The Italian Homemade Company opened in North Beach on Columbus between Filbert & Greenwich a few days ago. I visited this morning for the first time. It was like stopping by someone’s kitchen in northern Italy.
I’m making a light pasta cream sauce with zucchini blossoms and was looking for fresh pasta. I bought some of Homemade’s fresh tagliatelle. But I couldn’t resist this morning’s crop of tiny spinach and ricotta ravioli for my delicate sauce.
Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli, the gracious owners, are settling into their new space. Alice makes fresh pasta every day. She hails from Rimini on the northern Italian Adriatic coast where they make beautiful fresh pasta. Mattia, is from the Marche region.
Another owner, Carlo Ciccardi, was jet-lagged after arriving a few hours ago from a trip back home near the beautiful beach town between Naples and Rome, Sperlonga.
Stop in soon for fresh pasta, salumi, cheeses and imported products. Italian Homemade will make several fresh pasta choices each day along with other fresh dishes to take away.
Today Alice made a lasagna with bechamel and ragu. She suggested a baked in-house piadina (flat bread) sandwich with your choice of stuffed baked tomato or pepper inside. Add some prosciutto and mozzarella and you have a fresh street-food meal to eat at the long communal table or to take away to enjoy in Washington Square, just a block away.
Benvenuti e buona fortuna! A warm welcome and best wishes to our new neighbors. Thank you for bringing another slice of Italia to North Beach.
My lunch turned out beautifully.
The Italian Homemade Company spinach and ricotta ravioli are delicate but toothsome. The tasty little ravioli are bathed in the shallot-flavored cream sauce accented by the sweetness of the zucchini blossoms and the nuttiness of the parmigiano. Even with just a few ingredients, these ravioli explode with complex flavor in every bite.Here’s the recipe for the squash blossom cream sauce. It works well with delicate stuffed pasta or flat fresh or dried pasta like fettucine or tagliatelle.
Father’s Day is next Sunday, June 15. I’ve been thinking about my Dad with love and gratitude. Though he passed long ago he is still with me.
Dad immigrated to America early in the last century. He did not have an easy life but he prevailed.
He was a very smart and honest man. He spoke several languages. He taught himself to play a mean mandolin. He wanted to be a lawyer but ended up being a butcher in Newark’s First Ward.
While my Dad’s ambitions were never fully realized he ensured that his children achieved their dreams. His oldest daughter was the first in the family to attend college. Both daughters became teachers. His oldest son earned a mechanical engineering degree and served as an Air Force pilot. I became the lawyer he wanted to be.
My Dad loved and supported us all. He joyfully celebrated our every success. In his later years “Pops,” as his grandkids called him, was most fulfilled when his 11 grandchildren surrounded him. I cherish the memories of our 3-generation family gatherings around his table. Many of the dishes I cook today are from those happy days long ago.
In Italy Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, who helped raise Jesus. I’m blending the Italian and American holidays together.
Cavazune, or St. Joseph’s Pants, are a traditional filled cookie made for St. Joseph’s Day all over Italy. Ron, a fan, asked that I make cavazune. His family hails from Balzano in northern Italy about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Venice. Ron tells me they made huge batches of these cookies for their St. Joseph’s Day celebration to share with family and friends. Mille grazie for your suggestion Ron.
There are many variations of this cookie throughout Italia. Ron shared a description of his family’s cookie. I used his memories as the basis for this recipe.
The cookie is filled with a mince of ceci (chickpeas or garbanzo), raisins and walnuts sweetened with honey and balsamic then fried. Mosto cotto, a sweet, thick cooked wine is traditionally used. I didn’t have any so I substituted a thick, sweet balsamic vinegar. If you have mosto cotto in your pantry use that instead.
These cookies are light as air. The delicate crispy wrapper holds a sweet ceci paste flecked with crunchy walnut bits and raisins all sweetened with California Wildflower honey. The spices and orange zest linger on my tongue after the last bite reminding me to have another one.
Father’s Day is June 15. You know me. Holidays bring back food memories. Here’s one from my Dad Gennaro (aka Jerry).
