The last time I was in Italy I hooked up with my friend Luca and the crew from his video company, HB Productions. We spent days together shopping and shooting episodes of me cooking in my apartment near the Spanish Steps.
Here’s the first of those HB Production episodes just in time as early spring vegetables hit the farmers market.
I shopped every day in Campo dei Fiori, the huge open air market in the historical center of Rome. I was lucky to meet Alessandro who had a produce stand there. He was my guide to the spring vegetables he had to offer.
This day he had wild chicory, cicoria, he foraged early that morning in the hills near his home outside of Rome. He sold me the chicory with a condition. “Cook it with olive oil and lots of garlic, that’s all.” “And chili pepper,” I said. Alessandro agreed and added “but no lemon, no lemon.” Boy, these Italians are strict but that was my plan anyway.
What a wonderful Slow Food moment, scoring locally foraged cicoria to cook in my Rome apartment a few blocks away from the market! Watch me use a versatile, simple method to respectfully coax maximum flavor from this humble wild green. Here in the U.S. curly endive is the closest to the wild chicory I cooked in Rome.
You may have seen some of the Rome footage in this Hungry Village production. Get a peek of Luca and his aunt Giulia, the best cook in the family, who joined me in the kitchen for a couple of episodes.
I hope to have the other Rome episodes ready to post soon. Stay tuned but in the meantime here’s my saltimbocca recipe.
So You Want To Be An American? is the music in the episode. I love the tune. Here’s hip Neapolitan crooner Renato Carosone’s 1958 rendition of his Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.
Some say that the most important meal this season is the Christmas Eve fish dinner. I’m doing the Neapolitan-inspired Feast of Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.
But you gotta eat after everyone is done opening all their presents Christmas day, right? When I’m back east with family for Christmas, we cook up a fantastic four-course dinner.
3 generations will cook together and our Italian-American dinner will include some dishes that my family has made since they first immigrated to America over a hundred years ago.
We gather around the table at about 2 in the afternoon. The leisurely meal will last until early evening.
Create your own Christmas feast. We’re still working on our final menu but here are some of the dishes that are on our list.
Antipasto (before the meal)
The antipasto is a preview of the meal to come. It’s the icebreaker as your guests settle in at the table. It starts the conversation and tantalizes your taste buds to let you know of the culinary delights to come.
And to end the meal, maybe just some fruit and roasted chestnuts.
Or try these dolci (desserts) that you can make the day before for a bigger end to you meal.
Tiramisu is really not that hard to make. After you make the mascarpone filling and the espresso-rum dip for the ladyfingers it’s a snap to assemble.
This time of the year most Italian and Italian-American households have panettone in the house. This sweet bread studded with raisins and candied citrus makes a fantastic panettone bread pudding. It’s ready in no time and even better if you make it the day before.
A Finishing Touch
Some espresso and maybe one of my homemade liqueurs and you can call it a wrap. Make my liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur) with its beautiful Christmas hue or limoncello a few days in advance and you’re good to go.
A little Christmas gift for you at the end of the limoncello video, a suggestion for an easy sweet end to your meal
Whadda youse crazy? I can’t compete on Food Network.
I don’t like tension in the kitchen. My focus is the food not the drama. And I gotta do things my own way.
When inspired I share recipes on my blog. When my producers’ and my stars align we shoot new cooking episodes for my YouTube channel. That’s it.
But, my producers saw a casting call for Next Food Network Star and they suggested I apply. It’ll be fun, they said. You’ll be great, they said. You’ll love it, they said. They’re sneaky, my producers, and they talked me into it.
I couldn’t make it to LA last month to interview in person so my producers and I decided to shoot a video instead.
For the video, I made one of my favorite dishes, spaghetti aglio e olio. The garlic and olive oil sauce is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. It’s typical of dishes I’ve been making for years. A few quality ingredients. Quick simple preparation. Incredible flavor.
This dish is near and dear to my heart because it comes from my mother. My family food traditions have their root in her birth town east of Naples. She learned to cook from her mother and I learned to cook from her.
