NYT’s Best Regional Italian Food – San Francisco

New York Times Declares San Francisco the Top of Regional Italian Food
New York Times Declares San Francisco the Top of Regional Italian Food
New York Times declares San Francisco the top of regional Italian food.

In today’s New York Times Mark Bittman says San Francisco is the world’s best city for regional Italian food.

It’s not novel to say that so-called Californian cuisine is essentially Italian (perhaps “Italian-dominated Mediterranean” would be more accurate). But no comparably sized city has more authentic and better regional Italian food — of all the cities in Italy only Rome has the audacity to support restaurants whose food originated in other regions — and, really, with the possible exception of New York, it may be said that San Francisco is the world’s best city for regional Italian food.

We knew that!

Bittman remembers espresso at Caffe Trieste in our North Beach but picks 4 restaurants in other neighborhoods as the best of regional Italian fare: the Piemonte at Perbacco; Neapolitan at Delfina; Ligurian at Farina; and Sardinian at La Ciccia.

I’m a North Beach guy but I can attest to the wonders at Perbacco, one of my favs. I was there Monday for dinner with friends. As is usual at my restaurant table we ate family-style. Order several dishes in each course for all at the table to share. You’ll get to taste more dishes and create a deeper common dining experience for those at the table.

Too bad Mark didn’t try some of North Beach’s best authentic regional Italian fare. He would have discovered great restaurants cooking authentic regional food from Tuscany, the Veneto, Lazio, Sicily and Campania. Join me for one of my February North Beach tours and I’ll introduce you to all of them. Reserve your spot early. (Today’s tour is once again sold out!)

Stay tuned – we’ll be posting an invitation to join me at my first private dinner party at one of my favorite North Beach restaurants. We’ll share a family-style 4 course authentic regional meal with wine. Plus we’ll get the skinny from the chef about what we’re eating and why the wines are a perfect match for each course. Great food and a chance to deepen your appreciation for the regional food of Italia right here in North Beach. I can’t wait!

Saturday, April 30th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, April 30th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you authentic Italian-style pizza and the city's best cannoli. Tour length: Approx. 2 hours. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what you will see on your receipt.
Available Qty: 15
Price: $25.00
Quantity:  
Saturday, Feb. 5th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Feb. 5th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Feb. 12th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Feb. 12th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Feb. 26th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Feb. 26th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Jan. 15th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 15th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95

Italian Food Sayings

Italian Food Sayings
Italian Food Sayings
Big Night

I found these over at the Italy in SF website. It’s a nice collection. Be sure to explore the rest of the site. Do you know any other good ones?

“E’ buono come un pezzo di pane”
Literal translation: He’s as good as a piece of bread
What it means: He’s a good person, a really nice guy

“Rendere pan per focaccia”
Literal translation: To give back bread for focaccia
What it means: Similar to “an eye for an eye”, it is used metaphorically to illustrate a payback for a suffered wrong

“Avere sale in zucca”
Literal translation: To have salt in the pumpkin, although “zucca” is very often used to mean “head”- so to have salt in the head
What it means: To be smart

“E’ andato tutto liscio come l’olio”
Literal translation: It went smooth as oil
What it means: It went smooth as silk, there weren’t any problems

“L’ho comprato per un tozzo di pane”
Literal translation: I bought it for a piece of bread
What it means: It was a real deal, very underpriced compared to its value

“C’entra come i cavoli a merenda”
Literal translation: It fits like cabbage for the afternoon snack
What it means: It doesn’t fit, it’s inappropriate

“Sei sempre in mezzo come il prezzemolo”
Literal translation: You are always in the way like parsley (referring to the vast use of parsley in Italian cooking!)
What it means: You mingle in things that are not your own, you are always in the way

“Tenero come il burro”
Literal translation: It’s as soft as butter
What it means: It is very tender, it usually refers to meat or other foods, and sometimes to people

“E’ dolce come lo zucchero”
Literal translation: It’s as sweet as sugar
What it means: Pretty self-explanatory, usually used to describe fruit it is also used for people sometimes)

“Sono pieno come un uovo”
Literal translation: I am as full as an egg
What it means: I am stuffed, I can’t eat anymore (very useful when someone is trying to fill your plate yet again!)

“Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi”
Literal translation: To have ham (prosciutto) over your eyes
What it means: To be unable to see the truth, either figuratively (somebody’s trying to trick you and you don’t see it) or realistically (the referee didn’t see the foul as he had prosciutto over his eyes)

“Avere le mani in pasta”
Literal translation: To have the hands in the dough
What it means: To be very well connected, to know how to pull strings

“Questa cosa mi sta sullo stomaco”
Literal translation: This thing sits on my stomach
What it means: This thing is really unpleasant and annoying. Often also said of people (Questa persona mi sta sullo stomaco)

“Essere rosso come un peperone”
Literal translation: To be red as a bell pepper
What it means: To look lobster red- said of a sunburn but also of someone who’s blushing

“E’ facile come rubare le caramelle a un bambino”
Literal translation: It’s easy as stealing candies from a child
What it means: It is very simple task that anyone can do

“Ha la faccia da pesce lesso”
Literal translation: He has the face of a boiled fish
What it means: He looks like someone uninteresting and uninterested, not someone you want to make friends with

“Quella persona ha il pelo sullo stomaco”
Literal translation:  That person has hair on his stomach
What it means: It is said of people who are unethical, reckless, and overall willing to push the limits of legality in business

“Questa cosa/ questa persona e’ amara come la cicoria”
Literal translation: this thing/ person is as bitter as chicory
What it means: Said of something bitter in taste, but also of a bitter person

“E’ rigido come un baccala’”
Literal translation: He is a as rigid as salted cod
What it means: He is not comfortable, he looks stiff

“Avere le mani di pastafrolla”
Literal translation: To have pastry dough hands
What it means: To be unable to hold something without dropping it, to be clumsy

“Questa persona e’ un polentone”
Literal translation: This person is a polenta eater
What it means: This person is physically slow, awkward, goofy

“Mettere la ciliegina sulla torta”
Literal translation: To put the cherry on top of the cake
What it means: To wrap up something in the best possible way (same as the English “Cherry on top”)

“Ridotto all’osso”
Literal translation: Something reduced to the bone
What it means: As bare-bone as it gets- often said of a price during bargaining, or of a family budget, it means it has been rid of the excess, muck like bones used to make stock.

“Questa cosa mi fa venire il latte alle ginocchia”
Literal translation: This thing gives milk in my knees (good one, uh??)
What it means: It is said of something (or someone) boring and exasperating, something that makes you want to get away as fast as possible!

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

25% Off North Beach Walking Tour This Saturday

Alcatraz
Gianni stops walking to do some talking
Gianni stops walking to do some talking

If you’re in San Francisco this weekend, come spend 90 minutes with me. I’m excited to be guiding another walking tour through North Beach – always an opportunity for meeting great folks. I’ll tell you all about my Italian village, its history, its food, its characters.

And, you’ll sample some of my favorite pizza!

If you want to discover the hidden North Beach, join me this Saturday. Enter promo code “walker” to get 25% off. The tour is limited to 15 walkers. RSVP early:

Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook for announcements of future events.

Gnocchi Not So Good? It’s OK!

Bad gnocchi? It's OK!
Bad gnocchi? It's OK!
When bad gnocchi happens to good people.

Saturday was a not so good cooking day, but a very good learning day.

I was expecting 3 friends in the morning. They were coming over for a hands-on potato gnocchi demonstration before I went down the hill to lead a North Beach tour in the afternoon.

The potatoes were at a gentle boil just about ready to come out. The doorbell rang.

I let in my guests and by the time I got back to the potatoes their jackets had burst. First no-no when making gnocchi – overcooking the potatoes! If you do they’ll absorb water. Not a good thing.

Tour time was looming, so I pressed ahead.

When we peeled the potatoes to put them in the ricer they fell apart. They weren’t just overcooked, but way overcooked. Hmm. Against my better judgment I decided to continue. I also didn’t have time to let the riced potatoes sit to dry out. Another big mistake!

I adjusted for the over-cooked and wetter potatoes by adding more flour. We were able to form a nice dough. We made the gnocchi and cooked them immediately. They were not my best, but they were good.

We had a big tray of gnocchi left so I froze them. Friends were coming later to eat the gnocchi left over from the demo.

After a great tour my friends and I headed back up the hill to eat at my place.

We cracked open a very nice Foss Marai Prosecco. We feasted on a simple antipasti of prosciutto di Parma, Aurecchio sharp provolone, mozzarella di bufala from Campania, mixed olives and taralli (a small biscuit with anise in the shape of a really big cheerio).

The water was boiling so I took the tray of gnocchi out of the freezer. Although they were well floured some stuck to the tray. I scraped ’em loose with a spatula. Not good. I made sure I took them out of the boiling water as soon as they bobbed to the surface. They hadn’t held up well. I could tell right away they were not that firm and that they were going to be gummy.

