Porchetta War: Who will win?

Picking a Rancho Llano Seco porchetta to slow roast on an open spit.
Picking a Rancho Llano Seco porchetta to slow roast on an open spit.

I shot a porchetta episode a while ago. It’s a favorite among my friends and family so I had to share my recipe. And the episode got lots of views and tons of positive comments. Then, things suddenly turned nasty. The Italians got involved.

They started to flame me. One guy said I was like a counterfeiter handing out phony money with this recipe. The comments really made me mad.

But, after a time, I realized that the Italians weren’t being mean. They were just protecting their food culture and traditions. My porchetta was an American variation and the Italians weren’t happy I desecrated the classic porchetta they loved.

So they inspired me to do a Bay Area farm to table traditional whole pig porchetta. And I’d do it literally farm to table. I’d find a pig. I’d visit the farm and see how it was raised. I’d help butcher it and season it. I’d cook it on a spit over charcoal. And we’d film the whole thing.

So me and my Hungry Village producers found Rancho Llano Seco, a local farm north of San Francisco. We met up with Jamie at the Rancho to pick out the pig for my porchetta. When we got to the barn and open pen where the mature hogs spend their last days on the Rancho, there she was, a big sow with a beautiful red coat hiding just inside the barn. There’s my porchetta. I called her Bella.

Jamie sent Bella to my butchers at Golden Gate Meats in San Francisco’s Ferry Building .  I joined Tom, who deboned the porchetta with a surgeon’s skill. Shoulder, sirloin, rib meat and loin all intact with a thick layer of belly and fat under the skin.

We scored the skin to form diamonds. Nothing less for Bella. Meat side up I scattered chopped rosemary, garlic, golden wild fennel pollen, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper all over. Rolled and tied, the porchetta sat for 2 days to let the aromatics infuse all the meat.

The porchetta slowly roasted on a spit over an open fire for hours. Each slice included a little bit of rib meat, loin, belly and crispy skin. A few lucky people also got shoulder or sirloin. 3 dozen friends and fans enjoyed a wonderful afternoon on San Francisco’s Russian Hill eating porchetta panini done the Bay Area Slow Food farm to table way.

And, in a nod to how porchetta sandwiches, are served around the Bay Area, I offered caramelized onions, sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh baby arugula as toppings. They don’t do that in Italy. I hope I don’t get in trouble again. I don’t want to go to Italian prison.

So there you go, Italy. I did porchetta the way it’s supposed to be done. Let’s be friends again.

Italian Braised Beef Brisket

Italian beef brisket long braised with herbs and aromatic vegetables
Italian beef brisket long braised with herbs and aromatic vegetables

I wanted to eat some beef brisket when I was in the Big Apple last week but it was too damn hot during the 7-day Heat Dome.

I satisfied my craving when I got back home. Here’s an Italian version of what many typically think of as a Jewish dish.

Beef brisket is easy to make. After the simple preparation, the brisket just sits on top of the stove braising until the meat is fork-tender.

Serve the vegetables on the side with some garlic smashed potatoes, fettuccine or polenta topped with the pan gravy and you’ve got dinner on a plate.

The beef brisket is moist and fall-apart tender. The vegetables are soft and sweet. Serve more of the full-flavored pan gravy on the side for your guests to help themselves.

If you’re lucky you’ll have brisket left over for sandwiches. Be sure to dip your crusty bread in the rich gravy before you put the panini together and you’ll be in heaven.

Buon appetito!

Italian Beef Brisket
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Beef brisket long braised with aromatic vegetables and herbs is a simple but flavorful lunch or dinner all on one plate.
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 pounds beef brisket
  • 2 carrots, quartered and cut in 2 inches pieces
  • 2 celery stalks, cut in 2 inches pieces
  • 1 onion, cut in half and quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs of Italian parsley
  • 1 cup sangiovese or zinfandel or your favorite dry red wine
  • 1 cup San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand
  • 1 cup water (if needed)
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the brisket and rub it into the meat.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large enameled pot or thick bottom sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  3. When the oil ripples brown the brisket on both sides to create a dark crust.
  4. Remove the brisket to a plate.
  5. Add the tomato paste, vegetables and herbs, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook until the tomato paste darkens and the vegetables start to caramelize. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
  6. Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost all evaporated. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes and stir well.
  8. Lower the heat to medium-low and put the brisket back in the pot along with any juices on the resting plate. Add some water if necessary so that the brisket is almost covered with the braising liquid.
  9. Put the top on the pot and braise the brisket until it is fork tender, about 60-90 minutes.
  10. Remove the parsley and bay leaf.
  11. Slice the brisket against the grain and serve on a large platter with the vegetables and topped with gravy.


Italian Grilled Cheese

Mozzarella in Carozza Italian grilled cheese
Mozzarella in Carozza Italian grilled cheese

Here’s an Italian twist on the wildly popular grilled cheese sandwich, mozzarella in carozza (mozzarella in a cart).

My Dad made this Neapolitan treat when I was a kid and I still make it often.

You have to construct the “cart” to carry the mozzarella. I skewer the corners of the sandwich with toothpicks so the mozzarella doesn’t fall out when I dip it in the egg wash and fry it in the pan.

Forget about tomato soup on the side with this grilled cheese. A quick, lemon, caper and anchovy sauce is the perfect companion for the melted mozzerella oozing out of the egg-dipped bread.

My recipe is for 2 at the table. Make more if you need them. The recipe is scalable. Serve a salad on the side and you have a meal.

Buon appetito!

Italian Grilled Cheese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
An Italian grilled cheese sandwich with caper-anchovy sauce.
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 2
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 thin slices of sturdy white or whole wheat bread, crust removed
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of water or milk
  • Canola oil (or your favorite) for frying
  • 1tablespoon Italian flat parsley, chopped
  1. Make the sauce.
  2. Put the olive oil and garlic in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook until the garlic just starts to color.
  3. Add the anchovies and capers and stir until the anchovy dissolves.
  4. Add the butter and stir until melted.
  5. Pour in the white wine and lemon juice and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half and thickens. Set aside.
  6. Lay out 2 slices of bread on a work surface and cover each with a layer of sliced mozzarella. Don't let the mozzarella hang over the edge of the bread.
  7. Lay a bread slice on top and skewer each corner with a toothpick to hold the sandwich together.
  8. Put the flour on a dish.
  9. Beat the egg and water together in a shallow bowl.
  10. Put a about a ¼ inch of vegetable oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat. (Test the oil with a crust of bread. It's hot enough if the crust sizzles.)
  11. Dredge the sandwiches in the flour. Be sure to cover both sides and the edges too. Tap off the excess flour.
  12. Dip both sides of the sandwich in the egg. Moisten the sides too. (I use my hands but use tongs to maneuver the sandwich if you wish.)
  13. When the oil is hot enough, put the sandwiches in the saute pan and fry until they are golden brown on both sides and the mozzarella is melted, a minute or 2 on each side.
  14. Put the sandwiches on paper towel to drain.
  15. Heat the sauce, stir in the parsley and spoon some on each plate.
  16. Cut the sandwiches in half and put them on the plates.
  17. Serve immediately.