Lamb Chop and Artichoke Kitchen Invasion

More Roman Food in North Beach. Bravo!

Maurizio Bruschi, the chef/owner of Ideale, the classic North Beach Roman restaurant on Grant for over 20 years, and his partner Giuseppe Terminiello, recently opened Piccolo Forno on Columbus.

Piccolo Forno brings another Roman culinary tradition to North Beach, pizza al taglia, pizza by the cut. You find these shops all over Rome. One of my favorites is La Ranella in Trastevere and Piccolo Forno is in that same elite class.

But I’m headed to Ideale to cook with Maurizio. We were in a springtime frame of mind and in Roma that means young spring lamb and the first crop of artichokes.

Carciofi alla Romana is a simple preparation. Maurizio cleaned a large artichoke in a flash. The artichokes went upside down in a pot with a bath of water, white wine, extra virgin olive oil and a few aromatics.

Potatoes were tossed with extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and garlic and roasted in the oven.

But the star of this meal was the scottadito (“burn the finger”). The chops, simply seasoned with salt and black pepper, are so good you burn your fingers because you can’t wait to pick them up and eat those lollipops as they come hot off the grill.

Maurizio laid the crispy, creamy roasted potatoes down on a big platter ringed by tender, flavorful artichokes with a hint of mint and the lamb chops just off the grill atop the potatoes. Scatter some lemon on the plate. Squeeze a drop or two on the lamb chop, if you wish. Ah, Roman spring right here on Grant Avenue.

We always eat very well when in Rome. I have to say this North Beach meal is right up there with the best classics I’ve had in Rome.

Grazie Maurizio. Bravo!

Note: We shot this episode in April. Apologies for the late release. However, this meal is worth making any time of year as long as the ingredients are available in your local market. Buon appetito!

Scottadito

  1. Baby spring lamb is in the market now. Get yourself a rack of baby loin lamb chops. Have your butcher divide them for you.
  2. There’s no recipe here because there’s no need to mess with these tender chops.  Maurizio pounded them a bit for uniform thickness.
  3. Sprinkle the chops with salt and a grind of black pepper to taste and slap them down on a hot grill or hot grill pan atop your stove.
  4. The scottadito only take a couple of minutes on each side. The Romans like their lamb well-done but choose the doneness you like best.  You’ll be burning your fingers too. It doesn’t hurt too much.
  5. Don’t forget to give the chops a squeeze of lemon before eating these lollipops.

Carciofi alla Romana

Ingredients

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 1-cup water
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 sprigs Italian flat parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced thin
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Put enough water to cover the cleaned artichokes in a bowl large enough to hold the cleaned artichokes.
  2. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the lemon into the water. Put the lemon rind in the water too. (The acidulated water will keep the artichokes from discoloring before you cook them.)
  3. Cut off the tough top of the artichokes at the point where the dark green leaves turn to light green/yellow.
  4. Trim the remaining leaves to remove the dark green outer leave.
  5. Peel the stem.
  6. Open the artichoke and with a spoon, remove the choke, if any.
  7. Put the cleaned artichoke into the acidulated water.
  8. Put a large pot over high heat. Add one tablespoon of olive oil.
  9. When the oil begins to ripple, place the artichokes stem up in the oil and push them down with your hand to open them and to brown them a bit.
  10. Add the water, wine, garlic, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, parsley and mint and bring the pot to a boil.
  11. Lower the heat to medium-low and bring the liquid to a gentle simmer. (If need be add more water. But in the end you want about half the original volume to create a flavorful pan sauce.)
  12. Cover the pot with a lid or cover the artichokes with crumpled damp butcher paper.
  13. Let the artichokes steam until they are knife tender, about 20 minutes.
  14. Remove the artichokes to a serving platter.
  15. Spoon some of the cooking pan sauce over each artichoke.
  16. Serve immediately.