I love to pass on the traditions, share the recipes that fill my belly and warm my heart.
Now, more than 100 years after my ancestors came to America our favorite dishes still draw us to the table. Our days together, many generations cooking in the kitchen and around the table, are precious.
The turkey is infused with rosemary, sage, garlic and lemon. The stuffing studded with sausage and chestnuts is a perfect flavorful partner for the moist and tender turkey. The easy pan gravy brings it all together.
A Thanksgiving dinner that you can cook in under 2 hours. You won't believe the complex flavor of the moist tender breast and the mellow spinach and salty prosciutto stuffing.
1 4 Pound turkey breast, deboned and butterflied
2 pounds fresh spinach
½ onion, finely diced
½ cup grated parmigiano
6 slices prosciutto
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
3 lemon slices
4 leaves fresh sage
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water or broth
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Over medium heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pot.
When the oil is hot saute the onions until they are translucent and tender.
Add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pot and raise the heat to medium-high.
Add as much of the spinach as you can to the pot and turn it to mix it with the onions and to help it all wilt. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
Add more spinach until all of it is wilted.
Put the spinach in a bowl and mix in the grated parmigiano and set the spinach aside to cool.
Butterfly the breast and lay flat open, pounding with a meat mallet to create even thickness throughout. (Save time. Ask your butcher to butterfly the breast for you.)
Spread the spinach mixture across the breast, leaving a 1½ inch border all around.
Put the prosciutto slices in a single layer over the spinach.
Beginning at one end, firmly roll up the turkey breast and use 4 equally spaced kitchen lengths of kitchen twine to secure the roast well.
In a casserole lay out the parsley, sage and lemon slices to form a bed for the roast.
Rub a tablespoon of olive oil well all over.
Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper evenly over the roast.
Pour in the white wine, water (or broth) into the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle olive oil over the liquid.
Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. The temperature will rise to 160 degrees as it rests. (I'm using an off-the-grid organic turkey but if your roasting a supermarket turkey you may want to leave it in the oven longer, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.)
Baste the roast with the pan juices several times during roasting. (Add more wine and water to maintain about an inch of liquid in the casserole.
Remove the breast roll from the pan and loosely cover with foil.
Pour the pan juices through a strainer into a pan. Skim off excess oil.
Keep the pan gravy over very low heat to keep it warm.
After the roast has rested for about 20 minutes, slice it thinly and arrange the spirals on a serving platter.
Pour the pan gravy over the slices. (If you have more gravy, serve it at the table.)
I love this ricotta cheesecake with pumpkin as an end to a fall meal. It’s a nice change from the heavier New York cheesecake.
Pumpkin ricotta cheesecake is easy to make. It doesn’t have a pastry crust so you can have it in the oven in 10 minutes and out in 90.
I’m not a purist so I don’t care if the cheesecake cracks on top. Looks rustic, right? Ask Martha Stewart if you want to get rid of the cracks.
Add a dollop of whipped cream and you have a wonderful end to a wonderful holiday meal.
Creamy, airy, rich pumpkin flavor with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg lingering in the background. The nutty crust that forms around the edge is my favorite bite. Make this one of your fall favorites.
The cheesecake is even better if you make it the day before so it has a chance to set-up nicely in the refrigerator. One less thing to worry about on the big day. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.
Thanksgiving is coming. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Thursday’s episode, a quick spinach & prosciutto stuffed boneless turkey breast.
This is part one of a 2 part Thanksgiving special. Stay tuned for part two next week.
Easy and delicious, mashed potatoes flavored with mellow roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil, pairs well with meat, fish or poultry.
My Mom didn’t call them mashed potatoes, she called them “smashed” potatoes and I still do. I like chunks of potato for that toothsome feel. But I like a smoother or whipped version of mashed potatoes too.
Make your mashed potatoes anyway you like them. Mash them more, whip them with a whisk or a hand beater, or put the hot potatoes through a ricer if you want a smoother or whipped consistency, then add the roasted garlic and olive oil.
