My Family Christmas Menu Suggestions

Passing It On--Cooking with My Godson
Passing It On–Cooking with My Godson

Some say that the most important meal this season is the Christmas Eve fish dinner. I’m doing the Neapolitan-inspired Feast of Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

But you gotta eat after everyone is done opening all their presents Christmas day, right? When I’m back east with family for Christmas, we cook up a fantastic four-course dinner.

3 generations will cook together and our Italian-American dinner will include some dishes that my family has made since they first immigrated to America over a hundred years ago.

We gather around the table at about 2 in the afternoon. The leisurely meal will last until early evening.

Create your own Christmas feast. We’re still working on our final menu but here are some of the dishes that are on our list.

Antipasto (before the meal)

The antipasto is a preview of the meal to come. It’s the icebreaker as your guests settle in at the table. It starts the conversation and tantalizes your taste buds to let you know of the culinary delights to come.

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

 

A platter with a selection of Italian salumi (cured meats) and cheeses is a must. Watch me put together a beautiful antipasti platter in this short video.

Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives
Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives

I may pair the platter with a traditional Neapolitan Christmas salad, insalata di rinforza.

 

 

If we don’t go the platter-salad route I know my family will want some artichokes to start the our Christmas meal.

Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes
Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes

 

These crispy baby artichokes are always a favorite.

Or make one Roman-style stuffed artichoke for each guest.

 

 

 

Primo  Piatto (First Course)

A fancy pasta is our usual choice. We’ll probably make a lasagna. Here are 2 to choose from.

Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.

 

The lasagna al forno is a bit more complicated but you can assemble it the day before and bake it Christmas day. It’s incredible and well worth the effort.

 

 

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

 

 

This lasagna is a quick version that you can get in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Baked crespelle (crepes) stuffed with spinach & ricotta in a light tomato sauce.

 

And I know there will be some votes for one of my Mom’s spinach & ricotta cannelloni in a simple tomato sauce.

 

 

 

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

 

 

For a lighter first course try my delicious “Italian Wedding Soup” with chicken, escarole & tiny veal meatballs. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

My choice is my porchetta roast with onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar and rosemary roasted potatoes on the side.

This was the episode that started the “Porchetta War” with a bunch of Italians. If you have time, check out my video on how I beat the Italians at their own game.

If you want to combine these 2 versions of porchetta just ask you butcher for a skin-on pork belly and wrap that around the loin roast before you tie it up and roast it in the oven.

Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto
Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto

 

 

Or if we don’t do pork, my family hasn’t had my turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto with a quick pan gravy. Serve it with my garlic mashed potatoes for an easy second course.

 

 

 

 

Dolci (Dessert)

And to end the meal, maybe just some fruit and roasted chestnuts.

Or try these dolci (desserts) that you can make the day before for a bigger end to you meal.

Tiramisu, the Italian "pick-me-up" with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over
Tiramisu, the Italian “pick-me-up” with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over

 

Tiramisu is really not that hard to make. After you make the mascarpone filling and the espresso-rum dip for the ladyfingers it’s a snap to assemble.

 

 

 

Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding
Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding

 

This time of the year most Italian and Italian-American households have panettone in the house. This sweet bread studded with raisins and candied citrus makes a fantastic panettone bread pudding. It’s ready in no time and even better if you make it the day before.

 

 

Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liquore)
Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liqueur)

 

A Finishing Touch

Some espresso and maybe one of my homemade liqueurs and you can call it a wrap. Make my liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur) with its beautiful Christmas hue or limoncello a few days in advance and you’re good to go.

A little Christmas gift for you at the end of the limoncello video, a suggestion for an easy sweet end to your meal

Buon Natale. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Buon Appetito!

Squash Blossom Sauced Ravioli from North Beach’s New Italian Homemade Company

Italian Homemade Opens on Columbus in North Beach
Mattia Cosmi & Andrea Iannitti (and my shadow) at Italian Homemade Now Open on Columbus in North Beach

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.