Oven Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold)
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from the stem
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 2-inch cubes.
  3. Put the potatoes, olive oil, garlic and rosemary in a baking dish, add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Coat the potatoes with the olive oil mixture.
  5. Roast the potatoes in the hot oven until they begin to brown and are knife-tender, about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the potatoes to a serving platter.
  7. Serve immediately.

Ravioli & Gnocchi Kitchen Invasion

North Beach’s The Italian Homemade Company on Columbus is my go-to spot for fresh pasta made daily.

Mattia Cosmi, who hails from Le Marche and his wife Alice Romagnoli, an expert pasta-maker from Rimini in the Romagna region on the northern Adriatic coast are the owners. Recently, Gianmarco Cosmi, Mattia’s brother, joined them here in San Francisco as Executive Chef.

Gianmarco, also known as “Giammi,” was trained at ALMA, the international Italian culinary school near Parma and cooked at a Lago Maggiore Michelin-starred restaurant

Giammi is a maestro. I’m always entranced watching him make, cut and form his wonderful fresh pasta. It’s magical. I had to include Giammi’s pasta and sauces in my new series cooking with some of North Beach’s best chefs.

I’ve adapted Giammi’s pasta sauce recipes so that you can make them in your kitchen in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.

If you want to experience Giammi’s original dishes we explain how to make tomato confit, dried olives, and toasted grated parmigiano. They require a slow and low time in the oven but I’ve provided quick substitutions if you’re in a hurry.

Get the real deal, eat at The Italian Homemade Company, or make these quick sauces in your kitchen. Either way, you have to experience these pastas.

You can make your own fresh pasta or buy them at Italian Homemade or your favorite market or use dried imported pasta instead.

Red Beet Gnocchi in a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

The sauce is complex but easy to make in about 5 minutes with my adapted recipe. The pillowy, tender gnocchi look like rubies on the plate coated with piquant yet mellow gorgonzola sauce. The toasted hazelnuts add unexpected crunch and flavor. Just beautiful.

Ingredients

  • 4 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 pound of gnocchi or your favorite pasta
  • 21/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ shallot, thinly sliced
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ pound gorgonzola dolce (the creamy soft one not the hard crumbly one)
  • Sea salt freshly grated black pepper to taste
  • 10 roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped or crushed
  • Sprinkle of crunchy grana padano or parmigiano
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish

Instructions

Note: Giammi spreads a half-cup of grated grana padano on a silicon sheet (parchment paper works too) and lets it melt and brown in a 250 degree oven for about 30 minutes. If you want to avoid this step, simply finish the dish with grated grana or parmigiano.

  1. Put the water in a large pot and add the 2 tablespoons of sea salt.
  2. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
  3. Over high heat roast the hazelnuts in a separate sauté pan until they pick up some color and you can smell their aroma.
  4. Roughly chop or crush the roasted hazelnuts and set aside.
  5. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. You want the butter to begin to foam but not brown.
  6. Add the shallot and cook until just translucent.
  7. Add the cream and milk and bring the cream & milk mixture to a gentle simmer.
  8. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
  9. Add the gorgonzola and stir the sauce until the gorgonzola melts and is fully incorporated into the sauce.
  10. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water. They will cook in about 3 minutes as you finish the sauce.
  11. When the gnocchi are done drain them (save a cup of the cooking water) or take them out with a spider and add them to the sauce and coat them well. (If the sauce is too thick add some pasta to loosen the sauce.)
  12. Off the heat finish the pasta by melting a ½ tablespoon of butter and a sprinkle of olive oil all over.
  13. Toss the pasta to coat well with the sauce.
  14. Put the gnocchi on a serving platter or individual plates.
  15. Scatter the hazelnuts and pieces of the crunchy padano on top. (Note: for the less than 10-minute version of this dish in place of the cruchy padano simply grate some grana padano or parmigiano reggiano on top of the gnocchi.)
  16. Serve immediately.

