The last time I was in Italy I hooked up with my friend Luca and the crew from his video company, HB Productions. We spent days together shopping and shooting episodes of me cooking in my apartment near the Spanish Steps.
Here’s the first of those HB Production episodes just in time as early spring vegetables hit the farmers market.
I shopped every day in Campo dei Fiori, the huge open air market in the historical center of Rome. I was lucky to meet Alessandro who had a produce stand there. He was my guide to the spring vegetables he had to offer.
This day he had wild chicory, cicoria, he foraged early that morning in the hills near his home outside of Rome. He sold me the chicory with a condition. “Cook it with olive oil and lots of garlic, that’s all.” “And chili pepper,” I said. Alessandro agreed and added “but no lemon, no lemon.” Boy, these Italians are strict but that was my plan anyway.
What a wonderful Slow Food moment, scoring locally foraged cicoria to cook in my Rome apartment a few blocks away from the market! Watch me use a versatile, simple method to respectfully coax maximum flavor from this humble wild green. Here in the U.S. curly endive is the closest to the wild chicory I cooked in Rome.
You may have seen some of the Rome footage in this Hungry Village production. Get a peek of Luca and his aunt Giulia, the best cook in the family, who joined me in the kitchen for a couple of episodes.
I hope to have the other Rome episodes ready to post soon. Stay tuned but in the meantime here’s my saltimbocca recipe.
So You Want To Be An American? is the music in the episode. I love the tune. Here’s hip Neapolitan crooner Renato Carosone’s 1958 rendition of his Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.
I’ll be with family and friends for Christmas. Our Neapolitan family tradition is to prepare a 7-fish Christmas Eve dinner, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.
Seven fish unless I’m with the Sicilian branch of the family, then it’s 13!
I hope you will be with the ones you love too.
Here’s a collection of my fish dishes that you can make for all your friends and family around your Christmas Eve dinner table to enjoy.
Buon Natale! Happy Holidays!
All in One
If you want all 7 fish in one pot make cioppino, the San Francisco fish stew treat.
This is my go-to recipe if I want to make something fast and easy for the guests around my table. All 7 fish are cooked in one pot. A hunk of grilled bread scraped with garlic and you’re good to go.
The hardest part of cioppino is the trip to your fishmonger. You can have cioppino on your table in about 30 minutes.
If a 3 or 4-course feast is what you have in mind make these dishes for an antipasto course, many ready in less than a half-hour.
Arancini, everybody loves rice balls. They are a perennial favorite at my table.
They come in many different shapes with various fillings.
This version is from my friends at North Beach’s da Flora restaurant.
The arborio rice has shrimp hidden in the middle of the crispy orb. Eat these arancini with or without the aioli. But if you don’t make the dipping sauce you’ll be missing a real treat.
You gotta be careful with this one. Often my fried calamari never makes it to the table. Everyone gathers in the kitchen around the stove and grabs a tender fried ring or crunchy tentacle as soon as they come out of the hot oil. If that happens to you make sure you quickly sprinkle some sea salt on the calamari as they drain on paper towel.
If the fried calamari survive poaching in the kitchen make sure that you get them to the table while they are hot out of the oil. That’s the way to maximize your enjoyment.
The halibut is wrapped in parchment or foil with the potatoes, tomatoes and olives so you get it all.
Drizzle some olive oil and dry white wine over the fish and vegetables and when you open the pouch you have a complete plate for your table. Quick, easy and oh so flavorful.
For these holiday meals we often buy some of our favorite pastries to end the meal. If you have the time make cannoli.
But if you want something homemade and light make strufoli, little fried dough balls in a honey glaze sprinkled with colorful holiday confetti. Another traditional sweet is to end your meal on a traditional holiday note is cenci, those delicate bow-ties. Be careful, the powdered sugar doesn’t get on you.
I shot a porchetta episode a while ago. It’s a favorite among my friends and family so I had to share my recipe. And the episode got lots of views and tons of positive comments. Then, things suddenly turned nasty. The Italians got involved.
They started to flame me. One guy said I was like a counterfeiter handing out phony money with this recipe. The comments really made me mad.
But, after a time, I realized that the Italians weren’t being mean. They were just protecting their food culture and traditions. My porchetta was an American variation and the Italians weren’t happy I desecrated the classic porchetta they loved.