Fresh ravs from Italian Homemade with a squash blossom & shallot cream sauce
Fresh ravs from Italian Homemade with a squash blossom & shallot cream sauce

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.

Check out Italian Homemade’s Facebook page.

Buon appetito!

Father’s Day Cookies: St. Joseph’s Pants (Cavazune)

St. Joseph's Pants, Cavazune
St. Joseph’s Pants, Cavazune with a ceci, walnut, raisin, honey & orange zest filling

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.

Happy Father’s Day! Buon appetito!

Father's Day St. Joseph's Pants (Cavazune)
 
Prep time
Cook time
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Author:
Serves: 30 cookies
Ingredients
Pastry Dough
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ cup water
Pastry Filling
  • 1 can of chickpeas (19 oz.)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup ground walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Canola or your favorite vegetable oil for deep frying
Instructions
Dough
  1. Put all the ingredients except the water in the bowl of a food processor and process adding the water a little at a time until a dough ball forms.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a board and knead briefly. The dough will be on the stiff side. If the dough is too wet add more flour.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in clear plastic and let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling
  1. Chop the walnuts or process them in a food processor and set aside.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a pot covered with water. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes to soften the chickpeas.
  3. Drain the chickpeas and set them aside to cool. Put them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are to create a smooth mash.
  4. In a large bowl combine the chickpeas, walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon, orange zest and balsamic and set the filling aside.
  5. Cut the rested dough into six pieces.
  6. Roll each out to a thin rectangle about 12 inches by 6 inches or pass each piece through pasta machine ending with the smallest setting.
  7. Cut the rolled out dough in 3 inch circles.
  8. Put about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle, wet the edge with water and fold over the dough to form a half-moon.
  9. Press the sides of each pastry pocket with a fork to seal them. Set them aside on a kitchen towel.
  10. Put the canola oil in a pot to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  11. Fry the cavazune in the hot oil until they are golden on both sides.
  12. Cool.
  13. Sprinkle with confectionery sugar and serve at room temperature.

 

A New Ship Docks in North Beach

New North Beach Library Branch
New North Beach Library Branch

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.

Stufato di Manzo: Italian Beef & Vegetable Stew

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Stufato di Manzo is perfect for cold winter nights.
Stufato di Manzo is perfect for cold winter nights.

Beef stew was my favorite lunch when I trudged home from elementary school on a cold wet winter’s day. I liked to squash all of the tender ingredients together to form a shepherd’s pie mash-up on my plate that I scooped up with a spoon.

Not so many cold wet days here in the Bay Area during the California drought but I’m making this comforting stew anyway. It’s still one of my favorite dishes. I like to make sure that I have some left over because it is a tasty and quick dish to heat up after a long day when I don’t have the energy to cook.

The beef adds deep flavor to the stew but to be honest I’m in it for the most flavorful ingredients, the vegetables.

You may have noticed that many of my recipes reflect my tendency to eat more vegetables and less meat. Often meat is a flavor agent in the dish not the star. The beef stew is a good example. If you have a paleo at the table just pile that dish up with lots of meat.

Food writer and cook Mark Bittman recently shared his thoughts about more vegetables, less meat in his NY Times article.

Bittman seems to have stirred to pot so to speak with his ribollita recipe, the humble but classic Tuscan vegetable soup.

If you want the real deal, check out my ribollita recipe that I learned from Stefania at North Beach’s fantastic BaoNecci on Green. Her ribollita goes back 5 generations in her northern Tuscany family.

