Pasta Primavera: Bow tie pasta with early spring vegetables

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Pasta Primavera
Pasta primavera is spring on a plate.

I love this time of year when the first of the early spring vegetables start to hit the market. Pencil-thin asparagus, tiny peas, and tender fava beans are among my favorites, so I just had to make pasta primavera with these spring farmers’ market beauties.

But the nice thing about pasta primavera is that it’s versatile enough to work well with all kinds of produce. Asparagus not looking so good? Use artichokes instead! Are those gorgeous ramps on sale this week? Use those! Just pick whatever’s fresh and delicious in your market and you can’t go wrong.

This dish is inspired by the original Spaghetti alla Primavera from Sirio Maccioni, co-owner of Le Cirque restaurant in New York City–it’s a real Italian-American classic. I’ve lightened the dish up by using no butter and less cream, and this keeps the spring vegetables in sharp focus. Instead, pasta water creates a flavorful broth as the base of the sauce and bow tie pasta instead of spaghetti guarantees you get some veggies with every bite.

I prefer the more robust ricotta salata flavor instead of parmigiano as a finishing note, but different strokes, right? And extra virgin olive oil does put some fat back into this really healthy, full-flavored taste of springtime, I’ll give you that, but come on, a little ain’t gonna kill ya.

I made farfalle alla primavera a few years ago at my cooking demonstration and tasting at The Villages in San Jose. I was cooking for 50 Italian-Americans and wannabes and I needed a boat-load of vegetables, so while setting up for the show I enlisted a dozen of my students to shell the peas and fava beans and cut the asparagus. When all the work was done, one of my prep helpers said “Next time use frozen!” Well, of course you can, but it won’t be as good as using fresh from the farmer’s market–the extra work means extra flavor and who don’t want that?

The full flavor of the spring vegetables rule this simple, uncluttered pasta dish that is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.  After you shell the peas and fava that is. Just make sure none of your helpers throw them pea pods at ya.

And if you like this, also try my recipe for spring asparagus frittata. It’s another great way to get spring on a plate.

Buon appetito!

Pasta Primavera: Bow Tie Pasta with Early Spring Vegetables
Bow tie pasta with fresh spring peas, lava beans and asparagus in a light cream sauce.
Recipe type: pasta
Cuisine: Italian
  • 1 cup fava beans
  • 1 pound or 500 grams Farfalle dried pasta
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 8 thin asparagus spears, cut on a bias in 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas
  • 10 ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 5 basil leaves, ripped by hand
  • ¼ cup grated ricotta salata or grated parmigiano
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and finishing olive oil to taste
  1. Remove the fava beans from the pod and blanch them in the hot pasta water for a minute or two. Take the fava beans out of the water and when cool remove the wrinkled skin from the fava.
  2. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil over high heat.
  3. Add the farfalle to the boiling water and cook until just al dente.
  4. In the meantime, put a large saute pan over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil and add the garlic.
  5. When the garlic starts to give off its aroma add the spring onion.
  6. When the onion is translucent, add the asparagus and fava beans sprinkle with sea salt and sauté for a minute or two until the asparagus takes on a deeper green color.
  7. Add a cup of the pasta water to the sauté pan and cover the pan. Cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until the asparagus and fava are tender.
  8. Add the peas and cherry tomatoes, another cup of pasta water and cook until the peas and tomatoes are wrinkled, for a minute or two more.
  9. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the cream and mix well. Cook to reduce and thicken the sauce.
  10. Drain the farfalle when just al dente and put them in the pan. Stir the farfalle well with the primavera sauce. (Add more pasta water if the sauce is too dense.)
  11. Stir in the basil.
  12. Off the heat add a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and the grated cheese.
  13. Drizzle the farfalle with your finishing extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.


A Whole Wheat Pasta Recipe You’ll Love

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

A northern Jersey friend enjoyed this yellow onion and anchovy whole wheat pasta dish several years ago at da Flora, one of my favorite North Beach restaurants. The food memory haunted her ever since.

