Ditali Pasta with Peas & Onions

Ditali with Peas & Onions

This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. The sauce is done in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.

I made it for a recent family reunion meal and there was a bit of tussle at the table as everyone scrambled to get a second helping.

The pressure was on when I made this one. Two of my sisters were with me and I had to satisfy their taste memories of my Mom’s version of this dish. Luckily it was a hit all around.

My vegan niece was able to eat this dish. I just set the sauteed peas and onions aside and finished the sauce with pasta water from her vegan pasta.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:73]

Special Event: Rescued North Beach Painting Will Be Unveiled to the Public

This Friday, December 2nd, I’ll be unveiling the fully-restored “Song of Pulcinella” painting. It’s a gorgeous work by local artist, Vranas, and his hand was essential in repairing it after it was ripped down, wall and all, from the recently-closed Pulcinella Restaurant. (Thanks also to local handyman, Sean O’Donnell.)

The event will also be the Grand Opening of Emerald Tablet, a sweet new gallery and artist workshop in North Beach. Stop by between 6pm and 11pm to view the painting, and to meet the folks at Emerald Tablet as well as tons of other local characters. Free wine and food will be served.

A Post-Thanksgiving Melting Pot Dinner

Chicken Marsala

You would think everyone would be sated after a big Thanksgiving feast. Two branches of the family were here in northern Jersey and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to gather together before everyone scattered.

While heavily Italian-American, our table reflected the ethnic blending in America and the many diets prevalent today. The menu was crafted to satisfy the cravings of some at the table and the dietary needs of others.

My goddaughter makes a mean yellow rice passed down from her husband’s maternal Syrian grandma and it was a special request. One of my nieces is vegan so I wanted to make sure there were dishes she could eat too. It was a spectacular meal.

Here’s the menu.

Anitpasti platter with all the stuff we didn’t finish on Thanksgiving.

Ditali pasta in a simple onion and pea sauce.

Chicken Marsala, broccoli rabe and yellow rice. My vegan niece Jo Anne brought great peppers stuffed with spicy mushrooms, quinoa and black beans.

Dolce was all of the pies and cakes we didn’t finish on Thanksgiving. JoAnne’s vegan pumpkin bread was the star.

We had a great day together, catching up on all the family news and enjoying just being together. In our family, our culinary tradition is the glue that holds us all together.

This Chicken Marsala is an easy recipe with a really big payoff. We made enough for 20 at the table and some for Breanna to bring back to college to share with her friends. Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:72]

A Jersey Thanksgiving

3 Generations Cooking a Jersey Italian-American Thanksgiving Dinner

We’re all gathered in northern Jersey for our Italian-American Thanksgiving dinner, 3 generations in the kitchen today. My sister Rose and her daughter Wendy are in charge, I’m just the sous chef. RoRo has been rocking in the kitchen since 7 this morning and barking out orders to us non-stop. There will be about 20 of us at the table at 4 this afternoon, not sure when we’ll be done.

Here’s the menu:

Antipasti

Platters with prosciutto, salami, mortadella, provolone, fresh mozzarella, smoked scamorza, Italian tuna in olive oil, roasted peppers, marinated mushrooms, giardiniera, marinated artichoke hearts, oil-cured and Sicilian green olives

Primo

Lasagna with layers of ricotta and mozzarella, meat sauce and parmigiano (Wendy’s recipe is below)

Secondo

Turkey, 2 different stuffings, roasted mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes with gravy, maple syrup candied sweet potatoes, homemade whole cranberry sauce and just in case there’s not enough a baked ham

Dolce

Desserts will be Italian ricotta cheesecake, strufoli (fried dough balls covered with honey and sprinkles), pumpkin pie, coconut custard pie, lemon merangue and chocolate cream pie, roasted chestnuts and RoRo’s famous fresh fruit pedestal.

My vegan niece is at the table so we’re making sure that we have plenty of vegetables and other sides to accompany her tofurky.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:71]

NYC’s Real Little Italy

 

Waiting in Line Just to Get In to Shop

I’m interested in the health of Italian-American communities across the country so I travelled from Manhattan to the outer borough of the Bronx to check out a neighborhood I’ve heard about for a long time but never visited.

Arthur Avenue is a vibrant Italian community in the Belmont section of the Bronx. While lower Manhattan’s Little Italy has shrunk to a 2 1/2 block stage-set, Arthur Avenue is booming and as true to its Italian immigrant roots as ever.

The Italian population has dwindled and Belmont is much more diverse, but the core around Arthur Avenue and 187th Street is vibrant with dozens of delis, butcher shops, cheese stores, pasta places and bakeries galore.

There are still some long-time residents and their kids living here. Those who have moved away to the suburbs come back to shop. I was amazed to see long lines outside of the markets and bakeries waiting to get in to do their shopping.