So they inspired me to do a Bay Area farm to table traditional whole pig porchetta. And I’d do it literally farm to table. I’d find a pig. I’d visit the farm and see how it was raised. I’d help butcher it and season it. I’d cook it on a spit over charcoal. And we’d film the whole thing.
So me and my Hungry Village producers found Rancho Llano Seco, a local farm north of San Francisco. We met up with Jamie at the Rancho to pick out the pig for my porchetta. When we got to the barn and open pen where the mature hogs spend their last days on the Rancho, there she was, a big sow with a beautiful red coat hiding just inside the barn. There’s my porchetta. I called her Bella.
Jamie sent Bella to my butchers at Golden Gate Meats in San Francisco’s Ferry Building . I joined Tom, who deboned the porchetta with a surgeon’s skill. Shoulder, sirloin, rib meat and loin all intact with a thick layer of belly and fat under the skin.
We scored the skin to form diamonds. Nothing less for Bella. Meat side up I scattered chopped rosemary, garlic, golden wild fennel pollen, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper all over. Rolled and tied, the porchetta sat for 2 days to let the aromatics infuse all the meat.
The porchetta slowly roasted on a spit over an open fire for hours. Each slice included a little bit of rib meat, loin, belly and crispy skin. A few lucky people also got shoulder or sirloin. 3 dozen friends and fans enjoyed a wonderful afternoon on San Francisco’s Russian Hill eating porchetta panini done the Bay Area Slow Food farm to table way.
And, in a nod to how porchetta sandwiches, are served around the Bay Area, I offered caramelized onions, sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh baby arugula as toppings. They don’t do that in Italy. I hope I don’t get in trouble again. I don’t want to go to Italian prison.
So there you go, Italy. I did porchetta the way it’s supposed to be done. Let’s be friends again.
An antipasti platter is your culinary canvas. Lay out a couple of your favorite Italian cheeses and salumi (cured meats) that pair well together. Add some veggies for color. Olives maybe? And what about some taralli scattered all around?
A feast for the eyes but more importantly an icebreaker for those around your table. A little prosecco doesn’t hurt to get the conversations flowing. Let their eyes feast on your canvas for a short while.
It’s a set-up. The antipasti course is an important beginning to a leisurely 4-course Italian meal. Wake up the taste buds with a little something. A variety of tastes preview what’s to follow.
The one I made is a classic from my days in Jersey. Some variation of that platter started every holiday meal.
No time? Get everything you need at an Italian deli or well-stocked market. Then you just have to paint your canvas.
But if you want to add something homemade, make my quick olives marinated with orange, oregano and chili flakes. My roasted peppers are always a favorite. Invest a little more time and make my homemade giardiniera, still crunchy pickled vegetables.
Warning! Don’t fill up on the antipasti. You got a soup, pasta or risotto coming followed by the main course and dessert. Depending on who’s at my table sometimes I make individual plates for everybody so nobody eats too much right away.
Whadda youse crazy? I can’t compete on Food Network.
I don’t like tension in the kitchen. My focus is the food not the drama. And I gotta do things my own way.
When inspired I share recipes on my blog. When my producers’ and my stars align we shoot new cooking episodes for my YouTube channel. That’s it.
But, my producers saw a casting call for Next Food Network Star and they suggested I apply. It’ll be fun, they said. You’ll be great, they said. You’ll love it, they said. They’re sneaky, my producers, and they talked me into it.
I couldn’t make it to LA last month to interview in person so my producers and I decided to shoot a video instead.
For the video, I made one of my favorite dishes, spaghetti aglio e olio. The garlic and olive oil sauce is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. It’s typical of dishes I’ve been making for years. A few quality ingredients. Quick simple preparation. Incredible flavor.
This dish is near and dear to my heart because it comes from my mother. My family food traditions have their root in her birth town east of Naples. She learned to cook from her mother and I learned to cook from her.
I love to pass on the traditions, share the recipes that fill my belly and warm my heart.
Now, more than 100 years after my ancestors came to America our favorite dishes still draw us to the table. Our days together, many generations cooking in the kitchen and around the table, are precious.
The turkey is infused with rosemary, sage, garlic and lemon. The stuffing studded with sausage and chestnuts is a perfect flavorful partner for the moist and tender turkey. The easy pan gravy brings it all together.