My Mom was always at the stove so my Dad didn’t cook often. But when he did Dad made some really good dishes. This one is one of my favorites.
This is an unusual sauce. It’s not made with whole San Marzano tomatoes that I use in most of my sauces.
I make this one with tomato paste so it’s a really thick and dense sauce that you spoon on top of the mussels laid atop friselle, or hard twice-baked bread slices.
Heat up olive oil in a pot with the hot pepper. I use whole peperoncini, dried chili peppers. When the oil is hot add the tomato paste and the water you used to rinse out the cans and stir well. As it cooks the paste will darken to a red brick color and be really thick. Stir in some oregano.
While the tomato paste is cooking steam the mussels. Watch me steam mussels and clams. This is the technique that you’ll use for this dish.
Make sure you add enough wine and water to the steaming pot. You need a fair amount of the mussel broth to put this dish together.
If you’re lucky to live in an Italian neighborhood you will be able to buy friselle, twice baked bread rounds or rusks at a local bakery. I can’t get them anymore in North Beach so I baked slices of a sourdough loaf from Italian-French Bakery on Grant until they were hard and golden.
This dish may remind you of the sauce at Vincent’s Clam Bar or Umberto’s Clam House in lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. But my guess is that my Dad got this recipe from his mother and the food she cooked at her Quisisana restaurant in Newark’s Italian immigrant First Ward and later in Brooklyn through the 1950s.
The sweet thick tomato sauce surrounds the tender briny mussels just out of the sea. I hate to say it but my favorite bite is the twice-baked bread soaked with mussel broth and topped with the sauce. But I try to slurp in a mussel too. I love the kick from the peperoncini as it all goes down.
Happy Father’s Day. Wanna share your memories of food your Dad made for you?
Steamed mussels and friselle topped with a spicy tomato paste sauce.
Recipe type: Seafood
24 mussels well-scrubbed, steamed
Strained mussel broth from the steaming pot, about 2 cups.
4 friselle or baked bread slices
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
water to slosh-out the paste cans
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 peperoncini (dried chili) or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ onion, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and place 4 pieces of sliced rustic bread on a baking sheet and bake until slightly golden and completely dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside the twice-cooked bread. (Or use friselle, Italian rusks from your bakery.)
Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and peperoncini in a sauce pot over medium-high heat.
When the oil sizzles add the tomato paste and the water used to rinse the cans.
Stir well and when the paste starts to turn to a darker brick red color lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes more.
In the meantime steam the mussels using this recipe. http://www.gianni.tv/10-minute-mussels-clams/ or the link above in the post.
Remove the steamed mussels from the pot and strain out the broth. (You should have about 2 cups of mussel broth.)
Add half of the mussel broth to the sauce and mix well.
Remove the top shell from the mussels.
Rub the twice-baked bread with a garlic clove and drizzle each piece with extra virgin olive oil
Put a piece of the twice-baked bread on the bottom of a dish or bowl.
Drizzle some broth over the bread to soften it. (If more liquid is needed use water.)
Spread some sauce over the bread.
Arrange 6 mussels around the bread and top each with sauce.
Sprinkle with each mussel and the bread with extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. Serve immediately.
Mix in some chopped garlic, parsley and Worcestershire sauce to perk up the beef.
I stuff mine with fresh mozzarella and add nutty and creamy Italian fontina on top for more flavor punch.
The burger is fine with or without a cheese stuffing or with no cheese at all. Your choice.
With all the scares about contaminated ground beef sold on the grid the best hamburger you eat may be the one made at home with ground beef or chuck you grind yourself from your trusted local butcher.
With the start of the summer you can cook the hamburger on your outdoor grill or in a stove-top cast iron grill pan. Some chefs think it’s best to cook hamburgers in a flat-bottomed cast iron pan so it cooks evenly and the juices stay inside.
If you’re making hamburgers at home make sure you have a good sturdy bun. I’m using a pain de mie from my favorite Bay Area bakery Acme Bread. It has a sturdy soft crust and a slightly sweet small crumb inside, a perfect hamburger bun.
Add your favorite condiments. For me, no mayo, ketchup or mustard. I prefer a grilled onion and a slice of heirloom tomato on my burger.
