North Beach 2012 – A New Dawn

Gianni guiding his first tour
Gianni Leading a North Beach Tour

As 2011 comes to a close North Beach is healthy and on the verge of a new dawn.

New restaurants, shops and galleries brought more visitors to the Village and more choices for me and my neighbors. The evening Holiday Boutique Crawl featuring 26 unique North Beach shops and galleries last month was enjoyed by well over a thousand shoppers! Every day visitors and neighbors fill the caffes, restaurants, markets and art galleries. North Beach’s pulse is strong.

Washington Square is booming. Park Tavern in the old Moose’s space on the east side of the Square draws big crowds and is a fun place to have dinner. Bottle Cap on the other side of Columbus offers comfort food in the old Washington Bar and Grill space. Original Joe’s will open in January with lots of outdoor seating facing the Square.

Not all went well. The Neapolitan pizzeria Pulcinella on Vallejo closed but we were able to save the heavily damaged mural “Song of Pulcinella” by Vranas. After a successful restoration we’re looking for a place to display this beautiful view of the Bay of Naples. I miss Pulcinella, the only Neapolitan restaurant in the Village. Here’s a taste of the food and culture that Pulcinella represents now gone from North Beach. The new Pakastani/Indian place Maza on Union couldn’t get a footing and closed earlier this month.

I predict that 2012 will be the year that North Beach is back, updated but stronger than it has been in 60 years. The traditional roots of the neighborhood, Italian food, a vibrant artist community, and great shopping, grew deeper. New arrivals broadened the Village’s appeal. Two stretches of the neighborhood hold the key.

I have my eye on Vallejo Street. Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza will open Capos featuring deep-dish pizza and his pizza school in the Pulcinella space. An oil on canvas mural that captures Vallejo in all its glory in the 50s will be re-installed. (The rolled up mural was found stashed behind a wall during remodeling.) Victoria Pastry on the corner will move to Filbert near Washington Square. Italian-French Bakery now on Upper Grant will move in. Geppetto the new Italian deli (salumeria) will open in January. Vallejo between Columbus and Grant will be transformed into the Poet’s Piazza anchored by the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi and Caffe Trieste. I truly hope Italian-French will be re-born as a great artisan bread bakery. North Beach needs one.

Upper Grant is on fire. Park and Pond opened featuring the work of local artisans. 1814 a few doors away showcases great t-shirts and hoodies by local artists. Al’s Attire moved into a great retro space for his custom clothes and shoes. Tupelo, a new watering-hole, serves southern comfort food. The new Little Vine is an old-fashioned market with a great selection of cheeses, cured meats and carefully selected food products. Emerald Tablet will blossom in 2012 into a fantastic gathering space for artist workshops and other salon events. There are a couple of stores to be had and lots of opportunity for the right business. And it looks like the old North Beach Pizza space is being updated so maybe that long-vacant spot will be scooped up soon.

You can follow it all on Gianni’s North Beach 2.0. My producer Jeff Diehl and I will launch our new website in January. You’ll easily access my Village reports, all of my cooking demonstrations and blog recipes, upcoming private events and soon to be announced culinary tours in Italia on our cool new site. First up on the re-designed site are two new cooking demonstration episodes that you will love.

Felice Anno Nuovo! Buon Anno! Happy New Year! See you in 2012.

New Year’s Eve Menu

Cotechino
Cotechino with Lentils (Image from Cellartours.com)

Still recovering from a wonderful Christmas? Rest up and get ready for New Year’s Eve.

We eat late on New Year’s Eve so that at the end of the meal we can flow right into the midnight ball drop. I minimize my time in the kitchen so here’s a simple menu to maximize your time with friends and family.

Cioppino is a traditional New Year’s Eve dish among North Beach Italian-Americans. I’m combining it with a traditional Italian dish for good fortune in the new year, lentils with Cotechino or roasted Italian sausages.

A glass of Prosecco, the light Italian bubbly, gets things moving in the right direction as your guests arrive.

Start with some antipasti. Keep it simple, maybe some prosciutto di parma with fresh mozzarella drizzled with a great finishing EVOO, or soppressata salami and young pecorino. Scatter some olives around the plate and you’re done. My giardiniera or sweet vinegar peppers make an nice addition to this antipasti platter and my celery mostarda (relish) is always a hit.

Serve the lentils and sausges as your primo piatto, your first course. You can make this dish ahead and just heat it before serving. Make sure you have some good crusty bread on the table to soak up the broth. A fruity, dry red goes well with this dish, a Dolcetto d’Alba or Nero d’Avalo pairs nicely.

