My Family Christmas Menu Suggestions

Passing It On--Cooking with My Godson
Passing It On–Cooking with My Godson

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.

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

 

A platter with a selection of Italian salumi (cured meats) and cheeses is a must. Watch me put together a beautiful antipasti platter in this short video.

Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives
Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives

I may pair the platter with a traditional Neapolitan Christmas salad, insalata di rinforza.

 

 

If we don’t go the platter-salad route I know my family will want some artichokes to start the our Christmas meal.

Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes
Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes

 

These crispy baby artichokes are always a favorite.

Or make one Roman-style stuffed artichoke for each guest.

 

 

 

Primo  Piatto (First Course)

A fancy pasta is our usual choice. We’ll probably make a lasagna. Here are 2 to choose from.

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

 

The lasagna al forno is a bit more complicated but you can assemble it the day before and bake it Christmas day. It’s incredible and well worth the effort.

 

 

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

 

 

This lasagna is a quick version that you can get in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Baked crespelle (crepes) stuffed with spinach & ricotta in a light tomato sauce.

 

And I know there will be some votes for one of my Mom’s spinach & ricotta cannelloni in a simple tomato sauce.

 

 

 

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

 

 

For a lighter first course try my delicious “Italian Wedding Soup” with chicken, escarole & tiny veal meatballs. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

My choice is my porchetta roast with onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar and rosemary roasted potatoes on the side.

This was the episode that started the “Porchetta War” with a bunch of Italians. If you have time, check out my video on how I beat the Italians at their own game.

If you want to combine these 2 versions of porchetta just ask you butcher for a skin-on pork belly and wrap that around the loin roast before you tie it up and roast it in the oven.

Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto
Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto

 

 

Or if we don’t do pork, my family hasn’t had my turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto with a quick pan gravy. Serve it with my garlic mashed potatoes for an easy second course.

 

 

 

 

Dolci (Dessert)

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, the Italian "pick-me-up" with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over
Tiramisu, the Italian “pick-me-up” with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over

 

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.

 

 

 

Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding
Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding

 

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.

 

 

Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liquore)
Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liqueur)

 

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

Buon Natale. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Buon Appetito!

Christmas Eve Feast of 7 Fish Recipe Roundup

Fish Market, Ortigia Sicily
Fish Market, Ortigia Sicily

I’ll be with family and friends for Christmas. Our Neapolitan family tradition is to prepare a 7-fish Christmas Eve dinner, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

Seven fish unless I’m with the Sicilian branch of the family, then it’s 13!

I hope you will be with the ones you love too.

Here’s a collection of my fish dishes that you can make for all your friends and family around your Christmas Eve dinner table to enjoy.

Buon Natale! Happy Holidays!

All in One

Cioppino Video: Christmas Eve Stew of Seven Fishes from San Francisco
Cioppino, 7 fish stew, a delicious San Francisco treat

If you want all 7 fish in one pot make cioppino, the San Francisco fish stew treat.

This is my go-to recipe if I want to make something fast and easy for the guests around my table. All 7 fish are cooked in one pot. A hunk of grilled bread scraped with garlic and you’re good to go.

The hardest part of cioppino is the trip to your fishmonger. You can have cioppino on your table in about 30 minutes.

Antipasto Picks

If a 3 or 4-course feast is what you have in mind make these dishes for an antipasto course, many ready in less than a half-hour.

Rice balls with shrimp in the center & a spicy dipping sauce
Rice balls with shrimp in the center & a spicy dipping sauce

Arancini, everybody loves rice balls. They are a perennial favorite at my table.

They come in many different shapes with various fillings.

This version is from my friends at North Beach’s da Flora restaurant.

The arborio rice has shrimp hidden in the middle of the crispy orb. Eat these arancini with or without the aioli. But if you don’t make the dipping sauce you’ll be missing a real treat.

 

Crispy, tender fried calamari with spicy vinegar pepper confetti
Crispy, tender fried calamari with spicy vinegar pepper confetti

You gotta be careful with this one. Often my fried calamari never makes it to the table. Everyone gathers in the kitchen around the stove and grabs a tender fried ring or crunchy tentacle as soon as they come out of the hot oil. If that happens to you make sure you quickly sprinkle some sea salt on the calamari as they drain on paper towel.

If the fried calamari survive poaching in the kitchen make sure that you get them to the table while they are hot out of the oil. That’s the way to maximize your enjoyment.

Succulent mussels & clams quickly steamed in a  flavorful broth
Succulent mussels & clams quickly steamed in a flavorful broth

How about some steamed mussels & clams ready in about 10 minutes?

Be sure to pick out the heavy clams & mussels with tightly closed shells.

This is a quick dish. The hardest part is scrubbing the shells prior to cooking.

