The rain broke long enough on Saturday to enjoy a pleasant 4 hours eating authentic Italian food, drinking Italian wines, and talking about Italian everything. From “Guidos” and Jersey Shore, to the aging process of artisenal balsamic vinegar, the conversation was all over the place and full of laughs.
Your San Francisco players – Gianni, Jeff, Vanessa, Charin, David, Jeff S., Karla, Nick, and JT – talked about how the lasagna was made from “poor man’s” fresh pasta sheets (see how-to here). Even though Vanessa and Nick are engineers, it was Jeff S., the designer, who figured out how to cut the crostada into nine (almost) even slices. Gianni nudged JT to explore his ancestral Italian roots, Charin found a rogue rosemary sprig in her lasagna, and David played Neapolitan music on a ukelele.
Here’s the menu for the day…
Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVOO and water. An authentic treat from la cucina ebraica, straight from the Jewish ghetto in Roma.
Prosciutto di Parma
Molinari Sopressato Salami
Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano.
Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
Shallots in agrodolce. Cramelized shallots in a balsamic vinegar and sugar glaze.
Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVOO marinade.
Vino: Doro Brut Valdobbiandene Prosecco (DOCG), La Vigne di Alice, NV, (Veneto). A great match for the varied antipasti. Apple and bread aroma. Dry, balanced and creamy. Tiny but mighty bubbles.
Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
Insalata mista. Baby field greens and arugula dressed with “La Mola” extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamico and fiore di sale (the very top crust of sea salt beds).
Vino: Aglianico Campania (IGT), Terredora DiPaolo, 2008 (Campania). Medium-bodied, deep black cherry color with red berries and violets in the nose. Soft, dry berry flavor with a touch of oak. Young and easy to drink and gutsy enough to stand up to the lasagna.
Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form red plum tart with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.
Once a year, that’s it. No, I’m not talking about sex.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe should only be made on St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, also Father’s Day in Italia. This is when I make mine. It’s tradition.
Traditions fade though. Now you can get this popular pastry all year round in many Italian-American communities and even at pasticcerie (pastry shops) in Napoli where it was invented in 1840 by Don Pasquale Pintauro. His pasticceria in Naples is still open.
But tradition is alive in North Beach. Victoria Pastry (Stockton/Vallejo) only makes Zeppole di San Giuseppe on March 19. If you want to make sure you get some order ahead. I did for years but now I make my own.
Victoria makes a smaller, simpler Tuscan version. My Zeppole di San Giuseppe are the ones you will find in Napoli and at Ferrara’s in NYC’s Little Italy.
BTW, pasticciera, the thick boiled custard cream filling is a versatile concoction that can be used in dozens of other recipes, even gelato!
Makes 12 Zeppole di San Giuseppe
1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
1-cup unbleached all purpose flour
Put the water, butter, sugar and salt in a large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir a few times.
As the water begins to boil and the butter is melted take the pan off the flame.
Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a dough.
Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy and begins to form a film on the bottom of the pan about 3 minutes.
Take the pot off the flame and break the eggs one at a time and quickly beat each egg until the egg is fully incorporated into the dough and then add the next egg. Work quickly you don’t want to scramble the eggs.
Return the pot to the flame and stir vigorously until the dough forms a smooth, thick paste 30-45 seconds.
Cut parchment paper into 12 4-inch squares.
Put the dough in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch star tip (#6) and pipe a 3-inch circle of dough on the parchment paper. Fill in with smaller concentric circles so that you have a solid filled-in circle.
Put about a 1/2 inch of canola or peanut oil in a 8 or 10-inch skillet and over a high or high-medium heat bring the oil to 375 degrees. Check the temperature to ensure it stays at 375.
Fry the zeppole a few at a time with the parchment side facing up.
As the zeppole begins to fry, use tongs to gently peel off the parchment.
Fry the zeppole slowly. The first side should take about a minute to turn a light golden color.
Turn the zeppole over and fry the second side until it is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Turn over to the first side and finish frying until this side gets golden brown, about a minute. You want to make sure that the zeppole is cooked all the way through but don’t let either side get too dark.
