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.

Easter Pies: Pizza Rustica & Pastiera Napoletana

This one’s for the start of the meal – only on Easter!

Easter 2012 Update!

I put together a 4-course Easter dinner menu with wine pairings that your family and friends will love. Pizza Rustica is the opening act and Pastiera Napoletana is the closer. Check out the menu post that includes my video demonstrations and text recipes for each course.

This year for Easter I’ll be in Virginia with my sister Lucia and brother-in-law Carlo, my nieces and nephews, their spouses, and my great nieces and nephews. It’s a three-generation cooking branch of the family. We’ll all be in the kitchen making the pizza rustica and pastiera napoletana, probably on Good Friday. But, we won’t eat them until Easter Sunday.

Serve the pizza rustica as part of the antipasti course and the Pastiera as your dolce (dessert).

The pastry crust recipes are  basically the same for both except I leave out the sugar and lemon rind in the torta rustica crust. These are very versatile pastry crusts that can be used in many applications.

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Buona Primavera! Happy Spring!

Pizza Rustica

This savory pie is also called torta rustica, pizza ripiena, pizza chiena or in Neapolitan-English slang, pizza gain.

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Pastiera Napoletana

This is probably the most famous Neapolitan pastry and it is one of my absolute favs. But, I still only make it once a year at Easter. Here in America, Pastiera is sometimes called pizza grano, Easter sweet pie, ricotta cheese cake, pizza or torta dolce.

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Linguine with Dungeness Crab in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab

Photo by Miles Grant

I was in NYC when Dungeness crab season opened last week, and couldn’t get them out of my mind. The reports were that the harvest was bountiful and the crab were big and meaty. I couldn’t wait to get back home. I had to get one and add the crabmeat to a spicy tomato sauce over some linguine.

It was delicious.

Lots of briny and sweet crab in a simple San Marzano tomato, garlic and dried chili infused olive oil. Once you have the crabmeat ready you can make this sauce in the time that it takes to cook the linguine. In Italia, they don’t put cheese on seafood dishes. It masks the fresh taste from the sea. Don’t do it!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • Steamed 1-1/2 pound crab
  • 28-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 small dried chili or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound or 500 grams linguine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat Italian parsley
  • Drizzle of finishing EVOO

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water over high heat to a boil for the pasta.
  2. In another pan, bring about 2 cups of water to a boil. Put the crab in a steaming basket to keep it out of the water. Steam the crab until it turns a bright red-orange, about 7 minutes for each pound of crab. Or, buy a just steamed crab at your fish monger and have it cracked.
  3. When cool, clean the crab. Here’s a link to how to clean the crab.
  4. Pick out all the crabmeat from the legs and body. Shred the crabmeat. Set aside.
  5. In a large cold saute pan, put in the EVOO, red pepper and garlic and over a medium-high flame let the garlic sizzle in the oil until translucent to infuse the oil with its flavor.
  6. Add the tomatoes. Simmer to let the tomato water evaporate and to create a thick sauce, 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  7. Put the linguine in the pasta water to cook, about 8-10 minutes until al dente.
  8. Add the crab to the sauce and keep on a low flame until the linguine is cooked.
  9. Add the oregano to the sauce.
  10. Check for salt. The crab adds saltiness to the sauce but add more to taste if necessary.
  11. Pull the linguine out of the boiling water with a spider, slotted spoon or tongs and put the linguine into the crab sauce. Finish cooking the linguine in the sauce, about a minute or two, tossing to coat with the crab sauce.
  12. Sprinkle the chopped parsley and mix with the linguine to distribute evenly.
  13. Serve immediately. Make sure each dish has some of the crab. Top each plate/bowl with a drizzle of a finishing EVOO.

Ciuti 2010 First Cold Pressed Sicilian EVOO Has Arrived

Ciuti EVOO

We’ve been waiting for weeks for this year’s press to arrive. Word came that the olive oil, from trees in the foothills near Agrigento, was finally put on a boat in Sicily. It arrived in LA a couple of weeks later. I was there when the pallets arrived at Little City Meats.