If you don’t have the 2 days to make ribollita stop at Day 1 and enjoy a wonderful healthy minestrone.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Stufato di Manzo: Italian Beef & Vegetable Stew
 
Prep time
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Italian beef and vegetable stew
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound beef chuck, cut in 2-inch cubes
  • 2 carrots, cut half and then in 2-inch slices
  • 2 celery stalks, cut half and then in 2-inch slices
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in small cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 sprigs Italian parsley, 3 on the stem and roughly chop just the leaves from one
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (I misspoke in the video and said 3 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • 3 cups water
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Trim excess fat from the beef. Cut in 2 inch cubes. Season with some sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Lightly dust the beef with flour.
  2. Quarter the carrots and potatoes then cut them into in ½ inch slices. Cut the celery stalk in half and cut into pieces the same size as the carrots and potatoes.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons of EVOO in an enamel or heavy-bottomed pot. Put the pot over a high flame until the oil starts to ripple then lower the heat to medium-high.
  4. When the oil is rippling add the beef. Cook the beef and let the beef develop a dark brown crust on all sides. (A fond will form on the bottom of the pot. Those brown bits will eventually melt into the braising sauce and add flavor. Lower the flame if necessary or add a little water so the fond doesn't burn.)
  5. Add another tablespoon EVOO if there is not enough fat in the pot to brown the vegetables.
  6. Add the vegetables and bay leaf to the pot.
  7. Stir the vegetables to coat well with the oil and cook until they pick up some brown color.
  8. When the vegetables are done clear a small spot on the bottom of the pan. Make sure it has a coating of oil adding some if necessary.
  9. Add the tomato paste to the hot spot and cook the tomato paste until it darkens. Stir to coat all of the vegetables with the paste.
  10. To braise add enough water to just cover the stew. Be sure to scrape up (deglaze) all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. (You can use stock but I don't think the dish really needs it. You can deglaze the bottom of the pot with ¼ cup dry red wine to add another layer of flavor. Just cook off most of the wine before adding the braising liquid.)
  11. Add 3 stems of parsley and stir into the stew.
  12. Cover the pot and simmer the stew for about 60 minutes.
  13. Stir the stew occasionally to ensure it does not burn on the bottom.
  14. Reduce the heat to a low simmer. The stew should be just lightly bubbling at the edge of the pot.
  15. Put the lid ajar atop the pot if the stew is not thick enough and simmer for 30 minutes more.
  16. Braise until the beef flakes when speared with a fork and the vegetables are knife tender.
  17. Spoon the stew into a bowl and sprinkle a bit of finishing EVOO on top and chopped parsley for color.
  18. Serve immediately.

 

Family Survives 2 Weeks on Gianni’s Food!

Chicken & Potatoes: Lazio vs. Campania
Cook Off: My chicken cutlets and potato croquetta

A fan wrote to tell me she just returned from a 2-week Florida vacation with her father and husband. Usually to satisfy one of her Dad’s woolies (craving) they cooked up a whole bunch of my dishes.

I’m dizzy from the list. Chicken & escarole soup, chicken cutlets & potato croquette (at 7:43 in the Cook Off episode), sauteed kalegnocchi twice once with San Marzano sauce and once with the gorgonzola dolce sauce, eggplant parmigiana, and spinach & ricotta cannelloni morphed into a lasagna. The “boys” looked pretty happy in the pic of them about to devour the lasagna. They gave it “Two thumbs up!”

She made baci hazelnut & chocolate candies for friends & neighbors before they headed north. The Valentine’s Day gifts “were a big big hit,” she told me.

Now that they’re back home in the snow “as high as an elephant’s eye” her father wants pasta e fagioli. She shared her Mom’s version of the hearty pasta and beans soup we called “pasta fazool” in Jersey). Just the ticket on a cold night.

“Mom…used to make a version with olive olive oil, garlic, onions, parsley, white wine, potatoes, cannellini beans, some sauteed greens and grated pecorino romano.”

“Thank you for all the fun and good eats!” she wrote.

Piacere. My pleasure. I’m happy when folks make my recipes their own so thanks to my “snow bird” friends for sharing their story with me.

The family missed my food in the long car trip back home. They said I should shoot an episode on food you can take with you for a picnic or car trip. I know some of the lunches my Mom packed for Sunday summer escapes to the beach at Coney Island will be included.