She hasn’t been to San Francisco since that dinner at da Flora so I made my version of the dish when 10 of us gathered at the table back East last week.

Two of my Jersey friends picked 3 of us up in Manhattan and we headed to Arthur Avenue, NYC’s Little Italy in the Bronx to finalize our menu and buy what we needed for our 4-course meal from our favorite purveyors.

Then it was off to Clifton NJ for a day of cooking and eating together. 8 hours of conversation, laughter and fun fueled by fantastic food and wine.

The chance to be with family and friends around the table is what drives my cooking passion and warms my heart.

This is a simple recipe with few ingredients. Start making the sauce when you put on a large pot of salted water over high-heat to boil and the sauce will be done by the time the pasta is cooked.

The nutty toothsome whole wheat pasta is coated with the onion-anchovy sauce. The sweet onions play off the salty anchovies and the sweet acidic sherry vinegar adds a piquant finish to each bite. Savor a full-flavored pasta made from a few simple ingredients.

Flora is somewhat of a technophobe. I’m so happy that she finally decided to create a da Flora website. Take a look at this unique place. Meet the 3 remarkable women who prepare your meal with local seasonal ingredients, the best imported products and lots of love.

Book a table for your next dinner in North Beach. God bless Flora. She’ll only go so far on the web. You’ll have to call to make a reservation. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Buon appetito!

Whole Wheat Spaghetti in an Onion-Anchovy Sauce
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A quick zesty sauce that's ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Sweet onions play off the anchovy-garlic sauce and nutty whole wheat pasta for a full-flavored pasta dish perked up by a bit of sherry vinegar.
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 pound or 500 grams, imported Italian whole wheat spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 2 yellow onions, halved and then slivered
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 10 anchovy filets, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups pasta cooking water
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • drizzle of good finishing extra virgin olive oil
  1. Put on 4 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt over high heat to boil.
  2. When the water is at a rapid boil add the pasta and stir so the spaghetti strands don't stick together. Cook until very al dente.
  3. In the meantime, place a sauté pan large enough to hold the cooked spaghetti over medium-high heat and add the extra virgin olive oil.
  4. When the oil ripples add the thinly sliced onions, sprinkle the onions with sea salt and cook until translucent and slightly browned.
  5. Add the sherry vinegar and cook until the sauce is slightly reduced.
  6. Remove the onions and sauce to a bowl and set aside.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium-low and melt the butter in the pan.
  8. Add the anchovies and thinly sliced garlic to the pan and cook until the anchovies dissolve and the thinly sliced garlic starts to give off its aroma, about a minute or 2.
  9. Return the carmelized onions and sauce to the pan.
  10. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the pasta water and rapidly simmer until the sauce reduces by about half.
  11. When the pasta is cooked to al dente, using tongs or a spider, add the pasta to the pan. (If you drain the pasta in a colander reserve a cup of the cooking water.)
  12. Add the chopped parsley, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  13. Toss the spaghetti in the sauce. The pasta will absorb some of the sauce as it finishes cooking. (If the spaghetti is too dry add a bit more pasta water and toss again.)
  14. Serve the pasta in warm bowls and lightly drizzle each bowl with a good finishing olive oil.





Italian Braised Beef Brisket

Italian beef brisket long braised with herbs and aromatic vegetables
Italian beef brisket long braised with herbs and aromatic vegetables

I wanted to eat some beef brisket when I was in the Big Apple last week but it was too damn hot during the 7-day Heat Dome.

I satisfied my craving when I got back home. Here’s an Italian version of what many typically think of as a Jewish dish.

Beef brisket is easy to make. After the simple preparation, the brisket just sits on top of the stove braising until the meat is fork-tender.

Serve the vegetables on the side with some garlic smashed potatoes, fettuccine or polenta topped with the pan gravy and you’ve got dinner on a plate.

