Father’s Day Cookies: St. Joseph’s Pants (Cavazune)

St. Joseph's Pants, Cavazune
St. Joseph’s Pants, Cavazune with a ceci, walnut, raisin, honey & orange zest filling

Father’s Day is next Sunday, June 15. I’ve been thinking about my Dad with love and gratitude. Though he passed long ago he is still with me.

Dad immigrated to America early in the last century. He did not have an easy life but he prevailed.

He was a very smart and honest man. He spoke several languages. He taught himself to play a mean mandolin. He wanted to be a lawyer but ended up being a butcher in Newark’s First Ward.

While my Dad’s ambitions were never fully realized he ensured that his children achieved their dreams. His oldest daughter was the first in the family to attend college. Both daughters became teachers. His oldest son earned a mechanical engineering degree and served as an Air Force pilot. I became the lawyer he wanted to be.

My Dad loved and supported us all.  He joyfully celebrated our every success. In his later years “Pops,” as his grandkids called him, was most fulfilled when his 11 grandchildren surrounded him. I cherish the memories of our 3-generation family gatherings around his table. Many of the dishes I cook today are from those happy days long ago.

In Italy Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, who helped raise Jesus. I’m blending the Italian and American holidays together.

Cavazune, or St. Joseph’s Pants, are a traditional filled cookie made for St. Joseph’s Day all over Italy. Ron, a fan, asked that I make cavazune. His family hails from Balzano in northern Italy about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Venice. Ron tells me they made huge batches of these cookies for their St. Joseph’s Day celebration to share with family and friends. Mille grazie for your suggestion Ron.

There are many variations of this cookie throughout Italia. Ron shared a description of his family’s cookie. I used his memories as the basis for this recipe.

The cookie is filled with a mince of ceci (chickpeas or garbanzo), raisins and walnuts sweetened with honey and balsamic then fried. Mosto cotto, a sweet, thick cooked wine is traditionally used. I didn’t have any so I substituted a thick, sweet balsamic vinegar. If you have mosto cotto in your pantry use that instead.

These cookies are light as air. The delicate crispy wrapper holds a sweet ceci paste flecked with crunchy walnut bits and raisins all sweetened with California Wildflower honey. The spices and orange zest linger on my tongue after the last bite reminding me to have another one.

Happy Father’s Day! Buon appetito!

Father's Day St. Joseph's Pants (Cavazune)
 
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Author:
Serves: 30 cookies
Ingredients
Pastry Dough
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ cup water
Pastry Filling
  • 1 can of chickpeas (19 oz.)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup ground walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Canola or your favorite vegetable oil for deep frying
Instructions
Dough
  1. Put all the ingredients except the water in the bowl of a food processor and process adding the water a little at a time until a dough ball forms.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a board and knead briefly. The dough will be on the stiff side. If the dough is too wet add more flour.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in clear plastic and let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling
  1. Chop the walnuts or process them in a food processor and set aside.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a pot covered with water. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes to soften the chickpeas.
  3. Drain the chickpeas and set them aside to cool. Put them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are to create a smooth mash.
  4. In a large bowl combine the chickpeas, walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon, orange zest and balsamic and set the filling aside.
  5. Cut the rested dough into six pieces.
  6. Roll each out to a thin rectangle about 12 inches by 6 inches or pass each piece through pasta machine ending with the smallest setting.
  7. Cut the rolled out dough in 3 inch circles.
  8. Put about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle, wet the edge with water and fold over the dough to form a half-moon.
  9. Press the sides of each pastry pocket with a fork to seal them. Set them aside on a kitchen towel.
  10. Put the canola oil in a pot to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  11. Fry the cavazune in the hot oil until they are golden on both sides.
  12. Cool.
  13. Sprinkle with confectionery sugar and serve at room temperature.

 

Father’s Day: Mussels with Hot Tomato Sauce

Mussels with a hot tomato sauce
Mussels with a hot tomato sauce

Father’s Day is June 15. You know me. Holidays bring back food memories. Here’s one from my Dad Gennaro (aka Jerry).

