A Night in Tuscany in North Beach – Regional Food & Wine Pairing

Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.

Food & Wine Pairing Series

Tuscany.

I make an annual pilgrimage to Italy to go on culinary adventures. The trips inevitably turn into a group excursion with yours truly guiding a small herd of friends into markets, kitchens, and caffes.

Great food, great wine, great friends. It’s the highlight of my year. When I can’t be in the Old Country, I find solace here in North Beach. It’s a little piece of Italy in the States, and I love it.

In that spirit, I decided to create a series of private restaurant dinner parties to showcase region-specific Italian cuisines and wines, and the chefs that know those regions so well.

Naturally, I’ve got my favorite North Beach restaurants. I like some of the popular ones, but the real gems are the small, family-owned places with living connections to the Italian villages of their origin. By supporting these restaurants, you can reward their efforts at making the North Beach community the best it can be – through a nuanced mix of tradition and plain old yumminess.

These custom-designed menus are a collaboration between myself and the chefs, and promise to whisk you to Italia via your taste buds.

Introducing the first in the series: Tuscan Cuisine at Caffé BaoNecci
Sunday, March 6th, 6pm

 

The first in the series is this trattoria near Grant and Green. Known for its thin-crust pizza, the restaurant might be small, but the family who own it are larger than life. Walter and Stefania Gambaccini, and sons Elia and Filippo, are recent immigrants to North Beach, moving here from the village of Altopascio near Lucca.

Stefania is cooking a four course meal that she used to make in her home village in Altopascio (she may even share a song or two). Walter is showcasing some hard-to-find wines, including a wonderful Chianti from a friend’s vineyard in Montalbano.

Come join us for a typical Luccese meal and gain new insight into the cooking and culture of northern Tuscany.

There are only 40 seats at the table, so buy your ticket now. Bring some friends, and make some new ones, during this evening of fine Tuscan food and wine.

I’ll even send you a recipe or two after our delightful evening at BaoNecci.

In this video, I introduce most of the family, and they talk about the food, as son Elia translates his parents’ Italian…

 

In part two of the video, Walter talks about the wine…

 

The Menu: 4 courses paired with 4 wines

Antipasti

  • Crostini Toscani. Tuscan chicken liver pate on a thin toast. (I’m not crazy about liver, and I love these.)
  • Bruschetta con pomodoro. Tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt and basil.
  • Prosecco Negroni NV. From the Veneto with white peach and pear tones in this bright and light sparkling wine.

Primo

  • Zuppa Ribollita. This classic bean and vegetable soup takes two days to make.
  • Chianti Fattoria Montellori 2007. From Walter’s friends in the Montalbano zone in the Chianti district west of Florance the Nieri family have produced a fine cherry colored medium-bodied wine with soft textured fruit. A reminder of the delicious, haunting Chiantis that flow from the casks of the finest Tuscan trattorie.

Secondo

  • Pollo alla cacciatora con polenta. Chicken in a tomato sauce flavored with garlic and sage and these tiny multi-colored Tuscan olives cured with bay laurel and clove. Served with polenta to help soak up the sauce. Vegetarian option: Sformato. A molded vegetable souffle-like dish with zucchini, eggplant and carrots.
  • Bolgheri Rosso Michele Satta 2008. A Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot from southern Tuscany, the land of Sassicaia. The wine has a bouquet of red and black fruit, leather and tobacco, good fruit balance and dry finish.

Dolci

  • Crostata con marmellata di albicocche. A rustic tart with apricot marmelade.
  • Crema di savoiardi. Layers of liqueur-soaked ladyfingers and pastry cream.
  • Vin Santo Montellori. A favorite Tuscan dessert wine with marmalade and sherry aroma and a full flavor of orange zest and roasted nuts.
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.

My Old Stomping Grounds – New York and New Jersey

New York

I got spotted like a celebrity last Sunday as I stepped out of a shop in New York City’s Little Italy. Good thing I was behaving.

“Hey, you Gianni from the Web?” she asked.  The woman was born in Naples and has lived in the neighborhood for two decades. According to a recent article in the NY Times the 2010 Census reports that there are no Italians living in Little Italy. I guess she wasn’t home when they rang her bell.

