Mercato Opens in North Beach

Imported and local oils and vinegars at North Beach’s new Mercato

Mercato Artisan Food & Gifts just opened in North Beach on Columbus near Green, nestled between Stella’s Pastry & Lola’s Card Stop.

Mercato features imported and local artisan food and gift products, with a focus on Italia that befits the neighborhood. You may not know many of the artisan goodies, but don’t worry. Almost everything in the store is available for tasting.

I did a balsamic vinegar flight. I tasted a 6 and 8-year old traditional balsamic and a young and 6-year old white balsamic vinegar. My favorite was the 8-year old traditional. It was syrupy, the sweetness nicely balanced by the mild acidic finish.

Drizzle a few drops of this finishing vinegar on grilled vegetables or a sharp cheese. Any of these vinegars would pair well with fresh strawberries to create a simple dessert.

Stop in and say hello soon. Don’t forget to taste before you buy. If you live in North Beach you get a local’s 5% discount.

Mercato is the second retail location for Buyer’s Best Friend, the San Francisco wholesaler of a carefully curated collection of artisanal food and other products. Check out Bold Italic’s take on wholesaler Buyer’s Best Friend and their Haight Street retail store.

Braised Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage stuffed with rice and flavorful browned ground beef braised in San Marzano tomatoes is a comfort food that helps me transition to early fall. I don’t give up late summer easily.

Stuffed cabbage is easy to prepare and packs a ton of texture and flavor. You can have it on your table in less than an hour. The recipe is my memory of my mom’s Neopolitan-style stuffed cabbage.

Soft, silky and sweet cabbage leave enrobe a tasty rice and ground beef filling scented with garlic, pecorino and oregano. The bundles are baked in the oven bathed in a San Marzano tomato sauce.

Each bite is complex. The tangy rice and beef filling is balanced by the sweetness of the cabbage and tomatoes. The perky garlic, oregano and pecorino notes are reinforced in both the filling and the sauce, kicking the flavor complexity up a couple of notches.

Stuffed cabbage is a comforting and filling meal all on one plate. I like it even better the next day so make sure you make enough for leftovers. Welcome to fall.

Buon appetito!

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Off the Grid in North Beach

Off the Grid Food Trucks Will Gather Here

San Francisco food trucks are hot. These roving kitchens offer fantastic food from all over the world. Many follow their favorite trucks on Twitter and Facebook and track them down at various parking spots around the city.

Luckily, Off the Grid brings a horde of food trucks together in one place every week. Eat your way around the world at these round-ups, from appetizers to desserts.

If you don’t know about Off the Grid, here’s what they say about their weekly markets.

Off the Grid is your roaming mobile food extravaganza — bringing you delicious food, with free sides of music, craft and soul. Check out all your favorite gourmet food vendors in one place – creating markets like you’ve never seen before.

I don’t mind trekking to Fort Mason or Mint Plaza for an OtG food truck orgy, but I’m ecstatic that Off the Grid is bringing a market to North Beach. The soft launch is tomorrow,  Wednesday, 10/24.

Show up and make this the first of many weekly OtG North Beach markets. Food trucks and music galore, what’s not to like? See you there.

Off the Grid at North Beach’s Joe DiMaggio Playground.

Buon appetito!

 

Grilled Chicken Marinated with Rosemary & Garlic

Rosemary & Garlic Grilled Chicken

Last week we were staying in an updated 1930s cabin overlooking Lake Tahoe. I was excited about the grill on the deck right outside the kitchen door and we used it every day.

One of our dinners included delicious grilled chicken breasts simply marinated in EVOO flavored with garlic and rosemary.

I liked the way the chicken turned out so much that I had to make it when I returned to San Francisco. I don’t have an outdoor grill so I used a grill pan on top of my stove this time. The chicken was flavored through and moist with a nice charred crust. Give the chicken a squeeze of lemon before serving to add a fresh dimension.

I served the grilled chicken with an Italian potato and green bean salad dressed with wine vinegar and EVOO.

This is a easy dish that can be a star on your table any day of the week. Here’s the recipe for two breasts that can easily be adapted to feed more if you like.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:109]

Marinated Zucchini (Zucchine alla Scapace)

I have more late summer zucchini than I know what to do with. Well, almost. I made a fritatta with zucchini, potatoes, wild boar salami and fontina. I made ciambotta, a zucchini stew with potatoes and onions in a tomato sauce.

I used what I had left to make zucchine alla scapace, golden fried slices of zucchini marinated with garlic, mint and a squirt of red wine and balsamic vinegars.