The beef brisket is moist and fall-apart tender. The vegetables are soft and sweet. Serve more of the full-flavored pan gravy on the side for your guests to help themselves.

If you’re lucky you’ll have brisket left over for sandwiches. Be sure to dip your crusty bread in the rich gravy before you put the panini together and you’ll be in heaven.

Buon appetito!

Italian Beef Brisket
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Beef brisket long braised with aromatic vegetables and herbs is a simple but flavorful lunch or dinner all on one plate.
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 pounds beef brisket
  • 2 carrots, quartered and cut in 2 inches pieces
  • 2 celery stalks, cut in 2 inches pieces
  • 1 onion, cut in half and quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs of Italian parsley
  • 1 cup sangiovese or zinfandel or your favorite dry red wine
  • 1 cup San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand
  • 1 cup water (if needed)
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the brisket and rub it into the meat.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large enameled pot or thick bottom sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  3. When the oil ripples brown the brisket on both sides to create a dark crust.
  4. Remove the brisket to a plate.
  5. Add the tomato paste, vegetables and herbs, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook until the tomato paste darkens and the vegetables start to caramelize. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
  6. Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost all evaporated. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes and stir well.
  8. Lower the heat to medium-low and put the brisket back in the pot along with any juices on the resting plate. Add some water if necessary so that the brisket is almost covered with the braising liquid.
  9. Put the top on the pot and braise the brisket until it is fork tender, about 60-90 minutes.
  10. Remove the parsley and bay leaf.
  11. Slice the brisket against the grain and serve on a large platter with the vegetables and topped with gravy.


Saltimbocca: So Good It Jumps in Your Mouth


I’m in New York City and meeting up with friends. On a brisk, sunny Saturday morning we’re off to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, the true NYC Little Italy.

We’ll spend the day cooking together, eating and drinking in northern Jersey. But first we have to decide on the menu and get everything we need to prepare our meal.

As is our habit, our first stop is Caffe DiLillo for a cappuccino and cornetto and to plan our menu. Our 4-course meal fell into place quickly.

My assignment is saltimbocca, the classic Roman dish, veal scaloppine topped with fresh sage and prosciutto and sauteed in butter and extra virgin olive oil. Saltimbocca is so good it’s moniker translates to “jump in your mouth”.

Saltimbocca is easy. I made enough for 8 at the table in about 15 minutes. The salty, crispy prosciutto enrobes fresh sage atop fork-tender veal scaloppine. Deglaze the pan with a dry, white wine to create a silky sauce and you’re done.

The dish works just as well with chicken. I used both veal and chicken scaloppine to satisfy the preferences of my table mates. Asparagus roasted with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and lemon completed each plate. Yum.

I made panna cotta for dessert too.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
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Saute veal or chicken scaloppine topped with fresh sage and prosciutto in butter and extra virgin olive oil to create a dish that "jumps in your mouth."
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
  • 1 pound veal (or chicken) scaloppine
  • fresh sage
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin oil oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  1. Sprinkle the scaloppine with salt and pepper.
  2. Depending on their size, lay 1 or 2 sage leaves atop the scallopine.
  3. Cover the scaloppine with a thin slice of prosciutto.
  4. Tap the prosciutto with the back of a knife to attach it to the scaloppine.
  5. Lightly coat the scaloppine with flour. Tap off any excess flour.
  6. Put the extra virgin olive oil and the butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat.
  7. When the butter is melted and starts to foam, add the scaloppine and saute prosciutto side down until the prosciutto is golden and crispy, about 2 minutes.
  8. Saute the other side about a minute.
  9. Put the saltimbocca on a plate, loosely cover with foil and set aside.
  10. Saute the remaining scallopine.
  11. Over high heat, add the white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all of the crispy brown bits on the bottom of the plan and stir to dissolve the bits in the wine. Cook until the pan sauce thickens, about a minute.
  12. Pour the sauce over the saltimbocca and serve immediately.




Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Anchovy

Orecciette with Caulifower & Anchovy
Orecciette with Caulifower & Anchovy

April Bloomfield just bought North Beach’s iconic Tosca Cafe on Columbus and will soon be serving her food there. She has a cult following at her restaurant The Spotted Pig in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I wondered what was in store for us when she arrives here in North Beach.

She describes her dishes as “British, but with Italian undertones.” I haven’t been to The Pig and I wanted to find out more about April’s British take on Italian food.

I came across one of April’s pasta recipes and decided to give it a go. I’m adding it to my list of dishes where the sauce can be cooked in the time it takes to boil the pasta. You can get these pasta dishes on your table in less than 30 minutes.

April first had the dish in Puglia, the southern most region on Italia’s Adriatic coast where it was served by a skilled home cook she was visiting. Her hostess made it with homemade orecchiette, small ear-shaped pasta. Quality dried orecchiette from Italia works well too.

Don’t be scared off by the anchovy in the sauce. Anchovy melts in hot oil and adds dimension to any dish. It’s an umami, like miso, a preserved ingredient that is known as a “5th taste”. The anchovy in this dish adds flavor and depth to the sauce.

The little pasta hats capture the sauce. The anchovy and garlic sauce is mellowed by the sweet cauliflower with a rosemary accent.

I love this pasta and can’t wait for April Bloomfield to wow us with more of her food at the revived Tosca Cafe. Try my riff on her recipe to get a preview of what’s coming to North Beach.

Buon appetito!

3.0 from 1 reviews
Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Anchovy
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Orecchiette with cauliflower & anchovy is a really simple, flavorful pasta dish you can have on your table in the time it takes to boil the pasta.
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 pound or 500 grams imported Italian dried orecchiette
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO, plus a drizzle to finish the dish
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • 3 anchovy filets, chopped
  • ¼ cup grated parmigiano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
  2. Cut the cauliflower florets into bite size pieces.
  3. Cook the florets in the boiling water and cook until knife-tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove the florets with a slotted spoon or spider to a plate and set aside.
  5. Over a medium-low flame, put the EVOO in a saute pan large enough to hold the pasta.
  6. Add the onion and garlic, add a sprinkling of salt and cook until the onion is soft and slightly caramelized.
  7. Add the anchovy and rosemary and mix well with the onion. Cook for about 2 minutes. The anchovy will dissolve and disappear.
  8. Add the florets and a sprinkle of salt and mix well with the other vegetables. Cook for about 10 minutes. (If the sauce is too dense add some boiling water.)
  9. While the cauliflower is cooking add the orecchiette to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
  10. Strain or drain the orecchiette and add to the cauliflower sauce. (If you drain the sauce, reserve a cup of the pasta water.)
  11. Coat the orecchiette well with the sauce and cook for about a minute or so. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  12. Put the orecchiette on a serving platter, top with a drizzle of a good finishing EVOO and the grated parmigiano.
  13. Serve immediately.


Una Pizza Napoletana’s Mangieri Back in the News

Una Pizza Napoletana
Pizza Napoletana

I’ve been following Anthony Mangieri for years on both coasts. Actually I’ve been following his pizza.

The guy had a reputation for making pizza Napoletano, pizza as made in Naples where it all started, my personal favorite. Some even said that Anthony’s pizza was better than you can get in Naples and certainly the best in America.

The only problem was that his pizzeria in New York City’s East Village was only open until he ran out of dough and you had to wait on the sidewalk a couple of hours to get in. Hey, it’s only pizza. I ain’t waiting, so I never went.

I got excited when I heard that Mangieri was closing his New York place and moving to San Francisco. The city’s beauty beckoned. Hell, he could make pizza anywhere, right?

I followed the progress at his new SOMA pizzeria, Una Pizza Nepoletana on 11th near Folsom. Anthony didn’t like the first brick oven he imported from Naples. He ripped it out and 40 grand later he had a new wood-burning beehive brick oven that suited him better. Mangieri’s pizza is artful.  No less would do.

