Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Three crabs in a red pot

I don't know how he's gonna take this, but when I think about my uncle Chick, I think about crabs.

(That can't have come out right. Better explain.)

See, Chick lives in Long Island, NY, and his property backs up onto a canal. He's got a dock, where he keeps a small boat, and where you could hang around all day watching other people going by on theirs.

It's nice.

But to see the best thing about my uncle's setup you need to look very closely. Tied to the wood railing that leads to the dock is a weathered and not very thick piece of line, which drapes down along a retaining wall and into the canal.

At the end of the line is a crab pot. It's Chick's, and it gets a lot of action. Always has.

Chick called me the other day to see if I could make it down for his annual Fourth of July feast. Which of course got me thinking about, well, you know.

And so I did it my uncle's way. Just not with the blue crabs he uses, because I can't get those up here in Maine, I can only get the local rock crabs.

I couldn't bear to cut into a live crab and so I steamed them a couple minutes and then cleaned the insides.

And into the red sauce they went.

Simmered for a couple hours at low heat.

And thrown together with tagliatelle.

Hope to see you this weekend, Chick. But if not I promise -- for real this time, I mean it, probably in July sometime -- to make it down for a boat ride this summer.

And for some of your crabs.

(Hey, Vito, show this to your old man, would you. Last I looked there wasn't a computer at his place, so drag him over to your house and fire up yours!)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It happened at the farmers' market

The one thing I knew that I had to grab at the Saturday farmers' market was this broccoli rabe. See, I'd gotten some sweet Italian sausage from one of the vendors the week before, but hadn't been able to use them, and so into the freezer they went.

I had a plan.

The market was just lousy with garlic scapes, and so I picked up half a dozen for a buck.

The chopped up scapes, a little hot pepper and a few anchovies get going in the extra virgin.

Then the sausage.

And the rabe.

With the orecchiette, and a sprinkling of cheese, of course.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Leave the heart, take the focaccia

I knew when I first laid eyes on the Liguria Bakery that I would be back.

Had to. It was closed.

It happens at the North Beach focacceria. San Franciscans evidently know a good piece of pane when they eat it. As soon as the day's bread is gone, this bakery closes -- and the bread often is gone before lunchtime.

So why is it that nearly every traveler I query about the almost hundred-year-old San Francisco jewel stares blankly at their (sometimes) fine footwear and then politely (also only sometimes) states that they've never heard of the place?

(You may now commence to Googling should you wish, but don't bother trying to find Liguria's website, because it doesn't have one.)

I found myself thinking of the focacceria just the other day when, for the dozenth time at least, I tried to convince a poet/playwright/shyster lawyer/yet all-around-good-egg friend of mine here in Portland to eat something that greatly reminds me of Liguria's product. Stephen Lanzalotta's Sicilian Slab is a thick, bready, tomato sauce-topped beauty dusted only slightly with cheese. It is my favorite "pizza" in town.

"But it's thick," the normally level-headed lass again complained. "I only like thin-crust pizza."

We'd been down this dark and narrow alley many times together. I was weary. And beaten.

But then...

"Do you like focaccia?"

That was me. In a brilliant stroke. For the Slab is, to me anyway, more overloaded focaccia bread than pizza.

"Love it," said she.

Me: "Think of it as focaccia then, because that's really what it is."

She: "Oh, now, that helps. Why didn't you just say so?"

One who looks for a friend without faults will have none.
-- Wise Hasidic saying

Back to the other coast.

After stumbling upon the closed bakery during a meandering stroll of North Beach, I returned at around 11:30 a.m. the next day. The bakery is like no other: there isn't an edible morsel of food in sight to taunt you, not a single one. There's a counter, a lady, a menu board. That's it. The bread, which is the only thing they sell here, is out back; order it and the lady will fetch it and wrap it for you to go. Don't order it and you will go away not just empty-handed but without even laying your travel-weary eyes on something good to eat.

I ordered the "pizza" focaccia, the only one available with a red sauce. The lady went and got my slab, packed it nicely in white paper, tied the paper package in string, which was also white, and handed it to me in a manner that could not have been more casual.

The idea of carrying it back to the hotel crossed my mind, but I opted for a park bench in Washington Square, just across the way.

As soon as it was unwrapped I knew that I was hooked. It reminded me of my first taste of real Italian pizza -- focaccia -- eaten fresh from the oven at a bakery (also stumbled upon) in, coincidentally, the Liguria region.

And so alone on that park bench, on a lovely spring day in California, I ate the pizza. I loved the pizza. Then I walked back to the bakery to get some more of the pizza.

But it had already closed.


It's been a couple years since I was in the Bay Area, and so I'll rely on others' photographs, strewn about the web, to fill in the rest of the story. Many thanks to my fellow food lovers who've documented the goings on at this very special -- and not at all changed by time -- San Francisco gem.