Let me know if you want me to include one of your favorite Italian dishes in an upcoming video episode. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss a one released every Saturday.

Buon appetito!

Baked Baby Eggplant via Japan

Baked Baby Eggplant

Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

Baked baby eggplant makes a great centerpiece for an antipasti platter.
Baked baby eggplant makes a great centerpiece for an antipasti platter.

Baked Italian baby eggplant is a favorite blog text recipe post so we decided to show you how to make it. Let me know if there are other recipe posts or other Italian dishes you want me to cook and maybe we’ll add them to our upcoming video episode list.

We’re in the worst drought ever here in California.

My produce guys tell me prices are already on the rise because of the drought. 60% of America’s produce comes from California so we’ll all be paying 15-20% more.

Even as prices rise, keep on buying local organic produce. The quality of the ingredients is vital. There are only 4 key ingredients in this dish so they all have to shine.

The only two days of heavy rain this whole winter had to be when I’m out food shopping over the weekend for the 3 episodes shot on Monday. I know we need the rain but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain.

I was a man on a mission. Off I went to the Ferry Building Saturday farmer’s market in the rain. No Italian baby eggplant. I hit at least six other markets and baby Italian eggplant were nowhere to be found. All I got was wet.

I panicked. I needed eggplant for Monday’s shoot. While scouring the city I caught a glimpse of dark eggplant on a sidewalk stand as the bus passed Grant Street in Chinatown. I made my way back to the produce stand and there I found not the Italian baby eggplant I desperately needed but Japanese eggplant instead.

I prefer the baby Italian eggplant but if I can't get 'em Japanese eggplant will do just fine.
I prefer the baby Italian eggplant but if I can’t get ’em Japanese eggplant will do just fine.

I was about to pass them up when I said to myself “Hey, you got a show to shoot. Whaddaya gonna do? Buy these. Stupido! This happens to other people too, so it’s an improvisation lesson.”

After chasing all over the city, I had developed a “woolie” (a craving) for these baked eggplant. I had to make them.

So that’s why I’m using Japanese eggplant that are readily available in the market. If you can’t get the Italian baby eggplant, use the Japanese.

The taste and texture is as good as baking the small black-purple Italian ones. But if I find them in market, I go for the baby Italians every time.

Zesty crispy tomato and pecorino top sweet creamy soft eggplant inside the flavorful shriveled skin. The essence of eggplant in every single bite. Serve it by itself or as the centerpiece of an antipasti course. Just add some prosciutto & cheese to the platter and some olives too.

If you like eggplant watch me make my favorite dish eggplant parmigiano.

Keep on cooking. Buon appetito!

4.7 from 3 reviews
Baked Baby Eggplant via Japan
 
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Intense creamy baked baby eggplant topped with San Marzano tomatoes, oregano and pecorino.
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 4 Italian baby eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup Italian canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed well by hand
  • ¼ cup pecorino, grated
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup water
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut off the stem of the Italian baby eggplant and cut each in half. (If you're using Japanese eggplant, cut off most of the narrow neck.)
  3. Lightly score the top of the eggplant on the diagonal in both directions to form diamonds.
  4. Put the eggplant in a single layer in a baking dish cut side up.
  5. Drizzle each half generously with EVOO.
  6. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  7. Evenly distribute the crushed tomato on top of each half.
  8. Sprinkle the oregano on top of the crushed tomato.
  9. Sprinkle the grated pecorino evenly on each half.
  10. Pour the water in the bottom of the baking dish.
  11. Add some olive oil and tomatoes to the water. (This will make a pan sauce to put over the eggplant before you serve them.)
  12. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil.
  13. Bake until the eggplant are knife tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  14. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  15. Uncover the pan and bake until the pecorino is lightly browned and the eggplant start to collapse in on themselves, 10 to 15 minutes more.
  16. Serve hot or at room temperature.
  17. Serves 4-6

 

Il Casaro: North Beach’s New Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

Il Casaro on Columbus Opening Soon
Il Casaro on Columbus Opening Soon

Ever had panmozza?