You can serve up a big bowl and let your guests help themselves.

Just make sure that everyone gets at least one slice of the grilled bread. Dunking the bread in the sauce is my favorite bite.

Halibut and potato fish cakes
Halibut and potato fish cakes

My Mom made her fish cakes with baccala. If you don’t have time to soak dried salted cod for 3 days use fresh cod or halibut.

You can make the fish cakes ahead of time and heat them in the oven just before serving.

A bonus with the fish cakes, a recipe for grilled trumpet mushrooms and another for pickled carrots.

 

Mussels with a hot tomato sauce and twice-baked bread
Mussels with a hot tomato sauce and twice-baked bread

Mussels with a spicy tomato sauce is a real crowd-pleaser. This is my Dad’s recipe.

Some of my nephews insist that I make these mussels any time we’re together. My Dad always made them when they visited.

That was nearly a half-century ago. It warms my heart that I can revive those moments gone by.

Be sure to have extra twice-baked bread. Everyone wants more than one piece.

Primo Piatto (The First Course)

Dungeness Crab
Spaghetti with spicy Dungeness crab

It’s crab season in San Francisco. Dungeness crabs are always an important part of our holiday meal in the Bay Area.

They’re big and tender this year and the price isn’t bad either. Use your favorite crab if you can’t get dungeness.

Here’s a recipe with a spicy tomato sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the sweet tender Dungeness crab. A marriage made in heaven.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Onions & Anchovies
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Onions & Anchovies

Spaghetti with onions and anchovies is a simple dish that packs intense flavor in every bite.

The nutty flavor of the whole wheat pasta really takes this dish over the top.

Be sure you get a quality imported Italian whole wheat spaghetti or other long pasta for this dish.

With a few ingredients the pasta has to be the star. No mushy hippie whole wheat pasta will do.

Strozzapreti pasta and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce
Strozzapreti pasta and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce

Strozzapreti and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce is beautiful to behold and an elegant addition to your holiday table.

Roast the peppers ahead to save you some cooking time on Christmas Eve.

You can make it in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.

 

 

Another quick preparation for a busy night, spaghetti with clams.

Spaghetti with Clams from the Bay of Naples
Spaghetti with Clams from the Bay of Naples

A Neapolitan favorite, you can’t go wrong with this pasta.

Long strands of spaghetti with clams in a spicy garlic sauce. It’s a little bit of heaven.

Put on a big pot of well-salted water to boil. Steam the clams in the spicy broth while the pasta is cooking.

The clams will have opened and the sauce will be waiting as you pull the spaghetti out of the boiling water to finish cooking in the clam sauce.

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Petrale Sole in a Caper White Wine Butter Sauce
Petrale Sole in a Caper White Wine Butter Sauce

Sole is one of my favorite fish.

It’s easy to work with and has a delicate flavor.

Sole with capers is really easy. Saute the filets and make the sauce right in the same pan.

The delicate Petrale sole has a crispy crust with a moist flaky interior.

The capers perk up the sole. The light buttery sauce ties it all together.

 

Crispy quick-fried shrimp with a squeeze of lemon
Crispy quick-fried shrimp with a squeeze of lemon

 

Nothing easier and tastier than quick-cooked shrimp.

Shrimp on the east coast, prawns here in the Bay Area.

The hardest part of this recipe is cleaning the shrimp.

Once that’s done the shrimp are ready in less than 10 minutes.

I take that back, the hardest part of this recipe is not eating them all up as they drain on paper towel.

To augment your main course choose from my collection of vegetable side dishes on my website or those in my Vegetable Recipes eBook. It’s my holiday gift.

Halibut roasted with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives
Halibut roasted with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives

But if you want your fish, veggies and starch all in one go make my halibut roasted in parchment is the one for you.

Use halibut, cod or your favorite fish.

The halibut is wrapped in parchment or foil with the potatoes, tomatoes and olives so you get it all.

Drizzle some olive oil and dry white wine over the fish and vegetables and when you open the pouch you have a  complete plate for your table. Quick, easy and oh so flavorful.

Dolci

Crispy cannoli shells with a sweet ricotta filling studded with chocolate and candied citrus
Crispy cannoli shells with a sweet ricotta filling studded with chocolate and candied citrus

For these holiday meals we often buy some of our favorite pastries to end the meal. If you have the time make cannoli.

But if you want something homemade and light make strufoli, little fried dough balls in a honey glaze sprinkled with colorful holiday confetti. Another traditional sweet is to end your meal on a traditional holiday note is cenci, those delicate bow-ties. Be careful, the powdered sugar doesn’t get on you.

Buon Natale! Buon Appetito!