The toasted bun is just right for the juicy, tender burger pumped up by garlic and Worcester. The mild mozzarella oozes from the center complemented by the melted nutty fontina on top. The sweet grilled onion and summer tomato finishes the package in style.
A few days ago in a post on my pasta e fagioli video episode, Markus asked that I make panzanella, a simple Tuscan peasant summer salad.
I said I would when the summer tomatoes hit the farmers market. The first crop of Early Girls won’t be in for a few more weeks and the big heirlooms won’t be ready until the end of the summer. I thought I wouldn’t be making panzanella for a while.
But I couldn’t get panzanella out of my mind since Markus’ post. So when I saw a huge selection of tomatoes at Bruins Farms booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market yesterday I had to buy some and give panzanella a go.
If you’ve been to Tuscany in the summer you’ve enjoyed panzanella. It’s made with days-old dark salt-free Tuscan bread. Recipes for this peasant dish date back to the days of Michelangelo according to Tuscan food maestro Giulliano Bugialli.
This is my modern San Francisco version. While you’ll see recipes with peppers, cucumbers and all sorts of other ingredients in today’s panzanella recipes, I keep it simple.
Tomatoes and a good crusty rustic bread soaked in the olive oil and tomato juices are the stars. My mix today is Lemon Boy, Black Zebra and Beefsteak.
These tomatoes are grown about 70 miles inland from San Francisco, in greenhouses on the farm a bit west of Sacramento where it’s sunnier and warmer than it is here in the City.
Panzanella only has a few ingredients so you have to make sure you’re using the best. These Bruins Farms tomatoes fit the bill and that makes it easier to wait for the big field-grown heirloom tomatoes later this summer.
Make panzanella with day-old rustic bread or switch it up and make it with taralli, those small boiled then baked crunchy rings. You can buy taralli in North Beach at Molinari Deli on Columbus or at A.G. Ferrari’s stores around the Bay Area or online.
The onion and basil round out the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and the juicy, creamy bread cubes perk up each mouthful with a lingering acidic vinegar tingle.
Serve panzanella chilled or at room temperature as an antipasto or as a side for grilled meats or poultry.
Find out more about New York City’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve been disappointed with what’s left of Little Italy in lower Manhattan visit Arthur Avenue. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.
Here’s a twist on potato salad that I’ve loved since I was a kid.
Don’t get me wrong I love potato salad with mayonnaise but every once in a while I have to make this one flavored with red wine vinegar and olive oil.
It’s simple to make and really flavorful. Cube boiled potatoes while they’re still warm. Add chopped parsley and onions, a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, and dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. That’s it.
Creamy potatoes bathed in buttery olive oil, the sweet crunch of onion, all balanced by the red wine vinegar. A simple peasant dish with full and complex flavor.
Serve the potato salad warm or at room temperature. Perfect for any table, inside or out.
Got 5 minutes? You can be eating pasta with fresh and flavorful basil pesto, pesto alla Genovese, in no time.
This pesto hails from Liguria on the northern Italian coast where small leaf basil grows on the hills around Genoa overlooking the Italian Riviera. The roots of North Beach’s Liguria Bakery, famous for it’s foccacia, are in this region of Italy.
I don’t have Ligurian basil so I’m using organic Bay Area basil instead. You can use your local basil as well. Traditionally the pesto is made with a mortar and pestle but I’m using a food processor. It’s fast and yields a fine paste.
The main ingredients are basil, pine nuts (pinoli), garlic, grated parmigiano and pecorino, and a really good extra virgin olive oil. Use the best ingredients you can afford.
Pine nuts from China are prevalent in the market and cheaper but they taste waxy and don’t have the full, clean, nutty flavor of Italian pine nuts so buy Italian pinoli if you can.
The Ligurian version is usually made with trenette, a flat long pasta or trofie, a short twisted pasta. I used gemelli (twins) a short twisted pasta pretty close to the hard to find trofie.
This is an uncooked sauce. Just process all the ingredients in a food processor. The pesto will be ready way before the pasta water comes to a boil.