Any way you make them just get them to your guests while they’re still piping hot. .
For Thanksgiving this year I’m serving with my smashed potatoes with a roasted boneless turkey breast stuffed with sauteed spinach and prosciutto that’s in and out of the oven in less than 90 minutes.
It’s a complete easy and quick dinner with protein, veggies and carbohydrates all on the plate.
The Italian Homemade Company opened in North Beach on Columbus between Filbert & Greenwich a few days ago. I visited this morning for the first time. It was like stopping by someone’s kitchen in northern Italy.
I’m making a light pasta cream sauce with zucchini blossoms and was looking for fresh pasta. I bought some of Homemade’s fresh tagliatelle. But I couldn’t resist this morning’s crop of tiny spinach and ricotta ravioli for my delicate sauce.
Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli, the gracious owners, are settling into their new space. Alice makes fresh pasta every day. She hails from Rimini on the northern Italian Adriatic coast where they make beautiful fresh pasta. Mattia, is from the Marche region.
Another owner, Carlo Ciccardi, was jet-lagged after arriving a few hours ago from a trip back home near the beautiful beach town between Naples and Rome, Sperlonga.
Stop in soon for fresh pasta, salumi, cheeses and imported products. Italian Homemade will make several fresh pasta choices each day along with other fresh dishes to take away.
Today Alice made a lasagna with bechamel and ragu. She suggested a baked in-house piadina (flat bread) sandwich with your choice of stuffed baked tomato or pepper inside. Add some prosciutto and mozzarella and you have a fresh street-food meal to eat at the long communal table or to take away to enjoy in Washington Square, just a block away.
Benvenuti e buona fortuna! A warm welcome and best wishes to our new neighbors. Thank you for bringing another slice of Italia to North Beach.
My lunch turned out beautifully.
The Italian Homemade Company spinach and ricotta ravioli are delicate but toothsome. The tasty little ravioli are bathed in the shallot-flavored cream sauce accented by the sweetness of the zucchini blossoms and the nuttiness of the parmigiano. Even with just a few ingredients, these ravioli explode with complex flavor in every bite.Here’s the recipe for the squash blossom cream sauce. It works well with delicate stuffed pasta or flat fresh or dried pasta like fettucine or tagliatelle.
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?
Steamed mussels and friselle topped with a spicy tomato paste sauce.
Recipe type: Seafood
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
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.)
Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and peperoncini in a sauce pot over medium-high heat.
When the oil sizzles add the tomato paste and the water used to rinse the cans.
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.
In the meantime steam the mussels using this recipe. http://www.gianni.tv/10-minute-mussels-clams/ or the link above in the post.
Remove the steamed mussels from the pot and strain out the broth. (You should have about 2 cups of mussel broth.)
Add half of the mussel broth to the sauce and mix well.
Remove the top shell from the mussels.
Rub the twice-baked bread with a garlic clove and drizzle each piece with extra virgin olive oil
Put a piece of the twice-baked bread on the bottom of a dish or bowl.
Drizzle some broth over the bread to soften it. (If more liquid is needed use water.)
Spread some sauce over the bread.
Arrange 6 mussels around the bread and top each with sauce.
Sprinkle with each mussel and the bread with extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. Serve immediately.
Mix in some chopped garlic, parsley and Worcestershire sauce to perk up the beef.
I stuff mine with fresh mozzarella and add nutty and creamy Italian fontina on top for more flavor punch.
The burger is fine with or without a cheese stuffing or with no cheese at all. Your choice.
With all the scares about contaminated ground beef sold on the grid the best hamburger you eat may be the one made at home with ground beef or chuck you grind yourself from your trusted local butcher.
With the start of the summer you can cook the hamburger on your outdoor grill or in a stove-top cast iron grill pan. Some chefs think it’s best to cook hamburgers in a flat-bottomed cast iron pan so it cooks evenly and the juices stay inside.