Ciuti EVOO

My first tasting notes: fresh, buttery, nice full olive flavor, golden-green hue and a bit of a peppery finish!

At $22/gallon it sounds pricey, but try to match that price per ounce at the supermarket. And this is the good stuff! Who knows what’s in those other bottles you see on store shelves.

You gotta be careful – often the label states “Imported from Italy” or “Packed in Italy” but the olives might be from anywhere (usually not olives grown in Italy). This extra virgin olive oil from Little City is the everyday extra virgin oil in my kitchen. (When you go, be sure to tell the guys that Gianni sent ya!) I also have finishing oils that are expensive – not used for cooking but only to add to a dish before serving.

For those of you who don’t have the pleasure of living in my village of North Beach in San Francisco, there is one place to buy this online that I could find. (It’s $25/gallon plus about $5 shipping, and currently showing out-of-stock.)

San Marzano Sauce

San Marzano Sauce

A simple, light tomato sauce, made from the last of the fresh San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil, served over choke the priest pasta.

This was our very first episode – a test if you will. You’ll forgive some of the rough production edges. I think it’s still very solid cooking instruction. And a delicious recipe!

Fresh San Marzano Tomato Sugo (Sauce)
With Strozzapreti (Choke the Priest) Pasta

You will only make this pasta when the San Marzano tomatoes are in the farmer’s market in late summer and fall. In other seasons use canned San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh San Marzano tomatoes or a 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes from Campania, Italy
  • 1 sprig fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt for the sugo
  • 6 quarts of water
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt for the pasta water
  • 1 pound or 500 grams of strozzapreti durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die.  (Of course you can use other cuts of pasta.)
  • 1 tablespoon of a good finishing EVOO to dress the finished pasta
  • 8 fresh basil leaves cut into a chiffonade
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the water for the pasta and the 2 tablespoons of sea salt in a big pot over a high flame until it begins to boil.
  2. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in another large pot big enough to hold all the tomatoes. (You can use the boiling pasta pot for this step and then again to cook the pasta if you don’t want to use 2 pots.)
  3. Wash the San Marzano tomatoes and take the stems off.
  4. When the water in the second pot is boiling, put the tomatoes in the boiling water for 15-30 seconds, until the skin puckers or bursts.
  5. Take the tomatoes out of the water and let them cool on a large plate. When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.
  6. Cut the tomatoes in half and then into about ½ strips. Remove any skin, stem from the inside, and seeds if you want. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. (This is a variation from the video to help you get the sugo to the right texture more easily. You can just cook the filleto di pomodoro, the strips, just like I did in the video, if you want. Just make sure the tomatoes disintegrate into a sauce, with some pieces of tomato remaining. This method may take longer and require more attention to help break the tomato into chunks as it cooks.)
  7. Put the EVOO and garlic in a cold pan over a high flame. Saute the garlic in the oil to release its flavor. Don’t let the garlic brown. With the oil sizzling, put in all the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the basil sprigs and stir them into the sauce. They will wilt and release their flavor into the sauce. Cook over medium-high heat until the tomatoes have broken down and a chunky sauce has developed. Most of the tomato water should have evaporated. This should take about 15 minutes, max. Stir frequently. When the sugo is done cooking remove the basil and garlic.
  8. When the pasta water comes to a boil put the pasta in the boiling salted water. Stir the pasta to make sure it doesn’t stick. Cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  9. Roll up the basil leaves and cut into a chiffonade, ¼ inch bands or strips.
  10. Pull the pasta out of the water with a spider or big slotted spoon and put it in the sugo. Finish cooking the pasta in the sugo. It will absorb some of the tomato liquid. Shut off the flame, drizzle the equivalent of 1 tablespoon of the finishing EVOO over the pasta, scatter the basil and sprinkle the Percorino and mix well into the pasta.

Serve immediately.