My Mom was always at the stove so my Dad didn’t cook often.  But when he did Dad made some really good dishes. This one is one of my favorites.

This is an unusual sauce. It’s not made with whole San Marzano tomatoes that I use in most of my sauces.

I make this one with tomato paste so it’s a really thick and dense sauce that you spoon on top of the mussels laid atop friselle, or hard twice-baked bread slices.

Heat up olive oil in a pot with the hot pepper. I use whole peperoncini, dried chili peppers. When the oil is hot add the tomato paste and the water you used to rinse out the cans and stir well. As it cooks the paste will darken to a red brick color and be really thick. Stir in some oregano.

While the tomato paste is cooking steam the mussels. Watch me steam mussels and clams. This is the technique that you’ll use for this dish.

Make sure you add enough wine and water to the steaming pot. You need a fair amount of the mussel broth to put this dish together.

If you’re lucky to live in an Italian neighborhood you will be able to buy friselle, twice baked bread rounds or rusks at a local bakery. I can’t get them anymore in North Beach so I baked slices of a sourdough loaf from Italian-French Bakery on Grant until they were hard and golden.

This dish may remind you of the sauce at Vincent’s Clam Bar or Umberto’s Clam House in lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. But my guess is that my Dad got this recipe from his mother and the food she cooked at her Quisisana restaurant in Newark’s Italian immigrant First Ward and later in Brooklyn through the 1950s.

The sweet thick tomato sauce surrounds the tender briny mussels just out of the sea. I hate to say it but my favorite bite is the twice-baked bread soaked with mussel broth and topped with the sauce. But I try to slurp in a mussel too. I love the kick from the peperoncini as it all goes down.

Happy Father’s Day. Wanna share your memories of food your Dad made for you?

Buon appetito!

Father's Day: Mussels with Hot Tomato Sauce
 
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Steamed mussels and friselle topped with a spicy tomato paste sauce.
Author:
Recipe type: Seafood
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels well-scrubbed, steamed
  • Strained mussel broth from the steaming pot, about 2 cups.
  • 4 friselle or baked bread slices
  • 2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
  • water to slosh-out the paste cans
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 peperoncini (dried chili) or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and place 4 pieces of sliced rustic bread on a baking sheet and bake until slightly golden and completely dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside the twice-cooked bread. (Or use friselle, Italian rusks from your bakery.)
  2. Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and peperoncini in a sauce pot over medium-high heat.
  3. When the oil sizzles add the tomato paste and the water used to rinse the cans.
  4. Stir well and when the paste starts to turn to a darker brick red color lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes more.
  5. In the meantime steam the mussels using this recipe. http://www.gianni.tv/10-minute-mussels-clams/ or the link above in the post.
  6. Remove the steamed mussels from the pot and strain out the broth. (You should have about 2 cups of mussel broth.)
  7. Add half of the mussel broth to the sauce and mix well.
  8. Remove the top shell from the mussels.
  9. Rub the twice-baked bread with a garlic clove and drizzle each piece with extra virgin olive oil
  10. Put a piece of the twice-baked bread on the bottom of a dish or bowl.
  11. Drizzle some broth over the bread to soften it. (If more liquid is needed use water.)
  12. Spread some sauce over the bread.
  13. Arrange 6 mussels around the bread and top each with sauce.
  14. Sprinkle with each mussel and the bread with extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. Serve immediately.

 

 

Hamburgers with Cheese In & Out

Burger stuffed with mozzarella & topped with fontina
Burger stuffed with mozzarella & topped with fontina

Here’s a twist to your standard hamburger. Since it’s reported that Americans eat 3 hamburgers a week I thought you’d want to customize one.

Mix in some chopped garlic, parsley and Worcestershire sauce to perk up the beef.

I stuff mine with fresh mozzarella and add nutty and creamy Italian fontina on top for more flavor punch.

The burger is fine with or without a cheese stuffing or with no cheese at all. Your choice.

With all the scares about contaminated ground beef sold on the grid the best hamburger you eat may be the one made at home with ground beef or chuck you grind yourself from your trusted local butcher.

