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)
 
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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.

 

Father’s Day: Mussels with Hot Tomato Sauce

Mussels with a hot tomato sauce
Mussels with a hot tomato sauce

Father’s Day is June 15. You know me. Holidays bring back food memories. Here’s one from my Dad Gennaro (aka Jerry).

My Mom was always at the stove so my Dad didn’t cook often.  But when he did Dad made some really good dishes. This one is one of my favorites.

This is an unusual sauce. It’s not made with whole San Marzano tomatoes that I use in most of my sauces.

I make this one with tomato paste so it’s a really thick and dense sauce that you spoon on top of the mussels laid atop friselle, or hard twice-baked bread slices.

Heat up olive oil in a pot with the hot pepper. I use whole peperoncini, dried chili peppers. When the oil is hot add the tomato paste and the water you used to rinse out the cans and stir well. As it cooks the paste will darken to a red brick color and be really thick. Stir in some oregano.

While the tomato paste is cooking steam the mussels. Watch me steam mussels and clams. This is the technique that you’ll use for this dish.

Make sure you add enough wine and water to the steaming pot. You need a fair amount of the mussel broth to put this dish together.

If you’re lucky to live in an Italian neighborhood you will be able to buy friselle, twice baked bread rounds or rusks at a local bakery. I can’t get them anymore in North Beach so I baked slices of a sourdough loaf from Italian-French Bakery on Grant until they were hard and golden.

This dish may remind you of the sauce at Vincent’s Clam Bar or Umberto’s Clam House in lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. But my guess is that my Dad got this recipe from his mother and the food she cooked at her Quisisana restaurant in Newark’s Italian immigrant First Ward and later in Brooklyn through the 1950s.

The sweet thick tomato sauce surrounds the tender briny mussels just out of the sea. I hate to say it but my favorite bite is the twice-baked bread soaked with mussel broth and topped with the sauce. But I try to slurp in a mussel too. I love the kick from the peperoncini as it all goes down.

Happy Father’s Day. Wanna share your memories of food your Dad made for you?

Buon appetito!

Father's Day: Mussels with Hot Tomato Sauce
 
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Steamed mussels and friselle topped with a spicy tomato paste sauce.
Author:
Recipe type: Seafood
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels well-scrubbed, steamed
  • Strained mussel broth from the steaming pot, about 2 cups.
  • 4 friselle or baked bread slices
  • 2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
  • water to slosh-out the paste cans
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 peperoncini (dried chili) or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and place 4 pieces of sliced rustic bread on a baking sheet and bake until slightly golden and completely dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside the twice-cooked bread. (Or use friselle, Italian rusks from your bakery.)
  2. Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and peperoncini in a sauce pot over medium-high heat.
  3. When the oil sizzles add the tomato paste and the water used to rinse the cans.
  4. Stir well and when the paste starts to turn to a darker brick red color lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes more.
  5. In the meantime steam the mussels using this recipe. http://www.gianni.tv/10-minute-mussels-clams/ or the link above in the post.
  6. Remove the steamed mussels from the pot and strain out the broth. (You should have about 2 cups of mussel broth.)
  7. Add half of the mussel broth to the sauce and mix well.
  8. Remove the top shell from the mussels.
  9. Rub the twice-baked bread with a garlic clove and drizzle each piece with extra virgin olive oil
  10. Put a piece of the twice-baked bread on the bottom of a dish or bowl.
  11. Drizzle some broth over the bread to soften it. (If more liquid is needed use water.)
  12. Spread some sauce over the bread.
  13. Arrange 6 mussels around the bread and top each with sauce.
  14. Sprinkle with each mussel and the bread with extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. Serve immediately.

 

 

My Mother’s Day Tribute

My "Baby" Stool
My “Baby” Stool

To all the Mom’s out there my best wishes for a wonderful Mother’s Day coming this Sunday. Here’s my video Mother’s Day salute to all of you.

My Mom was a wonderful cook. I really can’t remember a bad meal, no, not even a mediocre meal, on her table every day.

When I was barely able to reach the top of the table I was at my Mom’s side helping her cook. I still have the little wooden stool I stood on.

Food was the core of our family. We ate together every day. Holidays brought 20+ relatives to my Mom’s table. It was a loving, sensuous and supportive environment that nourished us and shaped who I am today.

Mom was born in Mirabella Eclano, a small village near Avellino about 45 kilometers inland from Naples in the beautiful Appenine foothills.