I was mortified! Good thing I was among friends. We ate most of the gnocchi in the 3 sauces with great Little City roasted sausages. After I apologized again for the not so good gnocchi, one tablemate said to comfort me, “Don’t worry about it. Shit happens.” We all started to get excited about the wonderful cannoli from Cavalli Caffe we bought for dessert!

So, here’s a reminder about the potato gnocchi recipe.

  1. Don’t start to make gnocchi unless you have an hour without any interruptions. Once you start you have to be fully engaged and attentive.
  2. Don’t overcook the potatoes. Keep checking them and take them out as soon as they are knife tender.
  3. Gently boil the potatoes. Don’t let the skins burst. They will if the boil is too vigourous or if you leave them in the boiling water too long.
  4. Spread out the riced potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet or work surface and give them plenty of extra time to dry out before making the dough. This was the fatal error that doomed the frozen gnocchi! I didn’t let the wet potatoes dry out completely so the dough was too wet when the gnocchi went into the freezer. They were a bit gummy when they went in and got more so while they froze.
  5. Adjust the recipe given your circumstances. Here I used more flour in an attempt to compensate for the wetter, overcooked potatoes. Usually this works for gnocchi you’ll cook right after they’re formed.

Luckily, the gnocchi I cooked for the last episode turned out just right; but you should learn from my mistakes as well as my successes, and so I thought I’d pass this little tale along. Maybe it’ll save you some heartache, but if not, don’t be discouraged. These things happen.

Potato Gnocchi with Three Sauces

Potato Gnocchi with three sauces

Gnocchi Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds Idaho potatoes
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1 ½ cups flour, plus more for the work surface
  • At least 1 tablespoon of sea salt for the cooking water

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with water about 2 inches above the top of the potatoes. Bring the potatoes to a gentle boil.
  2. Boil the potatoes until they are knife tender about 30-40 minutes. Try to keep the skins from rupturing so the potatoes don’t absorb any water and don’t overcook them.
  3. Let the potatoes cool a bit so that you can handle them. Peel them. If they’re too hot to handle use a kitchen towel to hold the hot potato when you peel them.
  4. Put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill while the potatoes are still hot. Mashing the potatoes works in a pinch but the gnocchi won’t be as light.
  5. Spread the riced potatoes on a cookie sheet or a flat baking pan in a single layer to cool and allow some of the moisture to evaporate. The drier the riced potatoes the lighter the dough will be.
  6. Bring a big pot of very well-salted water to a boil.
  7. Put the riced potatoes in a mound on a flat work surface. Create a well in the middle.
  8. Crack the egg onto the work surface in the well. Beat the egg well. (I don’t salt fresh pasta doughs including gnocchi because I think salt toughens the dough. I’d rather the gnocchi absorb salt in the boiling cooking water. But, if you want add about 3/4 teaspoon of salt to the egg before you beat it.)
  9. Slowly start to incorporate the egg into the ring of riced potatoes.
  10. When fully incorporated spread out the mixture and sprinkle some of the flour over the top.
  11. Knead the flour into the potato mixture.
  12. Repeat with another dusting of flour until the dough holds together and is smooth and soft. Try to use as little flour as possible for light gnocchi.
  13. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface so the dough doesn’t stick. Knead the dough to create a smooth dough ball.
  14. Cut the dough ball into 6 pieces.
  15. Flour the work surface again if necessary and roll each piece into a rope of 1/2 inch diameter.
  16. Cut the rope into ½ inch pieces. Make sure you have enough flour on your work surface so that the pieces don’t stick together.
  17. Using the back of a fork press the piece over the tines with your thumb and press downwards to push the gnocchi off the fork. You’ll create indentations from the tines on the back of the gnocchi and a concave indentation on the other side from the pressure of your thumb. Great shape and texture to absorb the sauce.
  18. Spread the gnocchi on a floured cookie sheet or flat baking pan as you make them.
  19. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, gently stir to make sure they don’t stick together and gently boil the gnocchi until they rise to the top of the water.
  20. Remove the gnocchi with a spider or mesh ladle and place them in the sauté pan with the sauce of your choice.

Makes about 48 gnocchi.

Don’t get interrupted when you’re making the gnocchi. When you finish making them all put them in the boiling water and eat them right away! Or, you can freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Make sure they not touching one another! When they’re frozen store them in a freezer bag. Boil them still frozen. They’ll take a little longer to cook.

