Porchetta War: Who will win?

Picking a Rancho Llano Seco porchetta to slow roast on an open spit.
Picking a Rancho Llano Seco porchetta to slow roast on an open spit.

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.

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)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
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
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
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.

 

 

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
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
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.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni will take you to my childhood in Northern Jersey.
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni will take you to my childhood in Northern Jersey.

Growing up in northern Jersey when my Mom took out her small black cast iron pan Sunday morning we knew we were in for a treat.

She was getting ready to make crespelle (crepes) for her fantastic spinach and ricotta stuffed cannelloni (big pipes).

The crispy and creamy cannelloni hot from the oven would be the pasta course for our Sunday dinner.

Don’t give me a hard time with the cannelloni versus manicotti thing. In Italian-American restaurants these are called manicotti but in Italy especially around Naples this dish is cannelloni.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s get back to the recipe.

With a hot well-oiled small saute pan, a flat griddle pan or a non-stick crepe pan you’ll find that the crespelle are easy and quick to make. You can even make the crespelle the day before and keep them in the fridge to quickly fill and bake the next day.

Make a simple San Marzano-basil tomato sauce so that the cannelloni aren’t overwhelmed. The tasty crespelle are the perfect tender wrapper for the creamy spinach-ricotta filling with melted mozzarella on top.

I usually serve two cannelloni topped with a little extra sauce to each guest. If any cannelloni  are left over I have been known to eat one or two more. They are absolutely delicious.

Watch me make a fresh San Marzano tomato sauce during the late summer harvest. You can substitute canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy for fresh so you can make the marinara sauce all year long.

And if you want to make fresh pasta instead of crespelle for the cannelloni watch me make fresh pasta ravioli for inspiration.

Buon appetito!

4.0 from 1 reviews
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
For the Crespelle (makes about 18)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1¼ cups (or more) whole milk
  • Extra virgin olive oil for brushing the crepe pan
For the Filling
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach or 2 10 ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 pound ricotta, well drained
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Crespelle Topping
  • 8-ounces mozzarella, grated
  • ¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Sauce
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, stems and skin removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil
  • sea salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
For the Sauce
  1. Put a pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the olive oil and garlic.
  3. Saute the garlic for a minute or so. You don't want it to pick up any color, just infuse the oil with its flavor.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir well.
  5. Add sea salt to taste and the basil.
  6. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat if needed.
  7. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the volume is reduced by 25%.
  8. Keep the sauce warm while you make and bake the cannelloni.
For the Crespelle
  1. Whisk eggs and salt in large bowl.
  2. Gradually whisk in flour, then 1¼ cups milk.
  3. Whisk until the batter is very smooth and has no big clumps of flour.
  4. If necessary, add more milk by tablespoons to batter to thin to consistency of heavy whipping cream.
  5. Heat 8-inch diameter nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Pour 3 tablespoons batter into skillet and swirl to coat bottom evenly.
  7. Cook until top appears dry, loosening sides of crepe with spatula, about 45 seconds.
  8. Turn and cook until brown spots appear on second side, about 30 seconds.
  9. Turn crepe out onto plate.
  10. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with EVOO and stacking crepes on plate.
For the Filling
  1. Put the spinach in a pot over medium-high heat and add ½ cup water
  2. Cook until the spinach is wilted.
  3. Drain the spinach.
  4. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as you can.
  5. Roughly chop the spinach.
  6. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Assembly
  1. In a large baking dish put ¼ cup of the sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish.
  2. Lay the crespelle on a flat work surface.
  3. Put about 3-4 tablespoons at one end of each crespelle and roll it up.
  4. Place it seam side down in the baking dish.
  5. Repeat until all the crespelle are filled.
  6. Top the cannelloni with a light layer of sauce.
  7. Top the sauce evenly with the mozzarella and then the parmigiano.
  8. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
  9. Uncover and bake until the mozzarella on top of the cannelloni is melted and slightly browned, about 10 minutes more.
  10. Let the cannelloni cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Gianni’s Tip: I made crespelle (crepes) for this stuffed pasta dish but fresh pasta sheets, no-cook lasagna sheets or dried manicotti (big sleeves) or large shells work just as well with this filling.

Cook the dried pasta in boiling water until al dente before filling.

