Village News/Sunday Recipe: Great Parade & Roasted Rosemary Chicken

Foam Painting at Caffe Puccini

What a day–the fog finally burned off as we headed down the hill to North Beach’s Caffe Puccini to watch the 143rd Italian Heritage Parade–the oldest in the country. Hundreds were lining the parade route already. The tables set up in the street all over the Village were starting to fill up.

We were early. We needed espresso before the party started. Here’s what they gave us. Wasn’t that long ago at Caffe Puccini when a customer asked the barista Antonello for a decaf cappuccino with skim milk he’d scoff “Whaddaya think this is–a pharmacy?” They only had regular coffee and whole milk back then. Not any more–they make it all.

Gianni's Italian Heritage Parade Table

Parade Sunday I always have this table right inside the windows at Caffe Puccini. San Francisco and New York City friends and fans joined my table–a great group drawn together by the biggest Village event of the year.

 

My Annual Parade Lunch

Graziano didn’t disappoint–antipasti with roasted peppers, fried eggplant, prosciutto, mozzarella fresca with sundried tomato to start. Everyone ordered whatever they wanted after that.

 

For me it’s always the same meal–an annual tradition. Here’s Graziano’s lasagna alla bolognese–rich and cheesy with that long-cooked brick red meat sauce. The chicken is simply roasted with potatoes and rosemary and is today’s Sunday Recipe. The Volpaia Chianti Classico is one of my favorites. It sold out fast but we got Graziano’s last bottles stashed behind the bar. An absolutely delicious lunch.

North Beach Italian Heritage Parade

 

By the time we finished the parade appeared before us. Here’s Queen Isabella’s float accompanied by her Court.

Hope to see you at the Parade next year. Enjoy my adaptation of Graziano’s Tuscan chicken roasted with potatoes and rosemary. Buon appetito!

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Friday Recipe: da Flora’s Arancini with a Spicy Aioli

Arancini with aioli

All of those who gathered at my private Sunday dinner at da Flora raved about our il pranzo. The women at da Flora were at the top of their game!

Jen, the genius in the kitchen, shared a couple of her recipes. Here’s my adaptation of her arancini and spicy aioli recipes. These rice balls and aioli are easy to make and are absolutely delicious.

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More photos from the exclusive dinner event at da Flora…

A Taste of Spring in Venice at da Flora Ostaria

Photo by gluckx
Photo by Flickr user: gluckx

da Flora just may be my favorite restaurant. Been going for a dozen years. When I lived up the block I waited tables when they were short-handed and even baked a couple of dolci for them.

Fifteen years ago when I first stumbled in, Flora was at the stove. She’d come out and take the order then disappear into the kitchen to cook our Venetian dinner. She’s shared her Italian food and wine insights with me for a decade or more. I’ve spent many wonderful days with her in Venice enjoying her favorite places and eating in the homes of Venetian friends.

Flora these days is in the dining room but her spirit is everywhere. Her Italian wine selections are phenomenal. She always pairs the right wines for our table. She is joined by Mary Beth (MB) who does the baking, and Jen who is a genius in the kitchen. What an incredible trio!

Jen’s constantly changing menus celebrate each season – the best ingredients simply prepared. She has been nurturing me for a long time. Her sweet potato gnocchi and fegato alla veneziana (Venetian-style liver) are world-renowned. She taught me how to cook fava bean leaves just last week. The pappardelle that night were particularly silky.

MB is an extraordinary baker. Her focaccia is light and airy with a golden crust glistening with olive oil and sea salt. I’ve been watching her make it for a decade and I still can’t come close. Her multiple dolci posed a dilemma resolved by having one of each. Heaven.

Flora lived in Venice, a.k.a. La Serenissima (The Most Serene Republic) for it’s preference for trade over war, for many years and they all spend time there each year. Their deep understanding of Venetian food, wine, and culture shape every dining experience at their ostaria.

Join me at da Flora’s on Sunday afternoon, May 22, 2 to 5 p.m. We’re eating as they do in Italia – il pranzo nel pomerrigio, the main meal of the day, eaten in the afternoon.

The women and I came up with four courses to celebrate spring. Fava beans, red spring onions, asparagus, sweet peas and early lemons are the stars. Flora paired four spectacular wines to accompany each of the courses.

