CSI in the Kitchen

Satisfy Your Longing for Mama's Cooking

Have you ever craved a dish your Mama made for you? Did you eat a dish in a restaurant that you just had to make yourself? Can’t get the recipe?

I read an interesting article last week about everyday kitchen detectives re-creating lost family dishes so I thought I’d share one of my quests to bring a dish back to life in my kitchen.

I had a fantastic pasta with a baby back rib sauce at Vicoletto’s street stall during last year’s Noodle Fest. I couldn’t coax the recipe out of the owner. The memory of this dish haunted me so I had to figure out how to make it myself.

My food memory and the dish’s profile were intact. The ribs were fall-off-the bone tender. The San Marzano tomato-basil sauce was sweet and rich. The Calabrian chile oil drizzled on top heated up my throat with every swallow.

First, I made a list of ingredients.

Second, I searched my cookbooks and the web to see if I could find any recipes. I learned a lot and refined my recipe.

Third, I planned out how I would make the sauce. The ribs had to be browned before adding the tomatoes, garlic and basil to the pot. The ribs have to braise for at least an hour to be fork tender. The dish has to be finished with the oil from a jar of Calabrian chiles.

I nailed this one on the first try. You can too with the recipe I created from this food memory.

Read more about kitchen detectives in a recent Wall Street Journal article on how others have resurrected a favorite lost dish.

By the way Moma’s is a great breakfast/lunch place on Washington Square. There’s always a line to get in.


North Beach’s Food Oscar Nominee!

Park Tavern Beard Best Restaurant Nominee

I’ve been telling you about Park Tavern on North Beach’s Washington Square for a while. It is one of the nominees for Best New Restaurant Award. The semi-finalists were just announced by the James Beard Foundation.

The James Beard Awards are the food industry’s Oscars. There are many other San Francisco restaurants and chefs on the list too but I’m most proud of our North Beach semi-finalist Park Tavern.

Park Tavern opened last summer in the Moose’s space on Stockton facing Washington Square Park. I enjoyed a wonderful dinner there during the holiday season with seven of my office-mates. The menu is diverse and can satisfy the tastes of anyone in your party even those with food sensitivities. The staff is knowledgeable about everything on the menu and can cheerfully guide you to a memorable dining experience for everyone at your table.

The Chronicle’s food critic Michael Bauer only gave it 3 stars when he reviewed Park Tavern last October. I guess the James Beard crowd thinks it’s better than that. Let’s see if Bauer goes back again and gives Park Tavern that 4th star.

The James Beard Awards will be announced in May. I keep you posted.

In the meantime if you’re not in the mood to eat at one of North Beach’s Italian restaurants make a beeline to Park Tavern before you can’t get in anymore.

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

Also known as Italian wedding soup, chicken and escarole soup is an Italian-American classic. The addition of the little savory veal meatballs make this soup special. It’s a staple at Italian wedding receptions and hence the moniker Italian Wedding Soup.

But you don’t have to wait for a wedding to enjoy this bowl of goodness. Monday was soup night when I was growing up and my mother made this soup often. My family continues the tradition to this day. I like to dunk crusty Italian bread in the broth. My father liked to break chunks of day-old bread into his bowl to soak up the broth.

The soup I make here is a rustic version. You can make it more refined by cutting the vegetables into a smaller dice and make the meatballs even smaller. I always saute the vegetables in EVOO before adding the water. This method intensifies the flavor they add to the soup.

I’m not a dark meat fan but if you are use chicken thighs or legs in addition to or in place of the breasts. Be sure to skim off all the fat from the chicken and meatballs when the soup is done cooking.

Finish each bowl of soup with a good finishing extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of grated pecorino, parmigiano or grana padano before serving.

So make Italian Wedding Soup your way. It’s quick and easy. You can make it in less than an hour.


Join Gianni for a Culinary Tour of Emilia-Romagna

Bologna Produce Stall

The crowds have thinned and the September weather is glorious. The markets overflow. It’s one of my favorite seasons to visit Italia.

It’s a fine time to settle into the region of Emilia-Romagna the culinary heart of Italia. Prosciutto and parmigiano come from Parma and Reggio. Balsamic vinegar has been made in Modena for centuries. Bologna’s fabulous food has earned it the nickname “La Grassa” (The Fat One).

Join me for a fabulous 8-day culinary tour September 23-30, 2012. We’ll pick you up at the Bologna airport and then take care of all the details so that you can just enjoy your culinary adventure in Italia. We start on the Adriatic coast and make our way to Bologna at a leisurely pace.

  • Learn pasta-making from a real Sfoglina, a dying breed of dedicated pasta wizards
  • Hunt wild mushrooms in the Apennine foothills
  • Explore medieval villages and lesser-known food markets
  • Taste parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto di parma and balsamic vinegar where they’re made
  • Join home cooks and chefs for cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes featuring classic Emilia-Romagna dishes
  • Savor the food at unique and inspired restaurants

My travel partner Vanessa DellaPasqua of Global Epicurean and I will be your hosts and your guides. Join us for a journey that will heighten your appreciation and deepen your understanding of Italy’s food culture. You’ll meet a bunch of wonderful Italians too. They’ll share their culinary wisdom and kitchen secrets with you.