 

 

Turkey, Stuffing & Gravy the Italian-American Way

Roasted Turkey Infused with rosemary, sage, lemon & garlic resting
Roasted Turkey stuffed with aromatics resting

This year I’m making a roasted boneless turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto. But I’m thinking fondly of my whole succulent roasted turkey and stuffing. Did I make the wrong choice for my Thanksgiving table?

Nope, I’ve gotten over my ambivalence. I’m sticking with the stuffed turkey breast and roasted garlic & olive oil mashed potatoes. But if you want a whole roasted turkey, with a delicious sausage-chestnut stuffing and classic pan gravy, try my favorite recipes for all three.

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.

Take advantage of that hot oven. Add my easy roasted brussels sprouts and your Thanksgiving plate is complete.

Make up your mind already. Which way will you go this Thanksgiving?

Either way make my pumpkin ricotta cheesecake the day before to top off your holiday festivities.

Buon appetito! Happy Thanksgiving!

A Pile of Chicken Cutlets

Crunchy tender chicken cutlets in a savory egg wash, breaded and fried
Crunchy tender chicken cutlets in a savory egg wash, breaded and fried

It started innocently enough. I had a bunch of stale bread so I decided to make breadcrumbs this morning.

I bought chicken cutlets at Little City to make Chicken Marsala today. But the fresh breadcrumbs won me over and I fried up chicken cutlets instead.

You can have these babies on your table in about 30 minutes. The crispy breadcrumbs give way to tender chicken flavored with pecorino and parsley in the egg wash.

I’m serving the cutlets simply with a wedge of lemon to squeeze on top or not and baby spinach sautéed in olive oil with garlic and sea salt. That’s tonight’s dinner.

Watch me make chicken cutlets from Naples in a North Beach cook-off with a chicken dish from Rome. Guess who won?

Need something for dessert? Here’s the tiramisu episode that we released yesterday morning.

Buon appetito!

 

A Pile of Chicken Cutlets
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Tender crunchy chicken cutlets in a savory eggwash, coated with breadcrumbs and fried
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicken scallopine, pounded thin
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino romano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat parsley, minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (or your favorite)
Instructions
  1. Place the flour and the breadcrumbs on separate large plates or in bowls.
  2. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.
  3. Add the pecorino, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.
  4. Dredge the cutlets in flour. Shake off excess.
  5. Dip the floured cutlet in the egg-wash to coat well. Drain briefly.
  6. Put the egg-washed cutlet on the breadcrumbs. Press with your fingers to adhere the breadcrumbs.
  7. Turn the cutlet over to coat with breadcrumbs. Press with your fingers to adhere the breadcrumbs.
  8. Repeat to ensure you have a good breadcrumb coating all over the cutlet. Set the breaded cutlets aside.
  9. Put both oils in a cast-iron pan or a skillet and heat until the oil ripples.
  10. Fry the cutlet on each side until they breadcrumbs are golden brown.
  11. Drain well on paper towel.
  12. Serve warm with a wedge of lemon.

 

Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day

The dessert of Italian Father's Day.
The dessert of Italian Father’s Day.

Move over St. Patrick. The Feast of St. Joseph, Father’s Day in Italy is this Wednesday.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe is one of my favorite Neapolitan pastries.

But I only make these pastry cream filled puffs topped with an Amarena cherry once a year, on March 19.

Watch me make zeppole 2-ways so you can make zeppole this year too..

Here’s a quick, light menu for Wednesday so you have room for zeppole at the end of the meal. Serve a traditional St. Joseph’s Day spaghetti followed by my early Spring asparagus frittata.

Pair the fritatta with a simple mixed green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Some crusty bread and you’re all set.

Then get ready for a stupendous finish, your homemade zeppole.

Buona festa! Buon appetito!

Cioppino: Christmas Eve Stew of Seven Fishes from San Francisco

Cioppino Video: Christmas Eve Stew of Seven Fishes from San Francisco
Cioppino Video: Christmas Eve Stew of Seven Fishes from San Francisco
Learn to cook Cioppino.

Don’t miss the next new video recipe. Please subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

So how did I choose to do a recipe for the traditional San Francisco Cioppino stew for this Christmas Eve video?

We wanted to do a new episode for the traditional southern Italian Christmas Eve Seven Fish Dinner. I didn’t have time to cook seven separate fish dishes because I was hosting a holiday dinner for my office-mates the afternoon of the shoot.

I mentioned my dilemma when preparing Thanksgiving dinner with the Virginia branch of the family. “We were lazy last year,” my nephew confessed. “We just made a 7-fish cioppino.”