Pesto Trapanese Recipe

Basil pesto ain’t the only one. Small ripe tomatoes and roasted almonds are the stars of this pesto. Basil is only a minor player. This uncooked sauce made in a blender or food processor takes only a few minutes. The aroma and taste of the almonds is front and center supported by the sweetness of the tomatoes and the sparkle of the hot pepper as you swallow.

Good for 1 pound or 500 grams of spaghetti or the yield from one full potato gnocchi recipe or your favorite pasta shape.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups or ¾ pound of the ripest and sweetest cherry, pear or other small red tomato
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed
  • 10-12 large fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup whole almonds, roasted or lightly toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup EVOO
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

Cooking Directions

  1.  Put the garlic, almonds, pepper flakes, basil leaves, tomatoes and then the sea salt in a food processor or blender.
  2. Blend for about a minute or so, scrape down the sides and then blend again until no large bits are visible.
  3. While the machine is running gently stream in the EVOO until the pesto is smooth and well blended.

Use the pesto at room temperature to dress the pasta. Top the dressed pasta with the grated Parmigiano Parmigiano. You can store it in the refrigerator for a few days.

Gorgonzola Sauce Recipe

A quick delicious piquant sauce you can make in less than the time it takes to boil the water for the pasta. The flavor of this noble blue cheese from northern Italia is the boss in this sugo. You don’t need a lot of the sauce. Just a thin coating on the pasta is what you want.

Good for 1 pound or 500 grams of pasta or the yield from one full potato gnocchi recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces gorgonzola dolce
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

Cooking Directions

  1. Heat the cream stirring frequently so a skin doesn’t form on top.
  2. When the cream is reduced and thickened add the gorgonzola and stir until the gorgonzola is melted and well blended with the cream.
  3. Mix in sea salt and pepper to taste.

Top the dressed pasta with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano.

Pizzaiola Sauce Recipe

Named after the pizza-makers of Napoli this sauce is just San Marzano tomatoes, garlic infused olive oil and oregano, a typical topping for a pizza. Simple and quick but a rich and robust sugo. I use this sauce for pasta, my eggplant parmigiano and other dishes that call for a flavorful tomato sauce.

Good for 1 pound or 500 grams of your favorite pasta or the yield from one full potato gnocchi recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup grated pecorino

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the olive oil and garlic in a cold sauté pan big enough to hold the cooked pasta your using.
  2. Heat the pan over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles and the garlic just begins to take on some color.
  3. Add the tomatoes and salt and mix with the EVOO and garlic.
  4. Simmer to evaporate some of the liquid and the sauce thickens.
  5. Stir in the oregano.
  6. Continue cooking for about 30 minutes.
  7. Remove the garlic before using the sauce, or not. Your choice.

Top the dressed pasta with the grated pecorino.

Hint: Sometimes things go wrong. Don’t be discouraged, forge ahead!

Pizza & History

Gianni stops walking to do some talking
Gianni stops walking to do some talking
Gianni stops walking to do some talking

The first North Beach walking tour on January 8th was a great success. I had a lot of fun, and the feedback was extremely positive.

So we’re doing it again this Saturday, January 15th, at 2pm. You can buy tickets via PayPal below.

We had a healthy mix of folks last Saturday, from out-of-towners, to recent transplants, to SF natives. I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of San Francisco’s culinary capital, both current and historical.

Plus, folks really enjoyed the pizza!

If you want to discover the hidden North Beach, join me this Saturday. The tour is limited to 15 walkers. RSVP early:

Saturday, Jan. 15th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 15th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95

Caffe Pascucci: Bastard Caffe

“A decaf latte with skim milk,” an outraged North Beach barista snorted just 10 years ago. “Whaddaya think this is, a pharmacy?” He only had espresso and milk at his caffe. How far espresso drinks have come.

I got excited when I heard that Caffe Pascucci was opening this week near the ballpark, the Italian company’s first caffe in the US. The coffee menu (PDF) is huge. My excitement was extinguished when I read it, but unfortunately, this won’t be their last location.

In Italia, you never see a menu in a traditional caffe. You can ask the barista for an espresso, macchiato, cappuccino or latte.

You can order your espresso ristretto or lungo, a shorter pull for a denser espresso shot or a longer pull to dilute it a bit. Maybe you can get a caffe correcto, a “corrected” espresso with a shot of Fernet Branca or other liquor.

Pascucci is spreading its version of Starbucks around the world. They should have spared us. Thank God I can still get an authentic doppio espresso macchiato here in North Beach, and chain stores are not allowed.