Next time you find yourself in That City by The Bay, take some advice from the man made of meat and give it a try.

This is the menu -- the whole menu.

Tell me this is not a beautiful thing.

The rosemary and the plain.

The garlic.

And the pizza.

Liguria Bakery is at 1700 Stockton St. (at Filbert), San Francisco, CA, 94133; 415-421=3786.

Open until 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon on Sundays, or until the doughy stuff runs out.

And it will.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Italian wedding soup

I got a nice surprise the other night - Italian Wedding Soup! (Yes, sometimes it pays to just shut up and let somebody else make the meatballs for a change.)

As I didn't slave over the zuppa myself, and my culinary associate is the (strangely) secretive type, I cannot offer a recipe, not this recipe.

But here is a reasonable alternative, off the Food Network site.

Note on the meatballs: One reason I've chosen to include this particular recipe is its use of bread rather than breadcrumbs. To me this is crucial; in fact, it's non-negotiable. Meatballs that are made with bread have a much lighter texture than those that are made with breadcrumbs. (One day soon I hope to at last provide my own recipe for this blog's namesake. I need a reliable photographer to document the messy process as my hands will be otherwise engaged.)

Note to my (strangely) secretive culinary associate: That was one fine mess of soup, and some very tasty meatballs. I thank you.

About the soup's name: Near as I can determine, the soup has nothing to do with Italian weddings. It appears the name is an erroneous translation of Minestra Maritata, which basically refers to the soup's meat and greens going (or marrying) well together.

Go figure.

Recipe for Italian Wedding Soup

From Giada De Laurentiis

For the meatballs

1 small onion, grated

1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 large egg

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 slice fresh white bread, crust trimmed, bread torn into small pieces

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

8 ounces ground beef

8 ounces ground pork

Freshly ground black pepper

For the soup

12 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 pound curly endive, coarsely chopped (1 pound of escarole would be a good substitution)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


To make the meatballs: Stir the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Stir in the cheese, beef and pork. Using 1 1/2 teaspoons for each, shape the meat mixture into 1-inch-diameter meatballs. Place on a baking sheet.

To make the soup: Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and curly endive and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through and the curly endive is tender, about 8 minutes. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a medium bowl to blend. Stir the soup in a circular motion. Gradually drizzle the egg mixture into the moving broth, stirring gently with a fork to form thin stands of egg, about 1 minute. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. Finish soup with parmesan cheese if desired.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Every picture tells a story

If you read "Queen of the Sausages" then you know just where I stand on the topic of mortadella (firmly at its side), and so what better subject to kick off a new feature on the blog?

"Photo: Mister M" is an outlet for the vast number of JPEGs resting quietly, and largely unappreciated, on my desktops. Its frequency will be random; so will its subject matter.

Scroll the column on the right and you'll find Campo de' Fiori (for the next few days anyway; after that there will be a new pic). Like the (sepia-tinted) mortadella above, I came upon the outdoor market while in Rome where, thanks to my very wise friend Joe Brancatelli, I ate for ten days straight without having a single meal I wouldn't gladly eat again, and then again. (One day I should get Joe to write a guest column on eating your way through Roma without breaking the banca. Yeah, I outta get on that. Wonder where he stands on mortadella.)

Anyway, enough with the sausage. Enjoy the pics.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Swordfish quickie

I was minding my own business last night, blogging the furthest thing from my mind (imagine that!), when all of a sudden a pretty good concoction winds up on my dinner plate.

Naturally, I had to share.

Simple stuff here, folks. Took a nice piece of swordfish, rubbed it with extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and pepper, then coated it with cornmeal and shoved it in the oven.

On the side is a combination of roasted vegetables I do a lot: cabbage, carrots, red onion, garlic (of course) and some hot pepper.

That's it.

Beautiful day here in Maine and so me and the Gootz are off on a ride.

Buona giornata!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Respect the pastry

Meet Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli in the real life), a nephew to Anthony Soprano, the "retired" crime boss from the television. Chris is on a pastry run in North Jersey, circa Season 1 of HBO's "The Sopranos."

He is about to shoot a young baker in the foot.

See, Dougie, the baker, allowed Gino, a customer who was known to him, to place an order ("two Neopolitan loaves") ahead of Christopher. Chris, of course, did not care much for this. And so the piece. And then the pop.

These things happen.

I mention this because, in matters of fine Italian pastry, it is a sacred moment when one man (Uncle Tony in this case) calls upon another (young Chris) to "get some sfogliatelle" for the guys.

Many times I myself have been called to such a mission. And though incidents occurred (stories for another time perhaps), I never popped anybody.