Get all of the Emilia-Romagna culinary adventure details. The tour is limited to 24 people. It will be like family.

A North Beach Valentine’s Day

Italian Food Sayings
Italian Food Sayings
Big Night

Many of you have been reading last year’s Valentine’s Day post Accidental Heart a cute memory from when I was a kid in Jersey. It’s that time of year again. Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday.

I’m not a big fan of going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. It’s one of the worst nights of the year for restaurants. Too many people.  Too many emotions. Too many expectations. I know. I owned one. Good money though. I dine at home. Much more convenient. Here’s a quick but romantic dish you can make at home.

If you want to go out here are places in North Beach cooking authentic Italian regional food that I’m sure you will enjoy even on Valentine’s Day.

da Flora A romantic spot for Venetian food on Columbus. My favorite.

Vicoletto A cool spot featuring zesty Calabrian food from the south of Italia on bustling Green Street.

Ideale Classic Roman food on Upper Grant, a romantic North Beach block.

Rose Pistola A beautiful recently renovated space for Ligurian food from the Genoa coast on Columbus.

Original Joe’s Re-opened in a gorgeous space for Italian-American food San Franciscans have enjoyed since 1937.

And just for good measure here are 2 restaurants that don’t serve Italian food.

Cafe Jacqueline Lovely candlelit intimate French souffle spot on Upper Grant. The chocolate souffle some say is an aphrodisiac.

Park Tavern Wonderful California cuisine right on Washington Square.

Cook with Gianni Live in North Beach

Cooking Class at Cookhouse

My friend Chef Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen asked if I wanted to do a cooking class showcasing the rustic food of Italia. Tom teaches those with food allergies and sensitivities so I’m cooking without gluten, dairy, shellfish, soy or peanuts. We’re making a typical 4-course Italian meal at Cookhouse in North Beach.

The meal includes a selection my favorite classic dishes from several regions of Italia. I’m using the best local ingredients in season and simple preparations. You’ve seen me cooking some of these dishes in my kitchen and you’ve made others from my free recipes. Here’s your chance to cook them with me in a great kitchen.

We’ll cook in small groups and eat what we cook together at a big communal table. This is a hands-on class. Come ready to cook and ready to eat. Seats are filling up fast. Sign up for the March 24 class. Just email Chef Tom cheftom@hippkitchen.com.

Here’s what’s on the menu.

Antipasti (Before the Meal)

Brocoli rabe. Sauteed in EVOO with garlic and peperoncini. (Calabria)
Carciofi fritti. Baby aritchokes fried in EVOO and topped with a sprinkle of fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon. (Lazio)
Caponata. Spicy eggplant salad with tomato, onions, celery and capers. (Sicily)
Fra’Mani salumi. (USA)

Primo Piatto (First Course)

Spaghetti aglio e olio. Corn dried pasta imported from Italia with an anchovy, garlic, EVOO, peperoncini and walnut sauce.

Secondo Piatto (Second Course)

Porchetta. Pork loin roast stuffed with an herb paste.
Cipollini agro dolce. Cipollini onions in a sweet/sour sauce.
Potatoes roasted with rosemary and truffle oil.

Dolce (Dessert)

Macedonia. Apple, pear salad marinated with Prosecco and Italian chestnut honey.


North Beach Italian Restaurant List

Two of Many Green Street Restaurants

I found a Yelp list of North Beach Italian restaurants listed 1 to 50. Actually there aren’t 50 places. Some are listed more than once and a couple have closed. Before you get to the list and all of the comments I can’t help adding my updates and observations about North Beach restaurants with links to a few recent posts. I even threw in recipes from 2 of my favorite restaurants on the list.

La Felce is closed. It’s now Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Pulcinella closed but Tony will soon launch Capos featuring Chicago deep-dish pizza in that space. A total renovation down to the studs is moving at a rapid pace. Large black and white photos of infamous Chicagoans like Al Capone and an Art Deco bar with a vintage cash register from Chicago are part of new interior mix. Then there’s that mural found behind a wall during the renovation. The oil on canvas mural that captures Vallejo Street in all its 50s glory will be re-installed. I can’t wait to see the new space and eat a deep-dish pizza.

The list includes some of my favorite places like BaoNecci and da Flora where I hosted private dinners. da Flora’s chef Jen McMahon shared her arancini recipe with us. A star at the Tuscan dinner at BaoNecci was Stefania’s Ribollita vegetable soup. I was able to coax the recipe out of her after the dinner.

Ten on the list are included in my North Beach walking tour. Sotto Mare is one of them. I’ll tell you what I think of the others too and let you know my favorite North Beach places for souffles, cheeseburgers, fried chicken, po’boys and more.

North Beach is on fire. A new place just opened last weekend. Don’t miss out. Visit our Village soon. I’m sure you’ll find a good place to eat. Here’s the Yelp list of North Beach Italian restaurants.