In the south of Italia scapece denotes marinated or preserved with oil and vinegar. In the north the method is in saor.

I love to eat this dish with some prosciutto or salami and aged sharp provolone or as a side with fish or meat. The nutty sweetness of the zucchini is balanced by the vinegar and the mint’s clean fresh taste adds to the complexity.

This is one of those dishes that gets better with age. You should let it marinate for at least a couple of hours. Overnight is better and some think that the dish doesn’t reach peak flavor for about 4 or 5 days. So make a lot of it and have it on hand for about a week. See what works best on your flavor index.

Zucchini is a wonderful ingredient for frittata. Watch my fritatta video to see how to make one. You can adapt the basic recipe to use zucchini or your favorite ingredients.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:107]

 

North Beach Parade & Fall Bounty from Italia

Cavalli Tuscan Treasures

North Beach’s Italian-Heritage Parade, the oldest in America, is Sunday, October 7. Book your lunch table now at one of the many caffes and restaurants on the parade route. They’re going fast. It’s a fantastic holiday. You don’t want to miss it. Everyone will be there.

We’re in for a really special treat this year. Piero and Lorenza Cipriani are flying in from Italia laden with bounty from the fall harvest. Santo Esposito who owns Cavalli Cafe is pitching a big tent outside on Saturday & Sunday so the Ciprianis can share tastes of their Italian culinary loot with anyone who stops by.

They’re bringing this year’s extra virgin olive oil from a small producer in Tuscany, just-picked truffles from Emiglia-Romagna and Umbria, just-milled Tuscan chestnut flour and fresh and dried porcini mushrooms.

I’d kill for a fresh porcini. I like to grill them with garlic-infused olive oil and a light sprinkle of oregano or marjoram and sea salt. It’s like eating steak.

All of the Cipriani goodies are for sale so grab some while you can. And stop in Cavalli Cafe before you move on for an espresso and Santo’s cannoli, the best in all of North Beach. I hope I see you there after our Parade lunch party.

I have a few seats at my lunch table if you want to join us. Send me an email and I’ll let you know the details and where to meet up.

Read more about my Parade experiences.

 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

I was hosting a 4-course birthday dinner for a friend. I asked her what she wanted. “Nothing special. You come up with something. It’s always good,” she told me. But the next morning she sent me an email. “Can you make sweet potato gnocchi? I’ve been craving them.”

How could I say no, but the pressure was on. Everyone at my dinner loves the puffy, light sweet potato gnocchi at da Flora, one of  our favorite North Beach restaurants. Would mine pass muster with this exacting crowd?

I use both russet and sweet potatoes here. Sweet potatoes can be wet so I roasted the potatoes instead of boiling them in their jackets to keep them as dry as possible.

The sweet potato gnocchi were light little pillows that just about melted on my tongue. The sage butter sauce is classic in its simplicity and adds richness to the gnocchi’s sweetness. The grated parmigiano really balances the flavors and adds to the complexity of this dish.

This recipe made over 100 gnocchi. Lucky for me I had more than enough for dinner so some could be frozen to enjoy another day. Just spread them out on a cookie tray and put them in the freezer. When frozen store them in a freezer bag. Drop the frozen gnocchi right into the boiling water. They’ll take a bit longer to cook through. Frozen gnocchi are good but fresh gnocchi are better.

Watch my gnocchi video episode to see how to make them.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:108]

 

 

Pickled Eggplant

Pickled Eggplant

It’s getting near the end of the summer season so I’m putting up some eggplant to tide me over until spring.

This a simple recipe from the south of Italia. The pickled eggplant is preserved under olive oil (sott’olio) and will keep in your refrigerator for weeks, even months.

Let the eggplant sit in the refrigerator for a few days to reach its peak flavor. The vinegar mellows and the eggplant picks up a hint of garlic, oregano and bay as it marinates in the jar. The red hot pepper adds a little sparkle at the end of each bite. (I used a small Calabrian chili pepper packed in EVOO.)

The pickled eggplant is a wonderful addition to an antipasti platter. Use it as a crostini topping. Serve it as a side with meat or fish.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:106]

Take advantage of the end of the summer bounty. If you like this recipe try my giardiniera and pickled vinegar peppers.

N.B. I have to tell you that these are not canning recipes. My stuff lasts weeks or even months in the refrigerator. Just be sure that the eggplant is always fully covered by olive oil. If you want to keep the eggplant for a long time in your pantry, follow standard canning techniques to ensure food safety.

Square 5 Best in SF

North Beach’s Graffeo Coffee Roasting Co.

