Galloping Figs

I love fresh figs. I don’t care, black or white, I eat them all while they are in season. It all started when I was a kid.

We had 3 fig trees in our Jersey backyard, 2 black, 1 white. I couldn’t wait for the end of summer when the figs ripened so that I could eat them right off the tree, still warm in the late summer sun. My fall job was to wrap the trees with newspaper and plastic sheets and put a bushel on top so they survived the cold winters.

The figs are fantastic this summer, big, fat and sweet. I don’t peel fresh figs the way many do in Italy. I hold the short stem and bite off the whole thing to fill my my mouth with a burst of their rich flavor.

Poor me, I got stuck with 2 pints of Mission figs. No way they’d all be eaten before they spoiled. So I decided to make Galloping Figs, a simple dessert that gets its name from the plopping sound the figs make as they cook in the syrup. The figs have a jammy intensity with just a hint of lemon and bay in the background. Thanks to Lidia for this one.

For dessert, I served the sweet, syrupy figs with Robiola, a creamy soft cheese from Langhe in northern Italy. Galloping Figs make a fantastic topping for vanilla gelato too or just enjoy them on their own. Don’t forget to spoon the luscious syrup on top before serving. The figs will keep for a few days in the fridge to prolong your enjoyment.

Buon appetito!


The Purple Onion: Bye-Bye

The Purple Onion, the North Beach cellar club where Phyllis Diller, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and the Smothers Brothers performed early in their careers, will close next month. A new owner has new plans for the building.

A comedy cooperative staged shows at the Purple Onion over the last 3 years. They filled most shows with “guerrilla” marketing–Tweets and Facebook posts the comedians send to their fans about upcoming gigs.

The Purple Onion is just down the street from Tosca Cafe, another old-time North Beach spot, that was served with an eviction notice last week.

Change is in the North Beach air.

Here’s Paolo Lucchesi’s Chronicle piece with a link to C.W. Nevius’ original story. Check out The Purple Onion 60s street photo.

Victoria Pastry Is Back

Victoria Pastry Company’s New Home on Filbert

Victoria Pastry Company has reopened in its new digs near Washington Square Park, on Filbert just down the street from Saints Peter & Paul Church. Victoria moved after almost 100 years on the corner of Stockton & Vallejo, across the street from Little City Meats.

You can get the famous St. Honore and other cakes, cannoli, lemon polenta pound cake, Italian cookies and all your other favorites once again. They make a good espresso too.

Everyone is stopping by to welcome them back to the Village. Why don’t you? Let’s support our local businesses so they stick around for all of us to enjoy.

Sicilian pastries and a whole lot more. Take a look at what could be yours.  Victoria Pastry Company

Umbrian Black Truffles @ Cavalli Cafe

I was navigating through the crowd waiting for the bus outside of Cavalli Cafe on Stockton and didn’t notice the hand-written sign in the window. Owner Santo Esposito saw me passing by and ran out to tell me that black truffles (tartufi neri) had just arrived from Umbria. My heart raced as we hurried inside.

Santo opened the box with the black beauties inside. The truffle aroma wafted across the counter. I was overwhelmed and had to have one. I knew exactly what I would do with the tartuffo I was holding in my hand, my take on a classic Umbrian pasta.

I had chestnut flour in my cupboard so I made fresh pasta and served it with a simple black truffle sauce. Set a plate of pasta before each guest and shave truffle on top. The aroma of the Umbrian forest fills your head as you go in for your first forkful. The tender pasta has a delicate, sweet chestnut flavor that blends nicely with the woodsy truffles. (You can find chestnut flour at Italian delis and at many supermarkets or just substitute spaghetti or your favorite imported Italian dried pasta.)

Friends in Italia supply Santo with the best products all year: Tuscan EVOO from last fall’s first press; dried porcini mushrooms; chestnut flour; white and black truffles depending on the season. These black truffles were harvested just a few days ago. Don’t delay, get fresh black truffles at Cavalli Cafe now @ $2/gram.



Tosca’s Last Act?

North Beach’s Tosca Cafe

Not Puccini’s opera, the North Beach cafe on Columbus with opera on the jukebox. Tosca Cafe, a favorite with the famous and locals alike, is 8 years short of its 100th anniversary. Owner Jeannette Etheridge just got an eviction notice.