Ravioli in a Sausage Cream Sauce

Here’s a complex sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the delicate ravioli. The sausage and ham add dimension to the cream sauce. And the croccante on top adds a nutty surprise. It’s just as good in my adapted quick-cook version with grana padano or parmigiano reggiano grated on top in place of the croccante.

  • Ingredients
  • 4 quarts of water
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1-pound fresh potato & mushroom filled ravioli or your favorite ravioli or pasta
  • 1-tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ shallot, thinly sliced
  • ½ pound pork sausage out of the casing
  • 2 slices of prosciutto cotto (boiled or roasted ham) cut into a small dice
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1-cup cream
  • Nutmeg, one or two grates
  • Sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
  • Grana padano croccante (or grated grana or parmigiano, see Note below)

(Note: Giammi finished the dish with croccante. Grate a ¼ cup of grated grano padana or parmigiano reggiano and spread it over a silicon or parchment lined baking sheet. Place it in a 180 degree oven until it melts and browns, about 30 minutes. Break the croccante in pieces and arrange it on top of the ravioli before serving. If you don’t make the croccante, simply sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of the dressed ravioli.)

  1. Instructions
  2. Put 4 quarts of water and salt in a large pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat add the olive oil.
  4. When the olive oil begins to simmer, add the shallot and cook until translucent.
  5. Add the sausage, stir and sauté until it picks up some brown color.
  6. Add the cooked ham and stir to heat it through.
  7. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol burns off, about 2 minutes.
  8. Add the cream and a couple of grates of nutmeg and stir well.
  9. Reduce the heat to medium and gently simmer the sauce until it thickens.
  10. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Drop the ravioli or pasta in the boiling water. (If your using dried pasta drop it in the pot as soon as the water comes to a boil so it’s cooked al dente by the time the sauce is done.)
  12. Take the ravioli out of the water with a spider (save a cup of the water if you drain the pasta in a colander.)
  13. Toss the pasta to evenly coat with the sauce. (Add some pasta water if the sauce is too thick.)
  14. Put the ravioli on a serving platter and top with pieces of croccante or grated cheese.
  15. Serve immediately.

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!

North Beach’s Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar Opens

Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach's new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar
Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach’s new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

A couple of months ago I told you about Il Casaro (the cheese maker), the soon-to-open North Beach pizzeria and mozzarella bar. Well it finally happened a couple of days ago and I stopped in to wish my friend Francesco “Buona Fortuna”.

He sat me at the end of the immense white marble bar. I almost cried when I opened the menu filled with Neapolitan street food (cibo da strada), fried rice balls, bacala cakes, potato crocchette. Then I saw the homemade and imported mozzarella, fior di latte, burrata and the pizza. It’s a tantalizing menu.

“Where should I start my first time here?” I asked Francesco. “Pizza” he said without missing a beat. As I glanced toward the tomato-red beehive wood-burning oven I saw that I knew the pizzaiola standing in front of it. That sealed the deal. “Pizza Norma” I told Francesco without missing a beat either.

It was Salvatore, who I knew. I waved and in his honor ordered pizza alla Norma topped with grilled eggplant. Salvatore is a very talented pizza maker. He checked my pie lifting it high in the oven a few times just before he pulled the pie out to make sure it was perfect, slid it on a plate and delivered his masterpiece to me himself.

Il Casaro's Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant
Il Casaro’s Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant

Francesco wasn’t wrong. The tender pizza came out of the oven with dark puffy blisters all around the edge. The sweet eggplant played against lightly salted homemade fior di latte mozzarella.

I ate the whole thing starting with a knife and fork that I soon abandoned. Fold the slice in half and pick it up with your hands. It’s much easier and fun that way.

Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.
Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.

That single pizza was a wonderful trip around southern Italy. I started with a Neapolitan pizza that swung by Sicily to pick up the classic alla Norma eggplant topping and finished in Calabria after Francesco doused my last 2 slices with that tiny red-hot Calabrian pepper and its oil.

