Cotechino: Traditional New Year’s Dish

Cotechino
Lentil Soup with Cotechino
Lentil Soup with Cotechino

Today, I’m making a traditional New Year’s dish, cotechino (a spicy fat boiled sausage from Italia) served over lentils. If you can’t get a cotechino you can use any Italian sausage. To poor southern Italians the lentils symbolized all the coins they hoped to amass in the New Year and the sliced sausage medallions represented opulence. A delicious dish and there’s no harm hedging your bet for what’s to come.

  • Boil the cotechino or roast other fresh sausages.
  • Saute some finely chopped garlic and onion, celery, and carrot cut in a small dice in EVOO until the onion is translucent then add the lentils and a bay leaf.
  • Add water to about 2 inches above the lentils and gently boil until the lentils are tender.

Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the lentils and some of their broth in a bowl, drizzle with some good EVOO and top with slices of the warmed cotechino or roasted sausage.

Happy New Year!

Recipe: Mostarda di Sedano (Celery Chutney)

Mostarda di Soreno (Italian Celery Chutney)
Mostarda di Sedano (Italian Celery Chutney)
Mostarda di Sedano (Italian Celery Chutney); Photo by Hungry Village - click to enlarge

Preserved vegetables are a staple in the Italian pantry. This celery relish or chutney is a great accompaniment to salumi and cheeses either on their own or as part of an antipasti. The little cubes of celery glisten like tiny emeralds and its sweet-sour flavor is a wonderful surprise.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds firm celery stalks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Remove any strings from the stalks. Cut them lengthwise into 1/8-inch matchsticks. Cut the sticks crosswise into 1/8-inch cubes. This should yield about 6 cups.
  2. Put the sugar and salt in a saucepan and add the lemon juice then the celery. Cook at medium-high, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve and the celery releases some of its liquid. Bring the syrup to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently.
  3. Cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook at a simmer, stirring frequently until all of the liquid is absorbed.

Cool completely before serving. You can store the mostarda in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed jar for a couple of months.

Gianni’s First Live Demo – Success!

On Saturday, we did our first live cooking demonstration with 12 folks in my small apartment. Strangers were brought together by the allure of The Village and its Italian food, braving the rainy day to reach the top of The Hill: A couple from San Carlos; a few emissaries from The Mission; a young couple new to The Village; a personal chef from Brazil; a few old-timers; and a former resident jonesing for a return to North Beach.

It was a fun bunch of guests.

Gianni's Free Cooking Demo
Diggin' in!

For one guest, it was a surprise Christmas present. North Beach resident, Jeff, brought his wife, Karla into my place without telling her why. You should have seen the look on her face when she peered into the kitchen and saw me: “Oh my God!”

Call MasterCard, ’cause that moment was priceless.

And thank God for everyone’s help during the demo. Mary tended the red bell pepper we were charring on top of the stove. Dan did a nice job bringing the cream for the gorgonzola sauce to the proper texture.

Gianni's Free Cooking Class
Dan Stirs

Half the group had roots in Sicilia and shared stories of their families. Good thing one of the pasta sauces I was making was from that exquisite island. Old friends Marie and Stephanie remembered details of our trips to Italy and many meals at my table. Marco offered to cook us a seafood meal from his village on an island off Brazil.

In addition to an antipasti platter with cheese and salumi, I prepared:

  • String beans in a tomato sauce
  • Steamed broccoli the way my family likes it. Simple but delicious
  • Baby Italian eggplant in the oven (melanzane al forno)
  • Red bell peppers charred on top of the stove and marinated
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Sauteed broccoli rabe

Later I made 3 quick sauces served with choke the priest pasta–strozzapreti

  • Pesto trapanese (Sicily)
  • Gorgonzola e crema (Northern Italy)
  • San Marzano tomato, garlic and oregano sugo (Campania)

For wines:

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Lacryma Christi Bianco from near my mother’s birth village in Campania
  • Terradora Di Paolo Aglianico, a medium-bodied red from the noble Campania grape

Three and a half hours after we started we ran out of wine. The group decided to walk off some of our meal. We ambled down Macondray Lane to bug Ron and Mike at Little City Meats. Mike told us that the Christmas sausage was a Sicilian base with aged provolone and basil added. A really rich and delicious concoction. Dan bought a bunch to add to his luncheon the next day. Karla had just roasted the porchetta she bought there (after explaining to Mike she wanted it “butterflied like a HoHo” – ha!). Jeff grabbed a gallon of the Ciuti EVOO just in from Sicily.

