Easter Savory and Sweet Ricotta Pies

Pastiera Napoletana and Rustica Easter Pies

The Spring holidays are upon us.

Passover is covered. We’ll be at Joyce Goldstein’s Seder celebrating the Italian Jewish kitchen. (Our private table is full. Sorry to those of you who wanted to join us. Maybe next time.)

Now I’m getting ready for Easter. I’m making Pizza Rustica and Pastiera Napoletana, the traditional deep-pan pies that bookend the Easter dinner. The savory Pizza Rustica has a ricotta, mozzarella, prosciutto, salami and sausage filling and is served as the Easter dinner antipasto. Pastiera Napoletana is the traditional Neapolitan sweet pie filled with ricotta, wheat berries and candied orange and lemon peel and ends the Easter dinner.

I’m not making as many pies this year as I did for family in Virginia last year. Eight of the pies are displayed on my sister’s table in the picture above. Three generations were in the kitchen baking pies on Saturday to let the flavors marry over night. We needed enough pies so that everyone at the table had some to eat on Easter and some to take home and enjoy during the week. It’s a long-standing family tradition.

When growing up in Jersey our neighbors shared their pies too. My Easter-time job was to bring a fat slice of my mom’s pies to our neighbors and bring home some of their pies for our family to taste. I have to admit that after tasting a half-dozen samples I always thought my mother’s were the best.

Watch me making my Mom’s Pizza Rustica and Pastiera Napoletana. You can make them too. Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

SF Seder From The Roman Ghetto

Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVOO and water. An authentic treat from la cucina ebraica, straight from the Jewish ghetto in Roma.

I’m jazzed. San Francisco’s own world-famous Italian cook, teacher and author Joyce Goldstein is preparing a Seder at Perbacco on April 10. The roots of this meal are in Square One, Goldstein’s sorely missed Jackson Square restaurant. She first served a Seder meal there in 1989 celebrating the food of the Italian Jewish kitchen.

I had forgotten about this event but an office-mate reminded me this morning. I called Perbacco right away to book an early table for 10 of us.

“Sorry” Perbacco’s Steven said. “Come at 8:45”. “Can’t do it,” I told him. How about three tables for four at 6:00.” “Yes I can do that but they won’t be together.” “That’s OK at least we’re in the door.” I wasn’t missing this meal.

A half-hour later my phone rang. It was Steven. “Just had a cancellation. I can give you a table for 10 at 5:30. It’s in the private room upstairs overlooking the kitchen.” “I’ll take it! Can you see down into the kitchen?” “Yes. I look forward to meeting you at the Seder.”

Score! Turns out the room sits 18 and half of the seats at the table are already claimed. So far we’re half Jewish and half Gentile.

So what am I so excited about? I’m a big fan of cucina Ebraica, the food of the Italian Jewish kitchen. Within a day or 2 each time I arrive in Roma I lunch at Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia overlooking incredible Roman ruins in the Jewish Ghetto. My typical meal is carciofi alla Giudia, crispy fried artichokes in the Jewish style that look like a giant chrysanthemum on the plate, then spaghetti alla carbonara and last fried baccala (reconstituted dried-cod fillet) all washed down with chilled local Frascati. Here’s my video making the stuffed artichokes that I first had in the Ghetto.

I won’t be in Roma again until later this year so here’s my chance to enjoy some of the fantastic Italian food from the Ghetto right here in San Francisco.

I loved Square One and one of my favorite cookbooks is Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica–Flavors of the Italian Jewish KitchenWith Joyce and Perbacco’s maestro Staffan Terje in the kitchen this will be quite a night. Here’s the Seder menu. Give Stephen a call. He’s good. Maybe he can still find you a table on Perbacco’s busiest night of the year. Or, join our private communal table. Let me know if you’re interested and if any seats are available I’ll shoot you an email.

Grandma’s in the Kitchen

Nonna in the Kitchen

Not mine and maybe not yours but if you’re on Staten Island you can savor the cooking of a real nonna (grandmother) born in Italia at local restaurant Enoteca Maria.

No chefs here. Every night one of a stable of 9 grandmothers is in the kitchen making her favorite dishes from her native region. Joe Scaravella opened Enoteca Maria 5 years ago after he lost his mother and sister. He yearned to recreate the Italian family table now gone from his life. The nonnas hail from Naples and other towns in Campania, Agrigento and Palermo in Sicily and the province of Chieti in Abruzzo.

Joe placed an ad recruiting local women who cook authentic Italian food. He interviews each nonna and within 5 minutes he knows in his heart who to invite into the kitchen. Joe picks only those grandmothers he senses can really cook. When asked what food they grew up on he knows that they are not right for him if they respond in English with chicken parmigiana or eggplant.