Before I left Francesco gave me a plate with ribbons of shaved raspadura, a delicate, nutty, young grating cheese. Once the paper cups arrive you can get curly shavings to eat while you roam North Beach. If you sit where I did you can watch them shaving the big cheese wheel with a special thin metal band.

I’ll return to Il Casaro soon. I gotta continue eating my way through the menu. Wanna join me? 5 stars so far in the early Yelp reviews.

If you’re inspired to make pizza at home my Pizza Margherita episode will show you how.

Did you see my new pasta primavera episode we released yesterday? You gotta make this easy, simple spring vegetable pasta dish part of your kitchen repertoire.

Buon appetito!

Il Casaro: North Beach’s New Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

Il Casaro on Columbus Opening Soon
Il Casaro on Columbus Opening Soon

Ever had panmozza?

You won’t have to go to Napoli to eat some when Il Casaro Pizzeria and Mozzarella Bar opens in a week or two after a final inspection.

Francesco Cavucci who owns the wonderful Calabrian restaurant on Green Street and his partner Peter Fazio have put together a casual place with an impressive white Italian marble bar in the former Steps of Rome space on Columbus right across from Molinari’s.

“We’re celebrating the food of Naples,” Francesco told me this morning.

I was ecstatic.

Since both Pulcinella and Caffe Macaroni Sciue Sciue closed a few years ago North Beach hasn’t had a real Neapolitan spot.

“We making true Neapolitan pizza and our own mozzarella & buratta that you can eat while it’s still warm,” he said with a big smile on his face.

Francesco beamed more brightly when he told me “And we’re making panmozza found everywhere on the streets of Napoli.”

Panmozza are folded sandwiches made with a pizza dough that has shreds of mozzarella kneaded into the dough. Add your favorite sandwich goodies, fold over the dough and bake in a hot oven.

Francesco Cavutti and Il Casaro's beehive oven
Francesco Cavutti and Il Casaro’s beehive oven

Il Casaro’s pizzaiolo (pizza maker) is certified by the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza in Naples.

In fact, the whole operation is certified.

You gotta use San Marzano tomatoes, certain mozzarella and zero-zero flour. The dough mixer for proper dough aeration and the wood-burning beehive oven have to be certified by the Association too.

I applaud the efforts to keep the traditional ways pure.

“This will be a casual neighborhood place where you can drop in every day,” Francesco said.

I can’t wait for Il Casaro to open.

I’ll be sitting at the bar right in front of the red beehive oven eating my panmozza.

You should drop in too. I’ll let you know when the doors finally swing open. And maybe I’ll post a panmozza recipe too.

Mama’s on the Move in North Beach

Is the Piazza Market space a new Mama's?
Is the Piazza Market space a new Mama’s?

You know Mama’s at Stockton/Filbert across from Washington Square. It’s the one with ridiculously long lines winding up Stockton everyone waiting to get a fantastic breakfast or lunch.

The family behind Mama’s plans to open a second location in the long abandoned Piazza Market space on Vallejo around the corner from Molinari’s.

The Mama’s and Lil Mama’s space plans have been in the window for months now but I didn’t see any work going on inside so I thought the deal was stalled or dead.

But Paolo Lucchesi’s Chronicle item says the deal is happening. The Sanchez family signed a lease. Here are the Inside Scoop details.

Mama's restaurant plans
Mama’s restaurant plans

The space has a retail permit so the Lil Mama’s Market plans could be ready to go.

No so fast for the restaurant operation. The application for a restaurant permit has been filed. They’re tough to snag in North Beach.

With no neighborhood opposition I hope the permit issues quickly. No more long lines for breakfast.

Lil Mama's specialty grocery store plans
Lil Mama’s specialty grocery store plans

But I’m most excited about Lil Mama’s Market, the retail specialty grocery store part of the operation.

For months I was wondering what those merchandize cubbies in the drawing would hold.