Alleva Latteria Little Italy NYC

It’s a shame though. Little Italy used to be the Italian community. Now all that is visible is a three-block stage set on Mulberry Street loaded with touristy Italian restaurants. But actually, if you look carefully, you’ll find that some of the old-time places are still there.

Alleva have been making fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and other Italian goodies for over a hundred years.

The pasticceria Ferrara Bakery & Cafe makes great pastries, gelato and espresso. If you can’t get in there, try Caffe Roma a block north on Mulberry.

Buon Italia salumeria

I love Eataly, the Bastianich/Batali emporium of Italian food. It’s crowded and pricey, though. A friend told me to check out a similar store in Chelsea Market. Buon Italia has a much smaller selection of items but their prices are much better. I was able to get some candied citron and lemon peels. (I’ll need those when I make the pastiera napoletana a sweet ricotta torta that is part of my Easter tradition.)

Maybe it’s inevitable that demographics and neighborhoods change but what happened in New York’s Little Italy makes me sad. We’re really fortunate that North Beach is such a vibrant Italian neighborhood.

New Jersey

A bunch of my Jersey and NYC friends gathered in Clifton, NJ on Saturday. When we arrived we talked about what we would eat. Susan and I (we usually do the cooking) thought we’d just make some pasta with meatballs and sausage in red gravy. But no, who wanted porchetta, who wanted roasted peppers, cipollini agrodolce, roasted asparagus, sauteed escarole. So all of that stuff plus antipasti was added to the fresh pappardelle pasta for our meal. I think we ate for about six hours.

Choosing peppers to roast @ Corrado's Family Market

Northern Jersey still has a large Italian-American population. There are lots of bakeries and markets in the North Ward of Newark and in surrounding suburbs.

Whether with family or friends we always shop at Corrado’s in Clifton. They have a great selection of everything I need, and great prices too.

Home

I enjoyed my time in Manhattan and New Jersey, but I’m happy to be back in North Beach. Sorrow over my East Coast heritage has re-energized me to be sure you know about all of the authentic Italian gems that you can still enjoy here in our little Village.

Time to Stuff the Cannoli

Worth the wait!

I’ve been bugging Santo, the owner of Cavalli Cafe, to let us film him stuffing his cannoli for a while now. We were finally able to ambush him!

He only puts the filling in the cannoli when you order it. It’s just him in the cafe, so sometimes if it’s busy, you gotta wait a few minutes. But boy is it worth it…

“Basic Italian”

The Bold Italic article page

Local writer Matt Baume penned a fabulous write-up of me for The Bold Italic, a beautifully-designed San Francisco web magazine that bills itself as “an experiment in local discovery.”

Gianni Mola [is] a neighborhood fixture in North Beach who knows his way blindfolded around every corner market, pizza joint, and delicatessen. There isn’t a meal served in North Beach that Gianni isn’t familiar with.

I’d certainly like to believe that! The piece really gets to the heart of what I’m trying to do here in my little Italian village of North Beach – carry on the age-old cooking, eating, and socializing customs of Italia, and advocate for them to others.

Of course, I’m not the only food-loving person on the planet doing that, but I do feel that North Beach as a capital of authentic Italian culture is under-appreciated, and as a neighborhood, often misunderstood.

That seems to come across clearly in this article, and additionally (unlike so many sites our there), it looks good enough to eat.

Thanks, Matt!

Mission District’s Got Nothin’ on North Beach Murals

Have you checked out the fantastic Jeremy Fish mural that’s on the side of Tony’s Napoletana? Well, you should.

It’s a beautiful tribute not only to pizza, but to the history of North Beach and its Italian heritage. From the water buffalo that get milked to make Tony’s mozzarella, to the Leaning Tower of Pisa juxtaposed with Coit Tower, to giant pizza slices in the sky. I like it so much, I’ve added it to the stops in my walking tour.

Eater.com went as far as to suggest that North Beach could overtake The Mission as the city’s street art capital. That’s definitely some hype, but hey, here’s to hoping…

Do you know of any other good ones? Upload pics to the Facebook page.

