1797 or (941) 496-9090.

6It’s not that easy to find true New York-style pizza here, but Frankie’s Pizza and Italian Ristorante in Osprey does the real thing. Start with the house special pizza and you may never order anything else. The pie is blanketed with pieces of grilled chicken and mozzarella cheese, a slathering of pesto and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. $8 to $20 in 10- to 20-inch sizes. 1072 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, (941) 966-4453.

7At Angelo’s Italian Market, Catering and Bistro in Venice, a dish called The Three Tenors is the ultimate Italian mash-up: a heady mix of veal, chicken and shrimp sautéed with green peppercorns, mushrooms, brandy and Marsala cream. It’s served over pappardelle noodles for $19.99; to maintain the pasta theme, make your side the penne pomodoro rather than soup or salad. 850 Pinebrook Road, Venice, (941) 484-6864.

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8For more than two decades, Mama Leone’s along North Tamiami Trail in Nokomis has dazzled regulars with dishes like the rigatoni alla Bordelaise (sliced beef tenderloin with prosciutto, mushrooms, fresh herbs, marinara sauce and demi-glace) for $19.95. The mildness of the mushrooms and the sweetness of the marinara perfectly balance the saltiness of the high-grade beef and prosciutto slices. 2300 Tamiami Trail N., Nokomis, (941) 918-9889. |||

*Our “8 Great” lists are not listed in order of preference.

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