A Thanksgiving dinner that you can cook in under 2 hours. You won't believe the complex flavor of the moist tender breast and the mellow spinach and salty prosciutto stuffing.
1 4 Pound turkey breast, deboned and butterflied
2 pounds fresh spinach
½ onion, finely diced
½ cup grated parmigiano
6 slices prosciutto
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
3 lemon slices
4 leaves fresh sage
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water or broth
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Over medium heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pot.
When the oil is hot saute the onions until they are translucent and tender.
Add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pot and raise the heat to medium-high.
Add as much of the spinach as you can to the pot and turn it to mix it with the onions and to help it all wilt. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
Add more spinach until all of it is wilted.
Put the spinach in a bowl and mix in the grated parmigiano and set the spinach aside to cool.
Butterfly the breast and lay flat open, pounding with a meat mallet to create even thickness throughout. (Save time. Ask your butcher to butterfly the breast for you.)
Spread the spinach mixture across the breast, leaving a 1½ inch border all around.
Put the prosciutto slices in a single layer over the spinach.
Beginning at one end, firmly roll up the turkey breast and use 4 equally spaced kitchen lengths of kitchen twine to secure the roast well.
In a casserole lay out the parsley, sage and lemon slices to form a bed for the roast.
Rub a tablespoon of olive oil well all over.
Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper evenly over the roast.
Pour in the white wine, water (or broth) into the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle olive oil over the liquid.
Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. The temperature will rise to 160 degrees as it rests. (I'm using an off-the-grid organic turkey but if your roasting a supermarket turkey you may want to leave it in the oven longer, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.)
Baste the roast with the pan juices several times during roasting. (Add more wine and water to maintain about an inch of liquid in the casserole.
Remove the breast roll from the pan and loosely cover with foil.
Pour the pan juices through a strainer into a pan. Skim off excess oil.
Keep the pan gravy over very low heat to keep it warm.
After the roast has rested for about 20 minutes, slice it thinly and arrange the spirals on a serving platter.
Pour the pan gravy over the slices. (If you have more gravy, serve it at the table.)
I love this ricotta cheesecake with pumpkin as an end to a fall meal. It’s a nice change from the heavier New York cheesecake.
Pumpkin ricotta cheesecake is easy to make. It doesn’t have a pastry crust so you can have it in the oven in 10 minutes and out in 90.
I’m not a purist so I don’t care if the cheesecake cracks on top. Looks rustic, right? Ask Martha Stewart if you want to get rid of the cracks.
Add a dollop of whipped cream and you have a wonderful end to a wonderful holiday meal.
Creamy, airy, rich pumpkin flavor with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg lingering in the background. The nutty crust that forms around the edge is my favorite bite. Make this one of your fall favorites.
The cheesecake is even better if you make it the day before so it has a chance to set-up nicely in the refrigerator. One less thing to worry about on the big day. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.
Thanksgiving is coming. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Thursday’s episode, a quick spinach & prosciutto stuffed boneless turkey breast.
This is part one of a 2 part Thanksgiving special. Stay tuned for part two next week.
Easy and delicious, mashed potatoes flavored with mellow roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil, pairs well with meat, fish or poultry.
My Mom didn’t call them mashed potatoes, she called them “smashed” potatoes and I still do. I like chunks of potato for that toothsome feel. But I like a smoother or whipped version of mashed potatoes too.
Make your mashed potatoes anyway you like them. Mash them more, whip them with a whisk or a hand beater, or put the hot potatoes through a ricer if you want a smoother or whipped consistency, then add the roasted garlic and olive oil.
Any way you make them just get them to your guests while they’re still piping hot. .
For Thanksgiving this year I’m serving with my smashed potatoes with a roasted boneless turkey breast stuffed with sauteed spinach and prosciutto that’s in and out of the oven in less than 90 minutes.
It’s a complete easy and quick dinner with protein, veggies and carbohydrates all on the plate.
The Italian Homemade Company opened in North Beach on Columbus between Filbert & Greenwich a few days ago. I visited this morning for the first time. It was like stopping by someone’s kitchen in northern Italy.
I’m making a light pasta cream sauce with zucchini blossoms and was looking for fresh pasta. I bought some of Homemade’s fresh tagliatelle. But I couldn’t resist this morning’s crop of tiny spinach and ricotta ravioli for my delicate sauce.
Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli, the gracious owners, are settling into their new space. Alice makes fresh pasta every day. She hails from Rimini on the northern Italian Adriatic coast where they make beautiful fresh pasta. Mattia, is from the Marche region.
Another owner, Carlo Ciccardi, was jet-lagged after arriving a few hours ago from a trip back home near the beautiful beach town between Naples and Rome, Sperlonga.
Stop in soon for fresh pasta, salumi, cheeses and imported products. Italian Homemade will make several fresh pasta choices each day along with other fresh dishes to take away.
Today Alice made a lasagna with bechamel and ragu. She suggested a baked in-house piadina (flat bread) sandwich with your choice of stuffed baked tomato or pepper inside. Add some prosciutto and mozzarella and you have a fresh street-food meal to eat at the long communal table or to take away to enjoy in Washington Square, just a block away.
Benvenuti e buona fortuna! A warm welcome and best wishes to our new neighbors. Thank you for bringing another slice of Italia to North Beach.
My lunch turned out beautifully.
The Italian Homemade Company spinach and ricotta ravioli are delicate but toothsome. The tasty little ravioli are bathed in the shallot-flavored cream sauce accented by the sweetness of the zucchini blossoms and the nuttiness of the parmigiano. Even with just a few ingredients, these ravioli explode with complex flavor in every bite.Here’s the recipe for the squash blossom cream sauce. It works well with delicate stuffed pasta or flat fresh or dried pasta like fettucine or tagliatelle.
Father’s Day is 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.
Father’s Day is June 15. You know me. Holidays bring back food memories. Here’s one from my Dad Gennaro (aka Jerry).
My Mom was always at the stove so my Dad didn’t cook often. But when he did Dad made some really good dishes. This one is one of my favorites.
This is an unusual sauce. It’s not made with whole San Marzano tomatoes that I use in most of my sauces.
I make this one with tomato paste so it’s a really thick and dense sauce that you spoon on top of the mussels laid atop friselle, or hard twice-baked bread slices.
Heat up olive oil in a pot with the hot pepper. I use whole peperoncini, dried chili peppers. When the oil is hot add the tomato paste and the water you used to rinse out the cans and stir well. As it cooks the paste will darken to a red brick color and be really thick. Stir in some oregano.
While the tomato paste is cooking steam the mussels. Watch me steam mussels and clams. This is the technique that you’ll use for this dish.
Make sure you add enough wine and water to the steaming pot. You need a fair amount of the mussel broth to put this dish together.
If you’re lucky to live in an Italian neighborhood you will be able to buy friselle, twice baked bread rounds or rusks at a local bakery. I can’t get them anymore in North Beach so I baked slices of a sourdough loaf from Italian-French Bakery on Grant until they were hard and golden.
This dish may remind you of the sauce at Vincent’s Clam Bar or Umberto’s Clam House in lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. But my guess is that my Dad got this recipe from his mother and the food she cooked at her Quisisana restaurant in Newark’s Italian immigrant First Ward and later in Brooklyn through the 1950s.
The sweet thick tomato sauce surrounds the tender briny mussels just out of the sea. I hate to say it but my favorite bite is the twice-baked bread soaked with mussel broth and topped with the sauce. But I try to slurp in a mussel too. I love the kick from the peperoncini as it all goes down.
Happy Father’s Day. Wanna share your memories of food your Dad made for you?
Steamed mussels and friselle topped with a spicy tomato paste sauce.
Recipe type: Seafood
24 mussels well-scrubbed, steamed
Strained mussel broth from the steaming pot, about 2 cups.
4 friselle or baked bread slices
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
water to slosh-out the paste cans
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 peperoncini (dried chili) or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ onion, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and place 4 pieces of sliced rustic bread on a baking sheet and bake until slightly golden and completely dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside the twice-cooked bread. (Or use friselle, Italian rusks from your bakery.)
Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and peperoncini in a sauce pot over medium-high heat.
When the oil sizzles add the tomato paste and the water used to rinse the cans.
Stir well and when the paste starts to turn to a darker brick red color lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes more.
In the meantime steam the mussels using this recipe. http://www.gianni.tv/10-minute-mussels-clams/ or the link above in the post.
Remove the steamed mussels from the pot and strain out the broth. (You should have about 2 cups of mussel broth.)
Add half of the mussel broth to the sauce and mix well.