Italian Valentine’s Day Dish

Lady and the Tramp
Lady and the Tramp
Italian Valentines

Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome renowned for his chastity. How did he become the patron saint of lovers?

Legend says Emperor Claudius forbade soldiers to marry and St. Valentine ignored the decree in pagan Rome and encouraged young people including soldiers to unite in Holy Matrimony. He was put in prison for his defiance and was executed on February 14. In the 15th century the Pope authorized the distribution of marriage gifts to poor women and the first ceremony was on February 14 and St. Valentine whose sainthood was celebrated on this day became known as the protector of lovers.

Here’s a suggestion for a romantic Valentine’s Day dish: Spaghetti al Cartoccio, Spaghetti in a Package.

Wrap spaghetti cooked very al dente and dressed with your favorite sauce in parchment paper or aluminum foil tightly sealed and bake in a 425 degree oven for 5 minutes. Put the packet on a serving dish. Open the packet at the table. First for the love of your life there’s the anticipation of not knowing what’s inside the packet, then there are the aromas wafting as the packet is torn open and then the discovery of the delights within. Wow that’s hot!

Use my recipe for San Marzano sauce to make this dish.

A Perugina Baci (kisses) chocolate wrapped with a tender love message at the end of the meal can’t hurt to seal the deal!

Auguri per San Valentino! Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Accidental Heart

Heart-shaped pizza
Heart-shaped pizza
Heart-shaped pizza

When I was a kid in Jersey, if we didn’t order Sunday night pizza from Falcone’s on Bloomfield Avenue, my Mom made it for us. One Sunday while she was putting the finishing touches on a tomato pie with oregano, mozzarella and anchovies, my Mom and Dad also happened to be having a “heated discussion.” I was maybe 7.

I don’t remember what they were fighting about. I was worried about the pizza. To my horror, my Mom opens the oven door, throws the pie in and slams the door shut. Oh no, I thought, this ain’t good!

About 10 minutes later the pie comes out of the oven, perfectly done, and – it was in the shape of a heart!

When my Mom and Dad saw that they embraced. The fight was over. And I got my pizza pie.

The True Pizza Champions

World Pizza Championships
World Pizza Championships
World Pizza Championships

The World Pizza Championship is coming to Las Vegas. Don’t get too excited. The Championship has nothing to do with making a good pie. You win a prize if you form dough fast, can do acrobatics while you toss the dough, or you are the fastest pizza box assembler.

The Games are cool, and some of these skills might be helpful on Super Bowl Sunday, but taste is what matters to me.

You know I make a mean pie in my kitchen. But I can’t replicate the pies that come out of those really hot ovens – wood-burning, coal-fired, gas or electric. Luckily I can choose from a variety of authentic pizze in North Beach. Here’s some history about pizza and the regional varieties you’ll find in Italia and in North Beach.

No need to go to those red-hot spots around town where you have to wait an hour just to get in. I don’t have the patience. Try these!

Baonecci (Green near Grant). A thin-crust pizza properly charred with the best San Marzano tomato sauce ever. Simple pies made right by this lovely young family from a small town near Lucca.

Cinecitta (Union near Columbus) Named after the famous movie studio in Roma. A small unpretentious space with great Roman-style pizza, a bit thinner crust than those in Naples.

Pulcinella (Vallejo near Columbus). Two brothers and a cousin from Naples (part of the world-famous Caputo flour family) are doing a great job here. First time there they told me that their pies were better than the famed da Michele one of my favs in Naples. Their margherita came damn close! Not a criticism–the pies are just different. This is North Beach not Napoli.

Tony’s Pizza Napolitana (Union/Stockton) Tony won the prize for best margherita in a prestigious pizza competition in Naples. He makes Neapolitan, Roman, Sicilian, Classic American and Classic Italian styles. Each style has its own flours for the dough and is baked in one of the 4 ovens (wood, gas, electric and coal). We go at odd times so that we avoid the long waits or we just grab a slice next door at The Slice House.

Tomasso’s (Kearny near Broadway) They’ve been making pizza for about 75 years in the same wood-burning oven that was the first in the west. We go on Sunday afternoon just as they open to avoid the lines. Great east coast style pizza, no bull.