Problem solved. Cioppino, the famous fish stew invented down on Fisherman’s Wharf by the immigrant fishermen from Liguria and Sicily is just the quick and easy dish I need for a busy day in the kitchen with the cameras rolling.

The local tale is that when the boats were all in a big cauldron was put over a fire to cook the tomato broth. After selling their catch, the fisherman one by one would bring whatever fish were leftover on their boat. They “chipped in” and the dish they all shared on the wharf got its name. More likely the name is derived from the classic Ligurian dialect for the fish stew found around Genoa,  “ciuppin”.

This is an easy no mess recipe. Everything cooks in one pot. You can have cioppino on your table in way less than an hour. The briny seafood swims in a sweet rich San Marzano tomato bath. My favorite bite is dunking my garlic bread in the brothy sea-scented sauce.

Make sure you have plenty of napkins for your guests. You will get a little messy eating the crab and shrimp still in the shell.

If you want to make cioppino easier to eat take all of the fish out of the shells before serving. I like it best the messy way. I just love to scoop up some broth in each mussel and clam shell “spoon”. Any leftovers make a fabulous sauce for linguine.

If you want to cook 7 different fish dishes for your Christmas Eve dinner make some of my favorites. Choose from 11 fish recipes.

How about a luscious pork roast for Christmas or New Year’s dinner? I made it for my office holiday gathering. The butterflied loin is smathered with a rosemary and sage paste that infuses its flavor into the mellow pork while roasting in the oven.

I served the porchetta with potatoes roasted with rosemary and sea salt and finished with a drizzle of truffle oil and broccoli rabe sautéed in garlic-infused olive oil.

Make this fabulous porchetta dinner for your friends and family this holiday season.

Buon appetito! Happy Holidays! Treasure your time with family and friends at your table.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Cioppino Recipe: A San Francisco Treat for Christmas Eve
 
Prep time
Cook time
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Cioppino is the classic San Francisco fish stew invented by Italian fisherman immigrants when the boats came in for the day. An easy and delicious dish for a very special meal.
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 steamed dungeness crab, cleaned and cracked
  • 6 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 6 clams, scrubbed
  • 6 prawns or shrimp in the shell
  • 6 scallops
  • ½ pound calamari
  • ½ pound halibut or your favorite firm-flesh fish (sorry I called it haddock in the video)
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO, plus some to drizzle on top before serving
  • 1 small onion, halved and cut in thirds
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 small red bell pepper, cut in 2-inch pieces
  • half a fennel bulb, cut in thirds
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 28 ounces San Marzano tomatoes, crushed well by hand or pureed
  • 2 big sprigs of basil
  • 2 sprigs of Italian flat parsley, plus some chopped to sprinkle on top before serving
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • (slices of sourdough bread to grill, optional)
  • (1/2 cup of polenta to feed the clams & mussels, optional)
Instructions
  1. Put the mussels and clams in a big bowl of cold salted water and top with a ¼ cup of polenta.
  2. Let sit for 30 minutes stirring once in a while to distribute the polenta over the shellfish. The clams and mussels eat the polenta and any sand inside the shell will be expelled.
  3. (Simple bread rubbed with garlic is a must have when you're eating the cioppino. Slice sour dough bread and toast 1 or 2 slices per person in a grill pan. Put some weight on the slices to ensure they get grill marks. Toast the other side. Rub with garlic and sprinkle with EVOO. Set aside.)
  4. Take the clams and mussels out of the polenta bath and wash them well. Debeard the mussels if necessary. Set aside.
  5. Leave the prawns in the shell. Cut down the middle of the back and remove the dark vein. Set the prawns aside.
  6. Cut the calamari tubes into one inch bands. If the tentacles are very large cut them in half.
  7. Leave the fish fillet whole.
  8. Put the EVOO and garlic in a large enamel pot over medium-high heat.
  9. Toss the garlic in the oil to release its flavor but don't let it take on any color, about 1 minute.
  10. Add the onions, fennel, red bell pepper, bay leaf and red pepper flakes to the pot. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
  11. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.
  12. Over medium-high heat add the tomatoes and stir well.
  13. Add the basil, parsley and oregano.
  14. Cook the sauce until you reach the desired thickness. The volume should reduce by a third.
  15. First add the clams and mussels to the pot and give them a 2-minute head start.
  16. Next add the fish fillet, scallops, shrimp, calamari and prawns. Cover the pot and let it rapidly simmer for about 5 minutes.
  17. Then add the steamed crab and give the pot a good stir.
  18. Cook until the mussels and clams open, about another 4 minutes or so. Discard any mussels or clams that do not open.
  19. Put the cioppino in a large serving bowl.
  20. Top with chopped parsley and a sprinkle of a good finishing olive oil.
  21. Serve immediately with the grilled garlic sour dough bread to dunk in the sauce.
  22. Serves 4-6

 

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.