If you’re hungry before you shop you can choose one of old-fashioned restaurants like Dominick’s where you sit at communal tables or Umberto’s Clam Bar, a transplant from lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. Roberto’s is more upscale and modern and it’s offshoot Zero Otto Nove, a new pizzeria/trattoria has been getting rave reviews in the New York City press, no minor accomplishment.

Now that you belly is full, grab an espresso at the bustling Caffe De Lillo and hit the markets and bakeries so you make a great meal at home.

Strong traditions abound in Belmont. Ask 5 people where to get the best bread or Italian pastries and you’ll get 5 different answers. Every family has their favorite. Want fresh mozzarella or burrata? You must go to Casa di Mozzarella. Need fresh pasta?  Only Borgotti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles will do. Don’t miss the indoor Retail Market, a bunch of different food stalls all under one roof that was spear-headed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. We bought great salumi and cheeses at Mike’s Deli to take back to Manhattan for dinner.

These places wrap your purchases in paper and tie it up with string. They total your order with a pencil on a brown paper bag. The merchants have been doing it this way for a hundred years.

Thank God things change slowly on Arthur Avenue — truly The Real Little Italy in New York City. Be sure you visit when you’re in the Big Apple. You won’t be disappointed.

Free Recipe: Salsa Verde (Green Herb Sauce)

Farmer's Market Lincoln Center NYC

Before we headed north to the Arthur Avenue Italian community in the Belmont section of the Bronx, we stopped at the farmer’s market near Lincoln Center.

The small market was bustling and overflowing with fall bounty. We needed thyme, Italian parsley and basil for salsa verde, a gift for my friend’s Thanksgiving family gathering. She’ll serve it as the dip with the crudite of organic broccoli, radishes, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

Salsa verde is a really versatile condiment that you can serve with vegetables, fish or meat. It’s easy to make. Choose your favorite fresh herb combination and make the salsa verde by hand or in a food processor.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:70]

Italian-American Thanksgiving – Roasted Turkey, Chestnut-Sausage Stuffing, and Gravy

Bada Bing.

Last Thanksgiving I posted the Italian-American menu for the 4-course Thanksgiving dinner I served at my house in San Francisco. I gave you great wine suggestions for your meal.

This year I’m sharing my recipes for the roasted turkey, chestnut and sausage stuffing and gravy that I’ll make with my family in northern Jersey. I love this meal but I only make it once a year so I’m always happy when Thanksgiving rolls around.

The turkey is golden brown and scented with rosemary, sage, lemon and garlic. The chestnut and sausage stuffing has a crispy crust and adds big flavor to your Thanksgiving table. The gravy is scented by the herbs and garlic and ties everything together.

I don’t know what vegetables we’ll make or what the antipasti or dolce (dessert) courses will be. We’ll decide when the family gathers next week. We’re very democratic about these things.

I do know one thing. My sister Rose will assemble her famous pedestal fruit bowl to accompany an assortment of roasted nuts to help end our Thanksgiving meal. I know Rose’s will be better than the one I made last year. And I know that it will be the centerpiece for our table, has been since we were kids.

I can’t wait to see everyone. A bunch of us will hit the markets to get the best ingredients. Six of us spanning 3 generations will be in the kitchen cooking together. Best of all 20 will be at the table for a day of feasting.

Have a great Thanksgiving! Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:68]

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:69]

Song of Pulcinella Mural In Hiding

The Rescue Team (Sean, Della, Pulcinella, Vranas, Litlle Pulcinello & Me)

3 weeks to the day since the heavily damaged North Beach Song of Pulcinella mural was rescued from the dumpster and he’s back in his all his glory.

Today we gathered at Emerald Tablet where the artist Vranas restored his mural. We had to position the really heavy mural so that handyman Sean O’Donnell could trim off the excess and put on its new frame.

Oh no, a small piece of the bottom border popped off as we started to move the really heavy mural. I panicked but Vranas assured me that the border will pop right back into place. He’ll lightly touch it up after the frame is on. Whew, tragedy avoided. Vranas and Sean made a couple of design changes and Sean’s framing work got a whole lot easier.

Now that the restoration work is complete, Song of Pulcinella will be under wraps until its Second Unveiling on December 2. I can’t wait for the cloth to drop.

Song of Pulcinella carries some battle scars but I think the mural is back as beautiful as ever. Stop by Emerald Gallery after December 2 and let me know what you think.

We’re still searching for Pulcinella’s permanent home. Any thoughts about a public North Beach indoor space where Song of Pulcinella can be enjoyed by all?

Mural in Pieces As the Rescue Begins
Gluing the Pieces Back in Place
Sean Trims the Mural for Framing

Bella Napoli

Vesuvio Overlooking the City and Bay of Naples

Naples as you may have realized by now is one of my favorite cities in all of Italia.

