Carciofi alla Romana (Roman Style Artichokes)

Recipe from the Jewish Ghetto in Rome

Italians love their artichokes and Romans know how to treat them.

I first had this dish in the Jewish Ghetto in Roma at Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia sitting outside on a hot summer day with a glass of chilled Frascati and the Portico ruins as our vista.

This is my interpretation of that dish. It is one of my favorites second only to my mom’s artichokes stuffed whole and roasted in the oven. Those are messy to eat. You gotta scrape the leaves with your teeth to get the meat and stuffing. With these you can eat the whole thing!

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A Taste of Spring in Venice at da Flora Ostaria

Photo by gluckx
Photo by Flickr user: gluckx

da Flora just may be my favorite restaurant. Been going for a dozen years. When I lived up the block I waited tables when they were short-handed and even baked a couple of dolci for them.

Fifteen years ago when I first stumbled in, Flora was at the stove. She’d come out and take the order then disappear into the kitchen to cook our Venetian dinner. She’s shared her Italian food and wine insights with me for a decade or more. I’ve spent many wonderful days with her in Venice enjoying her favorite places and eating in the homes of Venetian friends.

Flora these days is in the dining room but her spirit is everywhere. Her Italian wine selections are phenomenal. She always pairs the right wines for our table. She is joined by Mary Beth (MB) who does the baking, and Jen who is a genius in the kitchen. What an incredible trio!

Jen’s constantly changing menus celebrate each season – the best ingredients simply prepared. She has been nurturing me for a long time. Her sweet potato gnocchi and fegato alla veneziana (Venetian-style liver) are world-renowned. She taught me how to cook fava bean leaves just last week. The pappardelle that night were particularly silky.

MB is an extraordinary baker. Her focaccia is light and airy with a golden crust glistening with olive oil and sea salt. I’ve been watching her make it for a decade and I still can’t come close. Her multiple dolci posed a dilemma resolved by having one of each. Heaven.

Flora lived in Venice, a.k.a. La Serenissima (The Most Serene Republic) for it’s preference for trade over war, for many years and they all spend time there each year. Their deep understanding of Venetian food, wine, and culture shape every dining experience at their ostaria.

Join me at da Flora’s on Sunday afternoon, May 22, 2 to 5 p.m. We’re eating as they do in Italia – il pranzo nel pomerrigio, the main meal of the day, eaten in the afternoon.

The women and I came up with four courses to celebrate spring. Fava beans, red spring onions, asparagus, sweet peas and early lemons are the stars. Flora paired four spectacular wines to accompany each of the courses.

Celebrate spring in Venice without leaving North Beach. There are only 30 places at our table for this very special pranzo.

A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
Venetian cuisine from the women of da Flora. Four courses paired with four wines.

 

The Custom Menu

 

Antipasti Tris

Bacala montecato col polenta. Crispy slices of polenta topped with creamy whipped salt cod and potato, served with spiced black olives.

Crema de fave col pan. Crostini with marinated fava beans, fava puree, lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil and shaved pecorino.

Paleta de risi frita. Fried rice balls (arancini) stuffed with bay shrimp with a spicy aioli (without shrimp for vegetarians).

Vino: Adami Prosecco Valdobbiadone NV (Veneto). Citrus and melon aroma, clean, light and crisp with tiny bubbles.

Primo

Tagliatelle col bisi. Fresh pasta with spring peas, ricotta salata and cracked black pepper.

Vino: La Montechia Piuchebello 2008 (Veneto). From a small producer in the Euganean Hills near Padua a wonderful mellow, yellow wine from Moscato grapes.

Secondo

Lombatino di porseo. Spice rubbed roasted pork tenderloin with sauteed fava leaves, roasted asparagus and pickled red spring onions with a whole grain mustard sauce. (A vegetarian substitute is available.)

Vino: Tezza Campo di Majoli 2006 (Veneto). A blend of indigenous Corvina grape, the dark star of Valpolicella it is an elegant medium bodied red wine with black cherry aroma, spicy verve and the balance of Cabernet.

Dolce

Crostata di limone. A Meyer lemon marmalade/custard pie with a butter crust and a dollop of whipped cream.

Vino: Zibbibo. We reach down to Sicilia for this dessert wine with an Arab name to pair with Meyer lemon. It is a spirited digestive with honey color and flavor.

A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
Venetian cuisine from the women of da Flora. Four courses paired with four wines.

