Pasta alla Norma: Rigatoni in a Tomato & Eggplant Sauce

Rigatoni alla Norma (Tomato & Eggplant Sauce)

A classic from Catania on the eastern shore of Sicily, this wildly popular pasta took on its name in honor of favorite-son Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma 180 years ago. You’ll find it on menus all over Sicilia now.

A couple of you asked about this dish so I thought I’d make it. It’s almost 2 years since my last exquisite week in Sicilia and I’m in the mood for a taste memory of that beautiful island.

The shiny black-purple eggplant in the market are superb. Get the firm small to medium ones. They don’t have many seeds. Even though it’s July we won’t have good local Bay Area tomatoes for about 6 weeks, so I used imported San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.

My Rigatoni alla Norma is inspired by my Catania cousins-in-law. The creamy tomato-eggplant sauce coats each fat pasta tube. The grated salty ricotta salata (dried ricotta cheese) sprinkled on top balances the sweetness of the sauce. Celebrate summer with this easy 2-step recipe. It brought me back to the heat and sun of Sicily’s Ionian coast eating Pasta alla Norma al fresco with a glass of Nero d’Avola wine.

If you’re enjoying a summer bounty of local tomatoes at the height of flavor here’s my fresh San Marzano tomato sauce video. San Marzano tomatoes are best but you can use local Roma or other tomato varieties to make a great sauce in place of one made with imported canned San Marzano tomatoes.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:96]

Stuffed Peppers (Peperoni Ripieni)

Stuffed Red Bell Pepper

I had a hankering for stuffed peppers for a while so I made some today. Peppers are flooding the farmers market and a couple of big, ripe red bell peppers called out to me this morning.

The roasted stuffed peppers are tender and sweet. The arborio rice and ground beef stuffing is pumped up with shallot, oregano, parsley and parmigiano and baked with a simple San Marzano  tomato-basil sauce. The top is golden with a nutty, crunchy crust. The moist savory rice stuffing absorbs the sweet San Marzano and basil sauce to create a taste medley in each bite.  Early summer on a plate. Just delicious.

Stuffed peppers don’t take that long to make. Most of the time is roasting the stuffed peppers and then finishing them in the oven with the tomato sauce.

You can serve the stuffed peppers as an antipasto course, as a side with meat or for lunch, maybe with some pasta dressed with the tomato sauce from the baking pan on the side.

Use bell peppers or choose your favorite pepper. Italian frying peppers or banana peppers work well too. Don’t add the meat and enjoy just as flavorful vegetarian stuffed peppers.

Buon appetito!

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[amd-recipeseo-recipe:94]

Pasta Primavera: Bowtie Pasta with Spring Vegetables

Farfalle with Early Spring Vegetables

The farmers markets are overflowing with early spring vegetables so I just had to make Pasta Primavera, farfalle (bowtie) pasta with just-arrived asparagus, fava beans and sweet peas.

Pasta Primavera is a classic Italian-American dish concocted by Sirio Maccioni and made famous at his Le Cirque restaurant in New York City in the 70s.

I adapted the classic recipe to lighten up the cheesy sauce. Sirio used spaghetti but today I chose farfalle to ensure that every forkful has some pasta and vegetables for a full flavor explosion in every bite.

This is a glorious bowl of springtime. The sweet fresh vegetables are bathed in the light cream sauce and their fresh taste shines through. The farfalle absorb the sauce full of spring vegetable flavor. The ricotta salata grated on top ties the dish together and kicks it up a notch.

I had an ulterior motive for cooking up the dish today. I’m making Pasta Primavera at a demonstration and tasting for 50 San Jose fans later this week. I wanted to make sure I still had it right this season.

Here’s the Farfalle with Spring Vegetables recipe just in case you get inspired at the market. Use my spring veggie trio or use whatever spring vegetables turn you on. Just don’t use more than 3 vegetables or the flavors will get muddled.

You can make the primavera sauce in the time that it takes to cook the pasta. Buon appetito.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:89]

Easter Savory and Sweet Ricotta Pies

Pastiera Napoletana and Rustica Easter Pies

The Spring holidays are upon us.

Passover is covered. We’ll be at Joyce Goldstein’s Seder celebrating the Italian Jewish kitchen. (Our private table is full. Sorry to those of you who wanted to join us. Maybe next time.)

Now I’m getting ready for Easter. I’m making Pizza Rustica and Pastiera Napoletana, the traditional deep-pan pies that bookend the Easter dinner. The savory Pizza Rustica has a ricotta, mozzarella, prosciutto, salami and sausage filling and is served as the Easter dinner antipasto. Pastiera Napoletana is the traditional Neapolitan sweet pie filled with ricotta, wheat berries and candied orange and lemon peel and ends the Easter dinner.