Celebrate spring in Venice without leaving North Beach. There are only 30 places at our table for this very special pranzo.

A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
Venetian cuisine from the women of da Flora. Four courses paired with four wines.

 

The Custom Menu

 

Antipasti Tris

Bacala montecato col polenta. Crispy slices of polenta topped with creamy whipped salt cod and potato, served with spiced black olives.

Crema de fave col pan. Crostini with marinated fava beans, fava puree, lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil and shaved pecorino.

Paleta de risi frita. Fried rice balls (arancini) stuffed with bay shrimp with a spicy aioli (without shrimp for vegetarians).

Vino: Adami Prosecco Valdobbiadone NV (Veneto). Citrus and melon aroma, clean, light and crisp with tiny bubbles.

Primo

Tagliatelle col bisi. Fresh pasta with spring peas, ricotta salata and cracked black pepper.

Vino: La Montechia Piuchebello 2008 (Veneto). From a small producer in the Euganean Hills near Padua a wonderful mellow, yellow wine from Moscato grapes.

Secondo

Lombatino di porseo. Spice rubbed roasted pork tenderloin with sauteed fava leaves, roasted asparagus and pickled red spring onions with a whole grain mustard sauce. (A vegetarian substitute is available.)

Vino: Tezza Campo di Majoli 2006 (Veneto). A blend of indigenous Corvina grape, the dark star of Valpolicella it is an elegant medium bodied red wine with black cherry aroma, spicy verve and the balance of Cabernet.

Dolce

Crostata di limone. A Meyer lemon marmalade/custard pie with a butter crust and a dollop of whipped cream.

Vino: Zibbibo. We reach down to Sicilia for this dessert wine with an Arab name to pair with Meyer lemon. It is a spirited digestive with honey color and flavor.

A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
A Taste of Venice in Springtime, Sunday May 22nd, 2pm–5pm
Venetian cuisine from the women of da Flora. Four courses paired with four wines.

Foodbuzz 24×24: North Beach Italian

The Foodbuzz 24x24 crew.

The rain broke long enough on Saturday to enjoy a pleasant 4 hours eating authentic Italian food, drinking Italian wines, and talking about Italian everything. From “Guidos” and Jersey Shore, to the aging process of artisenal balsamic vinegar, the conversation was all over the place and full of laughs.

Your San Francisco players – Gianni, Jeff, Vanessa, Charin, David, Jeff S., Karla, Nick, and JT – talked about how the lasagna was made from “poor man’s” fresh pasta sheets (see how-to here). Even though Vanessa and Nick are engineers, it was Jeff S., the designer, who figured out how to cut the crostada into nine (almost) even slices. Gianni nudged JT to explore his ancestral Italian roots, Charin found a rogue rosemary sprig in her lasagna, and David played Neapolitan music on a ukelele.

Here’s the menu for the day…

Antipasti

  • Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVOO and water. An authentic treat from la cucina ebraica, straight from the Jewish ghetto in Roma.
  • Prosciutto di Parma
  • Molinari Sopressato Salami
  • Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano.
  • Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
  • Shallots in agrodolce. Cramelized shallots in a balsamic vinegar and sugar glaze.
  • Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVOO marinade.
  • Vino: Doro Brut Valdobbiandene Prosecco (DOCG), La Vigne di Alice, NV, (Veneto). A great match for the varied antipasti. Apple and bread aroma. Dry, balanced and creamy. Tiny but mighty bubbles.

Primo

  • Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
  • Insalata mista. Baby field greens and arugula dressed with “La Mola” extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamico and fiore di sale (the very top crust of sea salt beds).
  • Vino: Aglianico Campania (IGT), Terredora DiPaolo, 2008 (Campania). Medium-bodied, deep black cherry color with red berries and violets in the nose. Soft, dry berry flavor with a touch of oak. Young and easy to drink and gutsy enough to stand up to the lasagna.

Dolce

  • Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form red plum tart with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.
  • Caffe.

And here are the photos…

Antipasti

Prosciutto di Parma. Molinari Sopressato Salami. Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano. Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
Shallots in agrodolce. Cramelized shallots in a balsamic vinegar and sugar glaze.
Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVOO and water. An authentic treat from la cucina ebraica, straight from the Jewish ghetto in Roma.
Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVOO marinade.