Gianni's Free Cooking Class
Bugging the guys at Little City

As we were gathered under the awning saying our goodbyes and Buon Natale! all around, we heard “Gianni! – from the internet!” A couple and their son Massimo (great name) in from Napa. They were shut out of the demo (sorry) but came into Little City anyway. Gonna have to start wearing sunglasses when I go down to The Village.

Grazie, everyone who came out, and for those of you we couldn’t squeeze into my apartment, I hope you’ll come out to the next demonstration, which will happen soon, I promise!

PS: My first cooking e-book is in production, with the six recipes from the demo plus four more. Stay tuned!

Scranton, PA Does North Beach Italian

Cioppino: North Beach to Scranton; photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Cioppino: North Beach to Scranton; photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Cioppino: North Beach to Scranton; photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick

I’ll do The Scranton Times Tribune a huge favor and refrain from telling any Dunder Mifflin jokes in this post. It’s the least I can do, since this article they ran explains how the fabulous one-pot alternative to the traditional Christmas Eve  7-fish meal that originated here in North Beach – Cioppino – was a winner in their “Recipes We Love” contest!

Cioppino, for the uninitiated, is a seafood stew made with crab, clams, shrimp and various other types of fish. It was created in the late 1800s by Italian fishermen from San Francisco’s North Beach area. As the story goes, a group of them gathered after a long day at sea and began throwing that day’s catch into a large soup pot.

In addition to giving the recipe, the article tells the lovely story of how its owner, 91-year-old Lithuanian immigrant, Ann Randazzo, inherited it from her Italian-American mother-in-law who’d worked in a cannery in San Jose early last century. It’d been given to her by a Portuguese-born friend of hers. The head spins at the global span of this recipe’s history!

But it’s travelled too far for me.  Let me bring this recipe back to its North Beach roots. I’ll post my cioppino recipe soon. But here are some suggestions in the meantime.

Ingredient Modification

  • No stewed tomatoes. Use San Marzano from Italia.
  • No green onion. Rough chop a half of yellow onion.
  • Save the chopped parsley to spread over the finished dish. Throw in 2 parsley sprigs to the sauce instead.
  • No king crab. 1 or 2 fresh dungeness crabs, broken into pieces. See my linguine with crab sauce to see how to handle fresh crab.
  • No imitation crab. Put in a couple filets of fresh sea bass or your favorite fish.
  • No chopped canned clams. Just use 2-3 fresh little necks/person instead. You could add some mussels too.

Instruction Modification

  1. Give the crab pieces a head start when the sauce is simmering just below the boil, 2-3 minutes. Then put in the fish filet and the shrimp. Watch them they might be done in less than 15 minutes. Don’t go too long with the crab, shrimp and filets because they’ll continue cooking for the 3 or so minutes it will take the clams/mussels to open.
  2. When the shrimp are starting to go pink and curl and the filets are no longer very translucent add the little necks and mussels if your using them. The sauce is done when the clams/mussels open. Discard any clams/mussels that don’t open.
  3. Mrs. Rendazzo says she likes to let the sauce stand for an hour or two. I wouldn’t. The fish will be way overcooked. Serve immediately.
  4. Top each bowl with a drizzle of good EVOO and the chopped parsley.
  5. No grated cheese. Savor the fresh unadulterated taste of the sea.

San Francisco vs. New York: Food War?

