Neapolitan Christmas Salad

Neapolitan Christmas Salad
Neapolitan Christmas Salad

I just love this classic Neapolitan Christmas Salad, insalata di rinforza, in Italian. Insalata di rinforza translates into Reinforced Salad. How did such an important part of the Christmas table get such a silly name?

Here’s the tale. Giardiniera, vegetables stored in a vinegar bath, is a main ingredient. Neapolitans make their giardiniera with the last of the summer bounty. Of course, after a few days of marinating, you have to eat some, and then some more. To make sure there is enough at Christmas, they add more vegetables as their giardiniera stash gets low.

By the time Christmas comes around the giardiniera has been “reinforced” several times by adding more vegetables to replenish the jar. And so the restored giardiniera lends its name to insalata di reinfoza, the Neapolitan Christmas Salad.

Don’t worry, if you don’t want to make giardiniera, just buy some at the market.

This is a really simple salad to put together and it looks beautiful on your holiday table all by itself or as the centerpiece of an antipasti course as I served it at my lunch today. With the giardiniera in hand, all you have to do is boil some cauliflower florets and compose the salad. How easy is that?

Buon Natale. Happy Holidays. Buon appetito!

Neapolitan Christmas Salad
 
Author:
Cuisine: Neapolitan Christmas Salad
Ingredients
  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and left whole
  • 1 large bunch frisee (aka curly endive)
  • ¼ pound Gaeta olives, pitted (or your favorite dark olive)
  • ¼ pound Calamata olives (or your favorite green olive)
  • 3 anchovy filets, roughly chopped (optional)
  • ½ pound Giardiniera
  • ½ cup EVOO
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add sea salt to taste and the whole peeled garlic.
  3. Cut off the cauliflower florets from the stem. Discard the stem.
  4. Put the florets in the boiling water and boil until just knife tender but still firm, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the florets to a serving dish and set aside to cool.
  6. Arrange the frisee around the border of a large serving platter.
  7. Put the pitted Gaeta olives, green olivess, capers, anchovy if using, and giardiniera in a large bowl. Season with a little sea salt, a bit more if you're not using the anchovy. Mix well.
  8. Arrange the cauliflower florets atop the serving platter with the frisee.
  9. Distribute the mixed ingredients evenly over the florets. Scatter the whole green olives over the salad and serve.
  10. (This salad is typically served with taralli with fennel seeds.)

 

Holiday Lunch at My House

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Our Last Office Lunch

It’s a Jersey Christmas this year. I’m cooking a Seven Fish Dinner on Christmas Eve with friends. Christmas Day is with my sister Rose’s branch of the family. We’ll be 3 generations in the kitchen.

My office-mates convinced me to cook for them before I take off. We couldn’t decide on a restaurant for our annual holiday party so we’ll celebrate at my place instead. I’m preparing a traditional 4-course Italian meal.

The picture is from the last office lunch I prepared. That’s really old balsamic vinegar I brought back from Modena going into the baby field green salad.

One of the guys in the office can’t stop randomly saying “pasta fazool” ever since I posted the pasta and beans recipe. So we had to include that dish. Otherwise, I would have made the lighter, fancier Italian Wedding Soup for this holiday meal.

The Neapolitan Christmas Salad includes giardiniera, marinated vegetables that you can store in the fridge for weeks. I’ll post the insalata di rinforzo recipe tomorrow and tell you how it got its name.

Antipasti

Insalata di rinforzo (Neapolitan Christmas Salad)

Prosciutto and soppresata salami

Aged sharp provolone

Pecorino with truffles

Taralli

Pizza Oreganata

Prosecco, a dry sparkling wine from the Veneto near Venice (Foss Marai)

Primo Piatto

Pasta e Fagiole (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)

Lacryma Christi, a robust red from the hills of Vesuvius near Naples (Terradora di Paolo)

Secondo Piatto

Chicken cutlets topped with sauteed wild mushrooms and melted mozzarella, garlic/olive oil smashed potatoes, sauteed broccoli rabe (recipe in my free vegetable eBook)

Pagiu, a full-flavored ruby-red sangiovese from the heart of Umbria (Brogal Vignabaldo)

Dolce

Vanilla gelato and lemon sorbetto topped with homemade limoncello

Sparkling and still Italian waters throughout the meal

Happy Holidays! Buon appetito!