When he finally opened, same thing. The wait on the sidewalk was 2 hours. Hey, it’s only pizza. I ain’t waiting.

I got a chance to walk right into Una Pizza Napoletana one night at a private event. No waiting. There was Mangieri, a solitary figure standing at a stainless steel worktable in the middle of a large room. The Maestro was at his alter. The brick oven was behind him, watched over by Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of fire. Read all about that special night at Mangieri’s Una Pizza Napoletana and some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

In Paolo Lucchese’s article about Mangieri in Sunday’s Chronicle, Anthony says that some nights the pizzeria is empty now. What happened to the 2-hour waits?

When Anthony first started making true pizza Napoletana in Jersey years ago, nobody knew what it was. In just the last few years, pizza Napoletana became famous. Lots of places making Neopolitan-style pizza opened in San Francisco. Farina, Zero-Zero, Tony’s Pizza Napoletano, Pizzeria Delfino, Flour and Water, Mozzeria, the list goes on and on.

We’re in a pizza bubble and I’m think it’s about to burst. Can all these places survive as the glow of pizza oven fades and the crowds more on to the next new craze?

I think Anthony will be making pizza for a long time, no matter what. It’s in his blood. If you haven’t been to Una Pizza Napoletana visit Mangieri soon. You won’t be disappointed. Just don’t ask for a salad.

Here’s Paolo Lucchese’s Anthony Mangieri article from Sunday’s Chronicle and some extra “scenes” with Anthony that Paolo didn’t include in the article.

Christmas Alley, Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays! Buon Natale!

Grandma’s in the Kitchen

Nonna in the Kitchen

Not mine and maybe not yours but if you’re on Staten Island you can savor the cooking of a real nonna (grandmother) born in Italia at local restaurant Enoteca Maria.

No chefs here. Every night one of a stable of 9 grandmothers is in the kitchen making her favorite dishes from her native region. Joe Scaravella opened Enoteca Maria 5 years ago after he lost his mother and sister. He yearned to recreate the Italian family table now gone from his life. The nonnas hail from Naples and other towns in Campania, Agrigento and Palermo in Sicily and the province of Chieti in Abruzzo.

Joe placed an ad recruiting local women who cook authentic Italian food. He interviews each nonna and within 5 minutes he knows in his heart who to invite into the kitchen. Joe picks only those grandmothers he senses can really cook. When asked what food they grew up on he knows that they are not right for him if they respond in English with chicken parmigiana or eggplant.

Wait a minute Joe, what’s wrong with eggplant? I ate a lot of eggplant made by my Campania-born mother and eggplant parmigiana is my favorite dish.

Giovana Gambino is one Enoteca Maria’s nonnas. She was raised in Palermo and was cooking the day NPR’s David Greene visited Enoteca Maria. She boasts that she doesn’t cook arancini the classic Sicilian rice ball in the traditional way. Giovana’s modified simple arancini recipe is shaped by years of living in America but still remains true to its roots in Palermo. If you want to kick arancini up a notch or two try these arancini from da Flora, the Venetian osteria in North Beach.

I’ll take the free ferry from Manhattan over to Staten Island the next time I’m in New York. I’ll let you know what nonna’s cooking that night at Enoteca Maria. Can’t wait!


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!

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!

NYC’s Real Little Italy


Waiting in Line Just to Get In to Shop

I’m interested in the health of Italian-American communities across the country so I travelled from Manhattan to the outer borough of the Bronx to check out a neighborhood I’ve heard about for a long time but never visited.

Arthur Avenue is a vibrant Italian community in the Belmont section of the Bronx. While lower Manhattan’s Little Italy has shrunk to a 2 1/2 block stage-set, Arthur Avenue is booming and as true to its Italian immigrant roots as ever.

The Italian population has dwindled and Belmont is much more diverse, but the core around Arthur Avenue and 187th Street is vibrant with dozens of delis, butcher shops, cheese stores, pasta places and bakeries galore.