Mama’s baked goodies and jams and an array of curated (ala Bi-Rite Market) local produce and food products too.

I can’t wait for this new North Beach treasure to open.

Mussels Steamed in Fennel-Mascarpone Broth

Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone
Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone

I ended my birthday celebration with 3 glorious days in Boston. I knew I had to eat at NEBO and booked a table. It was my birthday and my friends’ anniversary celebratory 4-course dinner.

NEBO named for its original location in Boston’s vibrant Little Italy (North End Boston) recently relocated to the edge of the financial district.

Chef-owners Carla and Christine Pallotta and their 80-year-old mother made us feel as though we were at their home. The vivacious sisters serve the food they grew up with. Their grandmother and mother cooked their ancestral food from Puglia and Compania.

Mrs. Pallotta is a regular at the restaurant. She’s a constant mentor. “Don’t do it that way, do it this way,” she demonstrates while watching pasta being made in the kitchen.

Turns out that one branch of the Pallotta family is from a village in the Appenine foothills inland from Naples very close to Mirabella Eclano where my Mom was born. “We’re paesani” the 80-year old Mrs. Pallotta and I exclaimed in unison as we shared family histories.

Carla and Christine’s pan-steamed mussels were the star of our all-seafood antipasti course. I kept thinking about them so I had to try to replicate this fantastic simple dish. Here’s my interpretation of the NEBO pan-steamed mussels that we savored on that special night.

I think I got it right. The small mussels bathed in the  fennel-flavored mascarpone cream broth are briny, plump and tender. The fennel’s anise flavor balances the rich mascarpone broth. I scoop up some broth, fennel and shallot on each half-shell as I pop one mussel after another into my mouth.

Serve the mussels with grilled bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil to sop up all the rich, flavorful broth.

This dish brings me back to the Bay of Naples. Grazie mille Pallotta family. I’ll be back and in the meantime I’ll recreate your wonderful southern Italian dishes in my kitchen.

Buon appetito!

Steamed Mussels with Fennel & Mascarpone
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Plumb mussels steamed with fennel in a mascarpone cream broth.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh Italian flat parsley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water, fish stock or clam juice
  • ½ cup mascarpone
Instructions
  1. Put the olive oil in a large cast iron pan or large pot over high heat.
  2. When the oil ripples add the fennel, shallot and bay leaf and sauté until the fennel is tender, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine, water, mascarpone and parsley. Mix well and boil until the liquid thickens a bit, about 5 minutes.
  4. With the broth at a rapid boil and add the mussels and put a lid on the pan.
  5. Steam the mussels until they are all open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that didn't open.
  6. Serve immediately in the pan or put the mussels and broth in a large bowl and top with some fennel fronds.

 

4 North Beach Sandwiches on 2 Top 10 Lists

Molinari Deli on Columbus
Molinari Deli on Columbus

4 North Beach places own top spots in 2 recent San Francisco best sandwich lists.

Molinari’s and Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store are on both lists, Eater SF’s Most Iconic Sandwiches and Sean Timberlake’s Citysearch Guide’s Best Italian Sandwiches.

Giordano Brothers and L’osteria del Forno are on Timberlake’s list too.

Stop in Molinari’s to get a Renzo Special (prosciutto, coppa “hot or mild” fresh mozzarella, with sun dried tomatoes). Be sure to take a number as you enter the deli. Grab your choice of bread for your sandwich from the bin while you’re waiting for your number to be called.

Head to Mario’s on Washington Square Park for a meatball sandwich oozing melted cheese and marinara sauce on focaccia from Liguria Bakery just across the Square.

Giordano Brother’s “all-in-one” sandwich is an homage to a Pittsburgh tradition, stuffing a truck driver’s whole meal between 2 slices of bread so he can eat lunch behind the wheel. North Beach’s Italian-French Bakery bread holds your meat and cheese picks, delicious french fries and oil & vinegar coleslaw.