With the start of the summer you can cook  the hamburger on your outdoor grill or in a stove-top cast iron grill pan. Some chefs think it’s best to cook hamburgers in a flat-bottomed cast iron pan so it cooks evenly and the juices stay inside.

If you’re making hamburgers at home make sure you have a good sturdy bun. I’m using a pain de mie from my favorite Bay Area bakery Acme Bread. It has a sturdy soft crust and a slightly sweet small crumb inside, a perfect hamburger bun.

Add your favorite condiments. For me, no mayo, ketchup or mustard. I prefer a grilled onion and a slice of heirloom tomato on my burger.

The toasted bun is just right for the juicy, tender burger pumped up by garlic and Worcester. The mild mozzarella oozes from the center complemented by the melted nutty fontina on top. The sweet grilled onion and summer tomato finishes the package in style.

Buon appetito!

Hamburgers with Cheese Inside and Out
 
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Fresh ground beef hamburger flavored with Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic stuffed with mozzarella and topped with fontina.
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian-American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound freshly ground beef
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • cubed fresh mozzarella for stuffing the burger
  • sliced Italian fontina
  • 1 onion, cut in fat slices
  • 1 heirloom tomato, cut in fat slices
Instructions
  1. Heat your grill or cast iron pan for at least ten minutes over high heat.
  2. Put the ground beef in a bowl. Add the garlic, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, sea salt and black pepper and mix well.
  3. Divide the beef in to 4 and loosely roll each into a ball. Make an indentation with your finger and put a small mozzarella cube or two in the dent and cover it over with the ground beef.
  4. Loosely form the hamburger.
  5. When the grill is hot brush the hamburger with olive oil and cook to your desired doneness.
  6. At the same time brush a fat slice of onion with olive oil and cook it along side the burger.
  7. Put the burger on a round roll or bun, top with the grilled onions and tomato slice lightly sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil.
  8. Serve immediately.

 

Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad

Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad
Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad

A few days ago in a post on my pasta e fagioli video episode, Markus asked that I make panzanella, a simple Tuscan peasant summer salad.

I said I would when the summer tomatoes hit the farmers market. The first crop of Early Girls won’t be in for a few more weeks and the big heirlooms won’t be ready until the end of the summer. I thought I wouldn’t be making panzanella for a while.

But I couldn’t get panzanella out of my mind since Markus’ post. So when I saw a huge selection of tomatoes at Bruins Farms booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market yesterday I had to buy some and give panzanella a go.

If you’ve been to Tuscany in the summer you’ve enjoyed panzanella. It’s made with days-old dark salt-free Tuscan bread. Recipes for this peasant dish date back to the days of Michelangelo according to Tuscan food maestro Giulliano Bugialli.

This is my modern San Francisco version. While you’ll see recipes with peppers, cucumbers and all sorts of other ingredients in today’s panzanella recipes, I keep it simple.

Tomatoes and a good crusty rustic bread soaked in the olive oil and tomato juices are the stars. My mix today is Lemon Boy, Black Zebra and Beefsteak.

These tomatoes are grown about 70 miles inland from San Francisco, in greenhouses on the farm a bit west of Sacramento where it’s sunnier and warmer than it is here in the City.

Panzanella only has a few ingredients so you have to make sure you’re using the best. These Bruins Farms tomatoes fit the bill and that makes it easier to wait for the big field-grown heirloom tomatoes later this summer.

Make panzanella with day-old rustic bread or switch it up and make it with taralli, those small boiled then baked crunchy rings. You can buy taralli in North Beach at Molinari Deli on Columbus or at A.G. Ferrari’s stores around the Bay Area or online.

The onion and basil round out the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and the juicy, creamy bread cubes perk up each mouthful with a lingering acidic vinegar tingle.

Serve panzanella chilled or at room temperature as an antipasto or as a side for grilled meats or poultry.

Find out more about New York City’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve been disappointed with what’s left of Little Italy in lower Manhattan visit Arthur Avenue. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.

Buon appetito!

Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad
 
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A peasant Tuscan ripe summer tomatoes, basil and day-old bread moistened by the best extra virgin olive oil and tomato juices.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • ½ red onion
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 3 thick slices of day-old rustic bread
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the tomatoes into 2-inch cubes and put them in a large bowl.
  2. Quarter the onion and slice each quarter very thin and put them in the bowl.
  3. Rip each basil leaf into large pieces and add them to the bowl.
  4. Add the olive oil, sea salt and black pepper and mix all the ingredients well. Set the bowl aside. (The salt will start to draw the juices out of the tomatoes.)
  5. Cut the bread into 2-inch cubes and put them into the bowl with the tomatoes. (Remove the crust if you want but I leave it on to add more texture to the salad.)
  6. Let the salad sit for an hour or so on the counter or in the refrigerator to develop the juices that will be absorbed by the bread.
  7. Mix the salad well before serving.
  8. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

 

Warm Italian Potato Salad

Creamy red & gold potatoes bathed with buttery olive oil and mellow red wine vinegar
Creamy red & gold potatoes bathed with buttery olive oil and mellow red wine vinegar

Here’s a twist on potato salad that I’ve loved since I was a kid.

Don’t get me wrong I love potato salad with mayonnaise but every once in a while I have to make this one flavored with red wine vinegar and olive oil.

It’s simple to make and really flavorful. Cube boiled potatoes while they’re still warm. Add chopped parsley and onions, a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, and dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. That’s it.

Creamy potatoes bathed in buttery olive oil, the sweet crunch of onion, all balanced by the red wine vinegar. A simple peasant dish with full and complex flavor.

Serve the potato salad warm or at room temperature. Perfect for any table, inside or out.

Buon appetito!

Italian Potato Salad
 
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A simple potato salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil & red wine vinegar served warm to enjoy it's full flavor.
Author:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound small red or Yukon Gold potato (or use both as I do for color & texture variation)
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian flat parsley
  • ½ small yellow onion, diced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Boil the potatoes until they are knife tender.
  2. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle cut them into 2-inch cubes.
  3. Put the potatoes in a bowl along with the other ingredients and mix well to coat the potatoes completely.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

5-Minute Basil Pesto

Gemelli with 5-Minute Basil Pesto
Gemelli with 5-Minute Basil Pesto

Got 5 minutes? You can be eating pasta with fresh and flavorful basil pesto, pesto alla Genovese, in no time.

This pesto hails from Liguria on the northern Italian coast where small leaf basil grows on the hills around Genoa overlooking the Italian Riviera. The roots of North Beach’s Liguria Bakery, famous for it’s foccacia, are in this region of Italy.

I don’t have Ligurian basil so I’m using organic Bay Area basil instead. You can use your local basil as well. Traditionally the pesto is made with a mortar and pestle but I’m using a food processor. It’s fast and yields a fine paste.

The main ingredients are basil, pine nuts (pinoli), garlic, grated parmigiano and pecorino, and a really good extra virgin olive oil. Use the best ingredients you can afford.

Pine nuts from China are prevalent in the market and cheaper but they taste waxy and don’t have the full, clean, nutty flavor of Italian pine nuts so buy Italian pinoli if you can.

The Ligurian version is usually made with trenette, a flat long pasta or trofie, a short twisted pasta. I used gemelli (twins) a short twisted pasta pretty close to the hard to find trofie.

This is an uncooked sauce. Just process all the ingredients in a food processor. The pesto will be ready way before the pasta water comes to a boil.

The short twisted toothy gemelli burst with fresh flavor. The aromatic basil immediately tingles your tongue followed by the nutty flavor of the pinoli and buttery olive oil. The parmigiano, pecorino and just an echo of fresh garlic round out each bite. So simple and so delicious.

A few years ago we got lucky on a visit to Rome. My friend Guiliano who lives in the historical center had just returned from visiting his family in Genoa and he invited us over for dinner. He brought just-picked Ligurian basil back with him and he was making pesto for us. He added cubes of potato and green beans to the pasta and coated it all with the best pesto I’ve ever eaten.

For my American friends adding potato and green beans to this dish is controversial. I like it that way but many don’t. They just want pasta coated with basil pesto. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.