You won’t have to go to Napoli to eat some when Il Casaro Pizzeria and Mozzarella Bar opens in a week or two after a final inspection.

Francesco Cavucci who owns the wonderful Calabrian restaurant on Green Street and his partner Peter Fazio have put together a casual place with an impressive white Italian marble bar in the former Steps of Rome space on Columbus right across from Molinari’s.

“We’re celebrating the food of Naples,” Francesco told me this morning.

I was ecstatic.

Since both Pulcinella and Caffe Macaroni Sciue Sciue closed a few years ago North Beach hasn’t had a real Neapolitan spot.

“We making true Neapolitan pizza and our own mozzarella & buratta that you can eat while it’s still warm,” he said with a big smile on his face.

Francesco beamed more brightly when he told me “And we’re making panmozza found everywhere on the streets of Napoli.”

Panmozza are folded sandwiches made with a pizza dough that has shreds of mozzarella kneaded into the dough. Add your favorite sandwich goodies, fold over the dough and bake in a hot oven.

Francesco Cavutti and Il Casaro's beehive oven
Francesco Cavutti and Il Casaro’s beehive oven

Il Casaro’s pizzaiolo (pizza maker) is certified by the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza in Naples.

In fact, the whole operation is certified.

You gotta use San Marzano tomatoes, certain mozzarella and zero-zero flour. The dough mixer for proper dough aeration and the wood-burning beehive oven have to be certified by the Association too.

I applaud the efforts to keep the traditional ways pure.

“This will be a casual neighborhood place where you can drop in every day,” Francesco said.

I can’t wait for Il Casaro to open.

I’ll be sitting at the bar right in front of the red beehive oven eating my panmozza.

You should drop in too. I’ll let you know when the doors finally swing open. And maybe I’ll post a panmozza recipe too.

North Beach is San Francisco’s Heart

Worth the wait!
Santo’s Cannolo at Cavali Cafe–A North Beach Treasure

So says Carl Nolte in today’s Chronicle.

“People will tell you that South of Market is the new center of San Francisco. But North Beach has all the contradictions that made San Francisco what it is. And for my money the heart of the town is North Beach.”

Molinari’s Deli, early morning tai chi in Washington Square, lunch at Original Joe’s where a mistress may be at the next table, Liguria Bakery’s fantastic focaccia, Carl surveys it all in his ode to North Beach.

You know how much I love North Beach. Come along with me as I scour what’s left of North Beach’s Italian-American neighborhood to get all the fixings for a 4-course meal with friends last weekend. Homemade ricotta and mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano tomato-basil sauce were the star of that 4-hour meal. Santo’s incredible cannoli weren’t too bad either.

Wayne Thiebaud's Laguna Rising
Wayne Thiebaud’s Laguna Rising

Only one week left to see the incredible Memory Mountains, the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery on Chestnut Street at the fringe of North Beach.

You may know Wayne Thiebaud from his luscious cake paintings or the gum ball machine. I love his landscapes as well.

At 94 Wayne remains a prolific artist. The exhibit features his recent work and older food and landscape paintings that give the exhibit context over time.

Don’t miss this extraordinary collection of art. See which new ridge painting resembles a cake good enough to eat and another like a swirl of chocolate gelato ready to be scooped up.

What’s not to love in North Beach?

I know, the messy and disruptive subway to nowhere dig, loss of old Italian businesses. Don’t get me started. I’m in a wonderful mood this morning.

Mussels Steamed in Fennel-Mascarpone Broth

Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone
Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone

I ended my birthday celebration with 3 glorious days in Boston. I knew I had to eat at NEBO and booked a table. It was my birthday and my friends’ anniversary celebratory 4-course dinner.