L’osteria del Forno house-made focaccia sandwiches can’t be beat. If you want a bigger meal their simple, Tuscan food will not disappoint.

And Eater SF’s downtown pick near my office, Sentinel’s corned beef focaccia sandwich never fails to sate my lunchtime deli cravings. The Sentinel is a street front walk-in for take-out only.

Buon appetito!

Citysearch List

Eater SF List

2 North Beach Pizza Margheritas On Top 10 List

Tony's Pizza Napoletana
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Bravo!

2 of the pizzas on Chow’s Top 10 Pizza Margheritas in the Bay Area list are made right here in North Beach: Caffe Baonecci on Green near Grant and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton at Union.

The Gambaccini family at Baonecci really make you feel at home and they make a really, really good pie. Tony only makes 73 margheritas a day so get there early to snag one.

Now that the weather is getting nicer you can grab an outside table at both of these pizzerie.

I’ve raved about Anthony Mangieri and his Una Pizza Napoletana in SOMA. His pies are among the best I’ve had anywhere and he’s really into making pizza. Anthony’s on the Chow’s Best Pizza Margherita list too.

Buon appetito!

Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Anchovy

Orecciette with Caulifower & Anchovy
Orecciette with Caulifower & Anchovy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buon appetito!

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

 

New in North Beach

HRD Smokin Grill on Green in North Beach
HRD Smokin Grill on Green in North Beach

Lots of good things happening in the Village food scene.

Dogfather’s on Green is now HRD Smokin Grill, right next to Golden Boy Pizza on Green Street. The folks from the SOMA’s HRD Coffee Shop have staked a claim that they can draw a crowd for their famous spicy pork kimchi burrito and Mongolian cheesesteak. Dinner only for now. Here’s Guy Fieri’s video of his visit to the original HRD Coffee Shop.

Tony Gemigniani got 2 1/2 stars in Michael Bauer’s Capo’s review in Sunday’s Chronicle. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton is a blockbuster and Tony has scored with his latest endeavor that celebrates Chicago’s Italian-American food traditions. I agree with Bauer, hats off to Tony for creating some nostalgia in North Beach. We’ve lost too many old-time places. Capo’s with its ’30s look and feel is most welcome.

Tosca Cafe has been facing eviction since the fall. Would the North Beach icon go the way of Caesar’s and other North Beach institutions that were shuttered over the last few months? The answer is a resounding no. New York City celebrated chef April Bloomfield and her partner restauranteur Kevin Friedman who own The Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village and other spots, bought the place.

They pledge to keep Tosca as it has always been.  That may include keeping the former owner Jeannette Etheridge around to reign over the place as she had for decades. The new owners are adding a full food menu. I can’t wait to see what the talented Bloomfield has in store for us.

Fior d’Italia re-opened late last month after a brief hiatus. Chef-owner Gianni Audieri promised a come back when he closed the restaurant last year. Now that it’s back I wonder if will regain the title “oldest Italian restaurant in America”.

Geppetto, the Italian deli across the street from Capo’s has been “on vacation” for months. Pete Mrabe who owns the popular Don Pisto on Union and Chubby Noodle, the just-reopened permanent pop-up in Amante’s on Green, is taking over the space. Fresh pasta and sandwiches are on the menu. I haven’t seen much activity in the space so it may be a while before it opens.

Txoko, the Basque place on Broadway closed on New Year’s Eve. The outrageous sandwich shop Naked Lunch took over the space and opened this weekend.

So when’s the last time you visited North Beach? Lots of fantastic new and well-established food choices beckon. What are you waiting for?

Buon appetito!

Fried Fritters (Pasta Cresciuta)

Savory Fritters with Anchovy & Sweet Fritters with Powdered Sugar
Savory Fritters with Anchovy & Sweet Fritters with Powdered Sugar

Frying is an important Neapolitan cooking technique practiced by generations of southern Italian-Americans.

