Al Baccari Knows North Beach Best

Buon Gusto Sausage Factory

The Chronicle’s front page Sunday Profile features Alessandro Baccari, Jr., an outstanding Italian-American historian, preservationist and collector.

Al is North Beach’s non-resident historian too. He lives on West Portal now but was born and raised in North Beach.

Al is 84 and he knows everything about North Beach’s Italian community and he loves to share his stories. He was the curator of the now gone North Beach Museum.

His personal collection of art and artifacts could fill a museum. In fact it did last year at the Old Mint’s Brava L’Italia exhibit in SOMA.

Here’s a post I did a year ago when I visited Al’s Old Mint North Beach exhibit and today’s Chronicle profile.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)

Pasta Fazool

Pasta and beans was a staple in my childhood Jersey home. My mom made this soup often and we all loved it. A fan asked for the recipe.

Pasta and beans is a 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. My version is from Campania and we call it pasta fazool in Neapolitan-American slang.

I fondly remember my last visit to Casserta Vecchia, a medieval village high in the hills overlooking the Bay of Naples. As we took in the view, the winds picked up. A dark storm was sweeping up from the bay.

We ducked into an ancient inn to have lunch as the blustery, fast-moving storm passed by. I was warmed by a bowl of pasta and beans in a terra cotta bowl, followed by grilled sausage, both cooked in a huge open hearth in the dining room with old stone walls and hand-hewn wooden beams overhead.

Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italia 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 all winter long.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • 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
  • grated pecorino
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
  3. Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
  4. Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
  5. Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
  6. Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
  7. Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
  8. 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.)
  9. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  10. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
  11. Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
  12. Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.
  13. Serves 6.

Buon appetito!

 

Subway Station in North Beach?

Chinatown Central Subway Station

The Central Subway plan never made sense to me and my North Beach neighbors.

The last station on the new subway line was in Chinatown, blocks away from North Beach. But the plan was to tunnel into North Beach and tear up Columbus Avenue, just to remove the gigantic tunnel boring machine at Washington Square Park.

North Beach merchants and residents were irate. Many feared the construction would put them out of business. Neighbors didn’t want to put up with years of disruption or the loss of restaurants, shops and cafes. They protested, they filed a lawsuit, but nothing seemed to alter the terrible subway plan.

We’ve been inconvenienced for months already. Columbus Avenue near Washington Square Park was ripped up to relocate utilities in preparation for the tunnel. It’s dirty and noisy work. Closed lanes created a traffic nightmare. Oh no, will it be like this for years to come?

Maybe not. The chief of San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) just announced 2 new alternative Central Subway plans that seem to address North Beach concerns.

The first gathering momentum here in the Village, is to build a North Beach subway station where the long abandoned Pagoda Theater now stands on the corner of Powell and Columbus, across from Washington Square. If local money can’t be found to buy and clear the land, the MTA will leave the monster tunnel boring machine underground, just beyond the Chinatown station.

In either event, no more of Columbus Avenue will be torn up. If we get lucky, North Beach will get a subway station built in a less disruptive way. Sometimes local action can make a difference. Let’s see what happens at next week’s MTA meeting where the new plans will be introduced.

Here’s Matier & Ross’ article from the Chronicle about these latest developments and my June and August Central Subway posts.

 

Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Actually it’s called ragu alla Bolognese. It’s a long-cooked meat sauce from Bologna, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, the culinary heart of Italy.

The ragu is traditionally served with tagliatelle in Bologna, a flat pasta a bit narrower than fettuccine. The pasta’s shape is perfect to maximize the sauce captured on its surface.

Spinach tagliatelle is the favorite in Bologna. I grabbed fresh spinach pasta at Molinari’s Deli on Columbus so I could focus on the ragu.

The ragu has to simmer at least 3 1/2 hours, even longer. I like to make it Sunday morning to eat for lunch or dinner. The aroma will fill your house all day.