I’m not making as many pies this year as I did for family in Virginia last year. Eight of the pies are displayed on my sister’s table in the picture above. Three generations were in the kitchen baking pies on Saturday to let the flavors marry over night. We needed enough pies so that everyone at the table had some to eat on Easter and some to take home and enjoy during the week. It’s a long-standing family tradition.

When growing up in Jersey our neighbors shared their pies too. My Easter-time job was to bring a fat slice of my mom’s pies to our neighbors and bring home some of their pies for our family to taste. I have to admit that after tasting a half-dozen samples I always thought my mother’s were the best.

Watch me making my Mom’s Pizza Rustica and Pastiera Napoletana. You can make them too. Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Battle of the Chefs in North Beach

Viola in the Italian Consul's Kitchen

My friend Viola Buitoni hails from Perugia in the region of Umbria. Viola is a wonderful cook and Italian culinary teacher and she’s hosting Battaglia dei Cuochi, the Battle of the Chefs, this Monday March 19 at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club on Stockton overlooking Washington Square Park. Three great chefs representing three major regions of Italia vie for the honors and you pick the winner.

Here’s the line-up.

  • Michele Belotti, a classically trained rising-star from Piemonte, now heading the kitchen at Ristobar getting rave reviews in the Marina, will fight for the North.
  • Rutilio Duran, the Livornese chef owner of C’Era Una Volta in Alameda will champion the pride of Central Italy.
  • Calabria-born Massimo Covello, from Calabria, formerly of Piazza d’Angelo in Mill Valley, will take some time from his own restaurant venture to prove that Southern Italian cooking is hard to beat.

While enjoying the delicacies and sipping regional wines, try your luck at a raffle with food baskets and even an overnight stay with dinner for two at the fabulous Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito.

A cook-off, 2 dishes from each chef to enjoy with Italian wine pairings and a raffle. What more can you ask for? I’ll be there. Will you? Seats are still available. Buy your tickets online or at the door.

 

St. Joseph’s Day Is Coming! Make Zeppole

The dessert of Italian Father's Day.

March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day, also Father’s Day in Italy. It’s the time of year to make a special sweet, Zeppole di San Giuseppe. You find zeppole all over Italia this time of year.

Each region makes them in their own way. In North Beach they make small donuts from the north of Italia filled with a lemon-scented custard. Mine are the bigger version made in Naples and the surrounding region of Campania. The light pastries are fried or baked and then filled with a cooked creamy custard topped with a sour cherry in syrup called Amerena. (You can get Amerena cherries at Molinari on Columbus or at Amazon and other online sites.)

Zeppole are a traditional part of the feast day celebration. They are a fitting tribute to St. Joseph who is also the patron saint of pastry makers and they are delicious. Zeppole are fun to make and really not that difficult. You can make them too.  Just watch my Zeppole di San Giuseppe episode to see how.

I was at Caffe Di Lillo in the Arthur Avenue area of the Bronx last month. Arthur Avenue is New York City’s Real Little Italy, a compact area loaded with Italian bakeries and markets. The Di Lillo folks were making Zeppole di San Giuseppe a little bit early. I broke my rule only to eat the zeppole once a year on the Saint’s Day. I couldn’t help myself. We bought a half-dozen to end the meal we would cook up in Jersey later that day. Di Lillo’s zeppole were as good as I’ve had in Naples.

If you don’t make Zeppole di San Giuseppe for yourself you can find them at pastry shops in Italian neighborhoods everywhere. Not that long ago you could get 3 different versions of zeppole in North Beach. Now there’s just one bakery that still makes them. Here in North Beach head to Victoria Pastry on the corner of Stockton and Vallejo. If you want to be sure to get some place your order this week. They sell out fast.

Happy Saint Joseph’s Day! Eat zeppole!

North Beach Farmers’ Market Is Back

North Beach Farmers' Market Returns

I missed the Sunday North Beach farmers’ market since the tents were rolled up last October. But spring has sprung and the market re-opened last Sunday.

It’s in a new location on Powell between Union and Columbus right across from Washington Square Park. This is a much better location than last year’s spot down Columbus by the North Beach library. Now it’s right in the heart of the Village.

About a dozen stands had the last of the winter fruit and vegetables and the first of the hardy spring vegetables. Homemade honey, artisanal breads, smoked salmon and lots more was on display. You can even sign up for a weekly box of organic produce delivered right to your door. The singing guitarist is back too.