If you want to make the traditional Genovese version, cut the potato in 1/2 chunks. Cut off the stem end of the green beans and cut them into 2-inch pieces. When the pasta water comes to a boil add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes then add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the pasta and cook to al dente. Strain the pasta, potatoes and beans out of the water, put them all in a bowl, add the pesto and mix to coat everything well.

Basil pesto is the most famous but there are many, many more. Try my Pesto Trapanese from Sicily with cherry tomatoes and almonds for a different taste treat. It’s one of 3 sauces I made for my potato gnocchi.

Buon appetito!

5-Minute Basil Pesto
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) gemelli or your favorite short cut pasta
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ tablespoon sea salt plus 3 tablespoons for the pasta water
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
Instructions
  1. Put 5 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt over high heat and bring it to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, put the basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil in the food-processor bowl. Process 10 to 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl, to form a coarse paste.
  3. Put the pine nuts in the food processor and process another 10 seconds, scrape down the bowl midway, until you create a uniform, smooth bright-green paste.
  4. Add the grated cheeses to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine.
  5. The pesto should be thick but flowing. If it is to stiff add a bit more olive oil.
  6. The pesto will be fine at room temperature until you cook the pasta. (If you keep it out longer, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil so it doesn't discolor.)
  7. Cook the pasta to al dente, strain and put into a bowl. (Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.)
  8. Add the pesto and mix to coat the pasta well. If the pasta is too dry add some of the pasta cooking water.
  9. Top each serving with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
  10. Serve immediately.
  11. (To store the pesto longer, cover the surface of the pesto with plastic wrap, close the container tightly and refrigerate or freeze the pesto. Let the stored pesto come back to room temperature before using.)

 

Eating Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

What's Left of the Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza
What’s Left of the Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza

I just flew in to the Windy City and I had to have a deep dish pizza for my first dinner tonight.

I can hear my producers yelling at me now. I was starving and the pie’s aroma overwhelmed me. I didn’t think of the food porn still shots until I was sated. This was all that was left of the pie when I remembered I needed a photo.

This one’s from Lou Malnati’s, the runaway winner of the last March’s Eater Chicago best deep dish poll beating out Gino’s East, Pizzeria Uno and Giordano’s.

Luckily for me there’s a branch of all 4 close to the hotel I stay at during my frequent trips to Chicago so I’ve had them all. Lou Malnati’s is one of my go-to places too. They’ve been making deep dish for decades.

While I love a good deep dish my favorite pizza is a true Neapolitan thin-crust pie encircled with a puffy dark crust. That one’s in and out of a wood burning beehive oven in 60-90 seconds. You have to wait for these deep dish pies for about 40 minutes so you gotta be patient.

In an article on certified true Neapolitan pizza, The Wall Street Journal reported that “When Lou Malnati’s…decided to introduce its version of a Neapolitan pizza, it offered it as an appetizer.”

“That speaks to what we think about it,” says spokeswoman Meggie Lindberg. The chain discontinued its Neapolitan offering since so few customers ordered it, she says.”

My choice this time is the Chicago Classic with Lou’s trademarked Buttercrust that costs 75 cents more and worth every penny. Layers of sausage, tomato sauce and extra cheese atop the almost flaky buttery crust, it’s a 3-inch high slice of heaven.

If you’re not in Chicago make a deep dish pizza at home with my recipe. If your in San Francisco’s North Beach get a really good deep dish pizza at Capo’s where they celebrate Chicago Italian-American food.

Italian beef sandwich, Chicago Dawg, pastrami, the difference between deep dish and stuffed pizza, it’s all in my Chicago street food prowl post. Gotta love the Windy City.

Keep on cooking. Buon appetito!

A New Ship Docks in North Beach

New North Beach Library Branch
New North Beach Library Branch

Just kidding. You know that North Beach really isn’t a beach anymore. If you took my tour you know why.

Look at the new North Beach Library Branch that opened today. The beautiful sleek design looks like a modern ocean liner slipped it’s Fisherman’s Wharf mooring and ended up smack on Columbus Avenue at Mason near the cable cars and below the crooked turns of Lombard Street.

