The last time I was in Italy I hooked up with my friend Luca and the crew from his video company, HB Productions. We spent days together shopping and shooting episodes of me cooking in my apartment near the Spanish Steps.
Here’s the first of those HB Production episodes just in time as early spring vegetables hit the farmers market.
I shopped every day in Campo dei Fiori, the huge open air market in the historical center of Rome. I was lucky to meet Alessandro who had a produce stand there. He was my guide to the spring vegetables he had to offer.
This day he had wild chicory, cicoria, he foraged early that morning in the hills near his home outside of Rome. He sold me the chicory with a condition. “Cook it with olive oil and lots of garlic, that’s all.” “And chili pepper,” I said. Alessandro agreed and added “but no lemon, no lemon.” Boy, these Italians are strict but that was my plan anyway.
What a wonderful Slow Food moment, scoring locally foraged cicoria to cook in my Rome apartment a few blocks away from the market! Watch me use a versatile, simple method to respectfully coax maximum flavor from this humble wild green. Here in the U.S. curly endive is the closest to the wild chicory I cooked in Rome.
You may have seen some of the Rome footage in this Hungry Village production. Get a peek of Luca and his aunt Giulia, the best cook in the family, who joined me in the kitchen for a couple of episodes.
I hope to have the other Rome episodes ready to post soon. Stay tuned but in the meantime here’s my saltimbocca recipe.
So You Want To Be An American? is the music in the episode. I love the tune. Here’s hip Neapolitan crooner Renato Carosone’s 1958 rendition of his Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.
How often do you get to put something inside someone’s body?
No this ain’t a sex post but it’s close.
I just returned from 3 weeks in Italy when I sat down with my friends at Hungry Village. Cameras rolling I riffed on what draws me back to Italy each year and what fuels my passion for sharing my food with family and friends in my home and with you on my blog.
I hope you enjoy a short video of my time living in a Roman neighborhood and my Italian-American lifestyle in San Francisco’s North Beach.
I recalled a remarkable day on the northern coast where I learned of 2 new ingredients for my Italian-American cooking, couscous and saffron.
We spent a delightful day in San Vito lo Capo lounging on the soft pink beach, swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea with Tunisia on the horizon and exploring the annual couscous festival in the small town that hugs the coast.
As the sun began to set we headed back to our hotel in the hills overlooking Palermo. We stopped in a tavola calda in Monreale for a quick meal.
I asked the owner Filippo if he could grill swordfish for me simply seasoned with olive oil, oregano and lemon. It was one of his favorites and he was happy to make it for me.
We talked as he brushed the fresh swordfish steak with oregano-infused olive oil, laid it on the hot iron grate over the open fire and sprinkled it with sea salt. It was on the plate in a jiffy with wedges of lemon. Simply delicious.
On the way out we thanked Filippo for the wonderful meal. He went to the counter and came back with “Zafferano: Giallo il Colore della Felicita” (Yellow: The Color of Happiness), a booklet with dozens of Sicilian recipes made with saffron. He autographed it as a gift for me.
This is one of those recipes and the dish includes saffron and couscous, 2 ingredients that I added to my Italian-American pantry after that wonderful day in Sicily. It can be on your table in about 45 minutes.
The saffron bathes everything in a golden hue. The crusted veal is tender and moist, the vegetables soft and sweet and the nutty couscous absorbs the flavors of it all. Another delicious Italian dish influenced by North African cooking.
Couscous with Veal, Cauliflower, Red Peppers & Saffron
Neapolitans love clams. The outdoor fish stalls have clams of all sizes just out of the bay on display in buckets of water. For me, the smaller the better.
I love vongole verace, those clams the size of your thumb, but you have to cook a lot so everyone gets plenty of the tiny, tender clams. Sometimes I want a fatter clam and these larger ones were perfect, meaty but tender. Just right.
This is a dish that’s ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Just put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. When the spaghetti goes into the boiling water, make the clam sauce.
Heat olive oil, with garlic, parsley and chili flakes in another pot. When the oil is hot and the garlic is translucent, add the clams and a splash of white wine, cover the pot and steam the clams until they open.
