A fan reminded me that zucchini is overflowing the garden. Here’s a delicious, fast and easy recipe to help you use up this prolific summer vegetable. Use ciambotta as an accompaniment for fish or meat or as part of an antipasti.
Gagootz is an Italian-American word for zucchini. It derives from the name of an Italian squash cucuzza. I eat a lot of gagootz. I love it in a frittata (egg pie), baked with a savory rice and ground meat stuffing, fried and marinated, or in a dish similar to eggplant alla parmigiana.
But one of my favorite dishes is a version of ciambotta or in my slang jambot. It’s a stew that includes any of your favorite summer vegetables. My version is just zucchini, onions and potatoes in a tomato sauce. I’ll eat just a big bowl of jambot with some great crusty bread for a simple lunch or dinner. Make a lot–it keeps well for several days.
A man can only be confined to the concrete jungle for so long. I needed a break from the city. I boarded Amtrak at Penn Station for the 3 hour ride up the coast to Rhode Island, looking forward to a week on the beach before heading back to San Francisco. A special dinner with friends at their beach house was on the schedule.
The fishermen were washing down their boats when we arrived early in the morning. The day’s haul had been delivered to our Galilee RI fishmonger. And we were on a mission. I was making my friend her favorite meal. It was my birthday present to her–linguine with mussels and clams, boiled lobster and freshly picked sweet corn. Prosecco to wash it all down.
We had a hard time deciding between the little neck clams and the steamers. If I was still in Jersey I would have grabbed the little necks but in Rhode Island they love steamers, sweet little clams with a softer shell. To ensure tenderness when cooked quickly, I picked only mussels that were the same size as the steamers, small and heavy in my hand.
Here they are steamed in white wine, garlic, EVOO and parsley over linguine. Take the clams and mussels out when the shells open. Finish cooking the linguine in the briny broth and then mix in the clams and mussels. (Stay tuned an episode of steaming mussels and clams is coming up soon.)
Our fishmonger tempted us with this twelve pound monster from the Deep but we wanted smaller more tender ones for our special meal.
We bought my favorite size –one and a half pounders–tender and sweet. Put the lobsters head first in a big pot of boiling water. Cover the pot and bring it back to a rapid boil. Take them out of the pot after 10 minutes. I wrapped the freshly picked corn in plastic wrap sprinkled with salt and black pepper and a couple of dabs of unsalted butter and OMG nuked it for 3 minutes. Sweet and crunchy steamed in its own juices.
I only eat the claws and the tail. All of the bodies go to the birthday girl who scours every inch of the shell and legs for every last morsel of lobster–it prolongs the pleasure she says. Here’s my dish after the feast.
If your in the area here’s my fishmonger–always fresh and always top quality. It’s right next to the Block Island ferry pier in Galilee RI.
After a work week in Manhattan I gathered in Clifton, NJ with friends on Saturday for a day of grilling, eating and drinking on the backyard deck. It was one of those lazy days–90 degrees and beautiful, to be enjoyed outside and not in a steamy kitchen. We planned to eat for hours, so a simple, fresh menu was in order.
I thought it was too early in the season but we scored some Jersey tomatoes. Ever had a Jersey tomato? Big, fat, juicy, and deep red. They call them beefsteaks they’re so meaty. You can slice them up and eat them like a steak. Heirlooms are great but Jersey beefsteaks are best. Slices of freshly made mozzarella alternated with a fat slice of the sweet tomato and a basil leaf sprinkled with a little sea salt and a drizzle of EVOO and we had Caprese to die for as our antipasti.
Also at hand: a bag of fresh organic basil, had to be used. Pesto, presto –to be served over trifole, the traditional small twisted pasta from Liguria where this pesto was invented. When basil is fresh and abundant in the summer months, liberally is the only way it should be used.
You know me I get these “woolies”, these cravings for a certain food. Well, one came over me in Jersey: shrimp on the grill basted with a Calarian chili paste, honey and EVOO glaze. The shrimp are crunchy with a hot/sweet exterior and a juicy succulent interior. Simple and quick.
We also had some early sweet peaches so I had to make a chilled Neapolitan “sangria”. It’s a standard for hot summer days. When the peaches are fat and juicy just soak slices in a robust red wine. The wine picks up a hint of peach flavor–a perfect accompaniment for our summer lunch. Then eat the wine-soaked peaches for dessert.
Enjoy caprese, sweet grilled shrimp, pesto and pasta, and sip home-made sangria for your next meal on a sultry summer day.
Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigiana) – the dish I cut my teeth on. Loved it then, love it now, and make it often. Imagine perfection: the golden eggplant sauteed in a tasty egg wash, baked in the oven with tangy concentrated tomato sauce, sweet basil, creamy melted mozzarella, with a nutty parmigiana reggiano crust. It’s my favorite dish, rich and satisfying; it can keep a man alive for days.
Of course that’s assuming you’re lucky enough to possess eggplant parmigiana left overs after your meal is done. Because it actually tastes better the next day after some overnight magic melding of flavors. If you’re the preserving type, consider portioning your left-overs and freezing. Impress the unexpected and unsuspecting dinner guest with tomorrow’s eggplant parmigiana or satiate yourself on a night when there’s just nothing else to eat. Or, mix it up a bit. Eggplant parmigiana makes a great panino (sandwich) especially with a soft, chewy bread like ciabatta for tomorrow’s lunch. The possibilities are endless.