North Beach Shopping Spree Ends with Shadow Ravioli

Homemade ricotta & mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano basil sauce
David Fagan’s shadow pic of homemade ricotta & mozzarella ravioli

“Make homemade ricotta ravioli for Saturday’s dinner,” my Seattle friend told me before she boarded her plane. And so started a day of shopping and eating in North Beach with friends.

Those are my shadows on the dining room wall. I’m holding a tray of ricotta & mozzarella ravioli while tallying how many ravioli each of the 7 friends at my table would eat.

These are big ravioli. Most chose 2 or 3.

Early Saturday morning we headed down the hill to North Beach to buy what we needed for dinner. Santo let us use Cavalli Cafe on Stockton Street as our staging area.

As we sipped our coffees Santo packed up cannoli ingredients for us to assemble after dinner. We didn’t want the shells to get soggy if they were filled too soon before we devoured them.

We left the fruits and vegetables from Union Produce with Santo and headed to Molinari deli for the antipasti fixings. We dropped the bags back at Cavalli and crossed the street to Little City Meat Market for 3 types of sausage to roast and serve with the ravioli.

Italian wines from Coit Liquors and Acme bread from Little Vine and we were ready to head back to my place. My friends insisted that we had too many bags to carry up the hill. We hailed a cab. How civilized, a ride right to my front door.

Back in my kitchen, we got the San Marzano basil sauce going and left it to simmer. Then 3 of us made the pasta dough and ran it through my hand-cranked pasta machine until we had long, wide pasta sheets.

As the sheets dried we whipped up the simple creamy ricotta and mozzarella filling. My friends jumped in and made one sheet of ravioli under my careful supervision. We ended up with 27 large ravioli.

Watch my fresh ravioli with San Marzano sauce video episode and make some yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Antipasti Platter
Antipasti Platter

Here’s the antipasti platter that started off our meal. It’s a good example of what you can put together for your next holiday party.

Starting with the top middle dish:

Marinated mixed olives and black oil-cured olives; sharp provolone & a young pecorino with pistachios; marinated giant Corona beans; homemade pickled eggplant; gorgonzola dolce; taralli; steamed green beans with lemon & olive oil. In the center dish: prosciutto di San Daniele, mortadella and coppa picante.

Use my pickled eggplant recipe to make some to have handy in your fridge.

My green bean salad recipe is quick and easy. Add something fresh and delicious to your antipasti platter too.

Remember those cannoli fixings Santo packed up for us?

Three and a half hours after the meal started and 6 bottles of wine later, I just passed the shells, filling, chocolate chips and orange peel syrup around the table for each my guests to make their own cannolo. They didn’t mind doing it themselves. Santo’s cannoli are fantastic and the crispy shells shattered with each creamy bite.

Champagne grapes and roasted chestnuts ended our meal. A wonderful evening with friends at my table.

Treasure your times together around the table this holiday season.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna Ready in an Hour

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
Ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

I promised to make a lasagna for our office potluck lunch Thursday. As I got ready for a trip to LA I tried to beg off making the lasagna.

I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to make a lasagna because I was flying back Wednesday night.  My office mates wouldn’t let off the hook.

I was stuck. After I unpacked I dashed off to the market to get everything I needed.

I was making a “lazy” lasagna. No homemade pasta sheets. No long-cooked sauce. This puppy is in the oven in a half-hour.

Don’t be intimidated. This is a simple recipe for a weekend meal or even for a leisurely weeknight dinner.

I used no-boil lasagna sheets, sausage  browned out of its casing and a ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino filling. Canned San Marzano tomatoes made the quick tomato-basil sauce a snap. Leave out the sausage and you have a delicious vegetarian lasagna.

First start the sauce. It will be ready in about 30 minutes. Cook the sausage at the same time. In the meantime whip up the ricotta and mozzarella filling. When the sauce is ready assemble the 3-layer lasagna and bake it in a hot oven for about a half-hour.

How easy is that? You’ll be ready to eat in about 60 minutes start to finish.

The ricotta filling encased in tender pasta sheets is creamy and rich. The perky sausage layer bathed in the sweet tomato-basil sauce is a zesty counterweight. I savored every bite. 2 of my lucky mates snagged the leftover lasagna for their lunch the next day.