There are still some long-time residents and their kids living here. Those who have moved away to the suburbs come back to shop. I was amazed to see long lines outside of the markets and bakeries waiting to get in to do their shopping.

If you’re hungry before you shop you can choose one of old-fashioned restaurants like Dominick’s where you sit at communal tables or Umberto’s Clam Bar, a transplant from lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. Roberto’s is more upscale and modern and it’s offshoot Zero Otto Nove, a new pizzeria/trattoria has been getting rave reviews in the New York City press, no minor accomplishment.

Now that you belly is full, grab an espresso at the bustling Caffe De Lillo and hit the markets and bakeries so you make a great meal at home.

Strong traditions abound in Belmont. Ask 5 people where to get the best bread or Italian pastries and you’ll get 5 different answers. Every family has their favorite. Want fresh mozzarella or burrata? You must go to Casa di Mozzarella. Need fresh pasta?  Only Borgotti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles will do. Don’t miss the indoor Retail Market, a bunch of different food stalls all under one roof that was spear-headed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. We bought great salumi and cheeses at Mike’s Deli to take back to Manhattan for dinner.

These places wrap your purchases in paper and tie it up with string. They total your order with a pencil on a brown paper bag. The merchants have been doing it this way for a hundred years.

Thank God things change slowly on Arthur Avenue — truly The Real Little Italy in New York City. Be sure you visit when you’re in the Big Apple. You won’t be disappointed.

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.


My Old Stomping Grounds – New York and New Jersey

New York

I got spotted like a celebrity last Sunday as I stepped out of a shop in New York City’s Little Italy. Good thing I was behaving.

“Hey, you Gianni from the Web?” she asked.  The woman was born in Naples and has lived in the neighborhood for two decades. According to a recent article in the NY Times the 2010 Census reports that there are no Italians living in Little Italy. I guess she wasn’t home when they rang her bell.

Alleva Latteria Little Italy NYC

It’s a shame though. Little Italy used to be the Italian community. Now all that is visible is a three-block stage set on Mulberry Street loaded with touristy Italian restaurants. But actually, if you look carefully, you’ll find that some of the old-time places are still there.

Alleva have been making fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and other Italian goodies for over a hundred years.

The pasticceria Ferrara Bakery & Cafe makes great pastries, gelato and espresso. If you can’t get in there, try Caffe Roma a block north on Mulberry.

Buon Italia salumeria

I love Eataly, the Bastianich/Batali emporium of Italian food. It’s crowded and pricey, though. A friend told me to check out a similar store in Chelsea Market. Buon Italia has a much smaller selection of items but their prices are much better. I was able to get some candied citron and lemon peels. (I’ll need those when I make the pastiera napoletana a sweet ricotta torta that is part of my Easter tradition.)

Maybe it’s inevitable that demographics and neighborhoods change but what happened in New York’s Little Italy makes me sad. We’re really fortunate that North Beach is such a vibrant Italian neighborhood.

New Jersey

A bunch of my Jersey and NYC friends gathered in Clifton, NJ on Saturday. When we arrived we talked about what we would eat. Susan and I (we usually do the cooking) thought we’d just make some pasta with meatballs and sausage in red gravy. But no, who wanted porchetta, who wanted roasted peppers, cipollini agrodolce, roasted asparagus, sauteed escarole. So all of that stuff plus antipasti was added to the fresh pappardelle pasta for our meal. I think we ate for about six hours.

Choosing peppers to roast @ Corrado's Family Market

Northern Jersey still has a large Italian-American population. There are lots of bakeries and markets in the North Ward of Newark and in surrounding suburbs.

Whether with family or friends we always shop at Corrado’s in Clifton. They have a great selection of everything I need, and great prices too.


I enjoyed my time in Manhattan and New Jersey, but I’m happy to be back in North Beach. Sorrow over my East Coast heritage has re-energized me to be sure you know about all of the authentic Italian gems that you can still enjoy here in our little Village.