Wait a minute Joe, what’s wrong with eggplant? I ate a lot of eggplant made by my Campania-born mother and eggplant parmigiana is my favorite dish.

Giovana Gambino is one Enoteca Maria’s nonnas. She was raised in Palermo and was cooking the day NPR’s David Greene visited Enoteca Maria. She boasts that she doesn’t cook arancini the classic Sicilian rice ball in the traditional way. Giovana’s modified simple arancini recipe is shaped by years of living in America but still remains true to its roots in Palermo. If you want to kick arancini up a notch or two try these arancini from da Flora, the Venetian osteria in North Beach.

I’ll take the free ferry from Manhattan over to Staten Island the next time I’m in New York. I’ll let you know what nonna’s cooking that night at Enoteca Maria. Can’t wait!


Battle of the Chefs in North Beach

Viola in the Italian Consul's Kitchen

My friend Viola Buitoni hails from Perugia in the region of Umbria. Viola is a wonderful cook and Italian culinary teacher and she’s hosting Battaglia dei Cuochi, the Battle of the Chefs, this Monday March 19 at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club on Stockton overlooking Washington Square Park. Three great chefs representing three major regions of Italia vie for the honors and you pick the winner.

Here’s the line-up.

  • Michele Belotti, a classically trained rising-star from Piemonte, now heading the kitchen at Ristobar getting rave reviews in the Marina, will fight for the North.
  • Rutilio Duran, the Livornese chef owner of C’Era Una Volta in Alameda will champion the pride of Central Italy.
  • Calabria-born Massimo Covello, from Calabria, formerly of Piazza d’Angelo in Mill Valley, will take some time from his own restaurant venture to prove that Southern Italian cooking is hard to beat.

While enjoying the delicacies and sipping regional wines, try your luck at a raffle with food baskets and even an overnight stay with dinner for two at the fabulous Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito.

A cook-off, 2 dishes from each chef to enjoy with Italian wine pairings and a raffle. What more can you ask for? I’ll be there. Will you? Seats are still available. Buy your tickets online or at the door.


St. Joseph’s Day Is Coming! Make Zeppole

The dessert of Italian Father's Day.

March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day, also Father’s Day in Italy. It’s the time of year to make a special sweet, Zeppole di San Giuseppe. You find zeppole all over Italia this time of year.

Each region makes them in their own way. In North Beach they make small donuts from the north of Italia filled with a lemon-scented custard. Mine are the bigger version made in Naples and the surrounding region of Campania. The light pastries are fried or baked and then filled with a cooked creamy custard topped with a sour cherry in syrup called Amerena. (You can get Amerena cherries at Molinari on Columbus or at Amazon and other online sites.)

Zeppole are a traditional part of the feast day celebration. They are a fitting tribute to St. Joseph who is also the patron saint of pastry makers and they are delicious. Zeppole are fun to make and really not that difficult. You can make them too.  Just watch my Zeppole di San Giuseppe episode to see how.

I was at Caffe Di Lillo in the Arthur Avenue area of the Bronx last month. Arthur Avenue is New York City’s Real Little Italy, a compact area loaded with Italian bakeries and markets. The Di Lillo folks were making Zeppole di San Giuseppe a little bit early. I broke my rule only to eat the zeppole once a year on the Saint’s Day. I couldn’t help myself. We bought a half-dozen to end the meal we would cook up in Jersey later that day. Di Lillo’s zeppole were as good as I’ve had in Naples.

If you don’t make Zeppole di San Giuseppe for yourself you can find them at pastry shops in Italian neighborhoods everywhere. Not that long ago you could get 3 different versions of zeppole in North Beach. Now there’s just one bakery that still makes them. Here in North Beach head to Victoria Pastry on the corner of Stockton and Vallejo. If you want to be sure to get some place your order this week. They sell out fast.

Happy Saint Joseph’s Day! Eat zeppole!

North Beach Farmers’ Market Is Back

North Beach Farmers' Market Returns

I missed the Sunday North Beach farmers’ market since the tents were rolled up last October. But spring has sprung and the market re-opened last Sunday.

It’s in a new location on Powell between Union and Columbus right across from Washington Square Park. This is a much better location than last year’s spot down Columbus by the North Beach library. Now it’s right in the heart of the Village.

About a dozen stands had the last of the winter fruit and vegetables and the first of the hardy spring vegetables. Homemade honey, artisanal breads, smoked salmon and lots more was on display. You can even sign up for a weekly box of organic produce delivered right to your door. The singing guitarist is back too.