In this I consider myself fortunate. For, confronted with the same disrespect as Dougie's while on una missione di sfogliatelle, I, like Chris, may have acted ingloriously.

I am devoted to this pastry in an extraordinary way.

Why, I often wonder, isn't everybody? This is the perfect pastry.

Sweet, moist, magnificent ricotta and candied fruit on the inside.

Crisp, flaky layers of thin, perfect pastry shell outside.

What more could you possibly want from life?

(That was a serious question. What?)

I came to Maine fifteen years back, and by Week Two had become inconsolable: Not a sfogliatelle in sight. Some weekends I'd drive four hours to and from Boston, allegedly to do "city things" but in fact to prowl the North End to feed my addiction. Once I discovered myself cold, alone and packing eleven -- eleven -- partially eaten sfogliatelle. They were in as many little white paper bags and the bags were inside the pockets of the winter coat I was sporting. I'd spent two hours wandering the streets, buying and sampling a pastry specimen wherever there was a pastry specimen for me to buy and to sample.

It was snowing. I may have failed to mention this.

Months later an intrepid baker (from away as they say in Maine) opened a shop on India Street here in Portland and to my shock had decided to bring here my beloved sfogliatelle. Not a bad one either. To make certain he kept on making it I bought up nearly every one he baked. I gave away, or fed to birds and other wildlife, probably ten times what I consumed. For months this went on, until one day, not surprisingly, baker and bakery were no more. And so again I mourned.

I am not well. I know this.

Now another baker here in town has committed to making my sfogliatelle. It is a fine one too (see "Sweet" under "Local Faves" at right), and is made, coincidentally, not a hundred feet from where the last guy tried. I do not bulk purchase them any longer, so either he will keep making the pastries because Mainers enjoy them or he won't because they don't.

I'm like Dougie the baker.

It's out of my hands.

Bonus Material
Rated XWL
(Extreme Wiseguy Language)

Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," 1990: Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) pops Michael "Spider" Gianco (Michael Imperioli) in the foot for failing to get him a drink.

David Chase's "The Sopranos," Episode 8, "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti," 1999: Spider gets his revenge.

"Gino," who reappeared as "Vito" in Season 2, hides out in New Hampshire later on in the HBO series.

Looks like he could use a good pastry.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aunt Anna's Easter meat pie

There is a perfectly good explanation for eating an Easter pie in June.

And her name is Aunt Anna.

Every year, Anna makes an extra meat pie just for me. It's not that I'm so special (she will be the first to tell you this, I am sure), it's that I'm rarely able to make it to Easter dinner with the family and she feels (strongly, lucky for me) that I should not entirely miss out on the fun.

My dear aunt knows that it could be awhile, months perhaps, before I can retrieve my pie. It comes out of her oven, cools on a rack near the terrace that faces east and therefore to me, gets tightly packed and fast frozen, then sits in her small freezer until her (devoted) nephew comes and gets it.

Doesn't matter how long it takes for me to show up. Or how many other family members might covet this frozen treasure. It's my pie. Because Anna made it for me. End of story.

This is a love I wish for you all.

Anyways, I went and fetched said Easter Meat Pie (aka Pizza Rustica, as well as a bunch of other things) last weekend, and thought you might enjoy a look.

The recipe's below, but this is all meat, cheese and egg.

The red stuff is not -- I repeat, not -- tomato. It is pepperoni, something I don't usually seek out, but here it is most welcome.

Anna said that I could write about her pie and reprint the recipe (her exact words, if memory serves, were "go ahead, whadda I care") as long as I did not include a picture of her. Reluctantly, I agreed.

This recipe will make a few pies, depending on how big you make them.

Aunt Anna's Easter Meat Pie

For the pie crust
2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tbsp Crisco
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste
Mix together and form a crust

For the filling
1 lb. proscuitto
1 lb. dry salami
2 sticks pepperoni
3 lbs. ricotta
1 lb. mozzarella
1 basket cheese (kind of a cross between ricotta and mozzarella, found in Italian specialty stores around Easter)
18 eggs

Dice the meats and the mozzarella
Beat the eggs, add in the ricotta and mix well
Add all the other ingredients and incorporate
Pour into prepared pie plates and bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour

Optional, though highly recommended final step: Let one pie cool thoroughly, wrap tightly, then place in the freezer, leave a Comment for yours truly with your location and convenient time for a pickup. I'll get there just as soon as I can.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Potato + egg = happy

You are not apt to learn the slightest thing here.

You will merely catch a glimpse into what makes me happy.

Potatoes and eggs.

That's what makes me happy.

Slice them thin.

Season with salt and pepper and fry in extra virgin olive oil.

Drop in a couple fresh eggs.

I like it with a hunk of cheese on the side, Grana Padano here.

I am a simple -- happy -- man.