My Italian roots are in Campania and Napoli is the region’s capital. I’ve felt as if I belonged there since I first visited. I love the food, culture and vivacious spirit of the people.

I was with my sister as we strolled the markets in the Spanish Quarter our first day together in Napoli. All of a sudden she looked at me kinda startled. “They all look like us!”, she exclaimed. Maybe an overstatement, but it was a recognition that we had a DNA connection to this chaotic, wonderful city and its people. I think this is why I’ve been so passionate about saving the North Beach Song of Pulcinella mural that reflects the Bella Napoli that I love.

Here’s a Napoli post from Italian Notebook— great pix of the city, the Bay of Naples, the active volcano Vesuvio, all from the cliffs of Vomero high above the city. Take a look at Spaccanapoli, a broad avenue from the Greco era when the city was known as Neapolis. Spaccanapoli literally means “Naples Splitter”.

There’s a cool funicular that runs from the city center and climbs all the way up to Vomero and the St. Elmo Castle.

It’s incredible to me that more than 3 million people live in the shadow of Vesuvio. It has erupted more than 3 dozen times since it buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. Neapolitans are a tough people always living it seems just on this side of disaster.

But they have their patron San Gennaro, martyred in the 4th century, to protect them. His dried blood is kept in a vial and brought to the Duomo on his feast day, September 19. Thousands of people crowd the Duomo with even more outside. They pray, they chant and they wait for the Cardinal to wave a white handkerchief up at the altar, a sign that the dried blood has liquified. I saw the miracle for myself when I was last there.

The tradition holds that if the blood doesn’t liquify great tragedy will strike. That happened twice in the recent past. Vesuvio erupted in 1944 and in 1980 a massive earthquake hit Campania killing 2,000. San Gennaro’s blood didn’t liquify in both those years.

Giardiniera (Pickled Vegetables)

Vegetables in a White Vinegar EVOO Marinade

I’m finally giving in to the reality that winter is coming. I think it was setting the clocks back last weekend that did it. By 5 it’s getting dark now and I’m not sure I like that.

In reaction to shorter days and winter nights I’ve been putting up marinated vegetables for my pantry. I was compelled to make vinegar peppers (peperoni sott’aceto) and eggplant caponata. And I’m about to break into the Giardiniera, a jar of marinated vegetables.

Giardiniera is an Italian kitchen staple. Make up a big batch and keep it in the refrigerator. Giardiniera is a great snack with salumi or cheese. I like it on sandwiches. It’s great on an antipasti platter or even as a side for a roboust star, grilled sausages maybe or even roasted pork.

Cutting up the vegetables takes the most energy. I gotta be honest about making Giardiniera though. You have to brine the vegetables overnight and they have to marinate for a couple of days before they’re ready to eat. Of course, if you’re impatient, you can take a taste or two in the interim.

Giardiniera

1 small head cauliflower

1 carrot

1 celery rib

12 pearl onions

12 pitted green olives

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 small serrano or jalapena chile

1 clove  garlic

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup EVOO

1/4 cup sea salt for the brine

Remove the seeds and ribs from the red, yellow and serrano peppers. Cut into 2 inch strips and then 1/2 inch slices.
Cut the celery and carrot in quarters and cut in 1/2 inch slices.
Cut the pearl onion in half.
Cut the cauliflower in quarters and cut out the core and large stem. Break the florets into pieces about the same size of the other vegetables.
Place the green, red and serrano peppers, celery, carrots, onion, and cauliflower in a bowl. Stir the salt into enough water to cover the vegetables and pour the water into the bowl to cover the vegetables completely. Add more water if necessary.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next day drain salty water and rinse vegetables well.
Cut the olives in half.
Mix the garlic, oregano, black pepper and olives in a bowl. Pour in vinegar and EVOO and mix well. Pour the mixture over the vegetables and mix well.
Spoon the giardiniera into a liter or quart jar, fill to the top with the oil mixture and seal the jar tightly.
Refrigerate for 2 days before eating.
Gardiniera will keep in the refrigerator of at least 2 weeks.

Pickled Peppers

Pickled Peppers with Oregano & Garlic

Here’s a really simple recipe to capture the bell pepper bounty in a jar for your winter pantry. Just slice the peppers into strips, make the vinegar brine and put everything in a jar.

Pickled peppers, or “vinegar peppers” as my family calls them, keep in the refrigerator for a long time. I usually eat them all before I even get close to the end of their shelf-life. These peppers are great as a crunchy snack, on an antipasti platter, on a panino, and as a bright, piquant ingredient in some of my recipes. I always keep some of these peppers around. You never know when you’ll need them.