The short twisted toothy gemelli burst with fresh flavor. The aromatic basil immediately tingles your tongue followed by the nutty flavor of the pinoli and buttery olive oil. The parmigiano, pecorino and just an echo of fresh garlic round out each bite. So simple and so delicious.
A few years ago we got lucky on a visit to Rome. My friend Guiliano who lives in the historical center had just returned from visiting his family in Genoa and he invited us over for dinner. He brought just-picked Ligurian basil back with him and he was making pesto for us. He added cubes of potato and green beans to the pasta and coated it all with the best pesto I’ve ever eaten.
For my American friends adding potato and green beans to this dish is controversial. I like it that way but many don’t. They just want pasta coated with basil pesto. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.
If you want to make the traditional Genovese version, cut the potato in 1/2 chunks. Cut off the stem end of the green beans and cut them into 2-inch pieces. When the pasta water comes to a boil add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes then add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the pasta and cook to al dente. Strain the pasta, potatoes and beans out of the water, put them all in a bowl, add the pesto and mix to coat everything well.
Basil pesto is the most famous but there are many, many more. Try my Pesto Trapanese from Sicily with cherry tomatoes and almonds for a different taste treat. It’s one of 3 sauces I made for my potato gnocchi.
1 pound (500 grams) gemelli or your favorite short cut pasta
3 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tablespoon sea salt plus 3 tablespoons for the pasta water
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
Put 5 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt over high heat and bring it to a boil.
In the meantime, put the basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil in the food-processor bowl. Process 10 to 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl, to form a coarse paste.
Put the pine nuts in the food processor and process another 10 seconds, scrape down the bowl midway, until you create a uniform, smooth bright-green paste.
Add the grated cheeses to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine.
The pesto should be thick but flowing. If it is to stiff add a bit more olive oil.
The pesto will be fine at room temperature until you cook the pasta. (If you keep it out longer, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil so it doesn't discolor.)
Cook the pasta to al dente, strain and put into a bowl. (Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.)
Add the pesto and mix to coat the pasta well. If the pasta is too dry add some of the pasta cooking water.
Top each serving with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
(To store the pesto longer, cover the surface of the pesto with plastic wrap, close the container tightly and refrigerate or freeze the pesto. Let the stored pesto come back to room temperature before using.)
I just flew in to the Windy City and I had to have a deep dish pizza for my first dinner tonight.
I can hear my producers yelling at me now. I was starving and the pie’s aroma overwhelmed me. I didn’t think of the food porn still shots until I was sated. This was all that was left of the pie when I remembered I needed a photo.
Luckily for me there’s a branch of all 4 close to the hotel I stay at during my frequent trips to Chicago so I’ve had them all. Lou Malnati’s is one of my go-to places too. They’ve been making deep dish for decades.
While I love a good deep dish my favorite pizza is a true Neapolitan thin-crust pie encircled with a puffy dark crust. That one’s in and out of a wood burning beehive oven in 60-90 seconds. You have to wait for these deep dish pies for about 40 minutes so you gotta be patient.
“That speaks to what we think about it,” says spokeswoman Meggie Lindberg. The chain discontinued its Neapolitan offering since so few customers ordered it, she says.”
My choice this time is the Chicago Classic with Lou’s trademarked Buttercrust that costs 75 cents more and worth every penny. Layers of sausage, tomato sauce and extra cheese atop the almost flaky buttery crust, it’s a 3-inch high slice of heaven.
Just kidding. You know that North Beach really isn’t a beach anymore. If you took my tour you know why.
Look at the new North Beach Library Branch that opened today. The beautiful sleek design looks like a modern ocean liner slipped it’s Fisherman’s Wharf mooring and ended up smack on Columbus Avenue at Mason near the cable cars and below the crooked turns of Lombard Street.
The library’s opening is the culmination of a long-fought battle between those who opposed the plans entirely or wanted to preserve the old mid-century modernist library building and city planners. The Chronicle’s architecture critic provides the full details in today’s paper.
A big crowd gathered in the warm sun for the opening enjoying a children’s chorus belting out songs from Annie followed by Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz dixieland band. An expert was giving lessons in the bocce courts across from the new library entrance.