The no-cook lasagna sheets should be soaked in hot water until they are pliable and the fresh lasagna sheets need to be cooked in boiling water. Either way put in the sheets in a single layer on kitchen towels until they are cut into 6 to 8-inch squares and filled.

If you have any cannelloni left over they are even better heated in the oven the next day. You can freeze them too.

New Year’s Eve Italian Rules & Recipes Galore

Lentil Soup with Cotechino
Lentil Soup with Cotechino

Are you ready for your New Year’s Eve celebration?

Be sure to include these Italian tips and recipes in your plans. You won’t be sorry in 2014 that you did.

There’s an Italian saying that what you do on New Year’s Eve you’ll do all year so be careful.

  1. Wear something red as a wish for good luck in the new year.
  2. Hang mistletoe near your door to ward off evil spirits.
  3. Open a window in a dark room just before midnight to let out evil spirits.
  4. Then open a window in a lighted room to let in good spirits to help you through the new year.
  5. While the window is open throw out something old as a sign that you are willing to put the past behind you and accept what is to come in the new year.
  6. Eat lentils. The small “coins” represent all the money you will earn in the new year. The more you eat the richer you will be in the new year.
  7. Eat grapes. If you have fresh grapes this late in the season it’s a clue that you will prosper in the new year.
  8. Drink something sparkling, spumante or prosecco. A special bubbly toast to a loved one guarantees love all through the new year.
  9. Enjoy fireworks and sparklers to ward off evil spirits.
  10. “Anno nuovo – vita nuova!” “New year – new life!” Italians repeat this often tonight and tomorrow. You should too.

Here are some of my favorite dishes for you to consider.

  1. Lentils with sausage is a lucky dish. The lentils represent all the money you’ll accumulate in 2014 and the fat pork sausage the opulence you will enjoy.
  2. The crab season this year is fantastic. Try a couple of my favorite dungeness crab recipes. Crab salad is quick and light. How about linguine with a spicy crab sauce?
  3. If you didn’t make my cioppino yet this holiday season it’s not too late. Make it the star of your celebration.
  4. Want a full dinner menu for your New Year’s table?  This 4-course meal features a veal roast with spinach stuffing.

Buon appetito! Buon Capodanno! Happy New Year!

North Beach is San Francisco’s Heart

Worth the wait!
Santo’s Cannolo at Cavali Cafe–A North Beach Treasure

So says Carl Nolte in today’s Chronicle.

“People will tell you that South of Market is the new center of San Francisco. But North Beach has all the contradictions that made San Francisco what it is. And for my money the heart of the town is North Beach.”

Molinari’s Deli, early morning tai chi in Washington Square, lunch at Original Joe’s where a mistress may be at the next table, Liguria Bakery’s fantastic focaccia, Carl surveys it all in his ode to North Beach.

You know how much I love North Beach. Come along with me as I scour what’s left of North Beach’s Italian-American neighborhood to get all the fixings for a 4-course meal with friends last weekend. Homemade ricotta and mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano tomato-basil sauce were the star of that 4-hour meal. Santo’s incredible cannoli weren’t too bad either.

Wayne Thiebaud's Laguna Rising
Wayne Thiebaud’s Laguna Rising

Only one week left to see the incredible Memory Mountains, the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery on Chestnut Street at the fringe of North Beach.

You may know Wayne Thiebaud from his luscious cake paintings or the gum ball machine. I love his landscapes as well.

At 94 Wayne remains a prolific artist. The exhibit features his recent work and older food and landscape paintings that give the exhibit context over time.

Don’t miss this extraordinary collection of art. See which new ridge painting resembles a cake good enough to eat and another like a swirl of chocolate gelato ready to be scooped up.

What’s not to love in North Beach?

I know, the messy and disruptive subway to nowhere dig, loss of old Italian businesses. Don’t get me started. I’m in a wonderful mood this morning.

New Gianni Video Now Live

Rome's Campo di Fiori, an open-air produce market
My produce guy in Rome’s Campo di Fiori

Sorry if you couldn’t access the video episode Gianni: From Italy to North Beach in my earlier post.

You can watch it now.

Here’s the Hungry Village video. Meet some of my friends from a week living in a Roman neighborhood and how that experience colors my Italian-American lifestyle here in San Francisco.