The library’s opening is the culmination of a long-fought battle between those who opposed the plans entirely or wanted to preserve the old mid-century modernist library building and city planners. The Chronicle’s architecture critic provides the full details in today’s paper.

A big crowd gathered in the warm sun for the opening enjoying a children’s chorus belting out songs from Annie followed by Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz dixieland band. An expert was giving lessons in the bocce courts across from the new library entrance.

More change is on the way. The old library will be demolished and the Joe DiMaggio Playground will be enlarged and renovated next year.

Boy am I happy that this northern fringe of North Beach has come alive again. Be sure to visit soon.

BTW, behind me in the video is North Beach poet and visual artist Agneta Falk‘s How Long/The Storm that she painted while watching a violent thunder storm over Fisherman’s Wharf.

My Mother’s Day Tribute

My "Baby" Stool
My “Baby” Stool

To all the Mom’s out there my best wishes for a wonderful Mother’s Day coming this Sunday. Here’s my video Mother’s Day salute to all of you.

My Mom was a wonderful cook. I really can’t remember a bad meal, no, not even a mediocre meal, on her table every day.

When I was barely able to reach the top of the table I was at my Mom’s side helping her cook. I still have the little wooden stool I stood on.

Food was the core of our family. We ate together every day. Holidays brought 20+ relatives to my Mom’s table. It was a loving, sensuous and supportive environment that nourished us and shaped who I am today.

Mom was born in Mirabella Eclano, a small village near Avellino about 45 kilometers inland from Naples in the beautiful Appenine foothills.

Her family escaped their hardscrabble life and came to the U.S. at the turn of the last century. She learned to cook from my grandmother Rosa who lived with us until she passed at 93.

I’ve been cooking this food of my youth, adapted to the American environment, for over half-century. Not only is it delicious, but gathering family and friends around the table to share a leisurely meal continues to enrich my life.

As a tribute to my Mom I’m making her Sunday Gravy. Though she passed decades ago her influence on my life is unabated.

Here’s my story about tracing Mom’s gravy back to it’s roots.

What’s the favorite dish that your Mom cooked for you? Make it as a tribute to all she did to help make you who you are today.

Buon appetito!

Limoncello: Sunshine in a Glass

The lemons in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are huge
The lemons in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are huge

When some people have a lemon they make lemonade. When I have lemons I make limoncello, the famous liqueur from Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.

Limoncello is sunshine in a bottle. One sip and I overflow with memories of Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, bright sunshine, an azure sea and the scent of lemons.

It’s a wonderful digestivo and a refreshing end to a meal. A little Limoncello spilled over vanilla gelato for dessert maybe?

Save some money and make limoncello for yourself. Watch me make limoncello in this first installment of intimate moments with Gianni, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes not.

I like my limoncello on the dry side. If you like it sweeter add another half or full cup of sugar to this recipe.

Cin-Cin!

Limoncello: Sunshine in a Glass
 
Mottled yellow-green lemon peel soaked in grain alcohol and sweetened with simple syrup is a refreshing end to any meal.
Author:
Recipe type: Liqueur
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 12 organic lemons
  • 1 quart grain alcohol (substitute vodka if you must)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar (more if you want a sweeter liqueur)
Instructions
  1. Wash and dry the lemons.
  2. Peel the lemons so that you just get the yellow zest and not the bitter white pith.
  3. Put the zests in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid, add the alcohol and let sit in a dark place. Shake the jar a few times each day.
  4. After 2-4 days the zests will look like pale parchment and have given up their oils. Strain the liquid and discard the spent zests.
  5. Make the simple syrup. Put the water and sugar in a pot and heat it over a medium flame, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear.
  6. When the simple syrup is cool stir it into the alcohol.
  7. Pour the limoncello into bottles and close them tightly. Store the limoncello in the freezer or dark place. It's good to drink immediately but the flavor will be smoother after about a week.
  8. Serve in small glasses right out of the freezer or at room temperature.