Serve the lasagna with a simple salad and a bold red wine. Have some crusty bread handy to wipe up the sauce left on the plate. You won’t have to wash that dish before you put it back on the shelf.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna with Tomato-Basil Sauce
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian-American
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 1 box oven-ready (no-boil) lasagna sheets
  • 2 pounds ricotta, drained
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano, plus more to sprinkle on top of the lasagna
  • ¼ cup fresh Italian flat parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound Italian mild sausage out of the casing
  • 2 28-ounce cans imported San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut in small cubes
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the canned tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them with you hand. Discard any basil in the can and any skin or tough stems.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic until it takes on a light tan color.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and sea salt to taste. Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer.
  5. Add the basil, reduce to low heat and stir the sauce occasionally for about 30 minutes. The sauce will thicken a bit as it simmers.
  6. As the sauce simmers put a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the sausage and brown. Break up any clumps as you cook the sausage.
  7. Drain off the oil in the pan and set the sausage aside.
  8. In a large bowl beat the eggs then add the ricotta, most of the shredded mozzarella, pecorino, parsley and black pepper. (Set aside a ¼ cup of the shredded mozzarella to spread on top of the lasagna.)
  9. Beat well with a fork or whisk.
  10. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish spread a cup of sauce evenly over the bottom.
  11. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter.
  12. Lay down a single layer of lasagna sheets to cover the bottom of the dish.
  13. Add half the ricotta filling and spread it evenly over the lasagna sheets.
  14. Add another single layer of lasagna sheets on top of the ricotta filling. Spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  15. Add the browned sausage in an even layer over the lasagna sheets.
  16. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  17. Spread the remaining ricotta filling evenly over the sheets.
  18. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  19. Sprinkle with the reserved shredded mozzarella and some grated pecorino.
  20. Dot with butter.
  21. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to lightly brown the cheese on top of the lasagna,
  22. Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before cutting the lasagna. (I usually make 3 cuts the length of the lasagna and then 4 cuts across the width to form 3 x 3 inch pieces.)
  23. Put any remaining sauce in a sauce bowl should your guests want to add more to their lasagna.
  24. (The lasagna is even better the next day.)

 

 

Oscar Worthy “Moonstruck” Eggs

Oscar-Winning Eggs with Roasted Peppers Inspired by "Moonstruck"
Oscar-Winning Eggs with Roasted Peppers Inspired by “Moonstruck”

In anticipation of tomorrow night’s Academy Awards I cooked up some Oscar-worthy eggs this morning.

Ever see Norman Jewison’s 1987 movie about a Brooklyn Italian-American family? “Moonstruck” won Oscars for Olympia Dukakis and Cher.

There’s a kitchen scene where Dukakis is making these eggs for herself and Cher.

“Moonstruck” eggs were a popular item on my restaurant’s brunch menu. There’s no better combination than peppers and eggs. We served them with roasted pork and fennel sausage.

In Italy this dish is known as “birds in a nest”. They are super simple and they make a big impression for that special Saturday or Sunday morning. Add your favorite potatoes and breakfast meat and that’s it.

Here’s the “Moonstruck” kitchen scene that is the basis of my recipe.

Buon appetito!

Moonstruck Eggs
 
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A simple but fancy egg dish inspired by Olympia Dukakas cooking breakfast for Cher in the 1987 movie "Moonstruck".
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 egg
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1 slice rustic bread
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Punch out a whole in the middle of the bread slice big enough to hold the egg.
  2. Put a skillet over medium high heat and add just enough of the EVOO to coat the bottom of the pan well.
  3. Place the bread slice in the pan. Toast briefly on both sides.
  4. Cut the roasted pepper into small strips and heat them in the skillet.
  5. Crack an egg in the whole in the bread.
  6. Let the egg cook until the white sets up well, about 2 minutes.
  7. Carefully flip the egg over to cook the yolk side to your taste.
  8. (If you're scared of flipping the egg, just put a cover over it and let it set to your desired doneness.)
  9. Top the egg with the roasted pepper and salt and black pepper to taste.
  10. Serve immediately by itself or with your favorite breakfast potatoes and breakfast meat.
  11. (If your making more than 1 Moonstruck egg, cook as many as fit comfortably in your pan. I can eat 2 of these for my breakfast or brunch.)

 

 

Beef Brisket Roman Jewish Ghetto Style

Beef Brisket
Beef Brisket
Beef Brisket in the Roman Jewish Ghetto Style

When I was in New York City a couple of weeks ago I ducked into a deli for a beef brisket sandwich before heading to the airport to come back home.

Unfortunately, the sandwich sucked. I left most of it uneaten on the plate.

Back in San Francisco, I still had a craving for tender, succulent long-braised beef brisket in a rich gravy. I couldn’t get it out of mind.

Luckily, on my last visit to Little City Meats on Stockton at Vallejo, the boys had plenty of beef brisket in the case. I had to get a hunk to satisfy my desires.

Here’s my take on how this dish might be made in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. I’ll let you know if I find it on a menu when I’m in Rome this spring.