Holiday Sausage @ Little City Meats

Little City Meats
Little City Meats @ Stockton/Vallejo

I was excited when I walked into North Beach’s Little City Meats this morning.

The Christmas sausage stuffed with pork, fennel, imported provolone and basil was in. Run, don’t walk. Get some before they’re all gone. I absolutely love these holiday sausages and can’t wait for them to appear this time of year.

Father and son Ron and Mike Spinelli at Little City have been my butchers for over 2 decades. They have fantastic meats and just as importantly, they both have hard to find Old-World meat cutting skills.

Want cutlets? They pound out lovely, thin scallopine. Need braciole or a butterflied pork roast. No worries. They do it all.

Little City is the place to go if you want Italian pork sausage. All year round I cook up their mild Sicilian sausage with fennel and their spicy hot Calabrese sausage.

In case you’re in the mood, here’s my recipe for a one-pan sausage and peppers.

Recently Little City was a Chronicle pick for one of the 5 best sausages in the Bay Area.

Ron and Mike are getting too famous. Bold Italic just posted Joseph Schell’s piece about making sausage at Little City.

You just have to try this stuff.

Buon appetito!

Strufolli (Holiday Honey Balls)

Stuffoli
Struffoli (Fried Honey Balls)

It wouldn’t be Christmas in a Neapolitan house without struffoli, little round fritters bathed in a boiling honey glaze and then topped with colorful sprinkles.

The little marbles are crispy outside with a nutty flavor sweetened by the honey. The inside is light and airy. The sprinkles are just for show.

Some families mound struffoli into a pyramid reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Others form a wreath to celebrate the holiday. At my house in Jersey we always built a pyramid and I still do today.

Struffoli keep well. My mother made them a day or two before Christmas and set them on the dining room buffet. The arrival of struffoli was a harbinger of Saint Nick’s imminent arrival.

When I was little, I’d sneak by and quickly snatch one or two struffoli with my fingers, stuffing them in my mouth as I walked through the dining room. It wasn’t long until my Mom saw a dent in the side of the struffoli pyramid and brought my pilfering to an abrupt end.

This is one of those things I only make once a year. I got an early start this year but I’ll be making more for the Christmas table back in Jersey.

Oh, you don’t have to eat struffoli with your fingers. Give each of your guests a couple of heaping mounds on a plate and a spoon.

If you want another holiday sweet this season make bow ties a/k/a cenci, wandi and bugia. I love the blisters that form on the bow ties as they quickly fry. No honey glaze here just a powdered sugar dusting before eating. Watch out, the delicate bow ties splinter with each bite and sometimes send out a puff of powdered sugar. They sure are fun to eat.

Struffoli (Honey Balls)

Dough

1 3/4 cups                      all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon                 sugar

1/8 teaspoon                salt

zest of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1/2 orange

3                                        eggs

1 tablespoon                  rum, grappa or vanilla

Honey Glaze

1 cup                                 honey

2 tablespoons                sugar

1/4 cup                            water

1/4 cup                            colored sprinkles

Directions

  1. Put the flour, sugar, salt, and zest in a large bowl. Mix well.
  2. Make a well in the middle of the flour.
  3. Add the eggs and rum (or grappa or vanilla) to the well and beat the eggs.
  4. With a fork or your hand mix the flour slowly into the eggs to form the dough. The dough should be sticky.
  5. Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead briefly until the dough comes together. (Do not overwork the dough or the strufolli will be dense.)
  6. Form the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  7. Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface. It still will be sticky, roll it around in the flour and form it back into a ball.
  8. Cut the ball into 8 equal pieces and form each into a ball. Dust lightly with flour so they do not stick together and put all but one of them back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  9. On the floured surface roll out the dough ball with your hands into a rope about a half-inch in diameter. (Be sure to cover the bowl so the remaining balls do not form a crust.)
  10. With a knife or pastry scrapper ut the ropes in half-inch pieces.
  11. Roll the cut pieces into a ball about the size of a marble and put them in a single layer on a lightly floured baking pan. (Forming the round shape is important. Strufolli derives from the word for rounded.)
  12. Repeat with the other 7 dough balls.
  13. Put 3 cups of safflower or your favorite oil in a large pot and over medium heat bring the oil to 375 degrees.
  14. Shake off any excess flour and fry small batches of the dough balls in hot oil, turning occasionally until they are a dark golden color all over. They should be done in about a minute or so.
  15. With a slotted spoon, remove the struffoli to a large platter lined with paper towel to drain.
  16. Put the honey, sugar and water in a pan large enough to hold all the struffoli,
  17. Over medium-low heat stir until the sugar is melted.
  18. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue cooking the glaze until it comes to a boil, starts to foam up and darken in color, about a minute or two. (The foam should dissipate soon after it foams up.)
  19. Remove the glaze from the heat and add all the strufolli.
  20. Mix well to cover all of the strufolli with the honey glaze.
  21. With a slotted spoon transfer the strufolli to a serving platter and mold them into a pyramid or a wreath.
  22. Drizzle some of the honey glaze left in the pot over the strufolli and scatter the sprinkles on the top of the strufolli mound.