The hardest part of this recipe is cleaning and cutting the peppers. Everything just goes in the jar. Let them cure for at least 24 hours and enjoy.  The pickled peppers just keep getting better as they sit in the brine.

 

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:67]

Song of Pulcinella Mural Almost Done

Vranas Inspects The Big Rip

It’s just been 2 weeks since we saved the severely damaged Song of Pulcinella mural and rolled it across Columbus Avenue to a safe haven. It’s been a week since I brought the San Francesco statue to Emerald Tablet gallery to oversee the restoration.

The muralist Vranas was worried about the seam where the 2 big pieces were joined together. Sean O’Donnell had lined it up perfectly and Vranas repainted the vertical rip beautifully.

Vranas will finish the last shattered corner today. It may be the toughest section to conquer. Thank you San Francesco, Song of Pulcinella is almost back.

Leah Garchik picked up the restoration story in her Friday Chronicle column. Scroll down Friday’s column to find it.

Thanks to Andre Hunt for his video of Vranas working on that last corner.

400 Food Bloggers in SF

Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. from Bread in 5

I met many of the 400 passionate food bloggers who gathered at the annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival this weekend in San Francisco. A full day of sharing ideas and techniques about blog writing, photos, building your audience. Boy, I learned a lot especially about photos, tips that I will use to up my pix game.

I stopped by to see Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg of Bread in Five fame. Rick Kleffel interviewed them just before coming up to my place. Zoe and Jeff were handing out copies of their fantastic book Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day. Gotta love their message. When you make pizza dough make enough to use that day and enough to stash a supply in your refrigerator. Heat up your oven and every day you can grab a hunk of dough and make a loaf of bread, a pizza or focaccia in just 5 minutes. That’s what I do and it keeps for about 2 weeks taking on a bit of a sour flavor near the end.

I’ll let you know when Rick Kleffel’s radio show will air and when his podcast is up.

NPR Interviewed Me

KUSP's NPR Rick Kleffel

I was making the tomato sauce base for Cioppino early Friday morning when Rick Kleffel arrived to tape an interview for his KUSP Santa Cruz NPR radio show and podcast.

“Smells wonderful in here,” Rick said as he entered.

Rick makes many of my dishes so we spent time in the kitchen talking about the Cioppino recipe and the relative merits of San Marzano DOP tomatoes. I told Rick that when I find a good DOP producer often I will stock up on their non-DOP tomatoes. The DOP growing zone may end at a road near Salerno but more tomatoes are grown across the road just outside the zone. Trust the producer, those tomatoes are just as good and cost about half the price.

I’ll let you know when the interview airs on KUSP and when the podcast is available on Rick’s website.

Weekend Recipe: Cioppino

Cioppino -- A San Francisco Treat

Cioppino has been on my mind lately. Some of my fans asked me to share my recipe so I just had to make it today.

Cioppino is a San Francisco original created by the Italians on Fisherman’s Wharf in the 1800s. The local story is that when the boats came in at the end of the day a big pot with tomatoes was put on the fire and the fisherman “chipped in” pieces of that day’s catch. They’d call to those who hadn’t donated yet. “Hey Guiseppe you gonna chip-in-o? Ciopinno was born.

More likely Cioppino comes from the Ligurian dialect. Some of the earliest Italians who settled in North Beach were from Genoa and other parts of the region of Liguria. They were fisherman in Liguria and they became fisherman on the Wharf. Cioppino is probably derived from “ciuppin” which in the Ligurian dialect means “little soup”, a fish stew.

This is an ecumenical dish. Sicilians later joined the Genoese on the Wharf along with Portuguese fisherman. They all added their own touches to this dish and the pot on the Wharf probably had different fish each day depending on what was left over on the boats.

I’m using local halibut, clams, mussels, calamari and prawns. Oh, and dungeness crab. I couldn’t find any in the fish markets. We’re out of season here in San Francisco. I was desperate. I went to see my friend Gigi at Sotto Mare in the Village. Gigi wasn’t there but Louisa hooked me up with a big, beautiful crab from the waters off Oregon.

This is really an easy dish to make. Saute the vegetables and herbs, add the tomato and simmer until you reach the consistency you want. I like a thicker tomato sauce but still with enough broth to dunk a piece of toasted sour dough garlic bread. Once the sauce is to the proper consistency put in the fish, cover the pot and simmer until the mussels and clams open. Top with basil, parsley, a drizzle of a good finishing EVOO and your ready to dive in.

The fish is just cooked through, tender and sweet bathed in the tomato sauce scented with onion, garlic and herbs. The sparkle of the red pepper flakes hits the back of your mouth as you swallow each bite. The zesty flavor of the sea in a bowl.

Make the tomato base and use any fish that you like. Make Cioppino you’re own. Here’s mine. Buon appetito.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:65]