I was hosting a 4-course birthday dinner for a friend. I asked her what she wanted. “Nothing special. You come up with something. It’s always good,” she told me. But the next morning she sent me an email. “Can you make sweet potato gnocchi? I’ve been craving them.”
How could I say no, but the pressure was on. Everyone at my dinner loves the puffy, light sweet potato gnocchi at da Flora, one of our favorite North Beach restaurants. Would mine pass muster with this exacting crowd?
I use both russet and sweet potatoes here. Sweet potatoes can be wet so I roasted the potatoes instead of boiling them in their jackets to keep them as dry as possible.
The sweet potato gnocchi were light little pillows that just about melted on my tongue. The sage butter sauce is classic in its simplicity and adds richness to the gnocchi’s sweetness. The grated parmigiano really balances the flavors and adds to the complexity of this dish.
This recipe made over 100 gnocchi. Lucky for me I had more than enough for dinner so some could be frozen to enjoy another day. Just spread them out on a cookie tray and put them in the freezer. When frozen store them in a freezer bag. Drop the frozen gnocchi right into the boiling water. They’ll take a bit longer to cook through. Frozen gnocchi are good but fresh gnocchi are better.
It’s getting near the end of the summer season so I’m putting up some eggplant to tide me over until spring.
This a simple recipe from the south of Italia. The pickled eggplant is preserved under olive oil (sott’olio) and will keep in your refrigerator for weeks, even months.
Let the eggplant sit in the refrigerator for a few days to reach its peak flavor. The vinegar mellows and the eggplant picks up a hint of garlic, oregano and bay as it marinates in the jar. The red hot pepper adds a little sparkle at the end of each bite. (I used a small Calabrian chili pepper packed in EVOO.)
The pickled eggplant is a wonderful addition to an antipasti platter. Use it as a crostini topping. Serve it as a side with meat or fish.
N.B. I have to tell you that these are not canning recipes. My stuff lasts weeks or even months in the refrigerator. Just be sure that the eggplant is always fully covered by olive oil. If you want to keep the eggplant for a long time in your pantry, follow standard canning techniques to ensure food safety.
Flavor memories of my Mom’s hunter-style braised chicken overwhelmed me. I headed down the hill to get what I needed to make this easy, rustic dish.
I’m a breast man but go ahead and include all of your favorite chicken parts. The breasts take less time to cook so just simmer dark meat pieces a bit longer. Use bone-in and skin-on chicken for more flavor.
My recipe includes my father’s “secret” ingredient. He always added a sweet vinegar pepper to his chicken cacciatore. If you’re really energetic make my easy vinegar pickled peppers. (If you don’t have vinegar peppers use a dozen vinegar-brined capers or just a few drops of red wine vinegar. The acidity balances the sweetness of the peppers.)
I served the chicken cacciatore up with creamy polenta so I didn’t lose any of the sauce on the plate. Boiled rice works well too. You can also use the sauce for pasta.
The chicken is moist and tender, bathed in the chunky, sweet tomato-pepper sauce. I like to get a piece of bell pepper with each bite of chicken. Sometimes when I’m lucky, I get a piece of the piquant vinegar pepper too. Heaven!
I love fresh figs. I don’t care, black or white, I eat them all while they are in season. It all started when I was a kid.
We had 3 fig trees in our Jersey backyard, 2 black, 1 white. I couldn’t wait for the end of summer when the figs ripened so that I could eat them right off the tree, still warm in the late summer sun. My fall job was to wrap the trees with newspaper and plastic sheets and put a bushel on top so they survived the cold winters.
The figs are fantastic this summer, big, fat and sweet. I don’t peel fresh figs the way many do in Italy. I hold the short stem and bite off the whole thing to fill my my mouth with a burst of their rich flavor.
Poor me, I got stuck with 2 pints of Mission figs. No way they’d all be eaten before they spoiled. So I decided to make Galloping Figs, a simple dessert that gets its name from the plopping sound the figs make as they cook in the syrup. The figs have a jammy intensity with just a hint of lemon and bay in the background. Thanks to Lidia for this one.
For dessert, I served the sweet, syrupy figs with Robiola, a creamy soft cheese from Langhe in northern Italy. Galloping Figs make a fantastic topping for vanilla gelato too or just enjoy them on their own. Don’t forget to spoon the luscious syrup on top before serving. The figs will keep for a few days in the fridge to prolong your enjoyment.