 

 

North Beach First Friday Art Crawl

An artist at work in the midst of Live Worms Gallery crowds
An artist at work in the midst of Live Worms Gallery crowd

A fingernail moon glowed brightly low in the Maxfield Parrish dark blue sky. Live music, restaurant chatter and laughter filled the night air.

The galleries were packed for last night’s First Friday art crawl, the art in the  galleries superb.

Don’t miss Nicholas Coley’s new California plein air impressionist work at Emerald Tablet. It’s coming down soon.

Make your way to Focus Gallery at the other end of Grant Avenue for Ferlinghetti’s works on paper and Jack Micheline’s portraits including Bar Mitzvah Boy and his 1961 Mexico City memory of Marilyn Monroe.

Focus Gallery owner John Perino told me a funny story about North Beach’s heroic criminal defense lawyer Tony Serra’s preparation for a recent talk there. Tony’s representing Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow in the recent Chinatown gang & corruption bust.

On the way stop in at Live Worms for a group show of 10 Bay Area artists. You may even see art being created in the midst of the appreciative crowd.

The North Beach art scene is booming. I Heart North Beach just opened next door to Green Street Mortuary with a group show of North Beach artists. A new gallery featuring digital art will open soon in the old North Beach Pizza space on the corner of Grant/Green.

Don’t miss North Beach’s next First Fridays art crawl. Mark your calendar for June 5 and be enriched by dozens of artists in more than 20 galleries. See you there.

North Beach sure is special. Subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss my new Gianni’s North Beach series where I share what’s happening in the neighborhood, in the farmers market and cooking in my kitchen. Oh, that’s Maury Lapp’s Washington Square behind me in the video.

Pasta Fazool, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta & Beans

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When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that's amore.
When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that’s amore.

I ate a lot of pasta and beans growing up in Jersey. My Mom made it often and I loved it.

So when pasta fazool, as we called it back East, was a Viewer’s Choice suggestion from lovelyamor13 on YouTube, I was very happy to make it.

Pasta e fagioli is healthy and inexpensive peasant dish. You can have this one-pot meal that packs lots of flavor and goodness on your table in less than an hour.

Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italy and varies from region to region. One big difference is that mine has no meat. Up north they usually add pancetta to the aromatics as the base of the soup. Some people like to add tomato puree. Some people don’t add tomato, they like a white pasta fazool.

Mine has a light pink hue. I use a little tomato puree. Make it any way you like it, just don’t make it the way they do at Olive Garden.

The creamy beans and pasta are bathed in a savory light broth enhanced by the sharpness of the pecorino and the mellow olive oil. Pasta fazool will warm you and fill you up. Make extra so you can eat it again the next day.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 3 reviews
Pasta Fazool, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta & Beans
 
A healthy, inexpensive Italian peasant dish, ditalini pasta & cannellini beans
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • ½ onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or one 15 oz. can
  • 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. 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.

 

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)
Author: www.Gianni.tv
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.

Cannoli Siciliani: Crispy Tubes Filled with Sweet Creamy Ricotta

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Homemade cannoli are easy to make and even easier to eat.
Homemade cannoli are easy to make and even easier to eat.

Often at the end of a special meal growing up in Jersey Italian pastries would cap off the day’s celebration.

I’d visit Ferrara’s Pastry on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark and buy a dozen and a half of my family’s favorites. Sfogliatelle, baba, Cannoli, Neapoleans, eclairs. After Ferrara’s closed Calandra’s Bakery near the Water Tower and Dicky Dee’s fried hot dog joint further down Bloomfield Avenue became my go to place.

Here in San Francisco’s North Beach my favorite cannoli (little tubes) is Santo’s at Cavalli Cafe on Stockton. He fills them when you order one and drizzles the ends with his fresh orange syrup. He has regular size and minis. I always get the regular.

But I like my homemade cannoli too. They’re fun to make and really not that difficult. You can make the shells ahead and fill them just before serving.

My shells are crispy with blisters all over so be careful, they’ll shatter as you bite into the sweet, creamy ricotta filling studded with candied orange and chocolate chips.