Tale of Two Noodle-Loving Neighborhoods

Sunday, May 1st

Sunday, May 1st, is the 2nd annual Noodle Fest, a joint neighborhood street event that spans Chinatown and North Beach. I’m proud to be presenting the North Beach pasta demonstration at 2:00pm and 4:00pm. I’ll be at Vallejo and Columbus. Noodle Fest is organized by the Chinatown Community Development Center and North Beach Merchants Association.

Price of admission includes food and beverage samples from both sides of Broadway.

Here’s the pasta I’ll be making, in front of your eyes, representing the colors of the Italian flag:

  • Spinach Pasta (Green)
  • Poor Person’s Pasta (White)
  • Beet Pasta (Red)

I’ll be cutting fresh fettucine and tagliatelle, and maybe a couple of other shapes as well. Also I’ll make fresh ricotta and mozzarella ravioli.

From the organizers:

Bring your confirmation printout to receive your passport at the will call tables, which entitles you to three noodle samples from Chinatown, three pasta samples from North Beach and one beverage.

Come out and sample delicious noodle and pasta dishes from over thirty restaurants from Chinatown and North Beach! This year, we are adding drinks to our menu as well! So come ready to mingle, enjoy live entertainment, watch noodle making demonstrations by renowned chefs, and slurp the afternoon away!

Date and Time: Sunday, May 1, 2011 from 1pm to 5pm

Event Location: Grant Avenue (btw Pacific and Vallejo) & Vallejo Street (btw Columbus and Grant)

Should be a great day outside in the Village. Get tickets now because it’ll sell out fast. Details and ticket sales here.

Chicken & Potato Cook-Off

Chicken & Potatoes: Lazio vs. Campania

It was Lazio versus Campania, and it was a blast.

Food author Mark Leslie was in town to promote his book, Beyond the Pasta, about the time he spent living with a family in Viterbo, northwest of Rome. Mornings he was in the kitchen with “Nonna” the grandmother, helping to prepare the family meals each day.

This is an experience I can relate to. So, we decided to both cook chicken cutlets with a potato contorni as a side. Mark’s are Nonna’s Lazio recipes. Mine are my Mom’s chicken cutlet and potato croquette, as they are still served in her birth village of Mirabella Eclano in Campania.

We met up at the Cookhouse (a wonderful new rental loft in North Beach – tell ’em Gianni sent ya!) for a little friendly kitchen battle. Watch the video above to see us cook our dishes side by side. Here are the recipes…

Mark’s Lazio Recipes

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Gianni’s Campania Recipes

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Walking and Eating in North Beach

Gianni at Cavalli Cafe
Gianni at Cavalli Cafe
Gianni talks in front of his favorite cannoli place.

We’ve expanded our walking tour. As usual, it includes a slice of a fantastic thin-crust pizza from one of my favorite family-run pizzerias in North Beach. But now it also includes the city’s best cannoli! It’s also been expanded from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Naturally, in the course of the romp, I cover tons of history and trivia that go beyond food and deep into the culture – past and present – of my Italian village.

Learn about the original inhabitants of Washington Square Park, the gunslinging ways of a scorned North Beach woman, the bar room charity of a Mafia don, and tons more.

Come walk with me!

 

Saturday, May 28th (Memorial Day weekend), walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, May 28th (Memorial Day weekend), 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

 

Saturday, June 4th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, June 4th, 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

 

Saturday, June 25th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, June 25th, 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

 


 

Easter Pies: Pizza Rustica & Pastiera Napoletana

This one’s for the start of the meal – only on Easter!

Easter 2012 Update!

I put together a 4-course Easter dinner menu with wine pairings that your family and friends will love. Pizza Rustica is the opening act and Pastiera Napoletana is the closer. Check out the menu post that includes my video demonstrations and text recipes for each course.

This year for Easter I’ll be in Virginia with my sister Lucia and brother-in-law Carlo, my nieces and nephews, their spouses, and my great nieces and nephews. It’s a three-generation cooking branch of the family. We’ll all be in the kitchen making the pizza rustica and pastiera napoletana, probably on Good Friday. But, we won’t eat them until Easter Sunday.

Serve the pizza rustica as part of the antipasti course and the Pastiera as your dolce (dessert).

The pastry crust recipes are  basically the same for both except I leave out the sugar and lemon rind in the torta rustica crust. These are very versatile pastry crusts that can be used in many applications.

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Buona Primavera! Happy Spring!

Pizza Rustica

This savory pie is also called torta rustica, pizza ripiena, pizza chiena or in Neapolitan-English slang, pizza gain.

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Pastiera Napoletana

This is probably the most famous Neapolitan pastry and it is one of my absolute favs. But, I still only make it once a year at Easter. Here in America, Pastiera is sometimes called pizza grano, Easter sweet pie, ricotta cheese cake, pizza or torta dolce.