You’re building layers of flavor here. Saute minced onion, celery, carrot and pancetta in EVOO and butter. Add the meat and mix them together. Cover it all with wine. Cook off the wine and add milk and nutmeg. Cook those off too, then add the tomatoes and simmer, simmer, simmer. You end up with a thick brick-red ragu with tons of flavor.

When the sauce is done, boil some well-salted water and cook the fresh tagiatelle. That will take about 3 minutes. Put half the sauce in a large bowl. Drain the pasta when al dente and put it in the bowl and mix well with the ragu. Place a serving of pasta on a plate and top with a big spoonful of the ragu. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano and eat!

The fresh tagliatelle is silky and coated with the ragu. The long simmer intensifies the complexity of the sauce and melds all the flavors together. The dusting of parmigiano reggiano completes this homage to Bologna.

This ragu is for a pound of tagliatelle, fettuccine or your favorite pasta.

When I don’t have time to make my own, one of my favorites in North Beach is Graziano’s ragu alla Bolognese at his Caffe Puccini on Columbus.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:114]

4 North Beach Treasures

Molinari Deli on Columbus

Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper blog fame shares her appreciation of 4 North Beach spots in her just-released video tour.

Marcia visits Caffe Trieste, Molinari Deli, Liguria Bakery and Stella Pastry. Find out Marcia’s favorite coffee, focaccia, sandwich and sweet. I’m with her all the way. These are some of my favorite North Beach haunts.

If those tourists in the picture took my North Beach walking tour, or Marcia’s video tour, they wouldn’t have to scour that big map to figure out where to go.

Where’s the best cannoli? Want a quick pasta fix? I have a few ideas. Who’s still cooking inspired, authentic food you find in Venice, Tuscany, Rome, Calabria and Sicily? Want pizza? I always head to one of 4 places.

Tired of Italian, God forbid?  How about Mexican, Thai, French, or American? All of my favorite shops, markets, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, art galleries and bars are on our route, as we leisurely stroll through the Village.

Come out of the fog. Make North Beach your own. Let me know if you’re interested in my 90-minute North Beach walking tour and I’ll schedule one soon.

In the meantime, take Marcia’s North Beach video tour.

Focaccia with Grapes & Walnuts

Grape & Walnut Focaccia

I got off easy this year. I didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner. I joined friends in the North Bay and had to bring an antipasto.

It took me a while to get inspired but an idea hit me at the market. The late harvest grapes were spectacular. I made a grape and walnut focaccia scented with rosemary.

Focaccia is a good option for a bring-along appetizer. Flatbread is easy to transport and can be served at room temperature. I paired this one with creamy Italian robolia cheese. The sweet grapes and crunchy walnuts are enhanced by the scent of rosemary. A bite of the focaccia with a bite of the cheese is heavenly.

Bubbly prosecco was the perfect accompaniment, adding a crisp citrus and floral note.

I got carried away. I made a savory pear tomato focaccia too and paired it with a balsamic-rubbed aged pecorino cheese. The doughs for these 2 flatbreads are not the same. Here’s the tomato and onion focaccia recipe.

I love baking in the late fall. Making pizza, focaccia or bread is a zen experience for me. Kneading dough and baking relaxes me. Making focaccia in the morning makes my day.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:113]

 

Roasted Turkey & All The Fixings

Roasted Turkey Resting

Still undecided about your Thanksgiving dinner?

Try my recipes for Roasted Turkey scented with rosemary, sage, lemon and garlic, chestnut/sausage stuffing and easy pan gravy.

While the oven is hot, add brussels sprouts roasted with pine nuts and parmigiano and butternut squash roasted with honey and sage. Just add your favorite appetizers, dessert and wines for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

How easy is that? No slaving over pots and pans on top of the stove, everything just roasts in the oven. Make the easy pan gravy while the turkey rests on the counter before carving. Spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your friends and family around the Thanksgiving table.