Panel: Wong, Altman, Unterman, Burns

Remember Stars? The Public Library exhibit San Francisco Eats opened Saturday with a great panel who recounted the last 25 years of San Francisco food, including that Jeremiah Tower landmark restaurant.

Panel: Wong, Altman, Unterman, Burns

The highlight of the discussion

In 1995, San Franciscans didn’t know what they had. That’s why Gene Burns started his KGO/AM food, wine and travel show. He had to convince us that we were the food mecca of America. His interests are broad and deep and he shares it all. The greatest thing he said, though, was that San Francisco should declare culinary war on New York for the title. He even claimed he once tried to organize a battle, but that NYC declined because they knew they’d lose, for the following reasons:

  • We have great local produce, fish, meats, cheeses, artisan food products and wines.
  • Culinary talent, ethnic diversity, and fabulous food opportunities abound.
  • We’re passionate and serious foodies.

The crowd in the auditorium, in true SF style, seemed uneasy with how much they agreed with him.

Other notable stuff…

Joey Altman
Altman was humble, perhaps too humble. His Bay Cafe cooking show was a favorite of mine from 1998, and it became a model for behemoths like Food Network. No bullshit (well maybe a little), just cooking. He couldn’t keep up with the Food Network celebrities as food gave way to glitz.

Patricia Unterman
Unterman seemed very melancholy about the web, calling herself a “dinosaur” repeatedly. I think not. When I arrived in the city, she was my first food guide as the Chronicle’s restaurant critic, and her Hayes Street Grill remains an inspiration of local and fresh food. She’s locked in at the Examiner, a fading print newspaper growing smaller and smaller. She wants room for more words. She deserves it.

Melanie Wong
Wong saw the food web grow for over a decade and her Chowhound discussion board is a must read. She understands food in the cultural context and is a smart, wide-ranging observer of the diverse San Francisco food scene. In countering Unterman’s pessimistic view of the internet and it’s diffusion of expertise, Wong gave the necessary (if predictable) response: Many use their social network to get food advice and with good search tools you’ll find the web cooking resources that are right for you.

I couldn’t agree more!

Italy: The Rules

Every time I go to Italia, I learn more rules. If you’re gonna go – and I naturally recommend you do – keep some things in mind…

Rule #1: Bring a Swim Suit

The view from our Balestrate beach house

After the long flight I find it important to rest and recharge on the first day in Italia. Especially in the south the weather is often still warm enough for swimming. Last October we swam every day in Sicilia.

Rule #2: Revel in the Local Food

Fish market. Ortigia

Immerse yourself in the food where you are. The 20 regions of Italia boast very different food. When in Sicilia we eat a lot of fish. When in Bologna we eat a lot of salumi and stuffed fresh pasta.

We conjured up menus for our home-cooked meal during our tourist adventures each day and picked up all the ingredients on our way home. Enjoy living as your neighbors do. Shop for food daily, fresh and local is available everywhere. Venture beyond the easy tourist spots and activities and challenge yourself. It will pay off.

Rule #3: Talk with the Locals

Our green grocers in Bologna

I am not fluent in Italian but I always try to develop a relationship with food people. Pick a local caffe and become a regular. Shop in the local mercato and get to know your vendors. Use the same shops and stalls every day to deepen your brief relations. You will expand your understanding of their culinary ingredients and preparations. Listen when folks talk about their culture, and do all you can to experience it for yourself.

Rule #4: Beware of Posted Signs

Salt fields at Motya near Trapani (photo by David Fagan)

A good highway map is essential when driving in Italia. I’ve learned not to depend on signs, they are often confusing or wrong. Check out your route on your map. Ask for directions. Be aware. We often can see the duomo from a good distance and use that as a beacon to guide us to the center of the town. Don’t give up and you’ll reach your destination. If you’re off course, go with the flow and you’ll discover amazing things. We had a hard time finding Motya but persevered and it was wonderful to see the source of the sea salt that I use in my cooking.