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Have a Drink With Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton replica at Comstock Saloon on Columbus. Oh yeah, he's the protector of Mexico, too.

Over seventy years ago, Peter Macchiarini made up his mind that San Francisco needed a symbol. This idea wasn’t a modest one — Macchiarini was looking for San Francisco’s Statue of Liberty, its Eiffel Tower. Something to erect and have stand tall and proud atop the City by the Bay, embodying the city’s ethos. The decision soon became obvious: Emperor Norton. In his combination of progressive thinking and quirky demeanor, few people could represent the city of San Francisco so earnestly. And so Peter Macchiarini set out to make it so by designing and making a statue of the self-proclaimed Protector of the US and All Mexico.

Tragically, Macchiarini’s quest seemed to run a habit of getting very close to completion, but then falling apart. In nearly every decade since the idea’s inception, a statue of Emperor Norton has almost made it into the public view of San Francisco, only to be stopped short by some sort of political or social opponent. Most recently was the effort to have Norton stand atop the Peter Macchiarini Steps (Broadway and Kearny). Makes sense, right? But even that project was halted by bureaucracy.

With the passing of Peter Macchiarini in 2001, it seemed like an Emperor Norton statue would be nothing but a nice thought. But if you sit down today at the Comstock Saloon on Columbus Ave, you’ll look up to see a four-and-a-half-foot tall, 350-pound bronze Emperor Norton peering over you. Peter’s son, Dan, who now owns and runs Macchiarini Creative Design, agreed to have the statue put on display at the request of the Comstock owners. And so now there the Emperor is, perched high above the bar, making sure nobody’s taking themselves too seriously.

Bonus video of Dan Macchiarini in his workshop at 1544 Grant Ave. in North Beach:

North Beach Loves Banksy

"If at first you don't succeed - call an airstrike." (Southeast corner of Columbus & Broadway).

You may have seen the Banksy piece donning a rooftop wall in North Beach at Columbus and Broadway, but if you haven’t, I suspect you’ll still have some time – it’s been there for about a year so far. The clout that Banky’s street art carries in San Francisco is notable. Normally, non-commissioned graffiti (also referred to as “vandalism”) is monitored by the city, and cleaned reasonably swiftly. But letting graffiti stand on a wall for over a year is clearly saying something.

Last year, a Banksy piece showed up on a wall in Chinatown. There was some controversy as to whether or not the piece was authentic (part of the point of creating it), but even the owners of the shop that got vandalized realized the possible artistic merit of the graffiti sprayed against their wall (another point of creating it). They made diligent efforts to keep neighbors from trying to remove the piece, and even hung a sign next to the Banksy stencil, “Please help us preserve this piece of art! It’s very hard to get and destroying it means the lost for everybody!”

And it’s more than just your civilian San Franciscans who are recognizing the likability of street art – the San Francisco Art Fund has recently commissioned Blek le Rat to do a stenciled art piece on the wall of Cafe Divis (Oak & Divisadero), and another one at Market and Gough. Blek le Rat is a vaunted, pioneering French street artist who even Banksy recognizes as the creator of the movement (and this respect might very well be reflected in Banksy’s ubiquitous rat-feature pieces, like this one which is currently on an Alcatraz wall, and hell, might even belong to Blek himself – who knows?). Blek le Rat began his work in 1981, and still today his work is making city officials everywhere wonder what constitutes vandalism, and what constitutes art.

Controversial or not, the work of Banksy and like-styled street artists has reached international esteem. And if something falls in your lap, like it has on North Beach’s Columbus & Broadway, you have to recognize it. Let it ride, North Beach. Let it ride.

Sun’s Out and So Are We

It's a sunny day, and the grass is warm.

Just a week ago we were dumping our soaking, wind-beaten umbrellas into storefront buckets, fighting for shelter. But now anybody with a roof over their head is looking out their window lustfully. Yeah, the end of March put us through a bit of hell, but April is off to a start that’s making us city-dwellers – for the moment at least – forgive the recent rain.

With temperatures flirting with 80, San Francisco locals are running to their nearest public park with a book or frisbee, a blanket and a picnic basket … a not-so-secret bottle wrapped in a paper bag. And the picnics can’t help but vary depending on the neighborhood they’re taking place in. If you make a sunny-day-at-the-park errand run in the Mission you might come back with an iced coffee and cut-off jean shorts. In the Marina, maybe a Red Bull and a protein bar. And here in North Beach, residents are hitting up stores fully stocked with prosciutto and Pelligrino. Washington Square Park is in full bloom these days. We’ll take it while we can get it.