More from the Hungry Village people on Facebook and their website.

Keep on cooking.

Buon appetito!

Food, Family & Friends

Making My Mom's Lasagna with My Godson
Passing It On–Making My Mom’s Lasagna with My Godson

How often do you get to put something inside someone’s body?

No this ain’t a sex post but it’s close.

I just returned from 3 weeks in Italy when I sat down with my friends at Hungry Village. Cameras rolling I riffed on what draws me back to Italy each year and what fuels my passion for sharing my food with family and friends in my home and with you on my blog.

I hope you enjoy a short video of my time living in a Roman neighborhood and my Italian-American lifestyle in San Francisco’s North Beach.

The folks at Hungry Village shoot and produce my video episodes. Check out these talented Hungry Village friends on Facebook and on the Hungry Village website.

Keep on cooking. Buon appetito!

 

North Beach Parade & Fall Bounty from Italia

Cavalli Tuscan Treasures

North Beach’s Italian-Heritage Parade, the oldest in America, is Sunday, October 7. Book your lunch table now at one of the many caffes and restaurants on the parade route. They’re going fast. It’s a fantastic holiday. You don’t want to miss it. Everyone will be there.

We’re in for a really special treat this year. Piero and Lorenza Cipriani are flying in from Italia laden with bounty from the fall harvest. Santo Esposito who owns Cavalli Cafe is pitching a big tent outside on Saturday & Sunday so the Ciprianis can share tastes of their Italian culinary loot with anyone who stops by.

They’re bringing this year’s extra virgin olive oil from a small producer in Tuscany, just-picked truffles from Emiglia-Romagna and Umbria, just-milled Tuscan chestnut flour and fresh and dried porcini mushrooms.

I’d kill for a fresh porcini. I like to grill them with garlic-infused olive oil and a light sprinkle of oregano or marjoram and sea salt. It’s like eating steak.

All of the Cipriani goodies are for sale so grab some while you can. And stop in Cavalli Cafe before you move on for an espresso and Santo’s cannoli, the best in all of North Beach. I hope I see you there after our Parade lunch party.

I have a few seats at my lunch table if you want to join us. Send me an email and I’ll let you know the details and where to meet up.

Read more about my Parade experiences.

 

Square 5 Best in SF

North Beach’s Graffeo Coffee Roasting Co.

The Chronicle’s food writers just completed a year-long culinary tour of San Francisco, one square mile at a time.

The city was divided into 49 “squares”. Each Sunday the culinary adventurers shared their take on the best restaurants and food attractions in each square. After exploring all that San Francisco has to offer, one square topped the heap.

Square 5, including North Beach, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Jackson Square, is the best in all of San Francisco. Woohoo!

What’s not to like? It’s one of the oldest parts of the City, home to the first public square, the first air-dried salami, the bawdry Barbary Coast, vibrant Italian and Chinese neighborhoods, and coffeehouses loaded with colorful locals.

Why Square 5 over all the others?

If I was going to pick one square to explain the quirkiness, vibrancy and ethos of San Francisco, it would be Square 5. Here lies the heart and soul of San Francisco. This square mile encapsulates the city’s beginnings, its forced acceptance of ethnic diversity, its independent entrepreneurial spirit, its love of life.

So what to pick as the best of Square 5? There are so many fabulous restaurants and food outlets in these rich neighborhoods.

It was a tough choice. “Yet in the end we picked Graffeo Coffee because it represents the type of creative and entrepreneurial spirit the city embraces.” Interesting choice.

Graffeo Coffee Roasting Co. is one of the country’s oldest artisan coffee roasters. The’ve roasted beans on Columbus every day since 1935. That’s all they do. Only go there if you want to buy some of their world-renowed coffee.

While you’re at Graffeo’s, if caffeine isn’t enough and you need a chocolate fix too, stop by XOX Truffles across the street for some of the best chocolate anywhere.

Here’s the Square 5 article.

 

Ciao Caesar’s

Last Day Crowds at Caesar’s Restaurant

It’s the end of a North Beach era.

After 56 years as a destination for locals, Caesar’s Restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf, closed yesterday.

The family-owned restaurant is a victim of changing San Francisco and North Beach demographics, changed tastes at the table, and a sour economy.