Primo

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

Dolce

Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form red plum tart with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.

People

Vanessa & Gianni
Jeff S.
David & Charin
Nick, JT & Karla

The Great Tuscan Bread Debate

Filoni (loaves) and ciambelle (rounds)

Don’t miss our private authentic home-cooked dinner at Baonecci on Sunday and help resolve this bread debate.

Every time I’m in Tuscany somebody complains about Tuscan bread. It’s made without salt. The Toscani say it’s so the bread won’t interfere with the taste of the dishes on the table, and I think they know what they’re doing.

They’ve been making bread in the “bread capital of Italia,” Altopascio, since the middle ages. The village was on a main pilgrimage route and the bakers ensured the pilgrims had bread each day. The bread’s fame is due to the local water and the natural yeast in the air – but no salt.

Altopascio is just 20 KM southwest of Lucca (the birthplace of Puccini. Lucca is one of my favorite cities. The historical center is enclosed by medieval walls so wide that you can walk all around the centro storico on a grassy path atop the walls.

Puccini in front of his home in Lucca

Here’s a statue of Lucca’s favorite son the composer Giacomo Puccini. There’s a great bakery on the corner of the street leading into this piazza. I had my first bite of Buccellato Lucchese there. Buccellato is a gently sweet cross between bread and coffee cake, redolent of yeast and anise, studded with raisins and nuts and with a texture at once lightly tender yet seductively substantial. My best find in Lucca!

So, what’s the final verdict on Tuscan bread? Decide for yourself with the Gambaccini family – former Altopascio bakers.

Of course, I’ll be providing some more historical and cultural context for the four courses and four Italian wines we’ll be sharing. Hope to see you there.

A presto!


A Night in Tuscany in North Beach – Regional Food & Wine Pairing

Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.

Food & Wine Pairing Series

Tuscany.

I make an annual pilgrimage to Italy to go on culinary adventures. The trips inevitably turn into a group excursion with yours truly guiding a small herd of friends into markets, kitchens, and caffes.

Great food, great wine, great friends. It’s the highlight of my year. When I can’t be in the Old Country, I find solace here in North Beach. It’s a little piece of Italy in the States, and I love it.

In that spirit, I decided to create a series of private restaurant dinner parties to showcase region-specific Italian cuisines and wines, and the chefs that know those regions so well.

Naturally, I’ve got my favorite North Beach restaurants. I like some of the popular ones, but the real gems are the small, family-owned places with living connections to the Italian villages of their origin. By supporting these restaurants, you can reward their efforts at making the North Beach community the best it can be – through a nuanced mix of tradition and plain old yumminess.

These custom-designed menus are a collaboration between myself and the chefs, and promise to whisk you to Italia via your taste buds.

Introducing the first in the series: Tuscan Cuisine at Caffé BaoNecci
Sunday, March 6th, 6pm

 

The first in the series is this trattoria near Grant and Green. Known for its thin-crust pizza, the restaurant might be small, but the family who own it are larger than life. Walter and Stefania Gambaccini, and sons Elia and Filippo, are recent immigrants to North Beach, moving here from the village of Altopascio near Lucca.

Stefania is cooking a four course meal that she used to make in her home village in Altopascio (she may even share a song or two). Walter is showcasing some hard-to-find wines, including a wonderful Chianti from a friend’s vineyard in Montalbano.

Come join us for a typical Luccese meal and gain new insight into the cooking and culture of northern Tuscany.

There are only 40 seats at the table, so buy your ticket now. Bring some friends, and make some new ones, during this evening of fine Tuscan food and wine.

I’ll even send you a recipe or two after our delightful evening at BaoNecci.

In this video, I introduce most of the family, and they talk about the food, as son Elia translates his parents’ Italian…

 

In part two of the video, Walter talks about the wine…

 

The Menu: 4 courses paired with 4 wines

Antipasti

  • Crostini Toscani. Tuscan chicken liver pate on a thin toast. (I’m not crazy about liver, and I love these.)
  • Bruschetta con pomodoro. Tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt and basil.
  • Prosecco Negroni NV. From the Veneto with white peach and pear tones in this bright and light sparkling wine.