The line at the Chairman’s food truck wasn’t that long. I had the Coca-Cola braised pork baked bun with savory Savoy cabbage slaw. The pork was sweet and tender with a crunchy crust. The slaw rounded out the flavor and made for really sloppy eating. I ate the whole thing standing up. That’s the side of the truck in the picture.

Be sure to support the North Beach Farmers’ Market each Sunday so that we can enjoy the organic produce and food products until October when the market will close again.

 

Cook with Gianni Live in North Beach

Cooking Class at Cookhouse

My friend Chef Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen asked if I wanted to do a cooking class showcasing the rustic food of Italia. Tom teaches those with food allergies and sensitivities so I’m cooking without gluten, dairy, shellfish, soy or peanuts. We’re making a typical 4-course Italian meal at Cookhouse in North Beach.

The meal includes a selection my favorite classic dishes from several regions of Italia. I’m using the best local ingredients in season and simple preparations. You’ve seen me cooking some of these dishes in my kitchen and you’ve made others from my free recipes. Here’s your chance to cook them with me in a great kitchen.

We’ll cook in small groups and eat what we cook together at a big communal table. This is a hands-on class. Come ready to cook and ready to eat. Seats are filling up fast. Sign up for the March 24 class. Just email Chef Tom cheftom@hippkitchen.com.

Here’s what’s on the menu.

Antipasti (Before the Meal)

Brocoli rabe. Sauteed in EVOO with garlic and peperoncini. (Calabria)
Carciofi fritti. Baby aritchokes fried in EVOO and topped with a sprinkle of fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon. (Lazio)
Caponata. Spicy eggplant salad with tomato, onions, celery and capers. (Sicily)
Fra’Mani salumi. (USA)

Primo Piatto (First Course)

Spaghetti aglio e olio. Corn dried pasta imported from Italia with an anchovy, garlic, EVOO, peperoncini and walnut sauce.

Secondo Piatto (Second Course)

Porchetta. Pork loin roast stuffed with an herb paste.
Cipollini agro dolce. Cipollini onions in a sweet/sour sauce.
Potatoes roasted with rosemary and truffle oil.

Dolce (Dessert)

Macedonia. Apple, pear salad marinated with Prosecco and Italian chestnut honey.

Espresso.

New Year’s Eve Menu

Cotechino
Cotechino with Lentils (Image from Cellartours.com)

Still recovering from a wonderful Christmas? Rest up and get ready for New Year’s Eve.

We eat late on New Year’s Eve so that at the end of the meal we can flow right into the midnight ball drop. I minimize my time in the kitchen so here’s a simple menu to maximize your time with friends and family.

Cioppino is a traditional New Year’s Eve dish among North Beach Italian-Americans. I’m combining it with a traditional Italian dish for good fortune in the new year, lentils with Cotechino or roasted Italian sausages.

A glass of Prosecco, the light Italian bubbly, gets things moving in the right direction as your guests arrive.

Start with some antipasti. Keep it simple, maybe some prosciutto di parma with fresh mozzarella drizzled with a great finishing EVOO, or soppressata salami and young pecorino. Scatter some olives around the plate and you’re done. My giardiniera or sweet vinegar peppers make an nice addition to this antipasti platter and my celery mostarda (relish) is always a hit.

Serve the lentils and sausges as your primo piatto, your first course. You can make this dish ahead and just heat it before serving. Make sure you have some good crusty bread on the table to soak up the broth. A fruity, dry red goes well with this dish, a Dolcetto d’Alba or Nero d’Avalo pairs nicely.

For the main course, cioppino is really easy to make so you won’t be away from the party for long. It’s a great fish stew from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf all cooked in a single pot, less than 30 minutes start to finish. The sour dough bread is a must have with this delicious dish from the sea. I like a Chianti Classico with the fish in a zesty tomato sauce.

For dessert, affogato, a scoop of vanilla gelato showered with a shot of espresso. This is the ultimate simple dessert and the espresso will help you make it to the ball drop.

It never hurts to have a panettone around. The sweet dome bread is studded with candied citrus and raisins. If you have any left over it makes great french toast the next morning.

I’m feeling generous as 2011 draws to a close, so here’s another menu suggestion for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Crab is in season and they are heavy and meaty this year. Get one live or steamed from your fishmonger and cook the picked crab in a spicy tomato sauce over linguine. A nice start to the meal.

How about a roast?

My porchetta (roasted pork loin stuffed with herbs) with sauteed escarole and truffle roasted potatoes is a celebratory meal. If you want something really quick try my simple roast pork tenderloin or my roast beef studded with garlic and parsley.