There are lots of other vegetable recipes on my blog and you can get my free vegetable eBook recipes there too.

Happy Thanksgiving! Buon appetito!

Capo’s Finally Opens on Vallejo

Capo’s on Vallejo

Tony Gemignani enlivened Washington Square Park when he opened Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton and Green a couple of years ago. Now he hopes to have a similar effect on the moribund block of Vallejo between Stockton and Columbus with his new restaurant, Capo’s Chicago Pizza and Italian Dinners.

After a year of construction, Capo’s finally opened late last week. The new North Beach hot spot features deep-dish pizza and other Chicago Italian-American favorites. Hopefully, Capo’s will bring this block of Vallejo back to its former glory too.

“I want Capo’s to feel like a neighborhood place that’s been here for years, while also transporting guests to a moment in time when Italian-American cuisine began to form its roots in our culture,” says Tony.

Gemignani designed the space to evoke a ’30s Chicago feel, including photos of infamous mobsters Frank Nitti and Al Capone above the red leather booths. Another throwback to that era, reservations can only be made by telephone and you must pay with cash.

Be sure to get there early. Tony’s special pizza Quattro Forni is baked in 4 different ovens and he only makes 20 a day.

Here’s the Capo’s menu.

Buon appetito!

Butternut Squash Roasted with Honey and Sage

Butternut Squash Roasted with Honey and Sage

I love butternut squash and make it often, especially in the fall. A favorite is roasted butternut squash lightly flavored with honey and sage.

You can have this dish on your table in less than 30 minutes. The hardest part is cutting and peeling the squash.

The cubed butternut squash is coated with EVOO and honey flavored with fresh sage, then roasted to a rich golden brown.

The crispy, nutty exterior gives way to an explosion of sweet, creamy squash with each bite. I used an Italian chestnut honey that adds a burnt caramel note, but any honey you have on hand will work well too. The fresh sage adds earthy complexity to the dish.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:112]

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts for Your Thanksgiving Table

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year but I will be bringing some vegetables to add to my friend’s table.

I know, you either love or hate brussels sprouts. I happen to love these crispy little orbs and I hope you will too.

Coat the brussels sprouts with EVOO. Put them right in the hot oven along with the roasting turkey. The sprouts dusted with grated parmigiano have a nutty flavor. The toasted pine nuts add a crunchy texture and a squeeze of fresh lemon brightens the whole dish. Simple and delicious.

If you haven’t decided on how to cook your turkey, try my recipe for a delicious turkey, stuffing and pan gravy.

Happy Thanksgiving and buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:111]

Mercato Opens in North Beach

Imported and local oils and vinegars at North Beach’s new Mercato

Mercato Artisan Food & Gifts just opened in North Beach on Columbus near Green, nestled between Stella’s Pastry & Lola’s Card Stop.

Mercato features imported and local artisan food and gift products, with a focus on Italia that befits the neighborhood. You may not know many of the artisan goodies, but don’t worry. Almost everything in the store is available for tasting.

I did a balsamic vinegar flight. I tasted a 6 and 8-year old traditional balsamic and a young and 6-year old white balsamic vinegar. My favorite was the 8-year old traditional. It was syrupy, the sweetness nicely balanced by the mild acidic finish.

Drizzle a few drops of this finishing vinegar on grilled vegetables or a sharp cheese. Any of these vinegars would pair well with fresh strawberries to create a simple dessert.

Stop in and say hello soon. Don’t forget to taste before you buy. If you live in North Beach you get a local’s 5% discount.

Mercato is the second retail location for Buyer’s Best Friend, the San Francisco wholesaler of a carefully curated collection of artisanal food and other products. Check out Bold Italic’s take on wholesaler Buyer’s Best Friend and their Haight Street retail store.

Braised Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage stuffed with rice and flavorful browned ground beef braised in San Marzano tomatoes is a comfort food that helps me transition to early fall. I don’t give up late summer easily.

