I recently spent a delightful evening with my friend Viola Buitoni, a wonderful Umbrian cook and teacher, and Carol Field, the San Francisco author of the just reissued classic, The Italian Baker.
Viola hosts the wonderful Italian gastronomy series at the Italian Cultural Institute. The presentations are free and I highly recommend them if you want to gain new insights into Italian food and culture.
Carol explained the special place bread and bakers hold in Italian culture and the incredible differences in bread from one part of the country to another, sometimes from one village to the next. There are 1,500 varieties of bread in Italia.
I agree that no Italian meal is complete without great bread on the table. When in Italia I love to explore the local bread bakeries (panificio) and enjoy their specialties – salt-free bread in Florence, the focaccia in Genoa and Venice, the fat bastone loaves in Naples, the Sicilian semolina bread in Palermo.
Carol learned from artisan bread makers throughout Italy. She often joined the bakers at three in the morning as they started baking bread for that day. She painstakingly reduced their large volume recipes and adapted them for the American kitchen. Her recipes maintain the integrity of the Italian original. Carol so inspired me that I had to bake bread this weekend.
This is a version of the bread I grew up on in northern Jersey. We always had a hot loaf from Calandra’s on First Avenue in Newark on our family dinner table. I ate a lot of great Sicilian semolina bread from Bergen County Italian bread bakeries when I was In Jersey for Thanksgiving with family a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been craving semolina bread with sesame seeds ever since.
I adapted Carol’s Pane Siciliano recipe to satisfy my craving. It’s hard to find any Italian bread with sesame seeds in San Francisco never mind one made with semolina flour. Italian-French on Grant at Union sometimes makes a soft twist with sesame seeds and La Boulange sometimes has an Italian loaf with sesame seeds. Both are good but they’re made with unbleached flour. I had to make this one with semolina flour for myself!
The bread has a chewy golden crust and a tender interior turned a pale yellow by the semolina flour. The sesame seeds add a nice nutty flavor.
I met many of the 400 passionate food bloggers who gathered at the annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival this weekend in San Francisco. A full day of sharing ideas and techniques about blog writing, photos, building your audience. Boy, I learned a lot especially about photos, tips that I will use to up my pix game.
I stopped by to see Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg of Bread in Fivefame. Rick Kleffel interviewed them just before coming up to my place. Zoe and Jeff were handing out copies of their fantastic book Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day. Gotta love their message. When you make pizza dough make enough to use that day and enough to stash a supply in your refrigerator. Heat up your oven and every day you can grab a hunk of dough and make a loaf of bread, a pizza or focaccia in just 5 minutes. That’s what I do and it keeps for about 2 weeks taking on a bit of a sour flavor near the end.
I’ll let you know when Rick Kleffel’s radio show will air and when his podcast is up.
Lidia Bastianich inspires me. She’s been a mentor for a long time. I have 6 of her cookbooks and I read them often. Lidia’s Italy has been a PBS blockbuster cooking show for years. I’ve watched them all but my absolute favorite is the one Lidia did with Julia Child years ago. Some say that Lidia does for Italian cooking what Julia did for French.
I finally met Lidia Friday night at her Marin Center cooking event. Lidia cooking for 2 hours. I was in heaven. The dishes were from her new cookbook Lidia’s Italy in America celebrating the food of Italian immigrants as it is cooked in Italian-American communities across the U.S.
She made rigatoni woodsman-style with sausage, mushrooms and San Marzano tomatoes; spaghetti with a basil pastachio pesto; stuffed artichokes baked in the oven; chicken alla sorrentina with basil, tomato sauce and mozzrella; and zuppa inglese with panettone and pastry cream.
I saw Lidia again on Saturday to get my book signed. I apologized that I was a little disheveled. I was on a break from the start of the restoration of Vranas’ Song of Pulcinella mural in North Beach.
“I really appreciate what you do to celebrate the food and culture of Italia,” I told her. “And thank you for returning to the food and traditions of Italian-Americans in communities like North Beach around the country.”
As I left to get back to the dirty restoration work Lidia said “I’ll follow you on your blog.” Now wouldn’t that be special?
I hope Lidia comes back to North Beach soon. The Village can use all the help we can get to preserve one of the most vibrant Italian communities in America.
We drove up to Sea Ranch on the Sonoma/Mendocino coast. I was exhausted from driving the switchbacks in the rain and fog and wanted something fast to cook for our dinner. The fishmonger in Gualala had some really fresh petrale sole.
I quickly sauteed the sole in olive oil and butter and poured a caper white wine pan sauce all over.
A little steamed broccoli with EVOO, sea salt and lemon was a great side.
The sole filets take on a golden crust and are flakey and moist. The edges are crisp and nutty. The caper butter sauce gently enhances each bite. The mellow broccoli spears round out the plate. A really quick and healthy lunch or dinner.
The sole recipe is below and here’s the broccoli recipe from my Vegetable eBook.
Sautéed Sole with a Butter/Caper Pan Sauce
1 lb. sole, flounder or other flat fish
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1/4 cup dry white wine
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped Italian fresh parsley
lemon slices, as garnish
Put a saute pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and butter.
Sprinkle salt and pepper the fish.
Lightly dredge the fish in flour. Shake off any excess.
When the butter is melted saute the fish until a golden crust begins to form, a minute or two on each side, depending on the thickness of the fillet.
Remove the sautéed fillets to a serving platter.
Turn the heat to high.
Add the white wine to the pan, scrape the fond on the bottom of the pan and stir to dissolve the brown bits.
Add the capers to the pan and stir until the sauce thickens, about a minute.
Pour the sauce over the fillets, sprinkle with parsley, scatter the lemon slices about. Serve immediately.
It’s a nicely crafted eBook, with nine recipes and photos, and it’s optimized for iPhone and iPad (the iBooks app) – with linked table of contents for easy navigation. (It works on all platforms and devices.) This eBook introduces my vegetable series, and includes some vegan dishes. Stay tuned for other recipe themes to be announced soon.
Purchase link and screen shots below. Enjoy!
Veggie Recipes, Vol. 1
A bunch of the most requested vegetable dishes by those at my table. (I’ve included some of my vegan niece’s favorites.) These recipes will serve 4-6 people but they are all scalable.