It all started earlier this week. The landlord wants his unpaid rent. He’s a major stockholder in Deja Vu Showgirls, a Seattle company that owns strip joints on Broadway. Rumor had it that he wanted the space for another one.

A true North Beach character, Jeannette Etheridge lawyered up with John Keker, one of the best in the country. Her powerful clientele mobilized support to save this North Beach institution.

“Look at the place,” Etheredge told the SF Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius. “It’s out of an Edward Hopper painting. It has always been a hangout for artists, painters and actors.”

“What’s interesting to me is why this girlie club guy is going to try to take away a San Francisco institution,”  Keker said. “This stands for a lot of what’s wrong with North Beach in general.”

Both sides say they’re willing to talk. I hope they work out a settlement so that the North Beach icon is still around to celebrate its centennial.

Nevius broke the story and provides the latest developments.


The Big Dig Begins

Central Subway Construction Begins

When I walked down the hill early this morning I was surprised to see San Francisco police and a dozen workers all in their reflective vests standing in a straight line on the edge of Washington Square Park. Heavy construction equipment lined Columbus Avenue. Their work day was about to begin.

Despite strong opposition from North Beach neighbors and merchants, the dreaded Central Subway tunnel work is underway. I thought that recently filed lawsuits would postpone the project but that didn’t happen.

Columbus Avenue from Stockton to Filbert will be ripped open to relocate utilities in advance of boring the Central Subway tunnel. If the North Beach work is anything like the Central Subway downtown around Union Square, this will not be fun. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be a nightmare during the 4-month project especially during the week.

And the worst is yet to come. The last station on the subway line will be on the corner of Clay and Stockton in Chinatown, 5 blocks south of North Beach. But the machine will continue beyond the station, boring under Stockton Street to Columbus and down Columbus to the Park.

There are no plans to build a North Beach station so why tear up North Beach and disrupt our enjoyment of Washington Square Park? City officials decided the Park was the best spot to bring the huge boring machine back up to the surface. Geniuses!

Get ready for years of dirty surface work and foundation rattling from deep beneath the ground. The Central Subway extension isn’t scheduled to open until 2019.

North Beach has enjoyed a renaissance over the last 2 years. Established businesses are flourishing. New restaurants, shops and galleries opened. Some days there are so many visitors that it’s hard to make your way up Columbus. Will it last?

My neighbors are not hopeful. Many think the Central Subway assault will be a slow death for many North Beach businesses. Oh no, not those dreaded “For Rent” signs in all those storefront windows again. The Village vitality we all enjoy may soon be but a short-lived memory.

Italian Festival Saturday

North Beach Festa Italiana

Don’t miss the annual Festa Coloniale Italiana this Saturday, August 11, 2012 on Washington Square in front of the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club (SFIAC).

The Festa is the only Italian festival that celebrates San Francisco’s Italian and Italian-American heritage. It’s our version of Ferragosto, the Italian mid-summer holiday.

Catch Italian music on the stage. Watch an Italian dance performance. Award-winning pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani will enthrall us with his world-famous pizza tossing skill. Stop in the SFIAC’s main ballroom transformed for the day into an Italian piazza complete with a fountain.

Sample delicious Italian-American street foods including calamari, sausage and pepper and meatball sandwiches. Enjoy wine and beer on the street or at the wine-tasting in the SFIAC’s 3rd floor Parkview Room with a terrace overlooking the park.

Here’s the whole Festa Italiana line-up.

I hope I see you there.

Baked Baby Eggplant

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I love the small Italian eggplant now in the market.

Here’s a quick recipe that explodes with flavor. Just cut the eggplants in half and bake them in the oven topped with crushed  San Marzano tomatoes and grated pecorino. The eggplant are soft and sweet and the grated cheese forms a crispy top.

As the eggplant cools many don’t make it off the top of the stove. Pilferers grab one to make sure they turned out well. I always have to make extra so I have enough for an antipasti platter or as a side for meat that I’m serving that day. You can keep leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days.

I like the baby eggplant hot out of the oven but I like them better at room temperature.

This is one of the recipes in my Vegetable e-book. Do you have yours? Just click on the e-book on the homepage to get one.

UPDATE (2/15/14): This blog post was so popular, I decided to show you how to do it. Check out the video above!