One of my fans wrote that he continues his wife’s grandmother’s Christmas tradition by making savory fried fritters with an anchovy filet in the middle for the family to enjoy every year. I was inspired to fry up some.

Savory or sweet, I ate a lot of these fried dough balls growing up in Jersey. We’d crowd around the stove as my Mom pulled the golden orbs out of the frying pot to drain on a big brown paper bag and grabbed one as soon as she set them down. I get some anytime I’m on the east coast and I make them often in my kitchen.

Besides their proper name, pasta cresciuta, southern Italian-Americans in Jersey call these fried fritters zeppole. The fried dough is omnipresent at Italian street fairs dusted with powdered sugar.

In Rhode Island they dust them with powdered sugar and call them doughboys. Mix fresh chopped clams into the risen batter and Rhode Islanders call them clamcakes. When I’m in Point Judith I devour Iggy’s clamcakes with a bowl of chowder and finish the meal with a couple of doughboys for dessert.

I love frying and I’ve been doing a lot of it over the holidays. Frying is a quick cooking method that requires your full attention and you’ll get better at it over time. Just be patient and make sure that the oil in your frying pot is always at 375 degrees.

I like both savory and sweet pasta cresciuta. On the savory side, I enjoy mixing in chopped anchovies, chopped squash blossoms or chopped fresh clams after the batter rises. On the sweet side, I just fry up the fritters and shower them with confectioner’s sugar. The irregular golden fritters have a crispy exterior and are light and airy inside.

Pasta cresciuta should be eaten hot out of the oil, as soon as they drain a bit. The fritters don’t hold up well and are not not as tasty when reheated.

These fried yeast fritters are very different from sweet custard filled zeppole enjoyed in Campania, the region around Naples. Watch me make zeppole di San Giuseppe where I fry some and bake some.

But be forewarned, the cooked dough in the zeppole di San Giuseppe episode is not the same as the batter I use in this recipe. The one I use here is an uncooked batter that resembles a very loose or wet pizza dough.

Here are a couple of my other favorites that I fried up this holiday season, struffoli and calamari, one sweet and one savory.

Happy frying. Buon appetito!

Fried Fritters (Pasta Cresciuta)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2½ teaspoons yeast (one package)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2½ cups all purpose flour
  • Safflower or your favorite frying oil
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, using a fork or whisk dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of warm water (about 100 degrees), mix in a ½ cup of flour and let it stand for about 15 minutes until it starts to bubble up.
  2. Add the remaining 1½ cup of warm water and the salt and mix well.
  3. Add ½ cup of flour to the bowl and mix well.
  4. When the flour is well incorporated add another ½ cup of flour to the bowl and mix well.
  5. Add the last ½ cup of flour a little at the time and mix well. You may not have to use it all. You want to end up with a soft, smooth dough that is on the wet side and very elastic.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour until the batter is bubbling and double in volume.
  7. (If your making savory fritters, add chopped fresh clams, chopped anchovy or chopped squash blossoms to the bowl and mix them well into the batter.)
  8. Heat about 3 inches of oil in a deep wide pot or cast iron skillet to 375 degrees. (I use a candy thermometer hung on the side of the pot to ensure the oil stays at 375 degrees while frying.)
  9. Drop an overflowing tablespoon of the batter into the hot oil. Add more tablespoons of batter to the oil but don't overcrowd the pot.
  10. Move the fritters around so they have plenty of room to fry.
  11. When the bottom side of the fritters frying on top of the oil start to turn golden, flip them over and fry the other side.
  12. When the fitters are golden all over drain the fritters on paper towel.
  13. Dust sweet fritters with powdered sugar and savory fritters with a sprinkle of sea salt and serve immediately.

 

Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:114]

4 North Beach Treasures

Molinari Deli on Columbus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capo’s Finally Opens on Vallejo

Capo’s on Vallejo

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Capo’s menu.

Buon appetito!