Get my free Italian vegetable eBook and pick the side dishes you want to enjoy.

Felice Anno Nuovo! Happy New Year!

 

Holidays in America

Lidia Bastianich, Holidays in America
Lidia Bastianich, Holidays in America
Lidia Bastianich. Photo by PBS.

Need a boost as the holidays near? I got one watching the first episode of PBS’ Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions.

Lidia Bastianich explores holiday traditions that bring family and friends together at the table.  The show is a celebration of diversity and of the common human experience. If you missed it on TV catch it on the web. You’ll feel good.

The Mexican Christmas dinner with four generations of the Cortez family who own Mi Terra restaurant in San Antonio and Passover Seder with a New York City family and food maven Ruth Reichl are great. But my two favorites are the Feast of the Seven Fishes Lidia cooked in her kitchen with Stanley Tucci and the Chinese New Year meals here in San Francisco with Chinatown legend Shirley Fong-Torres.

I love Tucci’s insight into the role of food in Italian families. Shirley tells a fascinating story of how the Fong family from China became the Torres family in the Philipines and prospered in San Francisco.

Go shopping with Lidia and Mo Rocca on Arthur Avenue, “New York City’s Real Little Italy”. Explore the streets of San Franciso’s Chinatown and glimpse Shirley’s deep understanding of this great neighborhood.

There are some great recipes on the site too. If you need more recipes for your own Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes try some of mine.

Buon Natale!

North Beach Discovery: Fresh Truffles from Italia

Fresh White & Black Truffles, Dried Porcini Mushrooms and Just-Pressed EVOO

I love this time of the year in Italia. You get to enjoy black truffles shaved over pici, a rustic home-made spaghetti, or white truffles shaved atop fresh fettucine, or either, shaved atop golden veal scallopine. You may not believe it but black or white truffles shaved on top of eggs fried in olive oil is heavenly, too. I don’t know what excites me more, the truffle aroma that fills my head as the dish arrives or the first bite.

We’re in luck this year. Santo of North Beach’s Cavalli Cafe is selling white and black truffles from Piemonte and Umbria along with fragrant and meaty porcini just dried in the Tuscan sun, and an extra virgin olive oil from a small mill pressed 2 weeks ago. Quite a score for Santo. Bravo!

As of today these truffles are five days out of the ground. Santo’s prices are very reasonable and the quality is excellent. Treat yourself. It’s the holidays – eat some fresh truffles while you can.

The truffles will last about a week wrapped in paper towel and stored in a paper bag in the fridge. If you don’t use them all you can freeze what’s left in butter. Just scoop out what you need. That should last you until next year’s harvest.

But don’t delay because the just-pressed extra virgin olive oil sold out in a day. I’ll save my tasting notes until the next shipment arrives. It ain’t cheap, but you’ll want to get some of this fantastic, fresh finishing oil before the next shipment sells out, too. I’ll let you know when it arrives.

Here is a white truffle pasta recipe and a black truffle pasta recipe to get you started. I suggest you either make fresh pasta or use a very good Italian dried durum wheat pasta. If you use my fresh pasta recipe just pass the pasta sheets through the fettucine or tagliatelle cutters on the pasta machine, or tightly roll up the pasta sheets and cut them in 1/2 inch ribbons. Buon appetito!

Pappardelle with White Truffle Sauce

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Tagliatelle with Black Truffle Sauce

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Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes (Cena di Vigilia)

Arancini with aioli

UPDATE: There is now a video recipe for Cioppino, the simple and easy seven-fish San Francisco stew: WATCH NOW

Italian-American families have their favorite dishes for Christmas Eve fish dinner – some serve 7 fish (for the 7 sacraments or 7 virtues), some serve 10 (for the 10 stations of the cross) and others 13 fish (for Jesus and the 12 apostles). I serve 7 fishes not for the religious symbolism but to draw family and friends to the table to enjoy a great 3-course fish meal and each other during the holiday season.

When I was growing up my family ate fish because it was a Catholic rule, no meat on Christmas Eve. We loved this meal so much we still cook it many years after the meat ban was dropped by the Church. It’s a big part of my holiday tradition. You can catch some of my excitement in the video we just released. I fried up some squid.

If you want to eat some fish on Christmas Eve or any day of the year check out some of my fish posts from the past year. Cook one dish or a bunch at the same time. You’ll be eating well in any case.

Let’s see if we can get to 7 fish dishes. Your first one is Calamari Fritti above.

Continuing the antipasto (before the meal) theme, how about some steamed mussels and clams with a hunk of garlic bread for dunking in the broth? (Like the calamari fritti eat these as soon as they’re done.)