NEBO named for its original location in Boston’s vibrant Little Italy (North End Boston) recently relocated to the edge of the financial district.

Chef-owners Carla and Christine Pallotta and their 80-year-old mother made us feel as though we were at their home. The vivacious sisters serve the food they grew up with. Their grandmother and mother cooked their ancestral food from Puglia and Compania.

Mrs. Pallotta is a regular at the restaurant. She’s a constant mentor. “Don’t do it that way, do it this way,” she demonstrates while watching pasta being made in the kitchen.

Turns out that one branch of the Pallotta family is from a village in the Appenine foothills inland from Naples very close to Mirabella Eclano where my Mom was born. “We’re paesani” the 80-year old Mrs. Pallotta and I exclaimed in unison as we shared family histories.

Carla and Christine’s pan-steamed mussels were the star of our all-seafood antipasti course. I kept thinking about them so I had to try to replicate this fantastic simple dish. Here’s my interpretation of the NEBO pan-steamed mussels that we savored on that special night.

I think I got it right. The small mussels bathed in the  fennel-flavored mascarpone cream broth are briny, plump and tender. The fennel’s anise flavor balances the rich mascarpone broth. I scoop up some broth, fennel and shallot on each half-shell as I pop one mussel after another into my mouth.

Serve the mussels with grilled bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil to sop up all the rich, flavorful broth.

This dish brings me back to the Bay of Naples. Grazie mille Pallotta family. I’ll be back and in the meantime I’ll recreate your wonderful southern Italian dishes in my kitchen.

Buon appetito!

Steamed Mussels with Fennel & Mascarpone
 
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Plumb mussels steamed with fennel in a mascarpone cream broth.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh Italian flat parsley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water, fish stock or clam juice
  • ½ cup mascarpone
Instructions
  1. Put the olive oil in a large cast iron pan or large pot over high heat.
  2. When the oil ripples add the fennel, shallot and bay leaf and sauté until the fennel is tender, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine, water, mascarpone and parsley. Mix well and boil until the liquid thickens a bit, about 5 minutes.
  4. With the broth at a rapid boil and add the mussels and put a lid on the pan.
  5. Steam the mussels until they are all open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that didn't open.
  6. Serve immediately in the pan or put the mussels and broth in a large bowl and top with some fennel fronds.

 

Marcella Hazan Tribute: Pork Loin Braised in Milk

A Marcella Hazan Tribute, one of my favorite dishes.
A Marcella Hazan Tribute, one of my favorite dishes.

Just before I left for a wonderful birthday celebration with friends in Provincetown on Cape Cod and Boston I learned that Marcella Hazan, the extraordinary Italian cook and teacher had passed on September 29.

Marcella was one of my early teachers. She opened up a world of authentic Italian cooking using a few choice ingredients and simple methods.

I remember well the sunny Sunday morning many years ago when Marcella visited my restaurant in Providence. We were all on pins and needles. The woman who taught America how to cook and eat Italian would soon be here.

Marcella was in town for a food editors conference and we were hosting a reception at the restaurant the next night featuring her dishes.

Marcella stepped out of the car with her husband Victor and son Giuliano, a cigarette with an incredibly long ash dangling from her lips.

After sidewalk introductions, we walked into the restaurant. I asked what she would like. “Jack Daniels on the rocks,” Marcella replied in her unmistakeable raspy voice. As I poured her bourbon we all sighed and relaxed. We spent 2 incredible days in the kitchen with the giving La Cucina Italiana master.

In honor of a remarkable woman, here’s my riff on one of my favorite recipes from her ground-breaking first book, The Classic Italian Cookbook: The art of Italian cooking and the art of Italian eating. I cherish the soiled copy she inscribed for me those many years ago. I hope you enjoy this pork loin braised in milk as much as those at my table do.