If you don’t want to make your own shells you can buy the shells. I got a box of Ferrara’s shells at North Beach’s Molinari Deli on Columbus. Whip up your own ricotta filling and fill the shells just before serving so they stay don’t get soggy.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe is a Neapolitan pastry I love too. Check out my zeppole video episode and make some for yourself.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cannoli
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
Shells
  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • canola or your favorite vegetable oil for frying
Filling
  • 4 cups ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  • ¼ cup finely chopped candied orange peel (or lemon peel or candied citron)
Instructions
Shells
  1. Mix the flour, sugar and sea salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter.
  2. Add the yolks. Stir in the wine a little at a time until a dough forms. (Use more wine or water if the dough is too dry.)
  3. Knead the dough briefly on a well-floured board.
  4. Roll out the dough to ⅛ inch thickness, or run it through a pasta machine.
  5. Cut the dough in 4-inch circles. Wrap the circles around cannoli forms. (Buy the forms on Amazon and many retail stores.)
  6. Wet the overlapping edge and pinch the ends together. Flare out the ends.
  7. Heat the oil in a pot to 350 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil stay at this temperature. Fry the shells in the oil until lightly brown all over.
  8. Drain the shells on paper towel.
Filling
  1. With a wire whisk blend the ricotta with the powdered sugar until very smooth.
  2. Add the vanilla, candied fruit and chocolate and mix well into the ricotta and chill.
Assembly
  1. Fill the cannoli shells with the filling just before serving so the shells stay crispy. Piping the filling with a pastry bag works well or use a spoon to fill the cannoli from both ends.
  2. Dust with powdered sugar.

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Greens & Ricotta Cake

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Torta Pasqualina
Celebrate the end of Lent with torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter cake.

Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.

The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.

The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.

Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.

Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.

Buona Pasqua! Buon Appetito!

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Chard & Ricotta Pie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Antipasto
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups water
Filling
  • 1 pound swiss chard
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (or half an onion)
  • 1 pound ricotta, drained
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana
  • 9 eggs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
Crust
  1. You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
  3. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
  4. Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
  5. When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling-Greens
  1. Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
  2. When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
  3. Roughly chop the greens.
  4. Chop the onion.
  5. Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
  6. When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
  8. Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
  9. Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Assembly
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
  3. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
  4. Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
  5. Brush the pastry all over with oil.
  6. Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
  7. Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
  8. Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
  9. Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
  10. Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
  11. Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
  12. Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
  13. Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
  14. Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
  15. Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
  16. Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Easter Recipe Roundup

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

Lent’s coming to an end. No more fasting soon, so I’m getting ready for my 4-course Italian-American Easter dinner celebration.

I’m bringing what’s available in the spring farmers market to our Easter feast.

For the antipasto I’m serving pizza rustica, a Neapolitan savory deep-dish ricotta pie with sausage, salami and fresh mozzarella. I’ll serve a slice of the pizza rustica with Giardiniera, marinated garden vegetables that I make a few days ahead so they reach their full flavor. Giardiniera will be a piquant foil for the savory pie.

My primo piatto, the first plate, is a light but full-flavored artichoke, leek and potato soup.

The secondo piatto, the second plate, is porchetta, a butterflied pork roast with an herb paste. The roast is accompanied by roasted potatoes dotted with truffle oil and cipollini agro dolce, onions in a sweet & sour glaze.

I’m bookending the meal with another Neapolitan Easter pie, pastiera, a sweet ricotta pie with wheat berries and candied citron.

Make the same dinner I’m making or change it up. Design your own Easter dinner. Choose from my selected dishes for each of the 4 courses. And if you just want to see the videos, check out this handy YouTube playlist.

 

Antipasti (before the meal)

Baked Baby Eggplant
Baked Baby Eggplant

Pair one of these dishes with your favorite Italian salumi, cheeses and olives.

Primo Piatto (first plate)

Soups

Tasty artichoke slices, leeks and potato in a thick thyme flavored broth
Artichoke, leek and potato soup

Rice

Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas
Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas

Pasta

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Secondo Piatto (second plate)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

Contorni (Side Dishes)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Use one of the vegetables in the antipasti selections or make one of these to serve with the second piatto.

 

Dolci (dessert)

Tiramisu