Drain the zeppole well on paper towel and let cool before filling with the pasticciera. The zeppole should be light, puffed up and airy.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it and pipe out the 3-inch zeppole as described above.
Bake until lightly golden about 15 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the zeppole are medium golden brown, puffed up and light when picked up.
Transfer to a cooling rack.
If you don’t want to use a pastry bag, use a heaping tablespoon of dough for either the frying or baking method instead of piping the circles.
Pasticciera (Boiled Custard Cream)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 quart milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Mix the flour and 1/2 cup sugar in a big bowl. Whisk in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and is quite thick.
In a large saucepan mix the milk, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt. Scald over medium heat stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch or form a film.
When a ring of small bubbles forms around the edge of the pan remove it from the heat.
Whisk 1 cup of the hot milk a little at a time into the flour and egg mixture. You’re tempering the mixture so whisk vigorously. You don’t want to scramble the eggs.
Whisk in a second cup of hot milk into the flour and egg mixture and then return the tempered mixture to the pan with the hot milk whisking constantly.
Slowly over medium-low heat and whisking constantly cook the mixture until it thickens, about 4 minutes. Take it off the heat when you see the first boil bubble.
Set up another large bowl with a fine strainer and pass the pasticciera through the strainer using a spatula to push it through the mesh.
Mix in the vanilla well.
To Assemble the Zeppole di San Giuseppe
For decoration Amarena cherries (sour cherries in syrup from Campania)
Put the pasticciera in a pastry bag.
Pipe the cream into the zeppole. Use the tip to break the surface of the zeppole so you get some cream inside the zeppole. Finish with a small rosette on the top.
Top the rosette with an amarena cherry and a bit of its syrup.
You can dust the top with confectioner sugar if you like.
The fried zeppole di San Giuseppe should be eaten soon after they are made. The baked zeppole will hold up longer. If you make the zeppole shells in advance you can crisp either the fried or baked shell by putting them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes before filling them.
If you don’t want to use the pastry bag, cut the zeppole shell in half and spoon in some of the pasticciera.
This is a favorite of mine. My mother made the best big fat tender ravioli stuffed with creamy ricotta and mozzarella. My brother ate 13 one Sunday afternoon dinner! I could do maybe 4. The filling is really simple and quick to make. Depending on their size you should get about 20 ravioli. If you want fewer ravioli use 1 pound of ricotta not 2, and 1 egg not 2, plus the other ingredients as listed. (I used 1-pound of ricotta and 1 egg in the video.)
Fresh pasta varies greatly from the Tuscan pasta pici made with just flour and water to tajarin a rich, golden pasta with a half-dozen egg yolks or more.
This is a very versatile fresh pasta dough. It’s the one I use for lasagna, ravioli, tortelloni and other stuffed pastas. You can cut into tagliatelle. fettucine or pappardelle too.
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup EVOO
3 Tablespoons water
Put the flour in a large bowl.
In a small bowl beat the eggs then beat in the EVOO and water to make a smooth mixture. Add to flour.
With a fork work the egg mixture into the flour until it begins to form moistened clumps.
Gather the clumps together with your hands to form a cohesive ball of dough.
Knead the dough right in the bowl collecting anything stuck to the sides of the bowl.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured board and knead for a minute or two until it’s shiny smooth with a soft interior.
Form the dough into a disc and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
Let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
(You can make the dough in a food processor. Use the cutting blade. Add the flour to the bowl and pulse a couple of times to aerate.. With the processor on drizzle in the egg mixture. Run the processor until a dough ball forms around the blade about 30 seconds. Then turn the dough out on a floured board and knead as above.)
Cut the dough ball into 4 pieces. Form each into a rectangle. Set the pasta machine to the widest roller setting. Pass each dough piece through a pasta machine catching the dough as it passes through the rollers. Fold each piece in thirds. Pass it through the rollers again. Reduce the setting 2 notches and put the strips through the rollers. If the sheets get too long cut them in half. Repeat until you get to the most narrow roller setting. You want to end up with long sheets of pasta about the width of the rollers. Lay the strips out on a well-floured baking sheet or kitchen towel cover with a moist kitchen towel and set aside. If you don’t have a pasta machine use a rolling pin. Roll out each piece of dough until it is about 20 inches long and about 5 inches wide. Lay the strips out as above.