Her family escaped their hardscrabble life and came to the U.S. at the turn of the last century. She learned to cook from my grandmother Rosa who lived with us until she passed at 93.

I’ve been cooking this food of my youth, adapted to the American environment, for over half-century. Not only is it delicious, but gathering family and friends around the table to share a leisurely meal continues to enrich my life.

As a tribute to my Mom I’m making her Sunday Gravy. Though she passed decades ago her influence on my life is unabated.

Here’s my story about tracing Mom’s gravy back to it’s roots.

What’s the favorite dish that your Mom cooked for you? Make it as a tribute to all she did to help make you who you are today.

Buon appetito!

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Greens & Ricotta Cake

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Torta Pasqualina
Celebrate the end of Lent with torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter cake.

Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.

The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.

The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.

Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.

Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.

Buona Pasqua! Buon Appetito!

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Chard & Ricotta Pie
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Antipasto
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups water
Filling
  • 1 pound swiss chard
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (or half an onion)
  • 1 pound ricotta, drained
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana
  • 9 eggs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
Crust
  1. You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
  3. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
  4. Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
  5. When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling-Greens
  1. Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
  2. When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
  3. Roughly chop the greens.
  4. Chop the onion.
  5. Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
  6. When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
  8. Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
  9. Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Assembly
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
  3. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
  4. Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
  5. Brush the pastry all over with oil.
  6. Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
  7. Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
  8. Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
  9. Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
  10. Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
  11. Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
  12. Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
  13. Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
  14. Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
  15. Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
  16. Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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.

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
 
Prep time
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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!

Food, Family & Friends

Making My Mom's Lasagna with My Godson
Passing It On–Making My Mom’s Lasagna with My Godson

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.

The folks at Hungry Village shoot and produce my video episodes. Check out these talented Hungry Village friends on Facebook and on the Hungry Village website.

Keep on cooking. Buon appetito!

 

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Pastiera and Rustica Easter Pies
Pastiera and Rustica Easter Pies

Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi, Christmas at home and Easter with whomever you wish” is an old Italian saying.

Friends are coming to my place for Easter dinner next Sunday. I’m making 2 traditional Easter deep-dish pies from Naples that will bookend the meal.

The savory Pizza Rustica will be the antipasto course and the sweet Pastiera Napoletana will be dessert. You can make them too. Watch me making Pizza Rustica and Pastiera Napoletana.

Lucky for me I’m only making one of each pie this year. The picture above shows some of the pies I made a couple of years ago when the family gathered in Virginia. I had to ensure we had enough for Easter dinner and for everyone to take some home too.

I’ll post recipes for the rest of the Easter meal this week: Stracciatella, a Roman egg-drop soup and pollo alla Romano, chicken with red and yellow peppers in a light tomato sauce.

Buon appetito!

St. Joseph’s Day Spaghetti

St. Joseph's Day Spaghetti in anchovy sauce topped with toasted breadcrumbs
St. Joseph’s Day Spaghetti in anchovy sauce topped with toasted breadcrumbs

March 19 is the Feast of St. Joseph, Festa di San Giuseppe. It’s a big day in Italy and a big day among Italian-Americans.

St. Joseph’s Day is Father’s Day in Italia. Joseph was Mary’s husband and helped raise the young Jesus. St. Joseph is also Sicily’s patron saint. The story is that St. Joseph’s intervention saved Sicilians from starvation during a severe Middle Ages drought.

I make some of my favorite Italian food this time of the year in celebration of the Festa di San Giuseppe, the Feast of St. Joseph.

This year I’m making Sicilian St. Joseph’s Day dishes. First up is Spaghetti di San Giuseppe with toasted breadcrumbs that symbolize the sawdust on a carpeter’s floor.

The spaghetti is bathed in a zesty garlic, olive oil and anchovy sauce topped with nutty, golden toasted breadcrumbs. Spaghetti di San Giuseppe is a humble, simple dish with deep complex flavor. You can make the sauce in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.

My Italian roots are in Campania so I can’t forego making a Neapolitan pastry, Zeppole di San Giuseppe. We’re gathering to celebrate an Italian-American friend’s birthday tomorrow. I’m making Zeppole di San Giuseppe as my gift for the birthday boy and his guests.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day. Buon appetito!