For the main course, cioppino is really easy to make so you won’t be away from the party for long. It’s a great fish stew from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf all cooked in a single pot, less than 30 minutes start to finish. The sour dough bread is a must have with this delicious dish from the sea. I like a Chianti Classico with the fish in a zesty tomato sauce.

For dessert, affogato, a scoop of vanilla gelato showered with a shot of espresso. This is the ultimate simple dessert and the espresso will help you make it to the ball drop.

It never hurts to have a panettone around. The sweet dome bread is studded with candied citrus and raisins. If you have any left over it makes great french toast the next morning.

I’m feeling generous as 2011 draws to a close, so here’s another menu suggestion for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Crab is in season and they are heavy and meaty this year. Get one live or steamed from your fishmonger and cook the picked crab in a spicy tomato sauce over linguine. A nice start to the meal.

How about a roast?

My porchetta (roasted pork loin stuffed with herbs) with sauteed escarole and truffle roasted potatoes is a celebratory meal. If you want something really quick try my simple roast pork tenderloin or my roast beef studded with garlic and parsley.

Get my free Italian vegetable eBook and pick the side dishes you want to enjoy.

Felice Anno Nuovo! Happy New Year!

 

Holidays in America

Lidia Bastianich, Holidays in America
Lidia Bastianich, Holidays in America
Lidia Bastianich. Photo by PBS.

Need a boost as the holidays near? I got one watching the first episode of PBS’ Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions.

Lidia Bastianich explores holiday traditions that bring family and friends together at the table.  The show is a celebration of diversity and of the common human experience. If you missed it on TV catch it on the web. You’ll feel good.

The Mexican Christmas dinner with four generations of the Cortez family who own Mi Terra restaurant in San Antonio and Passover Seder with a New York City family and food maven Ruth Reichl are great. But my two favorites are the Feast of the Seven Fishes Lidia cooked in her kitchen with Stanley Tucci and the Chinese New Year meals here in San Francisco with Chinatown legend Shirley Fong-Torres.

I love Tucci’s insight into the role of food in Italian families. Shirley tells a fascinating story of how the Fong family from China became the Torres family in the Philipines and prospered in San Francisco.

Go shopping with Lidia and Mo Rocca on Arthur Avenue, “New York City’s Real Little Italy”. Explore the streets of San Franciso’s Chinatown and glimpse Shirley’s deep understanding of this great neighborhood.

There are some great recipes on the site too. If you need more recipes for your own Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes try some of mine.

Buon Natale!

My Basil Pesto Gnocchi Is Too Green!

Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!
Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!
Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!

Olive Garden, Romano’s Marcaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo — I don’t eat in these joints and if you love authentic Italian food you shouldn’t either. The food they serve has been engineered to appeal to the bland American palate that prizes grease, calories and volume. Most of what they serve is a disgrace and has no connection to the healthy simple dishes that Italians and Italian-Americans enjoy.

The Wall Street Journal had a piece in today’s paper about how these chains struggle to keep and grow their middle America clientele with low-brow tastes.

Olive Garden sends its chefs to Italy to taste the real deal. Unfortunately, when they return to their test kitchens in Orlando the chefs reverse-engineer the dish and bastardize it so that it appeals to their customers.

They stopped making basil pesto for pasta because it was too green for their clientele. A great pasta dish they enjoyed in northern Italy was too “rustic” so they added a cheesy sauce and meat to make it more “normal” and to convince their customers that it was a good deal. They don’t use capers often because the salty and pickled flavor is too out there for their diners. Gnocchi was a bit too adventurous so they only serve it in soup. My delicate gnocchi would never hold up in this water bath.

Please, please, please! Do not equate what you get at these chain restaurants with authentic regional cuisine in Italia or with the food that I celebrate on Gianni’s North Beach. Visit Italia, and until you do, cook up some of my dishes for yourself. You’ll feel better after you eat and, even at chain prices, you’ll save money too.

Buon appetito!

North Beach Discovery: Fresh Truffles from Italia

Fresh White & Black Truffles, Dried Porcini Mushrooms and Just-Pressed EVOO

I love this time of the year in Italia. You get to enjoy black truffles shaved over pici, a rustic home-made spaghetti, or white truffles shaved atop fresh fettucine, or either, shaved atop golden veal scallopine. You may not believe it but black or white truffles shaved on top of eggs fried in olive oil is heavenly, too. I don’t know what excites me more, the truffle aroma that fills my head as the dish arrives or the first bite.