Fill a large pot with water and add a tablespoon of sea salt and a tablespoon of EVOO. Bring to a full boil.
2 pounds whole milk ricotta drained well
8 ounces fresh mozzarella diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup grated Pecorino
10 springs flat Italian parsley roughly chopped
Two extra large eggs beaten well
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put the cheeses and parsley in a large bowl.
Mix in the beaten egg. (The mixture should be smooth. If it’s dry or lumpy mix in another beaten egg.
Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and mix well.
To Make the Ravioli
Lightly flour your work surface and lay out a pasta strip.
Put a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture just below the middle of the strip and about an inch from the edge of the strip closest to you.
Put another tablespoon of the ricotta mixture about 2 inches (the width of 2 fingers) from the last mound.
Keep adding another tablespoon of the ricotta mixture at equal intervals until you reach the end of the pasta strip.
Wet your finger in a bowl of water and wet the edges of the pasta strip and wet the middle of each ricotta mixture mound from edge to edge. The water will help seal the ravioli.
Fold the upper part of the pasta strip over the side that has the ricotta mixture. Press the 2 edges together tightly and press down between the mounds forming the ravioli. You should have a one inch unfilled pasta rim all around the mound of ricotta filling.
Cut down the middle of the space between the ravioli using a cookie cutter or sharp knife.
Press the edges of the ravioli with you fingertips to make sure no air is inside and they are tightly sealed.
With the tines of a fork press down of the rim of the ravioli. These tine indentations will help seal the ravioli.
Lay the ravioli out on a well-floured cookie sheet or kitchen towel.
Put the tomato sauce in a large flat pan and heat.
Drop the ravioli into the boiling water. They will soon float to the top of the water. When they all float to the top boil for another 30 seconds. I taste one for doneness to make sure they’re fully cooked.
Put the ravioli into the sauce pan and generously coat each one. Shut off the flame.
Every time I’m in Tuscany somebody complains about Tuscan bread. It’s made without salt. The Toscani say it’s so the bread won’t interfere with the taste of the dishes on the table, and I think they know what they’re doing.
They’ve been making bread in the “bread capital of Italia,” Altopascio, since the middle ages. The village was on a main pilgrimage route and the bakers ensured the pilgrims had bread each day. The bread’s fame is due to the local water and the natural yeast in the air – but no salt.
Altopascio is just 20 KM southwest of Lucca (the birthplace of Puccini. Lucca is one of my favorite cities. The historical center is enclosed by medieval walls so wide that you can walk all around the centro storico on a grassy path atop the walls.
Here’s a statue of Lucca’s favorite son the composer Giacomo Puccini. There’s a great bakery on the corner of the street leading into this piazza. I had my first bite of Buccellato Lucchese there. Buccellato is a gently sweet cross between bread and coffee cake, redolent of yeast and anise, studded with raisins and nuts and with a texture at once lightly tender yet seductively substantial. My best find in Lucca!
So, what’s the final verdict on Tuscan bread? Decide for yourself with the Gambaccini family – former Altopascio bakers.
Of course, I’ll be providing some more historical and cultural context for the four courses and four Italian wines we’ll be sharing. Hope to see you there.
This is a classic Tuscan white lasagna. It takes a little time and effort but it’s worth it. This is my favorite lasagna and I get a lot of requests for it from family and friends. The meat sauce by itself can be used over any pasta and the balsamella is a common ingredient so these are 2 good recipes to have in your repertoire.
(In case this video whets your appetite for more Tuscan food, there are still seats available for our March 6th Tuscan Dinner event!)