2.0 from 1 reviews
St. Joseph's Day Pasta
 
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Spaghetti in an anchovy sauce with breadcrumbs is made on St. Joseph's Day in Italia. The breadcrumbs represent the sawdust on his carpenter's workshop floor.
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 9 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
  • sea salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Large pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • ⅔ cup toasted fresh breadcrumbs
Instructions
  1. Make the breadcrumbs in a skillet or in the oven.
  2. In a skillet:
  3. Warm 2 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add ¾ cup of fresh breadcrumbs and stir to coat with oil.
  5. Cook, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are golden brown and crunchy, about 5 minutes.
  6. In the oven:
  7. Place ¾ cup of fresh bread crumbs in a bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  8. Using your hands or a fork, gently combine the ingredients.
  9. Spread the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and place in a 350 degree F. oven.
  10. Bake about 8 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until golden brown and crisp.
  11. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
  12. Put a large pot of well-salted water (about 5 quarts) over high heat and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt when the water comes to a boil.
  13. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water.
  14. While the spaghetti is cooking to al dente, make the anchovy sauce.
  15. Finely chop 6 anchovy fillets; cut the remaining 3 into ½-inch pieces; set aside.
  16. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  17. Add the garlic, red pepper, and finely chopped anchovies.
  18. Cook, stirring until the anchovies dissolve.
  19. Add ¼ cup of the pasta water and bring the sauce to a rapid simmer for about a minute.
  20. Remove the skillet from the heat.
  21. Stir in the parsley and remaining anchovies.
  22. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
  23. Add the pasta and ¼ cup of the pasta water to the skillet with the anchovy sauce.
  24. Toss until the strands are well coated.
  25. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the mixture seems too dry.
  26. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the toasted bread crumbs.
  27. Add the remaining crumbs to the skillet and toss the pasta again.
  28. Transfer the pasta to individual serving bowls.
  29. Top each serving with a sprinkling of the reserved bread crumbs.

Year of Italian Culture in America

Italian Consulate in San Franciscco
Italian Consulate in San Francisco

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.

Here’s a SF Chronicle piece on the Consul and the 2013 festivities.

A Lucky New Year’s Eve Dish

Capellini with Crab Sauce
Capellini with Crab Sauce

Just back from Christmas with friends and family in Jersey. Now it’s time to plan my New Year’s Eve menu. I’ll share this year’s menu when I’m done.

In the meantime, here are a couple of classic dishes to get you started with your planning. I know I’ll make both these dishes this year.

Like many other cultures, Italians and Italian-Americans serve a bean dish as a talisman for a successful new year. The lentils in my dish symbolize all the money you’re gonna make next year. It’s a delicious, nutritious lentil soup with sausage. Add it to your New Year’s table.

Thank God the San Francisco dungeness crabber strike is settled so we’ll be eating fresh crab. I’m making linguine with a zesty dungeness crab sauce. Any long pasta will work. I like it with capellini too.

Check out the New Year’s meal I served last year. It was quite tasty and lasted right up to the Times Square ball drop.

Christmas Alley, Naples

Nativity Scene on Naples' Christmas Street
Nativity Scene, Naples’ Santa Chiara Church and Monastery

I call it the “Holy Mile”, one of my favorite areas in the old part of Napoli. Baroque churches abound and a beautiful garden loaded with frescoes and majolica ceramic tiles is hidden behind the Santa Chiara Church and Monastery.

Via San Gregorio Armeno, a pedestrian-only street in the heart of this part of Naples, is known locally as Christmas Alley. It houses dozens of workshops that create everything you need for a precepe, everything you need to set up your own nativity scene.

They’ve been making the sculpted, hand-painted terra cotta figures and creche sets there since the reign of Charles II in the 1700s. Dozens of diminutive figures–angels, the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, villagers, camels, donkeys, sheep, even Pucinella, the impish commedia dell’arte character loved by Neapolitans, are all in the crowded workshops.

My favorite craftsman on Christmas Alley is maestro Ugo Esposito. I have several of his pieces. He carries on a proud tradition in his studio and showroom. The Maestro loves to talk about his craft and the long tradition of Neapolitan manger scenes and characters, both sacred and profane.

Nativity scenes abound all over Napoli, in churches and other public places, and in homes throughout the city. You could spend a whole day finding all the gorgeous public displays.

If you’re in New York City don’t miss the Neapolitan Baroque Creche surrounding the Christmas Tree at the Metropolitan Museum. It appears every holiday season and includes beautiful figures and creche pieces from the 1800s. I visit every time I’m back east for Christmas.

Got your nativity set up under your Christmas tree? That was my job growing up in Jersey and I still love them.

Happy Holidays! Buon Natale!

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.

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.