The delicate flavor of the tender, moist pork loin is enhanced by the clusters of nutty brown pan sauce. Add your favorite sides and dinner is served. I served mine with baby spinach sauteed with extra virgin olive oil.

Mille grazie Marcella. You live on in my kitchen.

Buon appetito!

Pork Loin Braised in Milk
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds pork loin
  • 2½ cups milk
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper all over the loin. Pat it in with your hand.
  2. Put the butter and oil in a enameled or heavy-bottemed pot that fits the loin snugly over medium-high heat.
  3. When the butter foam subsides add the meat fat side down.
  4. Brown the loin thoroughly on all sides. Lower the heat if the butter turns dark brown.
  5. Slowly add the milk to the pot.
  6. When the milk comes to a boil reduce the heat to medium-low or even low to keep the milk at a low simmer, cover the pot with the lid a bit askew.
  7. Cook the loin slowly until the meat is fork-tender, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  8. Turn and baste the loin occasionally and if needed add more milk.
  9. By the time the loin is cooked the milk should have coagulated into small nut-brown clusters on the bottom of the pan. (If it is still pale remove the loin, uncover the pot, raise the heat and cook briskly until the milk bits darken.)
  10. Remove the loin and let it rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.
  11. Skim all the fat from the pot. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and scrape up all the residue on the bottom of the pot as the water evaporates. Taste the pan sauce and add more salt and black pepper if desired.
  12. Cut the loin into half-inch slices and arrange them on a serving platter.
  13. Spoon the pan sauce over the slices and serve immediately.

 

 

New Gianni Video Now Live

Rome's Campo di Fiori, an open-air produce market
My produce guy in Rome’s Campo di Fiori

Sorry if you couldn’t access the video episode Gianni: From Italy to North Beach in my earlier post.

You can watch it now.

Here’s the Hungry Village video. Meet some of my friends from a week living in a Roman neighborhood and how that experience colors my Italian-American lifestyle here in San Francisco.

More from the Hungry Village people on Facebook and their website.

Keep on cooking.

Buon appetito!

A Working Roman Holiday

Campo di Fiori Rome
Campo di Fiori Rome

Campo di Fiori, the farmer’s market in the historical center of Rome was ablaze in the morning sunshine.

The stalls were overflowing with spring bounty. Peas, artichokes, fava beans, chicory and other leafy treats, even early tomatoes, were everywhere.

I was scouting the market as I waited for Luca, my producer to show up with his video crew so we could plan tomorrow’s shoot. I wanted to see what I would cook in my apartment kitchen.

I came across Alessandro cleaning artichokes. When I took his picture he looked up and said I had to either give him one euro or a kiss. We settled on a Roman welcome embrace.

I can’t wait to share my market and cooking experience with you. New video episodes from North Beach and Roma are coming soon.

Buon appetito!

 

 

Oscar Worthy “Moonstruck” Eggs

Oscar-Winning Eggs with Roasted Peppers Inspired by "Moonstruck"
Oscar-Winning Eggs with Roasted Peppers Inspired by “Moonstruck”

In anticipation of tomorrow night’s Academy Awards I cooked up some Oscar-worthy eggs this morning.

Ever see Norman Jewison’s 1987 movie about a Brooklyn Italian-American family? “Moonstruck” won Oscars for Olympia Dukakis and Cher.

There’s a kitchen scene where Dukakis is making these eggs for herself and Cher.

“Moonstruck” eggs were a popular item on my restaurant’s brunch menu. There’s no better combination than peppers and eggs. We served them with roasted pork and fennel sausage.

In Italy this dish is known as “birds in a nest”. They are super simple and they make a big impression for that special Saturday or Sunday morning. Add your favorite potatoes and breakfast meat and that’s it.

Here’s the “Moonstruck” kitchen scene that is the basis of my recipe.

Buon appetito!