Serves 6-8.

Loosely cover the strufolli with plastic wrap. If you are lucky you can eat strufolli for several days.

Buon appetito!

Pignoli Cookies

Pignoli Cookies

Want an easy and sweet treat for your holiday table? Bake some almond cookies topped with pine nuts.

We always have a stash of pignoli cookies for our Christmas table. You can make them in less than an hour.

A fan asked for this recipe. She has fond pignoli cookie memories but the recipe slipped away.

She got excited when I told her I’d make some. “Thank you thank you thank you! I can’t wait! I want to surprise my mother with them. Our recipe was lost to the last generation. I should have paid more attention.” Well here you go. I hope these cookies match your memories.

Pignoli cookies are moist and soft with crunchy toasted pine nuts on top. Eat them right away or store them for up to a week in a sealed container. Only problem is I usually don’t have any left to store.

I love pignoli cookies so much I can’t wait for Christmas and make them all year long.

Buon Natale. Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:116]

Al Baccari Knows North Beach Best

Buon Gusto Sausage Factory

The Chronicle’s front page Sunday Profile features Alessandro Baccari, Jr., an outstanding Italian-American historian, preservationist and collector.

Al is North Beach’s non-resident historian too. He lives on West Portal now but was born and raised in North Beach.

Al is 84 and he knows everything about North Beach’s Italian community and he loves to share his stories. He was the curator of the now gone North Beach Museum.

His personal collection of art and artifacts could fill a museum. In fact it did last year at the Old Mint’s Brava L’Italia exhibit in SOMA.

Here’s a post I did a year ago when I visited Al’s Old Mint North Beach exhibit and today’s Chronicle profile.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)

Pasta Fazool

Pasta and beans was a staple in my childhood Jersey home. My mom made this soup often and we all loved it. A fan asked for the recipe.

Pasta and beans is a healthy and inexpensive peasant dish. You can have this one-pot meal that packs lots of flavor and goodness on your table in less than an hour. My version is from Campania and we call it pasta fazool in Neapolitan-American slang.

I fondly remember my last visit to Casserta Vecchia, a medieval village high in the hills overlooking the Bay of Naples. As we took in the view, the winds picked up. A dark storm was sweeping up from the bay.

We ducked into an ancient inn to have lunch as the blustery, fast-moving storm passed by. I was warmed by a bowl of pasta and beans in a terra cotta bowl, followed by grilled sausage, both cooked in a huge open hearth in the dining room with old stone walls and hand-hewn wooden beams overhead.

Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italia and varies from region to region. One big difference is that mine has no meat. Up north they usually add pancetta to the aromatics as the base of the soup. Some people like to add tomato puree. Some people don’t add tomato, they like a white pasta fazool.

Mine has a light pink hue. I use a little tomato puree. Make it any way you like it, just don’t make it the way they do at Olive Garden.

The creamy beans and pasta are bathed in a savory light broth enhanced by the sharpness of the pecorino and the mellow olive oil. Pasta fazool will warm you and fill you up all winter long.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • 3 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or two 15 oz. cans
  • 8 cups water
  • ½ pound ditalini or another short-cut pasta
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • grated pecorino
Instructions
  1. If you are using dried beans soak about 1¼ cups overnight or for at least 12 hours. They will expand and should yield about 3 cups of soaked beans for the soup.
  2. Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
  3. Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
  4. Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
  5. Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
  6. Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
  7. Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
  8. Put the cover on the pan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup thickens. (If you are using canned beans that should take about about 20-30 minutes. If you are using dried beans soaked over night that could take 60 minutes or so. You want the beans to be tender but not mushy.)
  9. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  10. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
  11. Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
  12. Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.
  13. Serves 6.