The Chronicle’s food writers just completed a year-long culinary tour of San Francisco, one square mile at a time.

The city was divided into 49 “squares”. Each Sunday the culinary adventurers shared their take on the best restaurants and food attractions in each square. After exploring all that San Francisco has to offer, one square topped the heap.

Square 5, including North Beach, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Jackson Square, is the best in all of San Francisco. Woohoo!

What’s not to like? It’s one of the oldest parts of the City, home to the first public square, the first air-dried salami, the bawdry Barbary Coast, vibrant Italian and Chinese neighborhoods, and coffeehouses loaded with colorful locals.

Why Square 5 over all the others?

If I was going to pick one square to explain the quirkiness, vibrancy and ethos of San Francisco, it would be Square 5. Here lies the heart and soul of San Francisco. This square mile encapsulates the city’s beginnings, its forced acceptance of ethnic diversity, its independent entrepreneurial spirit, its love of life.

So what to pick as the best of Square 5? There are so many fabulous restaurants and food outlets in these rich neighborhoods.

It was a tough choice. “Yet in the end we picked Graffeo Coffee because it represents the type of creative and entrepreneurial spirit the city embraces.” Interesting choice.

Graffeo Coffee Roasting Co. is one of the country’s oldest artisan coffee roasters. The’ve roasted beans on Columbus every day since 1935. That’s all they do. Only go there if you want to buy some of their world-renowed coffee.

While you’re at Graffeo’s, if caffeine isn’t enough and you need a chocolate fix too, stop by XOX Truffles across the street for some of the best chocolate anywhere.

Here’s the Square 5 article.

 

Chicken Cacciatore

Hunter’s Style Chicken–Pollo alla Cacciatore

Flavor memories of my Mom’s hunter-style braised chicken overwhelmed me. I headed down the hill to get what I needed to make this easy, rustic dish.

I’m a breast man but go ahead and include all of your favorite chicken parts. The breasts take less time to cook so just simmer dark meat pieces a bit longer. Use bone-in and skin-on chicken for more flavor.

My recipe includes my father’s “secret” ingredient. He always added a sweet vinegar pepper to his chicken cacciatore. If you’re really energetic make my easy vinegar pickled peppers. (If you don’t have vinegar peppers use a dozen vinegar-brined capers or just a few drops of red wine vinegar. The acidity balances the sweetness of the peppers.)

I served the chicken cacciatore up with creamy polenta so I didn’t lose any of the sauce on the plate. Boiled rice works well too. You can also use the sauce for pasta.

The chicken is moist and tender, bathed in the chunky, sweet tomato-pepper sauce. I like to get a piece of bell pepper with each bite of chicken. Sometimes when I’m lucky, I get a piece of the piquant vinegar pepper too. Heaven!

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:105]

Ciao Caesar’s

Last Day Crowds at Caesar’s Restaurant

It’s the end of a North Beach era.

After 56 years as a destination for locals, Caesar’s Restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf, closed yesterday.

The family-owned restaurant is a victim of changing San Francisco and North Beach demographics, changed tastes at the table, and a sour economy.

Eat Where the Italians Eat Caesar’s proclaimed. For more than a half-century, this was the place for wedding receptions and other large family gatherings.

Caesar’s was also famous for the North Beach Italian-American 7-course meal.  Locals lingered over the huge meal at lunch or dinner: salad, antipasti, soup, pasta, entree, dessert and coffee. Who eats this way anymore?

When I moved to North Beach twenty years ago there were a bunch of these family-style restaurants. The Gold Spike, New Pisa, La Felce, San Remo, Fior d’Italia, are all gone. Gone too is the North Beach community that supported these businesses.

Here’s a glimpse of those bygone days from the Caesar’s website.

Caesar’s was established in 1956 by Caesar Fabrini and his three partners, who all came to the United States as youngsters and knew each other from playing soccer at the Italian Athletic club still in existence in North Beach today. At that time the neighborhood consisted of many small factories and there was a big Italian community made up of workers and fisherman and their families. Caesar Fabrini had the inspiration to serve a seven course dinner at a moderate price for this community and so Caesar’s Italian restaurant was started.

That North Beach Italian community is much smaller today. Businesses closed. Families moved to the suburbs. There aren’t enough of the old-timers and their progeny around to support these old-time places.

But, if you’re in the mood for this North Beach Italian-American culinary experience, you can still have a family-style dinner at Capp’s Corner on Green & Powell.

Caesar’s owners’ note announcing the closing is heartfelt, as is the Chron’s Carl Nolte’s Caesar’s farewell story.

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!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:104]

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.

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