Remove the top shell from the mussels.
Rub the twice-baked bread with a garlic clove and drizzle each piece with extra virgin olive oil
Put a piece of the twice-baked bread on the bottom of a dish or bowl.
Drizzle some broth over the bread to soften it. (If more liquid is needed use water.)
Spread some sauce over the bread.
Arrange 6 mussels around the bread and top each with sauce.
Sprinkle with each mussel and the bread with extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. Serve immediately.
Mix in some chopped garlic, parsley and Worcestershire sauce to perk up the beef.
I stuff mine with fresh mozzarella and add nutty and creamy Italian fontina on top for more flavor punch.
The burger is fine with or without a cheese stuffing or with no cheese at all. Your choice.
With all the scares about contaminated ground beef sold on the grid the best hamburger you eat may be the one made at home with ground beef or chuck you grind yourself from your trusted local butcher.
With the start of the summer you can cook the hamburger on your outdoor grill or in a stove-top cast iron grill pan. Some chefs think it’s best to cook hamburgers in a flat-bottomed cast iron pan so it cooks evenly and the juices stay inside.
If you’re making hamburgers at home make sure you have a good sturdy bun. I’m using a pain de mie from my favorite Bay Area bakery Acme Bread. It has a sturdy soft crust and a slightly sweet small crumb inside, a perfect hamburger bun.
Add your favorite condiments. For me, no mayo, ketchup or mustard. I prefer a grilled onion and a slice of heirloom tomato on my burger.
The toasted bun is just right for the juicy, tender burger pumped up by garlic and Worcester. The mild mozzarella oozes from the center complemented by the melted nutty fontina on top. The sweet grilled onion and summer tomato finishes the package in style.
A few days ago in a post on my pasta e fagioli video episode, Markus asked that I make panzanella, a simple Tuscan peasant summer salad.
I said I would when the summer tomatoes hit the farmers market. The first crop of Early Girls won’t be in for a few more weeks and the big heirlooms won’t be ready until the end of the summer. I thought I wouldn’t be making panzanella for a while.
But I couldn’t get panzanella out of my mind since Markus’ post. So when I saw a huge selection of tomatoes at Bruins Farms booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market yesterday I had to buy some and give panzanella a go.
If you’ve been to Tuscany in the summer you’ve enjoyed panzanella. It’s made with days-old dark salt-free Tuscan bread. Recipes for this peasant dish date back to the days of Michelangelo according to Tuscan food maestro Giulliano Bugialli.
This is my modern San Francisco version. While you’ll see recipes with peppers, cucumbers and all sorts of other ingredients in today’s panzanella recipes, I keep it simple.
Tomatoes and a good crusty rustic bread soaked in the olive oil and tomato juices are the stars. My mix today is Lemon Boy, Black Zebra and Beefsteak.
These tomatoes are grown about 70 miles inland from San Francisco, in greenhouses on the farm a bit west of Sacramento where it’s sunnier and warmer than it is here in the City.
Panzanella only has a few ingredients so you have to make sure you’re using the best. These Bruins Farms tomatoes fit the bill and that makes it easier to wait for the big field-grown heirloom tomatoes later this summer.
Make panzanella with day-old rustic bread or switch it up and make it with taralli, those small boiled then baked crunchy rings. You can buy taralli in North Beach at Molinari Deli on Columbus or at A.G. Ferrari’s stores around the Bay Area or online.
The onion and basil round out the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and the juicy, creamy bread cubes perk up each mouthful with a lingering acidic vinegar tingle.
Serve panzanella chilled or at room temperature as an antipasto or as a side for grilled meats or poultry.
Find out more about New York City’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve been disappointed with what’s left of Little Italy in lower Manhattan visit Arthur Avenue. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.
Here’s a twist on potato salad that I’ve loved since I was a kid.
Don’t get me wrong I love potato salad with mayonnaise but every once in a while I have to make this one flavored with red wine vinegar and olive oil.
It’s simple to make and really flavorful. Cube boiled potatoes while they’re still warm. Add chopped parsley and onions, a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, and dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. That’s it.
Creamy potatoes bathed in buttery olive oil, the sweet crunch of onion, all balanced by the red wine vinegar. A simple peasant dish with full and complex flavor.
Serve the potato salad warm or at room temperature. Perfect for any table, inside or out.