Cod fish cakes anyone? If I was serving the cakes with other dishes in the antipasto I’d make the cakes much smaller, almost bite size. (You can make them ahead and warm them in the oven before serving.)

Maybe arancini (fried rice balls) stuffed with bay shrimp and served with a spicy aioli? (You can make them ahead and warm them in the oven before serving.)

Here’s one that you can put out in the antipasto course or use as a secondo piatto (second course) dish. I always have to have some sole on Christmas Eve.

For the primo piatto (first course) linguine in a spicy crab tomato sauce.

Here’s a great secondo piatto (second course), halibut baked with roasted cherry tomatoes, potatoes and green olives. I like to roast the whole fish, a branzino or sea bass, using this recipe. Just put the herb(s) inside the fish otherwise follow the original recipe. Debone the fish before serving.

That’s 7, but hey, it’s the holidays so here are a few more: fried shrimp, sword fish with salmoriglio sauce and  shrimp with oregano and garlic, simply roasted in a hot oven; and baccala salad below.

Check out my free vegetable eBook for some ideas of sides to serve with these fish dishes. Buon Natale!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:78]

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:79]

 

A Post-Thanksgiving Melting Pot Dinner

Chicken Marsala

You would think everyone would be sated after a big Thanksgiving feast. Two branches of the family were here in northern Jersey and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to gather together before everyone scattered.

While heavily Italian-American, our table reflected the ethnic blending in America and the many diets prevalent today. The menu was crafted to satisfy the cravings of some at the table and the dietary needs of others.

My goddaughter makes a mean yellow rice passed down from her husband’s maternal Syrian grandma and it was a special request. One of my nieces is vegan so I wanted to make sure there were dishes she could eat too. It was a spectacular meal.

Here’s the menu.

Anitpasti platter with all the stuff we didn’t finish on Thanksgiving.

Ditali pasta in a simple onion and pea sauce.

Chicken Marsala, broccoli rabe and yellow rice. My vegan niece Jo Anne brought great peppers stuffed with spicy mushrooms, quinoa and black beans.

Dolce was all of the pies and cakes we didn’t finish on Thanksgiving. JoAnne’s vegan pumpkin bread was the star.

We had a great day together, catching up on all the family news and enjoying just being together. In our family, our culinary tradition is the glue that holds us all together.

This Chicken Marsala is an easy recipe with a really big payoff. We made enough for 20 at the table and some for Breanna to bring back to college to share with her friends. Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:72]

A Jersey Thanksgiving

3 Generations Cooking a Jersey Italian-American Thanksgiving Dinner

We’re all gathered in northern Jersey for our Italian-American Thanksgiving dinner, 3 generations in the kitchen today. My sister Rose and her daughter Wendy are in charge, I’m just the sous chef. RoRo has been rocking in the kitchen since 7 this morning and barking out orders to us non-stop. There will be about 20 of us at the table at 4 this afternoon, not sure when we’ll be done.

Here’s the menu:

Antipasti

Platters with prosciutto, salami, mortadella, provolone, fresh mozzarella, smoked scamorza, Italian tuna in olive oil, roasted peppers, marinated mushrooms, giardiniera, marinated artichoke hearts, oil-cured and Sicilian green olives

Primo

Lasagna with layers of ricotta and mozzarella, meat sauce and parmigiano (Wendy’s recipe is below)

Secondo

Turkey, 2 different stuffings, roasted mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes with gravy, maple syrup candied sweet potatoes, homemade whole cranberry sauce and just in case there’s not enough a baked ham

Dolce

Desserts will be Italian ricotta cheesecake, strufoli (fried dough balls covered with honey and sprinkles), pumpkin pie, coconut custard pie, lemon merangue and chocolate cream pie, roasted chestnuts and RoRo’s famous fresh fruit pedestal.

My vegan niece is at the table so we’re making sure that we have plenty of vegetables and other sides to accompany her tofurky.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:71]

Free Recipe: Salsa Verde (Green Herb Sauce)

Farmer's Market Lincoln Center NYC

Before we headed north to the Arthur Avenue Italian community in the Belmont section of the Bronx, we stopped at the farmer’s market near Lincoln Center.

The small market was bustling and overflowing with fall bounty. We needed thyme, Italian parsley and basil for salsa verde, a gift for my friend’s Thanksgiving family gathering. She’ll serve it as the dip with the crudite of organic broccoli, radishes, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

Salsa verde is a really versatile condiment that you can serve with vegetables, fish or meat. It’s easy to make. Choose your favorite fresh herb combination and make the salsa verde by hand or in a food processor.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:70]