Primo

  • Zuppa Ribollita. This classic bean and vegetable soup takes two days to make.
  • Chianti Fattoria Montellori 2007. From Walter’s friends in the Montalbano zone in the Chianti district west of Florance the Nieri family have produced a fine cherry colored medium-bodied wine with soft textured fruit. A reminder of the delicious, haunting Chiantis that flow from the casks of the finest Tuscan trattorie.

Secondo

  • Pollo alla cacciatora con polenta. Chicken in a tomato sauce flavored with garlic and sage and these tiny multi-colored Tuscan olives cured with bay laurel and clove. Served with polenta to help soak up the sauce. Vegetarian option: Sformato. A molded vegetable souffle-like dish with zucchini, eggplant and carrots.
  • Bolgheri Rosso Michele Satta 2008. A Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot from southern Tuscany, the land of Sassicaia. The wine has a bouquet of red and black fruit, leather and tobacco, good fruit balance and dry finish.

Dolci

  • Crostata con marmellata di albicocche. A rustic tart with apricot marmelade.
  • Crema di savoiardi. Layers of liqueur-soaked ladyfingers and pastry cream.
  • Vin Santo Montellori. A favorite Tuscan dessert wine with marmalade and sherry aroma and a full flavor of orange zest and roasted nuts.
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.

Gianni’s First Live Demo – Success!

On Saturday, we did our first live cooking demonstration with 12 folks in my small apartment. Strangers were brought together by the allure of The Village and its Italian food, braving the rainy day to reach the top of The Hill: A couple from San Carlos; a few emissaries from The Mission; a young couple new to The Village; a personal chef from Brazil; a few old-timers; and a former resident jonesing for a return to North Beach.

It was a fun bunch of guests.

Gianni's Free Cooking Demo
Diggin' in!

For one guest, it was a surprise Christmas present. North Beach resident, Jeff, brought his wife, Karla into my place without telling her why. You should have seen the look on her face when she peered into the kitchen and saw me: “Oh my God!”

Call MasterCard, ’cause that moment was priceless.

And thank God for everyone’s help during the demo. Mary tended the red bell pepper we were charring on top of the stove. Dan did a nice job bringing the cream for the gorgonzola sauce to the proper texture.

Gianni's Free Cooking Class
Dan Stirs

Half the group had roots in Sicilia and shared stories of their families. Good thing one of the pasta sauces I was making was from that exquisite island. Old friends Marie and Stephanie remembered details of our trips to Italy and many meals at my table. Marco offered to cook us a seafood meal from his village on an island off Brazil.

In addition to an antipasti platter with cheese and salumi, I prepared:

  • String beans in a tomato sauce
  • Steamed broccoli the way my family likes it. Simple but delicious
  • Baby Italian eggplant in the oven (melanzane al forno)
  • Red bell peppers charred on top of the stove and marinated
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Sauteed broccoli rabe

Later I made 3 quick sauces served with choke the priest pasta–strozzapreti

  • Pesto trapanese (Sicily)
  • Gorgonzola e crema (Northern Italy)
  • San Marzano tomato, garlic and oregano sugo (Campania)

For wines:

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Lacryma Christi Bianco from near my mother’s birth village in Campania
  • Terradora Di Paolo Aglianico, a medium-bodied red from the noble Campania grape

Three and a half hours after we started we ran out of wine. The group decided to walk off some of our meal. We ambled down Macondray Lane to bug Ron and Mike at Little City Meats. Mike told us that the Christmas sausage was a Sicilian base with aged provolone and basil added. A really rich and delicious concoction. Dan bought a bunch to add to his luncheon the next day. Karla had just roasted the porchetta she bought there (after explaining to Mike she wanted it “butterflied like a HoHo” – ha!). Jeff grabbed a gallon of the Ciuti EVOO just in from Sicily.

Gianni's Free Cooking Class
Bugging the guys at Little City

As we were gathered under the awning saying our goodbyes and Buon Natale! all around, we heard “Gianni! – from the internet!” A couple and their son Massimo (great name) in from Napa. They were shut out of the demo (sorry) but came into Little City anyway. Gonna have to start wearing sunglasses when I go down to The Village.

Grazie, everyone who came out, and for those of you we couldn’t squeeze into my apartment, I hope you’ll come out to the next demonstration, which will happen soon, I promise!

PS: My first cooking e-book is in production, with the six recipes from the demo plus four more. Stay tuned!