Make the fresh pasta dough recipe. Cut the dough ball into 4 pieces. Form each into a rectangle. Set the pasta machine to the widest roller setting. Pass each dough piece through a pasta machine catching the dough as it passes through the rollers. Fold each piece in thirds. Pass it through the rollers again. Reduce the setting 2 notches and put the strips through the rollers. If the sheets get too long cut them in half. Repeat until you get to the most narrow roller setting. You want to end up with long sheets of pasta about the width of the rollers. Lay the strips out on a well-floured baking sheet or kitchen towel. If you don’t have a pasta machine use a rolling pin. Roll out each piece of dough until it is about 20 inches long and about 10 inches wide. Lay the strips out as above.
Fill a large pot with water and add a tablespoon of sea salt and a tablespoon of EVOO. Bring to a full boil. Cook the strips until they begin to rise to the surface. (The strips will finish cooking in the oven.) Drain the strips when they are very al dente and place in a bowl of ice water. Lay the strips out on a dish towel and cover with a moistened dish towel. Set aside until you assemble the lasagna. Let excess water drain you don’t want wet pasta strips when you assemble the lasagna.
N.B. You’ll need about 3 tablespoons of butter and some extra grated Ptarmigan Reggiano when you assemble the lasagna.
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 large carrot
1 large red onion
1 celery rib
8 springs Italian flat parsley
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons of EVOO
1/4 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 boneless, skinless chicken breast (you can use ground chicken if you want)
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 cups of chicken broth
1/4 pound prosciutto
Salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg
Soak the porcini in hot water until soft about 10 minutes.
Chop the carrot, onion celery, parsley and garlic very fine and place in a large enamel or heavy bottomed pot with the EVOO and over medium-low heat gently saute until golden brown.
Add the pork, beef and chicken and saute for about 15 minutes more. Be sure to break up the ground meats so no clumps form.
Clear a small patch on the bottom of the pot and add a little EVOO. In this spot add the tomato paste and stir to caramelize the paste a bit. The paste will darken and the oil will turn a golden red.
Add the wine and cook until evaporated about 15 minutes more.
Add 1 cup of broth and reduce about 15 minutes more.
Take out the cooked chicken and chop very fine and return to the pot. (If using ground chicken skip this step.)
Roughly chop the porcini mushrooms and put them and their soaking liquid in the pot (pour the liquid in slowly so that any sand stays in the bowl) add second cup of broth and reduce for 15 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste and reduce until the sauce is quite thick.
Chop the prosciutto very fine and add to the pot.
Close the flame and add grated nutmeg to taste. (It’s strong so don’t use too much it’s just a background flavor.)
Let the sauce cool before making the lasagna.
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
3 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground nutmeg to taste.
Place the milk in a large pan heat until until it is very close to frothing.
While the milk is heating, in a heavy-bottomed pan over very low heat melt the butter.
When the butter starts to froth add the flour and mix well with a whisk or a wooden spoon and cook stirring frequently until it is golden brown.
Add the hot milk and whisk or stir while you’re adding it.
Keep whisking or stirring in the same direction so no lumps form.
When the sauce reaches the boiling point add the salt and a bit of ground nutmeg and gently whisk or stir until the the sauce cooks slowly for about 10 minutes. The sauce should be fairly thick. Cover pot and set aside until you assemble the lasagna.
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Coarsely grate the mozzarella and place in a bowl.
Add the grated Parmigiano and mix together.
Set aside until you assemble the lasagna.
Assembling the Lasagna
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Heavily butter a rectangular baking dish (131/2 x 81/4 inches).
Spread a tablespoon of the meat sauce on the bottom of the dish.
Then fit in a layer of cooked pasta strips to cover the bottom and sides of the dish leaving about an inch to hang over the edge all around.
Spread the cheese mixture over the pasta layer.
Add another layer of pasta to cover only the inside of the dish.
Spread a layer of the meat sauce.
Cover the inside with another layer of pasta.
Spread a thick layer of the balsamella.
Add another layer of pasta to cover the top of the lasagna.
Fold over the over-hanging pasta onto the top of the lasagna.
Dot the top of the lasagna with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle lightly with grated Parmigiano.
If you have extra sauces or cheese mixture build another layer.
Put the lasagna in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the top layer is lightly golden brown and crisp.
Remove the lasagna out of the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving.