Caponata Siciliana (Eggplant and Vegetable Cooked Salad)


I scored some beautiful small Italian eggplant at Union Street Produce so I just had to make caponata. I love this flavor-packed sweet-sour eggplant side dish (condimento) from Sicilia.

Usually I make caponata during the summer when the eggplant and tomatoes are at their prime. I was surprised to see the early crop of Italian eggplant in late January but it’s been a really mild winter in the Bay Area. The tomatoes were hot house vine-ripened on the stem.

Caponata is easy to make. Most of the work is cutting the eggplant and vegetables. Caponata is cooked in stages and married at the end with agrodolce, a sweet and sour syrup. Eggplant is the star so choose well at the market. The eggplant should be shiny black and firm to the touch. The small Italian eggplant are my favorite for caponata but if you can’t find them any eggplant will do.

If you’ve never had caponata try some from a shop like North Beach’s new salumeria (Italian deli) Geppetto to get a taste of how this dish is supposed to be and then make your own. Caponata will keep in the refrigerator for about a week so I usually have some on hand to add to an antipasti platter, as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat or fish, as pasta sauce or as a topping for bruschetta or crostini.


Washington Square Park Now Complete

Original Original Joe's Sign

There was just one shuttered space left on the blocks surrounding Washington Square Park. Now there are none.

The historic Original Joe’s restaurant re-opened in North Beach Thursday more than four years after a fire shuttered its Taylor Street location in the Tenderloin.  “Joe’s Special,” a combination of hamburger, steak and eggs is iconic.

We learned last April that after years of searching for a suitable location the owners settled on North Beach. John Duggan, whose  grandfather opened the restaurant in 1937, told the Chronicle’s Paolo Lucchesi:

Obviously, it’s been a long and intense process to find a space that fit our concept. When you have 70 years of history, with a restaurant your grandfather started, you want to be deliberate, We wanted to make sure we go somewhere we can be for another 70 years.

North Beach is quintessential San Francisco. We wanted to choose a place that was part of the fabric of the city, and with this space, with how long Fior d’Italia goes back, people have been eating here for 100 years.

We waited almost a year for Original Joe’s to open. The gorgeous brand new restaurant is on the corner of Union and Stockton facing Washington Square Park. This prized corner is bustling once more.

Mayor Lee was at the ribbon-cutting and declared Thursday Original Joe’s Day in San Francisco. At a newsconference co-owner Elena Duggan said, “This is a real San Francisco neighborhood. And, the neighborhood and the outpouring has been incredible. We feel so supported and lucky to be here.”

Duggan? Is that Italian?

“We are Italian. My father’s Irish though, it’s a mean combination.”

Benvenuti Original Joe’s and the Duggan family. I hope you have a fantastic 75th Anniversary in your new home in North Beach. Centanni! (Another hundred years!)

Original Joe’s serves comfort food and Italian-American dishes. Here’s the food menu and the cocktail menu.

Buon appetito! See you there.

Sausage and Peppers

Sausage and Peppers

Italian-Americans celebrate their patron saint with a neighborhood street festival each year. Festa San Gennaro in NYC’s Little Italy may be the biggest. My Rhode Island friends call these fairs Our Lady of Sausage and Peppers because the streets are lined with stalls grilling sausage and peppers for sandwiches on an Italian roll. I always have to eat at least one.

Here’s an easy one-pan recipe for this Italian-American classic. It’s a really flavorful dish you can make in less than an hour for a quick dinner or for sandwiches. The trick to this recipe is cooking the ingredients in stages and then putting them all together in the pan at the end.

I used hot Calabrian and mild or “sweet” Sicilian sausages from North Beach’s Little City Meats (Stockton and Vallejo) with Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers preserved in vinegar.  G.L. Mezzetta Inc. started in the 30s as a small North Beach mom-and-pop store. Now located in the North Bay and run by the fourth-generation of the Mezzetta family their products are available nationwide.  If I don’t have vinegar peppers I made myself I always use Mezzetta.

Serve the sausage and peppers on a plate for lunch or dinner with some crusty bread or make sandwiches on an Italian roll. Either way it’s a mouthful of flavor with each bite.


Broadway Corridor Coming Back

Clouds Over North Beach's Broadway Are Clearing

“It takes a village,” was the frequent refrain at a community meeting at Broadway Studios. The group gathered to develop a strategy to bring Broadway back. Call me crazy but after years of decline I think it’s happening. Maybe the transformation of Big Al’s sex shop into a food market is a harbinger of things to come. Instead of blow up sheep and sex toys you can now get a bologna and cheese sandwich!

Broadway from Columbus to Montgomery is an iconic corridor that helped make North Beach famous. Carol Doda was the first to go topless at the Condor (check out the original sign). We still talk about Enrico Balducci and his restaurant many years after the death of both. Tourists and locals jammed the drag queen shows upstairs at Finocchio’s. Balducci’s Hungry i was a national showcase for young singers, musicians and comedians that boosted many careers.

The 10 year slide may finally be over. The Broadway meeting brought together club owners and their group Voice of Broadway and a number of North Beach organizations. Representatives from North Beach Neighbors, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, North Beach Coalition, the North Beach Merchants Association and an aide to Supervisor Chiu all participated. On the agenda was a presentation from San Francisco SAFE on creating a Community Watch. The idea was well received. If adopted the North Beach Community Watch will be an umbrella organization to develop a revitalization strategy, keep all of the individual groups connected, coordinated and in constant communication.

Many said the weekend violence and outrageous drunken behavior is caused by carloads of people drinking and cruising Broadway. They congregate in dimly lit, unsupervised parking lots in the early morning hours and trouble brews. One resident said looking out his window to Broadway on a Saturday night is like watching a Cop’s episode. Club owners said this crowd doesn’t even patronize their establishments. This behavior must end for Broadway to survive.

There are  dance places, nightclubs, pizzerias and restaurants to enjoy on Broadway. The Beat Museum is a must visit. The Enrico’s space is now the Basque restaurant Txoko garnering rave reviews. The owners of Broadway Studios have ambitious plans for the street level retail space. Everyone wants Broadway back before America’s Cup. There’s money to be made!

To be honest I wasn’t a Broadway fan. I didn’t include Broadway on my walking tours, just talked about it from afar. Broadway is now a stop on my North Beach tour and I’m staying involved with the efforts to tame and revitalize the Broadway Corridor. The Village is on the march to reclaim Broadway as its own. I think my neighbors united will win.


2012 The Year of the Meatloaf?

Meatloaf (Polpettone)

So says The Chronicle’s Paolo Lucchesi, meatloaf along with pickles will be hot in 2012. Maybe I’m ahead of the curve on the pickle front. Try my pickled vinegar peppers and my giardiniera (pickled vegetables) that I posted late last year.

My Mom’s meatloaf or polpettone (big meatball in Italian) is still a favorite. This is an “all in one dish” meal with about 15 minutes of prep time and 60 minutes in the oven. The meatloaf recipe is a variation of my meatball recipe so you can watch the Sunday Gravy episode (about 8.5 minutes into the video) to get a sense of how I put the meatloaf mixture together. Just form the meatloaf and brush the top of the meatloaf with some EVOO to help form a nice crust on the top.

Later on we modified my Mom’s meatloaf. We topped it with tomato sauce and laid bacon on top. Bacon makes everything better, right? I stayed pure with this one but I tell you how to make the meatloaf with sauce and bacon in the recipe.

My Mom surrounded her meatloaf with potato, onion, celery and carrot. I love that vegetable combination but I changed it up here. I’ve roasted flat cippolini onions, potatoes and butternut squash with this polpettone. You can add any vegetables you like to the roasting pan. Have it your way. Just make sure you have some meatloaf and vegetables left over. It’s great heated up the next day and it makes a great sandwich too. Don’t tell anybody but sometimes I like a little ketchup with this dish.



SF Examiner in My Kitchen

Gianni hosting a dinner event at Caffe BaoNecci
Gianni hosting a dinner event at Caffe BaoNecci
Hosting a dinner event at Caffe BaoNecci

My producer Jeff Diehl and I were making plans to shoot three new episodes last month. Amy Crawford and Mike Koozmin, a reporter and photographer at the San Francisco Examiner, asked if they could join us. After wrapping the last episode and sharing chicken escarole soup, sausage frittata and calamari fritti hot out of the pan, we sat down to talk about North Beach, my village-style of living here, and our website. I think they nailed it in the piece:

A lawyer by training but an epicurean by nature, Mola stars in “Gianni’s North Beach,” a cooking show that airs online at On the program, he demonstrates family recipes made with distinctive ingredients found in local Italian shops, which he plugs by name. Mola also blogs about North Beach, leads walking tours of the neighborhood and hosts dinners at North Beach restaurants.

It’s all part of his effort to keep the Italian-American culture of North Beach alive.


Father and Son Reunited in North Beach

Father and Son Reunited

The white butcher paper with the funny Italian sayings covering the windows for months is finally coming down. Geppetto, North Beach’s second salumeria (Italian deli) will have a soft opening tomorrow. “God willing,” says owner Giovannni Zocco.

Geppetto (658 Vallejo between Columbus and Grant) is right next door to Zocco’s Pinnochio restaurant on the corner. So you might say that the legendary father and son are once again reunited right here in North Beach.

I’ve been watching with anticipation over the last several months as Giovanni put the place together.

Geppetto is right around the corner from the iconic salumeria Molinari on Columbus so comparisons can’t be avoided.

I stopped in yesterday to take a look. Like Molinari, Geppetto offers a selection of great sandwiches (panini) and Italian food products. What sets Geppetto apart is its focus on the food of Sicilia, Zocco’s birthplace.

Marinated octopus, scungilli (conch) and calamari salads, 2 versions of capanata (vibrant eggplant salad) and many other prepared dishes fill the display case. Your favorite imported Italian salumi (cured meats) and a variety of  great imported Italian cheeses are available too. Stephano Leone is behind the counter. Steve spent 17 years at Molinari and knows this business well. As General Manager he’s jazzed about helping Giovanni achieve his vision of a salumeria with a Sicilian twist.

Giovanni is carefully selecting an array of imported Italian food products. “Mostly from Sicily because that’s where I’m from, but from other regions too” Giovanni explained. He’ll also stock choice balsamic vinegars from Modena and a selection of special extra virgin olive oils from this year’s press just ended. I can’t wait to see it fully stocked.

The Molinari guys tell me that they aren’t worried about Geppetto. I think there’s room in North Beach for both of them. I hope that sparkle in the photo is a harbinger of “buona fortuna” (good luck) for Geppetto.

I’ll be there tomorrow. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.