Rule #5: Prepare to Lose Weight

I eat everything and I eat a lot, yet I always return home hitching my belt one more notch!  If you don’t have mobility issues, plan your day so that you get in a lot of walking and stair climbing as you tour. It’s an easier routine in a town or city but it’s harder if you do a lot of driving. I try to ensure at least as much time on foot as in the car.

Vegetable boat Dorsoduro

Be sure to see the details of Gianni’s guided cooking trip to Italy in September.

YouTube Videos Replace Cookbooks

YouTube Replaces Cookbooks

So says The Atlantic. Do you use YouTube videos to help you cook? (I know you’re gonna give the right answer!)

I don’t think videos will entirely replace cookbooks, which is why I include text recipes with my videos. And some folks think videos aren’t as useful. There’s value in both!

It takes some time to find good ones (although it’s easy on this site!), but the search for a cooking video is often well worth it. There are a couple of cool videos in The Atlantic post. A grandmother in Italia makes orecchiette with a water and semolina dough at her kitchen table. I learned a new pasta forming technique:

And the Clara clip is a gem. The 94-year-old sources dandelions in her suburban backyard and shows how to clean them for a salad or to cook. It is a great salad at a great price – free! Listen as she shares her Depression memories and her Sicilian-American traditions:

I enjoy making videos because I find I’ve got a lot to say about the food I prepare and cook (or am I just a huge ham?). Which cooking videos do you love? Talk about it in the comments!

We’re Now on iTunes!

Gianni on iTunes

Gianni on iTunes

It’s not a huge deal, I know, but it’s really convenient for some folks to be able to have the videos automatically downloaded to their mobile devices, so we’re excited to be able to offer this option now.

Please consider visiting my video podcast page on iTunes and leaving a rating/review.

San Francisco Food History Exhibit

New Joe's Restaurant, North Beach

New Joe's Restaurant, North Beach
New Joe’s Restaurant, 1941, North Beach. Image courtesy of SF Public Library

The SF Public Library is hosting a new exhibit called San Francisco Eats, and it’s all about the unique food history of our fair city:

San Francisco Eats showcases the culinary delights that can be found in the San Francisco Public Library’s collections dating back to the mid 19th century and will serve as a visual feast for visitors of all ages. From the Gold Rush to Slow Food, San Francisco has never stopped being a beacon of gastronomic delight.

This exhibition includes menus, historical photographs, an array of food writers, cookbooks and culinary history, ephemera such as coasters and matchbooks, and San Francisco food inventions, including gadgets and signature dishes.

I’ll be attending an opening-day event, hoping to learn something about my favorite intersection of food and history in SF – you guessed it! – North Beach! Come out and say hello.

Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy brought me to tears. Check it out in the closing credits. Hand-crushed tomatoes and long-braised meats galore. The traditional, long-cooked pasta sauce from a small village in Campania. You have to make this one next Sunday!

Watch the video once, then follow along with Gianni, glancing at the recipe when you need to cheat:

Ingredients

Meat

  • Pork braciola: Thinly cut slice of pork shoulder or pork loin
  • Beef braciola: Thinly cut slice of beef chuck or round
  • Meatballs: Mixture of 1/3 ground beef, ground pork, ground veal,
  • 11/2 pounds total
  • 4 Italian sausage links
  • 1 cup Italian flat parsley, chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • For the pork braciole: about 12 lightly toasted pinoli (pine nuts) and 12 raisins
  • For the meatballs: ½ cup of stale bread soaked in water or milk and squeezed dry to form the pinade (la pinada)
  • 1 egg

For frying:

  • 1/8 cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Gravy

  • 2 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes imported from Campania, Italy
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 carrot, cut in half and then in 2 inch pieces
  • 1 celery stalk cut in 2 inch pieces
  • ½ white onion, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs fresh basil
  • 4 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Pasta

  • 1 lb or 500 grams pasta. Fusilli napoletani is used in the recipe, but you can use any pasta you want. Make sure that it is durum wheat pasta imported from Italy that is extruded through a bronze die. Look for something like this on the package: “Pasta trafilata in bronzo”.
  • 4 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt

Cooking Directions

Gravy

  1. In a thick-bottomed pot, put the olive oil, the battuto (carrot, celery, onion, garlic and bay leaf). Turn heat to medium-low and sauté slowly. This is your soffritto (the odori, flavoring vegetables and herbs). You want these ingredients to be translucent, not browned, so they infuse the oil with their flavor.
  2. Crush the San Marzano tomatoes with your hands until they are all broken up into rough chunky texture. Discard any basil, peel or stems or veins on the inside of the tomato (usually white or yellow).
  3. When the soffritto is translucent and sizzling a bit in the oil, add the tomatoes. Stir to mix the tomatoes and the suffritto. Add the basil and parsley sprigs and submerge in the gravy. Add the sea salt. Reduce to low heat, cover the pot and simmer gently. Stir the pot frequently so it doesn’t burn. This is a long-simmered sauce and will cook for at least 3 hours after the meat is added to the gravy.

Meats

Braciole

  1. Finely chop the parsley and garlic. Set aside. You will use half for the braciole and half for the meatballs.
  2. Lay the pork and beef braciole out flat on the board. Take ½ of the garlic/parsley and equally divide the garlic/parsley paste between the two braciole. Spread the paste evenly over the surface of each braciola leaving about a 1/2 inch border at the long edges. Sprinkle ¼ cup grated Pecorino evenly over both braciole. Sprinkle salt and tower to taste over both.
  3. For the pork braciola only: Spread 12 toasted pinoli and 12 raisins evenly over the pork braciola.
  4. Tightly roll up each braciole and tie with string to keep the paste inside and to maintain the shape of the braciole.

Meatballs (Polpette)

  1. Put the ground meat, the remaining chopped garlic/parsley, Pecorino, stale bread pinada, egg, and ground salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Combine the ingredients with your hand. Squeeze everything together so that it is a homogeneous mixture. Put about 2 tablespoons of the meat into the palm of your hand and roll into a ball, round and slightly flat.
  2. Over a high flame, heat a large sauté pan, add the canola and EVOO and heat until it ripples and smokes a bit. Add all the meat and reduce heat to medium-low and cook the meat until a brown crust forms.  Cook the meat in batches if necessary so you don’t crowd the pan. Do not touch the meat until you can easily move the meatballs, sausage and braciole in the pan, without them sticking. Turn over and brown on the other side. You want to caramelize the meat and form a nice brown crust.
  3. When well browned, transfer the meat, except the meatballs, in the gravy. Make sure all of the meat is submerged. Leave the lid of the pot ajar a bit to let some of the water evaporate so a thicker gravy forms. Gently simmer for at least 3 hours on a low flame. You want the braciole to tenderize by simmering in the gravy. Add the meatballs to the gravy about a half hour prior to cooking the pasta.

Cooking the Pasta and Finishing the Dish

  1. Put the water and salt in a large pot. Make sure that the pot is big enough to allow the long fusilli to “dance” in the salted water. Cook about 8 minutes until the pasta is very al dente. It will finish cooking in the gravy in a sauté pan.
  2. Put about 2 cups of the gravy in a large sauté pan and heat over a medium flame. Pull out the al dente fusilli and put in the sauté pan. Finish cooking the fusilli in the gravy, turning it so that the gravy is absorbed by the pasta to finish cooking. You should just have enough gravy to fully coat all of the fusilli.
  3. Close the flame. Grate Pecorino to taste and mix to distribute it throughout the pasta. If you wish, drizzle with a good quality EVOO.
  4. Remove the strings from the braciole and slice into ½ inch slices. Put the braciole, meatballs and sausage on a serving platter and top with some of the gravy.
  5. Serve the pasta in a warm bowl or plate. Traditionally, the pasta is served as a separate course, followed by the meats as the next course. To be honest, I usually serve the pasta and the meats at the same time. My guests can decide how to enjoy the pasta and the long-simmered meats.

Serve with a hearty red from Campania, an aglianico or taurasi perhaps.