Buon appetito!

 

Subway Station in North Beach?

Chinatown Central Subway Station

The Central Subway plan never made sense to me and my North Beach neighbors.

The last station on the new subway line was in Chinatown, blocks away from North Beach. But the plan was to tunnel into North Beach and tear up Columbus Avenue, just to remove the gigantic tunnel boring machine at Washington Square Park.

North Beach merchants and residents were irate. Many feared the construction would put them out of business. Neighbors didn’t want to put up with years of disruption or the loss of restaurants, shops and cafes. They protested, they filed a lawsuit, but nothing seemed to alter the terrible subway plan.

We’ve been inconvenienced for months already. Columbus Avenue near Washington Square Park was ripped up to relocate utilities in preparation for the tunnel. It’s dirty and noisy work. Closed lanes created a traffic nightmare. Oh no, will it be like this for years to come?

Maybe not. The chief of San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) just announced 2 new alternative Central Subway plans that seem to address North Beach concerns.

The first gathering momentum here in the Village, is to build a North Beach subway station where the long abandoned Pagoda Theater now stands on the corner of Powell and Columbus, across from Washington Square. If local money can’t be found to buy and clear the land, the MTA will leave the monster tunnel boring machine underground, just beyond the Chinatown station.

In either event, no more of Columbus Avenue will be torn up. If we get lucky, North Beach will get a subway station built in a less disruptive way. Sometimes local action can make a difference. Let’s see what happens at next week’s MTA meeting where the new plans will be introduced.

Here’s Matier & Ross’ article from the Chronicle about these latest developments and my June and August Central Subway posts.

 

Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Actually it’s called ragu alla Bolognese. It’s a long-cooked meat sauce from Bologna, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, the culinary heart of Italy.

The ragu is traditionally served with tagliatelle in Bologna, a flat pasta a bit narrower than fettuccine. The pasta’s shape is perfect to maximize the sauce captured on its surface.

Spinach tagliatelle is the favorite in Bologna. I grabbed fresh spinach pasta at Molinari’s Deli on Columbus so I could focus on the ragu.

The ragu has to simmer at least 3 1/2 hours, even longer. I like to make it Sunday morning to eat for lunch or dinner. The aroma will fill your house all day.

You’re building layers of flavor here. Saute minced onion, celery, carrot and pancetta in EVOO and butter. Add the meat and mix them together. Cover it all with wine. Cook off the wine and add milk and nutmeg. Cook those off too, then add the tomatoes and simmer, simmer, simmer. You end up with a thick brick-red ragu with tons of flavor.

When the sauce is done, boil some well-salted water and cook the fresh tagiatelle. That will take about 3 minutes. Put half the sauce in a large bowl. Drain the pasta when al dente and put it in the bowl and mix well with the ragu. Place a serving of pasta on a plate and top with a big spoonful of the ragu. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano and eat!

The fresh tagliatelle is silky and coated with the ragu. The long simmer intensifies the complexity of the sauce and melds all the flavors together. The dusting of parmigiano reggiano completes this homage to Bologna.

This ragu is for a pound of tagliatelle, fettuccine or your favorite pasta.

When I don’t have time to make my own, one of my favorites in North Beach is Graziano’s ragu alla Bolognese at his Caffe Puccini on Columbus.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:114]

4 North Beach Treasures

Molinari Deli on Columbus

Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper blog fame shares her appreciation of 4 North Beach spots in her just-released video tour.

Marcia visits Caffe Trieste, Molinari Deli, Liguria Bakery and Stella Pastry. Find out Marcia’s favorite coffee, focaccia, sandwich and sweet. I’m with her all the way. These are some of my favorite North Beach haunts.

If those tourists in the picture took my North Beach walking tour, or Marcia’s video tour, they wouldn’t have to scour that big map to figure out where to go.

Where’s the best cannoli? Want a quick pasta fix? I have a few ideas. Who’s still cooking inspired, authentic food you find in Venice, Tuscany, Rome, Calabria and Sicily? Want pizza? I always head to one of 4 places.

Tired of Italian, God forbid?  How about Mexican, Thai, French, or American? All of my favorite shops, markets, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, art galleries and bars are on our route, as we leisurely stroll through the Village.

Come out of the fog. Make North Beach your own. Let me know if you’re interested in my 90-minute North Beach walking tour and I’ll schedule one soon.