Moonstruck Eggs
 
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A simple but fancy egg dish inspired by Olympia Dukakas cooking breakfast for Cher in the 1987 movie "Moonstruck".
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 egg
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1 slice rustic bread
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Punch out a whole in the middle of the bread slice big enough to hold the egg.
  2. Put a skillet over medium high heat and add just enough of the EVOO to coat the bottom of the pan well.
  3. Place the bread slice in the pan. Toast briefly on both sides.
  4. Cut the roasted pepper into small strips and heat them in the skillet.
  5. Crack an egg in the whole in the bread.
  6. Let the egg cook until the white sets up well, about 2 minutes.
  7. Carefully flip the egg over to cook the yolk side to your taste.
  8. (If you're scared of flipping the egg, just put a cover over it and let it set to your desired doneness.)
  9. Top the egg with the roasted pepper and salt and black pepper to taste.
  10. Serve immediately by itself or with your favorite breakfast potatoes and breakfast meat.
  11. (If your making more than 1 Moonstruck egg, cook as many as fit comfortably in your pan. I can eat 2 of these for my breakfast or brunch.)

 

 

Baked Ziti for Valentine’s Day?

A quick, rich baked pasta dish from beautiful Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.
A quick, rich baked pasta dish from beautiful Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.

Why go out for a “romantic” dinner on Valentine’s Day? The restaurants are crazy busy. Why tolerate the hassle of overbooked places and food pouring out of an overworked kitchen? All you’ll get is agita (heartburn).

Don’t go out. Stay home and cook Valentine’s Day dinner together. Start a new tradition. Enjoy your time cooking together and share food made with love.

A fresh, crunchy and complex Fennel & Orange Salad with Oil-Cured Olives is a perfect first course. Prosecco or Pinot Grigio pairs well with the salad in a citrus vinaigrette.

Baked Ziti alla Sorrento is the star of this special dinner. It’s an Italian version of mac ‘n cheese from the sunny coast of the Bay of Naples.

The small pasta tubes are coated in creamy ricotta, soft melted mozzarella and marinara sauce then baked in the oven. I can’t resist picking off the nutty toasted ziti on top. Save the leftovers. Baked ziti is even better the next day. Aglianico, Nero d’Avola or Chianti go well with the ziti.

By making the marinara while the pasta water comes to a boil and the salad as the ziti bakes, dinner will be ready in about an hour.

And for dessert, top a big scoop of vanilla gelato with a shot of limoncello or your favorite liqueur. Who knows, after all that wine this might be just what you both need to get lucky.

Still want to go out for Valentine’s Day dinner? Try one of these North Beach restaurants.

Buon appetito! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Baked Ziti alla Sorrentino
 
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Easy baked ziti is sumptuous. The pasta is coasted with creamy ricotta, mozzarella and marinara then baked in the oven until crispy on top.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • Marinara Sauce
  • 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 large branch of fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Baked Ziti
  • 1 pound ziti
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 5 basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano, pecorino or grana padano
Instructions
  1. Before you get started put a large pot of well salted water to boil over high heat. (Use about 5 quarts of water and at least 1 tablespoon of sea salt for a pound of pasta.) Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Marinara Sauce
  3. Put the olive oil and garlic in a pan and over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic until it starts to take on some color.
  4. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and salt.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir occasionally and cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
  6. Set the sauce aside.
  7. Baked Ziti
  8. Cut the mozzarella into 1-inch cubes.
  9. Put the ricotta in a strainer to drain.
  10. Cook the ziti in a large pot of well-salted rapidly boiling water. Drain the ziti just as it reaches al dente, about 10 minutes.
  11. Put the ziti in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, mozzarella, ½ cup grated cheese, 2 cups of marinara sauce and basil leaves ripped in small pieces. Mix to coat the pasta well,
  12. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with marinara sauce.
  13. Spread the ziti evenly in the baking dish.
  14. Top the ziti with the remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
  15. Bake in the oven until the top of the baked ziti starts to turn golden, about 30 minutes.
  16. Serve immediately.