The line at the Chairman’s food truck wasn’t that long. I had the Coca-Cola braised pork baked bun with savory Savoy cabbage slaw. The pork was sweet and tender with a crunchy crust. The slaw rounded out the flavor and made for really sloppy eating. I ate the whole thing standing up. That’s the side of the truck in the picture.

Be sure to support the North Beach Farmers’ Market each Sunday so that we can enjoy the organic produce and food products until October when the market will close again.


Pizza Championship In Vegas Next Week

Pizza Tossing in North Beach

Do you have what it takes to be a World Pizza Champion? I just may have to fly to Vegas for the World Pizza Championship & Games on March 13 to find out. Everyone in the pizza biz will be there.

There are 5 events in the competition.

  • Show your moves in the Freestyle Acrobatics competition
  • Fastest Dough: How fast can you toss out five 12″ doughs?
  • Largest Dough: How big can you make 18 ounces of dough in just 5 minutes?
  • Fastest Box Folding: How fast can you fold five 12″ pizza boxes?
  • Longest Spin: How long can you keep a dough spinning over your head?
The contests might not have a lot to do with making a fantastic pizza but the games sure are fun to watch. Tony Gemignani of North Beach’s Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is a Founding Champion and has won 10 times! If you’re lucky on a nice day you may see Tony or one of the other guys doing pizza acrobatics outside the pizzeria.


Don’t worry Tony’s isn’t all show. I love their pies. Grab a slice at the Slice House next to the pizzeria. They make a bunch of styles from a big New York cheese slice or white Roman pizza sold by the meter. Eat at a table on the parklet right outside. If you want a whole pie grab a table at the pizzeria on the corner. There’s outside seating on the Union Street side.

A Permanent Pop-Up In North Beach?

Amante Has A Permanent Pop-Up

Permanent Pop-Up. That’s an oxymoron isn’t it? Pop-up food purveyors pop up for a short while and then go away to pop-up somewhere else, right?

Well that’s not the case with Chubby Noodle, the permanent pop-up restaurant at the Green Street bar Amante. This is the first pop-up in North Beach.

If you get hungry while drinking just order an Asian-influenced dish from Chubby Noodle. Pete Mrabe the owner of Don Pisto’s over on Union is running Chubby Noodle. It’s open evenings from Tuesday through Saturday.

Don Pisto’s is open for brunch and dinner. Their smart take on traditional Mexican street food is delicious. I love the tacos and you gotta try the Margaritas.

Kudos to Pete Mrabe for bringing 2 diverse eating spots to the Village. He is attracting a new audience to North Beach. Bravo!

Here’s the Chronicle’s Paolo Lucchesi’s Inside Scoop post.


Truffles at Cavalli Cafe Again

Cavalli Tuscan Treasures

We had lunch yesterday at Original Joe’s. (I had the breaded veal cutlet Milanese with a light lemon sauce and a side of ricotta ravioli in a bolognese sauce. Both were delicious renditions of classic North Beach Italian-American fare.)

Original Joe’s bombolini puff pastry with vanilla gelato splashed with espresso and the butterscotch pudding were tempting but we decided to walk over to Cavali Cafe. We had to have one of Santo Esposito’s cannoli, the best in North Beach and an espresso.

As we entered Cavalli I noticed a handwritten sign in the window. “Truffles, Porcini, Chestnut Flour, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Arrived  From Italia.” The shipment from Tuscany came in yesterday. I’ve been waiting for this day for over a month.

Inside were bianchetti, spring white truffles out of the ground for just 2 days, dried porcini, just-milled chestnut flour and last fall’s first press extra virgin olive oil from a small producer near Arrezzo in Tuscany.

I told you about the fall shipment from the same Tuscan couple. This one’s just a good. The spring truffles are not quite as aromatic as the fall white truffle but they are quite good and much less expensive. Santo is selling them for $1.50/gram.

Check out my pasta recipes with truffle from last fall. You can use the bianchetti in either pasta dish. Today I shaved some bianchetto atop eggs fried in olive oil. I was in heaven.

At this price I’ll use the biachetti to flavor a good extra virgin olive oil. Maybe I’ll use one to flavor some Sicilian sea salt. And if there’s any more left I’ll chop it and mix it in with room temperature unsalted butter to store in the freezer. I’ll be all set until next fall’s truffle harvest.

The dried porcini picked last autumn are big fat slices full of flavor. Just reconstitute them in hot water and you can add deep earthy flavor to many dishes.

The olive oil is emerald gold with a full buttery taste and a nice peppery finish. This is a finishing oil that I use in salad dressings and to finish a dish. When sprinkled atop a plate of pasta or a bowl of soup just before serving the olive oil adds an extra taste dimension to the dish.

Run don’t walk to get these goodies before they’re all gone. Be warned they ain’t cheap but if you can get some you’re in for a real treat.