Stuffed cabbage is easy to prepare and packs a ton of texture and flavor. You can have it on your table in less than an hour. The recipe is my memory of my mom’s Neopolitan-style stuffed cabbage.

Soft, silky and sweet cabbage leave enrobe a tasty rice and ground beef filling scented with garlic, pecorino and oregano. The bundles are baked in the oven bathed in a San Marzano tomato sauce.

Each bite is complex. The tangy rice and beef filling is balanced by the sweetness of the cabbage and tomatoes. The perky garlic, oregano and pecorino notes are reinforced in both the filling and the sauce, kicking the flavor complexity up a couple of notches.

Stuffed cabbage is a comforting and filling meal all on one plate. I like it even better the next day so make sure you make enough for leftovers. Welcome to fall.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:110]

Off the Grid in North Beach

Off the Grid Food Trucks Will Gather Here

San Francisco food trucks are hot. These roving kitchens offer fantastic food from all over the world. Many follow their favorite trucks on Twitter and Facebook and track them down at various parking spots around the city.

Luckily, Off the Grid brings a horde of food trucks together in one place every week. Eat your way around the world at these round-ups, from appetizers to desserts.

If you don’t know about Off the Grid, here’s what they say about their weekly markets.

Off the Grid is your roaming mobile food extravaganza — bringing you delicious food, with free sides of music, craft and soul. Check out all your favorite gourmet food vendors in one place – creating markets like you’ve never seen before.

I don’t mind trekking to Fort Mason or Mint Plaza for an OtG food truck orgy, but I’m ecstatic that Off the Grid is bringing a market to North Beach. The soft launch is tomorrow,  Wednesday, 10/24.

Show up and make this the first of many weekly OtG North Beach markets. Food trucks and music galore, what’s not to like? See you there.

Off the Grid at North Beach’s Joe DiMaggio Playground.

Buon appetito!

 

Grilled Chicken Marinated with Rosemary & Garlic

Rosemary & Garlic Grilled Chicken

Last week we were staying in an updated 1930s cabin overlooking Lake Tahoe. I was excited about the grill on the deck right outside the kitchen door and we used it every day.

One of our dinners included delicious grilled chicken breasts simply marinated in EVOO flavored with garlic and rosemary.

I liked the way the chicken turned out so much that I had to make it when I returned to San Francisco. I don’t have an outdoor grill so I used a grill pan on top of my stove this time. The chicken was flavored through and moist with a nice charred crust. Give the chicken a squeeze of lemon before serving to add a fresh dimension.

I served the grilled chicken with an Italian potato and green bean salad dressed with wine vinegar and EVOO.

This is a easy dish that can be a star on your table any day of the week. Here’s the recipe for two breasts that can easily be adapted to feed more if you like.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:109]

Marinated Zucchini (Zucchine alla Scapace)

I have more late summer zucchini than I know what to do with. Well, almost. I made a fritatta with zucchini, potatoes, wild boar salami and fontina. I made ciambotta, a zucchini stew with potatoes and onions in a tomato sauce.

I used what I had left to make zucchine alla scapace, golden fried slices of zucchini marinated with garlic, mint and a squirt of red wine and balsamic vinegars.

In the south of Italia scapece denotes marinated or preserved with oil and vinegar. In the north the method is in saor.

I love to eat this dish with some prosciutto or salami and aged sharp provolone or as a side with fish or meat. The nutty sweetness of the zucchini is balanced by the vinegar and the mint’s clean fresh taste adds to the complexity.

This is one of those dishes that gets better with age. You should let it marinate for at least a couple of hours. Overnight is better and some think that the dish doesn’t reach peak flavor for about 4 or 5 days. So make a lot of it and have it on hand for about a week. See what works best on your flavor index.

Zucchini is a wonderful ingredient for frittata. Watch my fritatta video to see how to make one. You can adapt the basic recipe to use zucchini or your favorite ingredients.

Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:107]