Beef brisket isn’t that hard to make. Most of the time is spent waiting for the brisket to slow-braise in the pot for a couple of hours in a broth flavored with aromatics.

You end up with fork-tender beef in a rich, mellow gravy. Serve the brisket with the carrots and celery scattered on top, pour the gravy all over and dinner is ready.

Make sure you get a big piece of brisket. Thick slices moistened with gravy make a fantastic sandwich. You want to have leftovers so you can stuff a crunchy Italian roll the next day.

Buon appetito!

Beef Brisket from the Roman Jewish Ghetto
 
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Beef brisket long braised with aromatic vegetables in the style of the Roman Jewish Ghetto
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2-3 pounds beef brisket
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large stems Italian flat parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups water
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the celery and carrots in 2-3-inch pieces.
  2. Smash the garlic cloves and peel.
  3. Cut the onion in half and then quarter.
  4. Season the brisket all over with salt and pepper.
  5. Dust the brisket with the flour.
  6. Put a large enameled or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons EVOO.
  7. When the oil is hot put the brisket in the pot, fat side down.
  8. Brown the brisket on all sides.
  9. Put the brisket on a plate and set aside.
  10. Drain out the oil.
  11. Add 1 tablespoon EVOO to the pot.
  12. Add the tomato paste and toast it in the oil until it's color darkens a bit.
  13. Put in the celery, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, parsley and onion, mix the vegetables with the tomato paste and saute until the onion is just translucent.
  14. Add the red wine and deglaze the pot, scraping all the brown bits on the bottom.
  15. Simmer about a minute or 2 to let the wine alcohol burn off and the brown bits dissolve into the broth.
  16. Put the brisket and any juices on the plate back in the pot.
  17. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and about half of the brisket.
  18. Bring the pot to a low simmer, cover and simmer for about 2 to 3 hours until the brisket is fork tender.
  19. Put the brisket and some of the carrot, celery and onion pieces on a platter and set aside.
  20. Pour the gravy and the vegetable pieces through a strainer into a bowl.
  21. With a big spoon push down on the vegetables pieces in the strainer to get all of the flavorful liquid into the bowl.
  22. Return the gravy to the pot, simmer to reduce and thicken the gravy, about 3 minutes.
  23. Slice the brisket and put the slices on a platter. Serve some of the carrots, celery and onion on the side. Pour the pan gravy on top.
  24. Serve immediately.

 

Spring has arrived.

Buon appetito!

 

Baked Ziti for Valentine’s Day?

A quick, rich baked pasta dish from beautiful Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.
A quick, rich baked pasta dish from beautiful Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.

Why go out for a “romantic” dinner on Valentine’s Day? The restaurants are crazy busy. Why tolerate the hassle of overbooked places and food pouring out of an overworked kitchen? All you’ll get is agita (heartburn).

Don’t go out. Stay home and cook Valentine’s Day dinner together. Start a new tradition. Enjoy your time cooking together and share food made with love.

A fresh, crunchy and complex Fennel & Orange Salad with Oil-Cured Olives is a perfect first course. Prosecco or Pinot Grigio pairs well with the salad in a citrus vinaigrette.

Baked Ziti alla Sorrento is the star of this special dinner. It’s an Italian version of mac ‘n cheese from the sunny coast of the Bay of Naples.

The small pasta tubes are coated in creamy ricotta, soft melted mozzarella and marinara sauce then baked in the oven. I can’t resist picking off the nutty toasted ziti on top. Save the leftovers. Baked ziti is even better the next day. Aglianico, Nero d’Avola or Chianti go well with the ziti.

By making the marinara while the pasta water comes to a boil and the salad as the ziti bakes, dinner will be ready in about an hour.

And for dessert, top a big scoop of vanilla gelato with a shot of limoncello or your favorite liqueur. Who knows, after all that wine this might be just what you both need to get lucky.

Still want to go out for Valentine’s Day dinner? Try one of these North Beach restaurants.

Buon appetito! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Baked Ziti alla Sorrentino
 
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Easy baked ziti is sumptuous. The pasta is coasted with creamy ricotta, mozzarella and marinara then baked in the oven until crispy on top.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • Marinara Sauce
  • 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 large branch of fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Baked Ziti
  • 1 pound ziti
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 5 basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano, pecorino or grana padano
Instructions
  1. Before you get started put a large pot of well salted water to boil over high heat. (Use about 5 quarts of water and at least 1 tablespoon of sea salt for a pound of pasta.) Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Marinara Sauce
  3. Put the olive oil and garlic in a pan and over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic until it starts to take on some color.
  4. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and salt.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir occasionally and cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
  6. Set the sauce aside.
  7. Baked Ziti
  8. Cut the mozzarella into 1-inch cubes.
  9. Put the ricotta in a strainer to drain.
  10. Cook the ziti in a large pot of well-salted rapidly boiling water. Drain the ziti just as it reaches al dente, about 10 minutes.
  11. Put the ziti in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, mozzarella, ½ cup grated cheese, 2 cups of marinara sauce and basil leaves ripped in small pieces. Mix to coat the pasta well,
  12. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with marinara sauce.
  13. Spread the ziti evenly in the baking dish.
  14. Top the ziti with the remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
  15. Bake in the oven until the top of the baked ziti starts to turn golden, about 30 minutes.
  16. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebration Crab Salad on My New Year’s Eve Menu