When the spaghetti is cooked very al dente add it to the clam sauce and mix well. The spaghetti will finish cooking as it absorbs the clam broth. Sprinkle the spaghetti with chopped Italian parsley, drizzle on some extra virgin oil and serve. You’ll be eating in less than 30 minutes, start to finish.
The spaghetti sticks to the tooth. The briny tender clams are redolent with garlic. The chili flakes add a sparkle to every bite and when I’m done my tongue tingles for a while. The pristine taste of the sea in bowl. Delicious.
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Spaghetti with Clams Straight from the Bay of Naples
I met up with Alessandro, my produce vendor friend in the Campo di Fiori farmers market as the sun began to break through the early morning clouds.
I was especially interested in what he harvested from his garden and from the wild. He had these wispy asparagus stalks no bigger than a thin straw that poke up from the ground for a brief spell this time of year.
I had to buy some for a frittata, a thick Italian flat omelet, the eggs flavored with grated pecorino, salt and freshly ground black pepper that would tide us over as we set up for the video shoot in my Spanish Steps apartment kitchen.
Fans suggested that I make on camera some of the classic Roman dishes that I made in North Beach to get ready for my trip.
Alessandro had wild cicoria, tender chicory shoots that inspired the first episode. It’s an easy dish but a universal method for preparing green leafy vegetables in a pan with olive oil, garlic and dried chili.
The second episode was vignarola, the Roman spring vegetable stew with baby purple artichokes, fava beans so young and tender they could be cooked right out of the pod and sweet spring peas.
Antica Norcineria Viola (pork store) right behind Alessandro’s stall had guanciale, cured pig jowl, to flavor this classic spring vegetable dish. Benedetto was my 4th generation Norcineria guide that his family opened in 1890.
I checked off the last item on my shopping list and we headed back to my apartment to cook.
In my next post you’ll meet Giulia, a wonderful Roman home cook, who happened to show up in my kitchen as we were shooting the video episodes.
April Bloomfield just bought North Beach’s iconic Tosca Cafe on Columbus and will soon be serving her food there. She has a cult following at her restaurant The Spotted Pig in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I wondered what was in store for us when she arrives here in North Beach.
She describes her dishes as “British, but with Italian undertones.” I haven’t been to The Pig and I wanted to find out more about April’s British take on Italian food.
I came across one of April’s pasta recipes and decided to give it a go. I’m adding it to my list of dishes where the sauce can be cooked in the time it takes to boil the pasta. You can get these pasta dishes on your table in less than 30 minutes.
April first had the dish in Puglia, the southern most region on Italia’s Adriatic coast where it was served by a skilled home cook she was visiting. Her hostess made it with homemade orecchiette, small ear-shaped pasta. Quality dried orecchiette from Italia works well too.
Don’t be scared off by the anchovy in the sauce. Anchovy melts in hot oil and adds dimension to any dish. It’s an umami, like miso, a preserved ingredient that is known as a “5th taste”. The anchovy in this dish adds flavor and depth to the sauce.
The little pasta hats capture the sauce. The anchovy and garlic sauce is mellowed by the sweet cauliflower with a rosemary accent.
I love this pasta and can’t wait for April Bloomfield to wow us with more of her food at the revived Tosca Cafe. Try my riff on her recipe to get a preview of what’s coming to North Beach.
2013 is the Year of Italian Culture in America, a campaign by Italy’s Foreign Minister to create renewed buzz and help Americans learn more about Italia. Events are planned throughout the U.S.
San Francisco will play a leading role in the festivities.
I can’t wait for spring when Adoration of the Shepherds, a major painting by Caravaggio, one of my favorite Masters, arrives at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum.
Mauro Battocchi, the new Italian Consul in San Francisco, is heading up the festivities here. The Consul, who assumed the post last September, has his own blog, San Francisco Italy. I’ll be following him to stay on top of all things Italian in the Bay Area.
A Roman friend’s son Luca shot a video of Claudio, the chef/owner of Osteria Dar Bruttone making spaghetti alla carbonara, a classic Roman pasta dish. I had to share it with you.
Claudio is passionate about Roma and about its food. His osteria in the San Giovanni neighborhood where he serves simple traditional Roman fare is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Claudio beams as he talks about the virtues of the most beautiful city on earth and Roman culinary tradition, a vital part of Roman life. Walk with Claudio as he shops in the markets near his osteria for the food that he will cook at his restaurant that day.