I was navigating through the crowd waiting for the bus outside of Cavalli Cafe on Stockton and didn’t notice the hand-written sign in the window. Owner Santo Esposito saw me passing by and ran out to tell me that black truffles (tartufi neri) had just arrived from Umbria. My heart raced as we hurried inside.
Santo opened the box with the black beauties inside. The truffle aroma wafted across the counter. I was overwhelmed and had to have one. I knew exactly what I would do with the tartuffo I was holding in my hand, my take on a classic Umbrian pasta.
I had chestnut flour in my cupboard so I made fresh pasta and served it with a simple black truffle sauce. Set a plate of pasta before each guest and shave truffle on top. The aroma of the Umbrian forest fills your head as you go in for your first forkful. The tender pasta has a delicate, sweet chestnut flavor that blends nicely with the woodsy truffles. (You can find chestnut flour at Italian delis and at many supermarkets or just substitute spaghetti or your favorite imported Italian dried pasta.)
Friends in Italia supply Santo with the best products all year: Tuscan EVOO from last fall’s first press; dried porcini mushrooms; chestnut flour; white and black truffles depending on the season. These black truffles were harvested just a few days ago. Don’t delay, get fresh black truffles at Cavalli Cafe now @ $2/gram.
I love the small Italian eggplant now in the market.
Here’s a quick recipe that explodes with flavor. Just cut the eggplants in half and bake them in the oven topped with crushed San Marzano tomatoes and grated pecorino. The eggplant are soft and sweet and the grated cheese forms a crispy top.
As the eggplant cools many don’t make it off the top of the stove. Pilferers grab one to make sure they turned out well. I always have to make extra so I have enough for an antipasti platter or as a side for meat that I’m serving that day. You can keep leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days.
I like the baby eggplant hot out of the oven but I like them better at room temperature.
This is one of the recipes in my Vegetable e-book. Do you have yours? Just click on the e-book on the homepage to get one.
UPDATE (2/15/14): This blog post was so popular, I decided to show you how to do it. Check out the video above!
I never throw away bread. I use stale bread for my meatballs, for stuffings and for breadcrumbs. I always have some hanging around.
Day-old bread inspires panzanella, a simple summer tomato and bread salad. Some of you asked for this recipe based on the classic dish from Florence. I love my rustic version. You can get fancy and make crustless croutons in the oven but who wants to turn on a hot oven in the summer. Make it my way!
I’ve been making this salad a lot since prime heirloom tomatoes hit the market. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced onion bloomed in red wine vinegar, basil, cubed bread, extra virgin olive oil. That’s it. Make sure you use the best ingredients. This is the time to break out your best fruity Italian olive oil.
I only make panzanella in the summer when I can get big, juicy, ripe tomatoes. When the local heirloom tomatoes are gone from the farmer’s market, the panzanella is gone from my table.
Put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well and let the salad sit for a half-hour to create the juices that moisten the bread. How easy is that?
Try to get a little bit of everything in each bite. The tomato is sweet, the cucumber crunchy and the marinade-soaked bread ties everything together.
Serve panzanella as part of an antipasti platter or as a side for fried seafood, grilled or roasted sausage or meats. (This is the salad I paired with the fried shrimp in Sunday’s post.) Sometimes panzanella with some cheese and salami or prosciutto on the side is my summertime lunch or dinner.
When I was a kid on a steamy summer Friday night in Jersey, fried fish was one of my favorite dinners. My Mom lightly dredged an array of fish in flour and quickly fried them in olive oil. We ate the fish hot out of the oil with just a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt.
I liked the crispy sweet shrimp the best. I’d grab one from the stove and shove the whole thing in my mouth. If I tried to get another my Mom always shooed me away. “Save some for the table!”
The fat white Gulf prawns at the fishmonger this morning were just right for today’s lunch. I’m eating at least a half dozen with abandon.
A quick meal with the pristine taste of the sea. Fry the shrimp and serve them hot out of the oil with a squeeze of lemon. The shrimp are paired here with my version of panzanella, a summer tomato and bread salad. Just add a bottle of crisp, chilled pinot grigio to the table and eat.
Fry up your favorite fish as well. I really like a nice piece of fried sole. You can quickly fry up some squid too, as I did in my calamari fritti video.
I returned from NYC to find the first decent crop of local heirloom tomatoes. A big, fat golden and red orb in the farmer’s market had my name on it. The ripe tomato had a sweet aroma and was just firm to the touch. You don’t mess we these babies in their prime. Keep it real simple.