If you’re making hamburgers at home make sure you have a good sturdy bun. I’m using a pain de mie from my favorite Bay Area bakery Acme Bread. It has a sturdy soft crust and a slightly sweet small crumb inside, a perfect hamburger bun.
Add your favorite condiments. For me, no mayo, ketchup or mustard. I prefer a grilled onion and a slice of heirloom tomato on my burger.
The toasted bun is just right for the juicy, tender burger pumped up by garlic and Worcester. The mild mozzarella oozes from the center complemented by the melted nutty fontina on top. The sweet grilled onion and summer tomato finishes the package in style.
A few days ago in a post on my pasta e fagioli video episode, Markus asked that I make panzanella, a simple Tuscan peasant summer salad.
I said I would when the summer tomatoes hit the farmers market. The first crop of Early Girls won’t be in for a few more weeks and the big heirlooms won’t be ready until the end of the summer. I thought I wouldn’t be making panzanella for a while.
But I couldn’t get panzanella out of my mind since Markus’ post. So when I saw a huge selection of tomatoes at Bruins Farms booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market yesterday I had to buy some and give panzanella a go.
If you’ve been to Tuscany in the summer you’ve enjoyed panzanella. It’s made with days-old dark salt-free Tuscan bread. Recipes for this peasant dish date back to the days of Michelangelo according to Tuscan food maestro Giulliano Bugialli.
This is my modern San Francisco version. While you’ll see recipes with peppers, cucumbers and all sorts of other ingredients in today’s panzanella recipes, I keep it simple.
Tomatoes and a good crusty rustic bread soaked in the olive oil and tomato juices are the stars. My mix today is Lemon Boy, Black Zebra and Beefsteak.
These tomatoes are grown about 70 miles inland from San Francisco, in greenhouses on the farm a bit west of Sacramento where it’s sunnier and warmer than it is here in the City.
Panzanella only has a few ingredients so you have to make sure you’re using the best. These Bruins Farms tomatoes fit the bill and that makes it easier to wait for the big field-grown heirloom tomatoes later this summer.
Make panzanella with day-old rustic bread or switch it up and make it with taralli, those small boiled then baked crunchy rings. You can buy taralli in North Beach at Molinari Deli on Columbus or at A.G. Ferrari’s stores around the Bay Area or online.
The onion and basil round out the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and the juicy, creamy bread cubes perk up each mouthful with a lingering acidic vinegar tingle.
Serve panzanella chilled or at room temperature as an antipasto or as a side for grilled meats or poultry.
Find out more about New York City’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve been disappointed with what’s left of Little Italy in lower Manhattan visit Arthur Avenue. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.
Here’s a twist on potato salad that I’ve loved since I was a kid.
Don’t get me wrong I love potato salad with mayonnaise but every once in a while I have to make this one flavored with red wine vinegar and olive oil.
It’s simple to make and really flavorful. Cube boiled potatoes while they’re still warm. Add chopped parsley and onions, a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, and dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. That’s it.
Creamy potatoes bathed in buttery olive oil, the sweet crunch of onion, all balanced by the red wine vinegar. A simple peasant dish with full and complex flavor.
Serve the potato salad warm or at room temperature. Perfect for any table, inside or out.
Got 5 minutes? You can be eating pasta with fresh and flavorful basil pesto, pesto alla Genovese, in no time.
This pesto hails from Liguria on the northern Italian coast where small leaf basil grows on the hills around Genoa overlooking the Italian Riviera. The roots of North Beach’s Liguria Bakery, famous for it’s foccacia, are in this region of Italy.
I don’t have Ligurian basil so I’m using organic Bay Area basil instead. You can use your local basil as well. Traditionally the pesto is made with a mortar and pestle but I’m using a food processor. It’s fast and yields a fine paste.
The main ingredients are basil, pine nuts (pinoli), garlic, grated parmigiano and pecorino, and a really good extra virgin olive oil. Use the best ingredients you can afford.
Pine nuts from China are prevalent in the market and cheaper but they taste waxy and don’t have the full, clean, nutty flavor of Italian pine nuts so buy Italian pinoli if you can.