Dungeness Crab Salad
Dungeness Crab Salad

San Franciscans love dungeness crab this time of year. The crabs are big and meaty this season. I’m making a celebratory dungeness salad with celery and shallot, EVOO and Meyer lemon.

The lemon perks up the briny sweetness of the crab bathed in mellow olive oil. The celery and shallot add a background crunch to the crab salad. Simple and sinful.

If your have steamed, cleaned and cracked crab the salad is done in 10 minutes. Use the recipe below and put a celebratory crab salad on your table. Add fried calamari and giardiniera and your antipasti is complete.

Lentil soup with cotechino is a traditional New Year’s Eve first course. It brings you good luck in the new year. The dish full of tiny lentils represents the coins you will amass in the new year and the fat boiled sausage your impending opulence.

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the New Year’s Eve dinner menu I posted the other day. Something was amiss. As often happens I found inspiration in the market.

There it was, a beautiful boneless leg of veal roast sitting in the display case at Little City Meats. The roast with a zesty spinach stuffing will be the anchor of my meal. I’ll post this recipe soon.

I’m all set for New Year’s Eve dinner at my place. Are you?

Except for the Prosecco, we’re drinking some nice California reds.

Buon Capo d’Anno! Happy New Year! Buon appetito!

Gianni’s New Year’s Eve Dinner Menu

Antipasti

Calimari fritti. Fried calamari served with vinegar pepper confetti.

Fresh dungeness crab salad with celery, shallot, EVOO and fresh Meyer lemon (recipe below).

Giardiniera

Zeppole. (fried savory, light doughnuts with anchovies)

Prosecco, a sparkling dry wine from the Veneto in northern Italia

Primo Piatto

Lentil soup with cotechino

Pinot Noir, Beulieu Vineyard, Carmeros Reserve, Napa, 2007

Secondo Piatto

Leg of Veal Roast with spinach stuffing

Roasted spaghetti squash

Cabernet Sauvignon, Francis Coppola Diamond Collection, Ivory Label, Napa, 2010

Dessert

Sfogliatelle (crispy Neapolitan pastries filled with sweet ricotta)

A sip or two of my homemade limoncello and my strawberry liqueur

Italian still and sparkling bottled waters throughout the meal

Celebration Crab Salad on My New Year's Eve Menu
 
A fresh clean taste of the sea, dungeness crab salad with shallot and celery,
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 2 steamed dungeness crab
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 shallot
  • ¼ cup EVOO
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Steam the crab or buy steamed, cracked crab at the market. (Blue crab or boiled shrimp can be substituted for the dungeness crab.) Put the crab meat in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Clean and crack the crab. Pull out out all of the meat leaving the pieces as intact as possible.
  3. Cut the celery in very thin slices.
  4. Squeeze the lemon juice in a small bowl.
  5. Mince the shallot and add to the lemon juice. Let it sit for 5 minutes to mellow its flavor.
  6. Add the EVOO and whisk well.
  7. Pour the dressing over the crabmeat.
  8. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  9. Roughly chop the parsley and add to the crabmeat. Mix well.
  10. Put the crab salad on a serving dish and serve chilled.
  11. Serves 4-6.

 

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 Eve Seven Fish Feast

Fish Market Ortigia Sicily
Fish Market, Ortigia, Sicily

Cena di Vigilia (Christmas Eve meal) is a Neapolitan tradition.

I’m cooking with my friend Susan in her New Jersey kitchen. Along with her brother Joe, we’ll prepare our Christmas Eve Seven Fish Dinner for 20 friends.

I’ll miss the dungeness crab this year. The San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf crabbers are back after a brief strike over wholesale prices. I’ve eaten some since the crabs came back on the market last week so I think I can survive without them on Christmas Eve. If you’re in town buy some crab. They’re fresh, big and meaty.

Create your own Cena di Viglia with these recipes and an extra fried shrimp recipe too. I’ll definitely be frying up some calamari and shrimp for my Jersey Christmas Eve.

Buon Natale e buon appetito!