Tomato and mozzarella salad is a riff on the traditional Caprese, slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella separated by a basil leaf and drizzled with EVOO.
I like the chunky pieces of tomato and smaller bocconcini mozzarella balls cubed and sprinkled with torn basil leaves, EVOO and sea salt.
I let the salad marinate for a half hour before serving to bring out the sweetness of the tomato and infuse the olive oil with the basil. All of the juices create a marinade to coat everything with flavor.
Tomato salad is a refreshing start to any summer meal or as a side for grilled or roasted sausage or other meats. Just make sure you have a good hunk of bread to soak up all the juices.
I made baked stuffed mushroom caps to accompany prosciutto and smoked mozzarella on my antipasti platter. That’s them in the front of the plate.
Stuffed mushrooms are quick and easy to make and pack a lot of flavor. Serve them hot out of the oven or at room temperature. Parmigiano, garlic, parsley and EVOO flavor the breadcrumbs and the grated cheese creates a golden crust on top of the mushroom caps. Every bite is a zesty and crunchy delight. Sometimes I can’t help myself. I stuff the whole cap in my mouth and eat it in just one bite.
You can add the stuffed mushroom caps to almost any antipasti platter you create. The caps are a compact package that you can even pass around as your arriving dinner guests sip on a bubbly prosecco.
So what’s that other stuff in the photo?
I had breadcrumbs left over so I stuffed an artichoke and a couple of baby heirloom tomatoes and sprinkled the remaining flavored breadcrumbs on red bell peppers and baked them too. They each have their own special texture and taste and they are all delicious and I wanted to show you them all.
Use the artichoke as a first course. Add the roasted stuffed tomatoes and red bell peppers sprinkled with the flavored breadcrumbs to an antipasti platter or serve them as a vegetable side dish with lunch or dinner. I tell you how to handle the peppers and tomatoes in the recipe below. If you don’t know how to clean an artichoke, watch me do it. It’s fun.
Be sure to keep this versatile flavored breadcrumb recipe around. You’ll use it often with roasted vegetables or as a light topping for baked fish or roasted chicken.
A classic from Catania on the eastern shore of Sicily, this wildly popular pasta took on its name in honor of favorite-son Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma 180 years ago. You’ll find it on menus all over Sicilia now.
A couple of you asked about this dish so I thought I’d make it. It’s almost 2 years since my last exquisite week in Sicilia and I’m in the mood for a taste memory of that beautiful island.
The shiny black-purple eggplant in the market are superb. Get the firm small to medium ones. They don’t have many seeds. Even though it’s July we won’t have good local Bay Area tomatoes for about 6 weeks, so I used imported San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.
My Rigatoni alla Norma is inspired by my Catania cousins-in-law. The creamy tomato-eggplant sauce coats each fat pasta tube. The grated salty ricotta salata (dried ricotta cheese) sprinkled on top balances the sweetness of the sauce. Celebrate summer with this easy 2-step recipe. It brought me back to the heat and sun of Sicily’s Ionian coast eating Pasta alla Norma al fresco with a glass of Nero d’Avola wine.
If you’re enjoying a summer bounty of local tomatoes at the height of flavor here’s my fresh San Marzano tomato sauce video. San Marzano tomatoes are best but you can use local Roma or other tomato varieties to make a great sauce in place of one made with imported canned San Marzano tomatoes.
I love Italian pork sausage. Luckily I can get the best right here in North Beach.
The Chronicle tasted 48 house-made sausages from all over the Bay Area, everything from traditional Italian pork sausage to Boudin Blanc and Spicy Georgia Peach Bourbon chicken sausage. Even with such a wide spread of sausage styles North Beach had 2 winners!
Calabrese pork sausage from Little City at Stockton and Vallejo came in second for “specialty sausages.” The Calabrese has a kick from the crushed hot pepper. It’s delicious.
My other personal favorite from the Little City guys is the Sicilian sausage, a mild pork sausage with fennel. I’m amazed their Sicilian didn’t make the top 5 in the mild sausage category. It’s a perfect blend of pork shoulder, salt, pepper and fennel seeds.
They sell a lot of sausage at Little City. If you get lucky you might catch fresh sausage being made on the counter at the back of the shop. You’ll want to see how this sausage is made. It’s an art.
The mild pork sausage with fennel from Molinari on Columbus got a favorable mention too.