I often serve the melanzane alla parmigiana with roasted sausage. A simple arugula salad with EVOO and wine vinegar is a great accompaniment. I put the salad on the table and my guests can have it with the eggplant and sausage or as a separate following course.
Can’t talk about Eggplant Parmigiana without debating breadcrumbs. I often fry eggplant coated with breadcrumbs. Those crunchy slices are delicious and can be used in many dishes but I just don’t recommend using a breadcrumb coating in this recipe. You risk crisp and crunchy for soggy, a dangerous detraction from the dish. Mother made it best. She always does.
But I pass on to you the delicious, the dynamic, the perfect left-over, Eggplant Parmigiana.
For the Sauce
2-tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1-2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled (Ba-Boom) 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, any peel or stems removed 1 sprig fresh basil 1 tablespoon dried oregano 1-teaspoon sea salt
Put a pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the garlic Saute the garlic for about a minute in the hot oil Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano to the pot, stir well Put the lid ajar on the pot and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens and has reduced by about about a quarter in volume
For the Eggplant
1 large eggplant 2-tablespoons sea salt (to drain the bitter liquid from the eggplant) 1 cup flour for dusting the eggplant 2 eggs 2 tablespoons Italian flat parsley, chopped 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano 1 pound fresh mozzarella sliced thin 1 teaspoon sea salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or if using only olive oil, 4 tablespoons) 2 tablespoons canola or your favorite oil 10 basil leaves, or more as needed
Remove both ends of the eggplant Cut the eggplant in about 1-inch slices Sprinkle salt on both sides of the slices and line them in colander, put it in the sink as the bitter dark liquid drains Wash the slices well and pat dry. In a bowl, add the eggs, pecorino, parsley, salt and black pepper and beat well Put a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil to the pan and bring it to a ripple Put the flour in a bowl and lightly flour the eggplant slices Dip the slices in the egg wash and coat well Fry the eggplant until both sides are golden brown Remove to a platter lined with paper towel Continue frying the eggplant and add more oil as needed.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees In a large baking dish, spread some sauce on the bottom Add a single layer of the fried eggplant slice (save the best slices for the top layer) Put a dollop of sauce on top of each slice Rip the basil leaves and add a piece on top of each slice Liberally sprinkle the grated parmigiano all over Repeat this process until all the eggplant is layered in the dish For the top layer add the mozzarella and then sprinkle of grated parmigiana all over Bake the eggplant for 20-30 minutes or until the top begins to turn golden brown Serve immediately or at room temperature
Paprika loves fat. That’s what Flora told me the other day.
At da Flora Restaurant (701 Columbus at Filbert), they know how to use the paprika she brings in from a small family producer in Hungary. The chicken or pork paprikash over homemade dumplings is one of my favorite dishes.
Flora is now selling her favorite paprika from the last harvest at her restaurant. We talked about the hot and mild paprika and the special paprika flakes. She thought the mild paprika would be best for me. I want to buy some but I don’t have any recipes that call for paprika I confessed. Flora quickly offered up a description of this pasta cream sauce with pancetta and radicchio flavored with the paprika. I paid her for the packet tied with a wide blue ribbon – the mild one.
I devised a recipe from what Flora told me and cooked it up the other day. Flora’s fresh paprika is the star of this recipe, smoky and piquant. I like the zesty basic tomato sauce and I like the milder one softened by the cream. Have it your way!
You can serve this sauce with long or short pasta. I like fusilli or rigatoni for the short and linguine or fettucini for the long. Be sure to get a good semolina pasta from Campania or Puglia in Italy . The artisanal pasta extruded through a bronze die is best. The bronze die creates a rough surface on the outside of the pasta that catches the sauce.
You can make the sauce in the time that it takes to cook the pasta. It’s hot and spicy but if you want it milder, add the cream to the sauce.
North Beach has been a bit down on its heels since the start of the Great Recession. The empty storefronts reminded us every day. But now we’re experiencing a renaissance. New restaurants and other businesses are opening up on every block. All of a sudden everyone wants to be in North Beach. The Village is so popular you can hardly walk on the sidewalks anymore.
Here are my own North Beach insider tips on what not to miss:
The Calabrian powerhouse, Vicoletto, on Green
Pulcinella, the Neapolitan pizzeria and ristorante on Vallejo
Santo’s new Cavalli Cafe on Stockton, serving great espresso, cannoli, tiramisu and other homemade Italian sweets
The Gambaccini family’s transformation of the old Danila Bakery on Green into the hip northern Tuscan pizzeria and ristorante, Baonecci
And a few more…
After losing 5 of the 6 old Italian delis, a new salumeria will soon open on Vallejo to give Molinari’s some competition. Can’t wait.
Check out the new public parklets in front of Caffe Roma and Caffe Greco (both on Columbus), and don’t miss the new one just installed today on Stockton near Tony’s Pizzeria Napoletana.
So what about all these new restaurants opening up? Most aren’t Italian, and that’s OK. For years I’ve enjoyed the smart pan-Asian cooking at The House, and the souffles at Cafe Jacqueline (both on Grant). I like a little culinary diversity in the Village. Mexican, French, Pakistani, American comfort food joints, come on in. Our authentic Italian food base can take it! Eat what you want, just make sure you eat in North Beach!