We’re in luck this year. Santo of North Beach’s Cavalli Cafe is selling white and black truffles from Piemonte and Umbria along with fragrant and meaty porcini just dried in the Tuscan sun, and an extra virgin olive oil from a small mill pressed 2 weeks ago. Quite a score for Santo. Bravo!

As of today these truffles are five days out of the ground. Santo’s prices are very reasonable and the quality is excellent. Treat yourself. It’s the holidays – eat some fresh truffles while you can.

The truffles will last about a week wrapped in paper towel and stored in a paper bag in the fridge. If you don’t use them all you can freeze what’s left in butter. Just scoop out what you need. That should last you until next year’s harvest.

But don’t delay because the just-pressed extra virgin olive oil sold out in a day. I’ll save my tasting notes until the next shipment arrives. It ain’t cheap, but you’ll want to get some of this fantastic, fresh finishing oil before the next shipment sells out, too. I’ll let you know when it arrives.

Here is a white truffle pasta recipe and a black truffle pasta recipe to get you started. I suggest you either make fresh pasta or use a very good Italian dried durum wheat pasta. If you use my fresh pasta recipe just pass the pasta sheets through the fettucine or tagliatelle cutters on the pasta machine, or tightly roll up the pasta sheets and cut them in 1/2 inch ribbons. Buon appetito!

Pappardelle with White Truffle Sauce

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:81]

Tagliatelle with Black Truffle Sauce

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:83]

Calzone From Leftovers

Calzone with Escarole and Calabrian Sausage
Calzone with Escarole and Calabrian Sausage
Calzone with Escarole and Calabrian Sausage

I had dough left over from the Sicilian Semolina bread I made last week and escarole left over from when I made soup the other day. Both were sitting idle in my fridge for days until I was inspired — combine the two leftovers and make calzone, those delicious bread turnovers with a savory filling.

This is a version of Wimpy Skippy from Caserta Pizzeria on Providence’s Federal Hill Italian-American neighborhood. They make it with spinach sauteed with garlic, pepperoni and mozzarella. I kicked it up a notch or two.

If you don’t have any dough in your refrigerator and you’re making the calzone from scratch use either my pizza dough recipe that takes about 90 minutes to make or the semolina bread dough recipe that takes about 2 and a half hours to make. (The prep time includes the time it takes the dough to rise. Mixing everything together takes about 15 minutes for both.) You can make the dough in advance and keep it in the fridge. Just let it sit out to come to room temperature before making the calzone.

Either recipe works well. The semolina dough turns a pale yellow from the durum wheat flour.

Roast your favorite Italian sausage in a 425 degree oven, turning them once, until they are browned, about 30 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool. Slice the sausage into 1 inch thick discs. Set aside.

While the sausage is roasting make the dough.

Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Form each into a ball.

Stretch each ball into a flat round about 10 inches in diameter. Set the rounds aside covered with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel so they don’t form a dry crust.

Turn your oven up to its highest setting. Mine goes to 550 degrees.

Place the dough rounds on a well-floured work surface. Scatter about 4 tablespoons of sauteed escarole on the bottom half of the dough round, leaving a half inch border at the edge. You want a layer of escarole about an inch and a half high. (The sauteed escarole recipe excerpted from my free Italian Vegetable eCookbook is below.)

Top the escarole with 6 sausage slices. Use enough so that you get some sausage in every bite.

Cover the the sausage and escarole with slices of fresh mozzarella.

Fold the top half of the calzone over the bottom half with the filling to form the turnover-shaped calzone. Line up the edges and press down with you finger to seal the dough tightly so that none of the filling leaks while baking.

Brush the calzone lightly with EVOO.

Place the calzone on a well-floured pizza peel and at a 20 degree angle slide them from the peel onto the baking stone. (If you don’t have a baking stone put the calzone on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake on the middle shelf of your oven.)

You may have to turn the calzone once if they are not baking evenly.

Bake until the calzone are golden brown about 10 minutes.

Let them cool a bit before serving.

Here’s the sauteed escarole recipe excerpted from my free Italian Vegetable eBook.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:80]

 

Free Recipe: Roast Beef Studded with Garlic and Parsley

Roast Beef Studded with Garlic and Parsley

My mom made this roast often. It’s zesty and flavorful.

The roast is easy, delicious, and looks great on the plate. I use a beef eye of the round just the way my mother did. This cut is readily available, and not too expensive.

Make a small hole all the way through the roast and stuff the hole with garlic and parsley. The garlic and parsley infuse their flavor throughout the roast.