Chicago-style pizza has been on my mind lately and luckily in my mouth too. I had one when I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. I love the classic pie with sausage but I lost the vote and we ordered a vegetarian instead. It was a good pie but I was disappointed. I still needed a sausage deep-dish.
San Francisco’s Patxi, Little Star and Zachary’s make deep-dish but they were too far away. North Beach’s Capos will open soon on Vallejo Street with deep-dish on the menu. But I couldn’t wait so I had to make my own.
Deep-dish isn’t that difficult. The dough is very pliant and bakes well in a home oven. It doesn’t need really high oven temperature and takes about a half-hour in the oven to get a golden crust and fully baked interior. It’s worth the wait, trust me.
Sorry about the missing slice in the picture. This was my first deep-dish pizza and we had to see how it turned out. We couldn’t help eating that first piece as soon as the pie was cool enough to cut.
Most eat deep-dish with a knife and fork but I like to pick it up as soon as I can and eat it by hand. The buttery crust is sturdy but tender with a slight crunch from the polenta mixed into the dough. The bottom layer of mozzarella oozes out of each slice. You get those long melted mozzarella strands (telephone lines) with each forkful. The savory fennel sausage mellows in the sweet oregano-infused tomato sauce. Every mouthful is a texture and flavor treat. A slice of deep-dish can fill you up but I’m a pizza pig and can’t stop with just one.
Serve your deep-dish pizza with a simple green salad and you’ve got a meal worthy of “The Windy City.” Substitute your favorite sauteed vegetables, onion, bell pepper and black olive or mushrooms sauteed with fresh oregano maybe. The filling choices are endless.
This 10-inch pan deep-dish serves 4 and the dough recipe is enough for 2 pies. I’m making another one in the morning with the leftover dough for my office-mates. To satisfy everyone’s diet it’s back to a vegetarian pie. I’ll nestle a filling of crimini and porcini mushrooms sauteed in garlic-infused EVOO with fresh oregano between the mozzarella layer on the bottom and the tomato sauce on top. Should be a good breakfast.
I had a hankering for stuffed peppers for a while so I made some today. Peppers are flooding the farmers market and a couple of big, ripe red bell peppers called out to me this morning.
The roasted stuffed peppers are tender and sweet. The arborio rice and ground beef stuffing is pumped up with shallot, oregano, parsley and parmigiano and baked with a simple San Marzano tomato-basil sauce. The top is golden with a nutty, crunchy crust. The moist savory rice stuffing absorbs the sweet San Marzano and basil sauce to create a taste medley in each bite. Early summer on a plate. Just delicious.
Stuffed peppers don’t take that long to make. Most of the time is roasting the stuffed peppers and then finishing them in the oven with the tomato sauce.
You can serve the stuffed peppers as an antipasto course, as a side with meat or for lunch, maybe with some pasta dressed with the tomato sauce from the baking pan on the side.
Use bell peppers or choose your favorite pepper. Italian frying peppers or banana peppers work well too. Don’t add the meat and enjoy just as flavorful vegetarian stuffed peppers.
North Beach’s Tommaso’s opened in 1935. The Crotti family bought it in 1973 and they’re still serving the original menu from 77 years ago.
Agostino Crotti boasts that Tommaso’s was the first to have a wood-burning oven on the West Coast . “That’s written in the books.” Augstino says “this place is famous for one reason and one reason only: the brick oven.”
Agostino gave the oven design to Alice Waters who built one at Chez Panisse in 1980 and California-style pizza was born. Alice passed the design on to Wolfgang Puck who built one at Spago opened in 1982. The rest is history. “So everything started here,” Augustino proclaims.
Pizza in San Francisco has come a long way since 1935. The pizzeria choices in most neighborhoods are incredible. Just in North Beach you can get a dazzling array of pizza at a dozen places. Pizza delivery has evolved too. Not just home delivery anymore. We had fantastic pizza truck pies from Casey’s parked downtown on Mission for lunch a few weeks ago.
Agostino isn’t too impressed with all these developments. He only eats pizza out of his 77 year old wood-burning oven. “I’m more simple. Give me a margherita pizza and I’m a happy camper.” That’s my Tommaso favorite too but the half-sausage/half-meatball ain’t bad either.
EaterSF’s Pizza Week 2012posts are a goldmine for everything you need to know about pizza in San Francisco, including Del Popolo, the new monster pizza truck with a wood-burning oven. Don’t miss A Snob’s Guide, a virtual SF pizza encyclopedia. You can read Chloe Schildhause ‘s full interview with Agostino Crotti and his sister Carmen too.