In the meantime, take Marcia’s North Beach video tour.

Focaccia with Grapes & Walnuts

Grape & Walnut Focaccia

I got off easy this year. I didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner. I joined friends in the North Bay and had to bring an antipasto.

It took me a while to get inspired but an idea hit me at the market. The late harvest grapes were spectacular. I made a grape and walnut focaccia scented with rosemary.

Focaccia is a good option for a bring-along appetizer. Flatbread is easy to transport and can be served at room temperature. I paired this one with creamy Italian robolia cheese. The sweet grapes and crunchy walnuts are enhanced by the scent of rosemary. A bite of the focaccia with a bite of the cheese is heavenly.

Bubbly prosecco was the perfect accompaniment, adding a crisp citrus and floral note.

I got carried away. I made a savory pear tomato focaccia too and paired it with a balsamic-rubbed aged pecorino cheese. The doughs for these 2 flatbreads are not the same. Here’s the tomato and onion focaccia recipe.

I love baking in the late fall. Making pizza, focaccia or bread is a zen experience for me. Kneading dough and baking relaxes me. Making focaccia in the morning makes my day.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:113]

 

Roasted Turkey & All The Fixings

Roasted Turkey Resting

Still undecided about your Thanksgiving dinner?

Try my recipes for Roasted Turkey scented with rosemary, sage, lemon and garlic, chestnut/sausage stuffing and easy pan gravy.

While the oven is hot, add brussels sprouts roasted with pine nuts and parmigiano and butternut squash roasted with honey and sage. Just add your favorite appetizers, dessert and wines for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

How easy is that? No slaving over pots and pans on top of the stove, everything just roasts in the oven. Make the easy pan gravy while the turkey rests on the counter before carving. Spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your friends and family around the Thanksgiving table.

There are lots of other vegetable recipes on my blog and you can get my free vegetable eBook recipes there too.

Happy Thanksgiving! Buon appetito!

Capo’s Finally Opens on Vallejo

Capo’s on Vallejo

Tony Gemignani enlivened Washington Square Park when he opened Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton and Green a couple of years ago. Now he hopes to have a similar effect on the moribund block of Vallejo between Stockton and Columbus with his new restaurant, Capo’s Chicago Pizza and Italian Dinners.

After a year of construction, Capo’s finally opened late last week. The new North Beach hot spot features deep-dish pizza and other Chicago Italian-American favorites. Hopefully, Capo’s will bring this block of Vallejo back to its former glory too.

“I want Capo’s to feel like a neighborhood place that’s been here for years, while also transporting guests to a moment in time when Italian-American cuisine began to form its roots in our culture,” says Tony.

Gemignani designed the space to evoke a ’30s Chicago feel, including photos of infamous mobsters Frank Nitti and Al Capone above the red leather booths. Another throwback to that era, reservations can only be made by telephone and you must pay with cash.

Be sure to get there early. Tony’s special pizza Quattro Forni is baked in 4 different ovens and he only makes 20 a day.

Here’s the Capo’s menu.

Buon appetito!

Butternut Squash Roasted with Honey and Sage

Butternut Squash Roasted with Honey and Sage

I love butternut squash and make it often, especially in the fall. A favorite is roasted butternut squash lightly flavored with honey and sage.

You can have this dish on your table in less than 30 minutes. The hardest part is cutting and peeling the squash.

The cubed butternut squash is coated with EVOO and honey flavored with fresh sage, then roasted to a rich golden brown.

The crispy, nutty exterior gives way to an explosion of sweet, creamy squash with each bite. I used an Italian chestnut honey that adds a burnt caramel note, but any honey you have on hand will work well too. The fresh sage adds earthy complexity to the dish.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:112]

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts for Your Thanksgiving Table

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year but I will be bringing some vegetables to add to my friend’s table.

I know, you either love or hate brussels sprouts. I happen to love these crispy little orbs and I hope you will too.

Coat the brussels sprouts with EVOO. Put them right in the hot oven along with the roasting turkey. The sprouts dusted with grated parmigiano have a nutty flavor. The toasted pine nuts add a crunchy texture and a squeeze of fresh lemon brightens the whole dish. Simple and delicious.

If you haven’t decided on how to cook your turkey, try my recipe for a delicious turkey, stuffing and pan gravy.

Happy Thanksgiving and buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:111]