Sear the outside of the roast in a hot skillet to form a nice crust all around and pop it in the oven to finish cooking atop a bed of celery, carrot, onion and parsley. You’ll have a nice pan gravy when the roast is done.

You should be eating in about an hour or so.

Serve the roast with your favorite sides – garlic smashed potatoes and sauteed spinach maybe? A gutsy red wine will hold up to this roast with the flavor of garlic and parsley in every tender bite. I served it with a bottle of Taurasi from Campania. A nice chianti would be good too.

If you’re lucky you’ll have roast beef left over for some great sandwiches. I just made one on the Sicilian semolina bread with sesame seeds that I baked over the weekend.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:76]

 

 

Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes (Cena di Vigilia)

Arancini with aioli

UPDATE: There is now a video recipe for Cioppino, the simple and easy seven-fish San Francisco stew: WATCH NOW

Italian-American families have their favorite dishes for Christmas Eve fish dinner – some serve 7 fish (for the 7 sacraments or 7 virtues), some serve 10 (for the 10 stations of the cross) and others 13 fish (for Jesus and the 12 apostles). I serve 7 fishes not for the religious symbolism but to draw family and friends to the table to enjoy a great 3-course fish meal and each other during the holiday season.

When I was growing up my family ate fish because it was a Catholic rule, no meat on Christmas Eve. We loved this meal so much we still cook it many years after the meat ban was dropped by the Church. It’s a big part of my holiday tradition. You can catch some of my excitement in the video we just released. I fried up some squid.

If you want to eat some fish on Christmas Eve or any day of the year check out some of my fish posts from the past year. Cook one dish or a bunch at the same time. You’ll be eating well in any case.

Let’s see if we can get to 7 fish dishes. Your first one is Calamari Fritti above.

Continuing the antipasto (before the meal) theme, how about some steamed mussels and clams with a hunk of garlic bread for dunking in the broth? (Like the calamari fritti eat these as soon as they’re done.)

Cod fish cakes anyone? If I was serving the cakes with other dishes in the antipasto I’d make the cakes much smaller, almost bite size. (You can make them ahead and warm them in the oven before serving.)

Maybe arancini (fried rice balls) stuffed with bay shrimp and served with a spicy aioli? (You can make them ahead and warm them in the oven before serving.)

Here’s one that you can put out in the antipasto course or use as a secondo piatto (second course) dish. I always have to have some sole on Christmas Eve.

For the primo piatto (first course) linguine in a spicy crab tomato sauce.

Here’s a great secondo piatto (second course), halibut baked with roasted cherry tomatoes, potatoes and green olives. I like to roast the whole fish, a branzino or sea bass, using this recipe. Just put the herb(s) inside the fish otherwise follow the original recipe. Debone the fish before serving.

That’s 7, but hey, it’s the holidays so here are a few more: fried shrimp, sword fish with salmoriglio sauce and  shrimp with oregano and garlic, simply roasted in a hot oven; and baccala salad below.

Check out my free vegetable eBook for some ideas of sides to serve with these fish dishes. Buon Natale!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:78]

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:79]

 

Fried Calamari with Vinegar Pepper Confetti

Fried Calamari.

Fried squid (calamari fritti) is a quick antipasto that has to be eaten hot right out of the oil. Often my guests eat this first course in my kitchen standing around the hot stove. The calamari is crispy and tender. The vinegar pepper confetti adds a nice kick. The calamari is great on its own too with just a squeeze of lemon.

My friends and family always ask me to make calamari fritti. I make a big batch to enjoy as part of our Christmas Eve Seven Fish Dinner but you can have this delicious, fast dish anytime of the year.

No heavy batter here or breadcrumb coating to mask the taste of the calamari, just a light dusting of flour. No dipping sauces to get in the way either. Just enjoy the fresh, clean taste of the ocean.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:77]

Free Recipe: Semolina Bread with Sesame Seeds

Sicilian Semolina Bread with Sesame Seeds

I recently spent a delightful evening with my friend Viola Buitoni, a wonderful Umbrian cook and teacher, and Carol Field, the San Francisco author of the just reissued classic, The Italian Baker.

Viola hosts the wonderful Italian gastronomy series at the Italian Cultural Institute.  The presentations are free and I highly recommend them if you want to gain new insights into Italian food and culture.

Carol explained the special place bread and bakers hold in Italian culture and the incredible differences in bread from one part of the country to another, sometimes from one village to the next. There are 1,500 varieties of bread in Italia.

I agree that no Italian meal is complete without great bread on the table. When in Italia I love to explore the local bread bakeries (panificio) and enjoy their specialties – salt-free bread in Florence, the focaccia in Genoa and Venice, the fat bastone loaves in Naples, the Sicilian semolina bread in Palermo.

Carol learned from artisan bread makers throughout Italy. She often joined the bakers at three in the morning as they started baking bread for that day. She painstakingly reduced their large volume recipes and adapted them for the American kitchen. Her recipes maintain the integrity of the Italian original. Carol so inspired me that I had to bake bread this weekend.

This is a version of the bread I grew up on in northern Jersey. We always had a hot loaf from Calandra’s on First Avenue in Newark on our family dinner table. I ate a lot of great Sicilian semolina bread from Bergen County Italian bread bakeries when I was In Jersey for Thanksgiving with family a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been craving semolina bread with sesame seeds ever since.

I adapted Carol’s Pane Siciliano recipe to satisfy my craving. It’s hard to find any Italian bread with sesame seeds in San Francisco never mind one made with semolina flour. Italian-French on Grant at Union sometimes makes a soft twist with sesame seeds and La Boulange sometimes has an Italian loaf with sesame seeds. Both are good but they’re made with unbleached flour. I had to make this one with semolina flour for myself!

The bread has a chewy golden crust and a tender interior turned a pale yellow by the semolina flour. The sesame seeds add a nice nutty flavor.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:75]

 

Is North Beach Shrinking?

Geppetto's Salumeria About to Open

I was worried about the south side of Vallejo Street between Columbus and Stockton. There was an even mix of Italian and Chinese stores on that block. Then Pulcinella Pizzeria closed and I heard that Victoria Pastry (est. 1914) on the corner was moving to Powell and Filbert near Washington Square. Would we have to cede that side of the street, no longer with any North Beach-oriented businesses? Thank God the answer is no.

As I reported last week, Tony Gemignani quickly scooped up the Pulcinella space where he will feature deep-dish pizza in his new Capos. The new owner of the Italian-French Bakery on Upper Grant is taking Victoria’s corner spot. He own’s the building.

I hope Italian-French reinvents itself in its new location. North Beach could use a really good panificio (bread bakery) that makes a selection of traditional breads found in Italy. OK, they can throw in a San Francisco sour dough every once in a while. Arthur Avenue, NYC’s Real Little Italy” boasts a half-dozen great bread bakeries and every family has their favorite. Why can’t North Beach have at least one? Will Italian-French step up and fill the need?

A new salumeria (Italian deli) will open across the street. The owner of Pinocchio on the corner will open Geppetto’s right next door, hopefully before Christmas. The equipment and furnishings are still crated and sitting in the front of the space ready to be installed. They’re working hard and I can see the place starting to come together.  I can’t wait to get a peek at what Giovanni Zocco will have to offer us. Stay tuned.

North Beach Boutique Crawl Thursday Night

North Beach's Upper Grant Avenue

The starry skies and crisp nights in North Beach have been dazzling lately. The holiday spirit is in full bloom as neighbors and Village visitors leisurely stroll the sidewalks stopping in a store or market here, enjoying a meal or an espresso at a restaurant or caffe there.

I’ve been jazzed with the new places opening up since the summer. Park Tavern on Washington Square garnered great reviews. Tupelo, the new bar on Upper Grant, is packing a very interesting and mixed crowd into their spacious, relaxed watering-hole.

In addition, Al’s Attire (@ Vallejo) created a beautiful retro space for his fashion creations. Just up the street, “1814” showcases a wild collection of tees from several local artists. Park & Pond’s varied selection of products spotlights the work of local artisans. Little Vine has a vibe and service that remind me of the old-time North Beach markets now gone. And, you never know which local artists will be showing their newest work at Focus Gallery or Live Worms.

The annual North Beach Holiday Boutique Crawl – this Thursday, December 8, 6-9pm – is a great opportunity to discover the new businesses and to renew your ties to merchants who have been here for years.

Twenty-six great shops, galleries and studios on Upper Grant, Union, Stockton, Powell and Green Streets, are participating. Each merchant will have something special going on inside their shops.

Come out and support our local merchants. Support North Beach!

Deep Dish in North Beach?

Future Home of Capos

Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Washington Square is taking over the Pulcinella space for a place he’ll call “Capos.” Not sure about the name. (Capo is often a reference to an organized crime boss, and that may not sit well with those concerned about negative stereotypes.)

So, what’s it gonna be? My sources tell me that he will do Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I hear he’ll move his pizza school to the Vallejo Street location, too [UPDATE: This has been confirmed by Eater].

Buona fortuna, Tony! Thanks for another investment in North Beach!