The spaghetti alla carbonara video is in Italian but even if you don’t speak the language watch it anyway. The shots of Rome, the markets and the kitchen techniques are priceless. Everyone I know who watched the video, fluent in Italian or not, had to make spaghetti alla carbonara right away. Here’s my translation of Claudio’s recipe for you to enjoy in your kitchen.
Spaghetti alla carbonara only has 4 ingredients and is ready to eat in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. Search out guanciale. It’s integral to the dish. (In a pinch you could use pancetta.) Use a dried durum wheat pasta extruded through bronze dies imported from Italy so the sauce will cling to its rough surface. Don’t be shy with the black pepper. Use pecorino for it’s more robust flavor, not parmigiano.
The spaghetti takes on a golden hue. Creamy, silky sauce coats every strand. Rich pecorino flavor plays off salty, crispy guanciale and black pepper tickles your throat with every bite.
The crowds have thinned and the September weather is glorious. The markets overflow. It’s one of my favorite seasons to visit Italia.
It’s a fine time to settle into the region of Emilia-Romagna the culinary heart of Italia. Prosciutto and parmigiano come from Parma and Reggio. Balsamic vinegar has been made in Modena for centuries. Bologna’s fabulous food has earned it the nickname “La Grassa” (The Fat One).
Join me for a fabulous 8-day culinary tour September 23-30, 2012. We’ll pick you up at the Bologna airport and then take care of all the details so that you can just enjoy your culinary adventure in Italia. We start on the Adriatic coast and make our way to Bologna at a leisurely pace.
Learn pasta-making from a real Sfoglina, a dying breed of dedicated pasta wizards
Hunt wild mushrooms in the Apennine foothills
Explore medieval villages and lesser-known food markets
Taste parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto di parma and balsamic vinegar where they’re made
Join home cooks and chefs for cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes featuring classic Emilia-Romagna dishes
Savor the food at unique and inspired restaurants
My travel partner Vanessa DellaPasqua of Global Epicurean and I will be your hosts and your guides. Join us for a journey that will heighten your appreciation and deepen your understanding of Italy’s food culture. You’ll meet a bunch of wonderful Italians too. They’ll share their culinary wisdom and kitchen secrets with you.
Naples as you may have realized by now is one of my favorite cities in all of Italia.
My Italian roots are in Campania and Napoli is the region’s capital. I’ve felt as if I belonged there since I first visited. I love the food, culture and vivacious spirit of the people.
I was with my sister as we strolled the markets in the Spanish Quarter our first day together in Napoli. All of a sudden she looked at me kinda startled. “They all look like us!”, she exclaimed. Maybe an overstatement, but it was a recognition that we had a DNA connection to this chaotic, wonderful city and its people. I think this is why I’ve been so passionate about saving the North Beach Song of Pulcinella mural that reflects the Bella Napoli that I love.
Here’s a Napoli post from Italian Notebook— great pix of the city, the Bay of Naples, the active volcano Vesuvio, all from the cliffs of Vomero high above the city. Take a look at Spaccanapoli, a broad avenue from the Greco era when the city was known as Neapolis. Spaccanapoli literally means “Naples Splitter”.
There’s a cool funicular that runs from the city center and climbs all the way up to Vomero and the St. Elmo Castle.
It’s incredible to me that more than 3 million people live in the shadow of Vesuvio. It has erupted more than 3 dozen times since it buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. Neapolitans are a tough people always living it seems just on this side of disaster.
But they have their patron San Gennaro, martyred in the 4th century, to protect them. His dried blood is kept in a vial and brought to the Duomo on his feast day, September 19. Thousands of people crowd the Duomo with even more outside. They pray, they chant and they wait for the Cardinal to wave a white handkerchief up at the altar, a sign that the dried blood has liquified. I saw the miracle for myself when I was last there.
The tradition holds that if the blood doesn’t liquify great tragedy will strike. That happened twice in the recent past. Vesuvio erupted in 1944 and in 1980 a massive earthquake hit Campania killing 2,000. San Gennaro’s blood didn’t liquify in both those years.
Sometimes food tells a story. The camera caught me pausing in the middle of making a Sunday Gravy for our next episode, to tell about an experience I had in my mother’s Italian birth village, Mirabella Eclano.