The Ligurian version is usually made with trenette, a flat long pasta or trofie, a short twisted pasta. I used gemelli (twins) a short twisted pasta pretty close to the hard to find trofie.
This is an uncooked sauce. Just process all the ingredients in a food processor. The pesto will be ready way before the pasta water comes to a boil.
The short twisted toothy gemelli burst with fresh flavor. The aromatic basil immediately tingles your tongue followed by the nutty flavor of the pinoli and buttery olive oil. The parmigiano, pecorino and just an echo of fresh garlic round out each bite. So simple and so delicious.
A few years ago we got lucky on a visit to Rome. My friend Guiliano who lives in the historical center had just returned from visiting his family in Genoa and he invited us over for dinner. He brought just-picked Ligurian basil back with him and he was making pesto for us. He added cubes of potato and green beans to the pasta and coated it all with the best pesto I’ve ever eaten.
For my American friends adding potato and green beans to this dish is controversial. I like it that way but many don’t. They just want pasta coated with basil pesto. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.
If you want to make the traditional Genovese version, cut the potato in 1/2 chunks. Cut off the stem end of the green beans and cut them into 2-inch pieces. When the pasta water comes to a boil add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes then add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the pasta and cook to al dente. Strain the pasta, potatoes and beans out of the water, put them all in a bowl, add the pesto and mix to coat everything well.
Basil pesto is the most famous but there are many, many more. Try my Pesto Trapanese from Sicily with cherry tomatoes and almonds for a different taste treat. It’s one of 3 sauces I made for my potato gnocchi.
1 pound (500 grams) gemelli or your favorite short cut pasta
3 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tablespoon sea salt plus 3 tablespoons for the pasta water
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
Put 5 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt over high heat and bring it to a boil.
In the meantime, put the basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil in the food-processor bowl. Process 10 to 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl, to form a coarse paste.
Put the pine nuts in the food processor and process another 10 seconds, scrape down the bowl midway, until you create a uniform, smooth bright-green paste.
Add the grated cheeses to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine.
The pesto should be thick but flowing. If it is to stiff add a bit more olive oil.
The pesto will be fine at room temperature until you cook the pasta. (If you keep it out longer, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil so it doesn't discolor.)
Cook the pasta to al dente, strain and put into a bowl. (Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.)
Add the pesto and mix to coat the pasta well. If the pasta is too dry add some of the pasta cooking water.
Top each serving with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
(To store the pesto longer, cover the surface of the pesto with plastic wrap, close the container tightly and refrigerate or freeze the pesto. Let the stored pesto come back to room temperature before using.)
Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.
I ate a lot of pasta and beans growing up in Jersey. My Mom made it often and I loved it.
So when pasta fazool, as we called it back East, was a Viewer’s Choice suggestion from lovelyamor13 on YouTube, I was very happy to make it.
Pasta e fagioli is healthy and inexpensive peasant dish. You can have this one-pot meal that packs lots of flavor and goodness on your table in less than an hour.
Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italy and varies from region to region. One big difference is that mine has no meat. Up north they usually add pancetta to the aromatics as the base of the soup. Some people like to add tomato puree. Some people don’t add tomato, they like a white pasta fazool.
Mine has a light pink hue. I use a little tomato puree. Make it any way you like it, just don’t make it the way they do at Olive Garden.
The creamy beans and pasta are bathed in a savory light broth enhanced by the sharpness of the pecorino and the mellow olive oil. Pasta fazool will warm you and fill you up. Make extra so you can eat it again the next day.
3 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or two 15 oz. cans
8 cups water
½ pound ditalini or another short-cut pasta
1 teaspoon dried oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
If you are using dried beans soak about 1¼ cups overnight or for at least 12 hours. They will expand and should yield about 3 cups of soaked beans for the soup.
Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
Put the cover on the pan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup thickens. (If you are using canned beans that should take about about 20-30 minutes. If you are using dried beans soaked over night that could take 60 minutes or so. You want the beans to be tender but not mushy.)
Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.