More change is on the way. The old library will be demolished and the Joe DiMaggio Playground will be enlarged and renovated next year.
Boy am I happy that this northern fringe of North Beach has come alive again. Be sure to visit soon.
BTW, behind me in the video is North Beach poet and visual artist Agneta Falk‘s How Long/The Storm that she painted while watching a violent thunder storm over Fisherman’s Wharf.
To all the Mom’s out there my best wishes for a wonderful Mother’s Day coming this Sunday. Here’s my video Mother’s Day salute to all of you.
My Mom was a wonderful cook. I really can’t remember a bad meal, no, not even a mediocre meal, on her table every day.
When I was barely able to reach the top of the table I was at my Mom’s side helping her cook. I still have the little wooden stool I stood on.
Food was the core of our family. We ate together every day. Holidays brought 20+ relatives to my Mom’s table. It was a loving, sensuous and supportive environment that nourished us and shaped who I am today.
Mom was born in Mirabella Eclano, a small village near Avellino about 45 kilometers inland from Naples in the beautiful Appenine foothills.
Her family escaped their hardscrabble life and came to the U.S. at the turn of the last century. She learned to cook from my grandmother Rosa who lived with us until she passed at 93.
I’ve been cooking this food of my youth, adapted to the American environment, for over half-century. Not only is it delicious, but gathering family and friends around the table to share a leisurely meal continues to enrich my life.
As a tribute to my Mom I’m making her Sunday Gravy. Though she passed decades ago her influence on my life is unabated.
A fingernail moon glowed brightly low in the Maxfield Parrish dark blue sky. Live music, restaurant chatter and laughter filled the night air.
The galleries were packed for last night’s First Friday art crawl, the art in the galleries superb.
Don’t miss Nicholas Coley’s new California plein air impressionist work at Emerald Tablet. It’s coming down soon.
Make your way to Focus Gallery at the other end of Grant Avenue for Ferlinghetti’s works on paper and Jack Micheline’s portraits including Bar Mitzvah Boy and his 1961 Mexico City memory of Marilyn Monroe.
Focus Gallery owner John Perino told me a funny story about North Beach’s heroic criminal defense lawyer Tony Serra’s preparation for a recent talk there. Tony’s representing Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow in the recent Chinatown gang & corruption bust.
On the way stop in at Live Worms for a group show of 10 Bay Area artists. You may even see art being created in the midst of the appreciative crowd.
The North Beach art scene is booming. I Heart North Beach just opened next door to Green Street Mortuary with a group show of North Beach artists. A new gallery featuring digital art will open soon in the old North Beach Pizza space on the corner of Grant/Green.
North Beach sure is special. Subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss my new Gianni’s North Beach series where I share what’s happening in the neighborhood, in the farmers market and cooking in my kitchen. Oh, that’s Maury Lapp’s Washington Square behind me in the video.
Lent’s coming to an end. No more fasting soon, so I’m getting ready for my 4-course Italian-American Easter dinner celebration.
I’m bringing what’s available in the spring farmers market to our Easter feast.
For the antipasto I’m serving pizza rustica, a Neapolitan savory deep-dish ricotta pie with sausage, salami and fresh mozzarella. I’ll serve a slice of the pizza rustica with Giardiniera, marinated garden vegetables that I make a few days ahead so they reach their full flavor. Giardiniera will be a piquant foil for the savory pie.
My primo piatto, the first plate, is a light but full-flavored artichoke, leek and potato soup.
The secondo piatto, the second plate, is porchetta, a butterflied pork roast with an herb paste. The roast is accompanied by roasted potatoes dotted with truffle oil and cipollini agro dolce, onions in a sweet & sour glaze.
I’m bookending the meal with another Neapolitan Easter pie, pastiera, a sweet ricotta pie with wheat berries and candied citron.
Make the same dinner I’m making or change it up. Design your own Easter dinner. Choose from my selected dishes for each of the 4 courses. And if you just want to see the videos, check out this handy YouTube playlist.
Antipasti (before the meal)
Pair one of these dishes with your favorite Italian salumi, cheeses and olives.