Eat Where the Italians Eat Caesar’s proclaimed. For more than a half-century, this was the place for wedding receptions and other large family gatherings.

Caesar’s was also famous for the North Beach Italian-American 7-course meal.  Locals lingered over the huge meal at lunch or dinner: salad, antipasti, soup, pasta, entree, dessert and coffee. Who eats this way anymore?

When I moved to North Beach twenty years ago there were a bunch of these family-style restaurants. The Gold Spike, New Pisa, La Felce, San Remo, Fior d’Italia, are all gone. Gone too is the North Beach community that supported these businesses.

Here’s a glimpse of those bygone days from the Caesar’s website.

Caesar’s was established in 1956 by Caesar Fabrini and his three partners, who all came to the United States as youngsters and knew each other from playing soccer at the Italian Athletic club still in existence in North Beach today. At that time the neighborhood consisted of many small factories and there was a big Italian community made up of workers and fisherman and their families. Caesar Fabrini had the inspiration to serve a seven course dinner at a moderate price for this community and so Caesar’s Italian restaurant was started.

That North Beach Italian community is much smaller today. Businesses closed. Families moved to the suburbs. There aren’t enough of the old-timers and their progeny around to support these old-time places.

But, if you’re in the mood for this North Beach Italian-American culinary experience, you can still have a family-style dinner at Capp’s Corner on Green & Powell.

Caesar’s owners’ note announcing the closing is heartfelt, as is the Chron’s Carl Nolte’s Caesar’s farewell story.

The Purple Onion: Bye-Bye

The Purple Onion, the North Beach cellar club where Phyllis Diller, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and the Smothers Brothers performed early in their careers, will close next month. A new owner has new plans for the building.

A comedy cooperative staged shows at the Purple Onion over the last 3 years. They filled most shows with “guerrilla” marketing–Tweets and Facebook posts the comedians send to their fans about upcoming gigs.

The Purple Onion is just down the street from Tosca Cafe, another old-time North Beach spot, that was served with an eviction notice last week.

Change is in the North Beach air.

Here’s Paolo Lucchesi’s Chronicle piece with a link to C.W. Nevius’ original story. Check out The Purple Onion 60s street photo.

Tosca’s Last Act?

North Beach’s Tosca Cafe

Not Puccini’s opera, the North Beach cafe on Columbus with opera on the jukebox. Tosca Cafe, a favorite with the famous and locals alike, is 8 years short of its 100th anniversary. Owner Jeannette Etheridge just got an eviction notice.

It all started earlier this week. The landlord wants his unpaid rent. He’s a major stockholder in Deja Vu Showgirls, a Seattle company that owns strip joints on Broadway. Rumor had it that he wanted the space for another one.

A true North Beach character, Jeannette Etheridge lawyered up with John Keker, one of the best in the country. Her powerful clientele mobilized support to save this North Beach institution.

“Look at the place,” Etheredge told the SF Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius. “It’s out of an Edward Hopper painting. It has always been a hangout for artists, painters and actors.”

“What’s interesting to me is why this girlie club guy is going to try to take away a San Francisco institution,”  Keker said. “This stands for a lot of what’s wrong with North Beach in general.”

Both sides say they’re willing to talk. I hope they work out a settlement so that the North Beach icon is still around to celebrate its centennial.

Nevius broke the story and provides the latest developments.

 

Italian Festival Saturday

North Beach Festa Italiana

Don’t miss the annual Festa Coloniale Italiana this Saturday, August 11, 2012 on Washington Square in front of the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club (SFIAC).

The Festa is the only Italian festival that celebrates San Francisco’s Italian and Italian-American heritage. It’s our version of Ferragosto, the Italian mid-summer holiday.

Catch Italian music on the stage. Watch an Italian dance performance. Award-winning pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani will enthrall us with his world-famous pizza tossing skill. Stop in the SFIAC’s main ballroom transformed for the day into an Italian piazza complete with a fountain.

Sample delicious Italian-American street foods including calamari, sausage and pepper and meatball sandwiches. Enjoy wine and beer on the street or at the wine-tasting in the SFIAC’s 3rd floor Parkview Room with a terrace overlooking the park.

Here’s the whole Festa Italiana line-up.

I hope I see you there.