Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tuscany in Sausalito – At Cavallo Point with Judy Witts Francini

It's funny where some things lead. In this case it started with my favorite olive.

Last month I was working on a
post on Castelvetrano olives when I came across another cuisine blog recounting a cooking class conducted by Judy Witts Francini at the Becchina estate, Antica Tenuta dei Principi Pignatelli, on the outskirts of Castelvetrano. Although I had been a regular visitor to Judy’s Divina Cucina website, I was prompted to subscribe to her blog, Over a Tuscan Stove.

A couple of days later I received an email with Judy’s latest blog post which indicated she was going to be here in the Bay Area in February and would be giving a cooking class at Cavallo Point featuring some Tuscan favorites. The Cavallo Point resort (officially “
Cavallo Point – The Lodge at the Golden Gate”) just opened last year in Fort Baker at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Although we had stopped by the resort’s Farley Bar (named after the late Phil Frank's comic strip character Farley) one afternoon last Fall for a drink and enjoyed the view from their deck, we had never taken advantage of the resort’s other resources, including the Murray Circle restaurant (awarded a Michelin star at the beginning of this year) or their cooking school headed by Kelsie Kerr who carries major Bay Area cuisine cred with stints in the kitchens of both Chez Panisse and Cafe Rouge and a contribution to Alice Waters’ recent book “The Art of Simple Food.”

Judy’s program looked great and, since distance was hardly a factor (Cavallo Point being about a 4-minute drive from our home in Sausalito), after a family consultation I contacted Jayne Reichert, the Cooking School’s manager, and signed Alex, Cass and me up.

The program was scheduled to run from 4PM to 8PM yesterday, and Alex, Cass and I arrived at Cavallo Point’s Building just before the appointed hour. Upon our arrival we were greeted by Judy together with Kelsie Kerr, Jayne Reichert and the rest of the Cooking School crew. We also met Judy’s nephew, Benjamin, who is a professional photographer living here in the Bay Area and who came along with Judy to take some pictures of the class that evening.

The Cooking School is in a large, pleasant room on the second floor of the resort’s “Building 602” (a bit of a sterile designation, but together with the original structures, resort seeks to preserve the ambiance of the historic Fort Baker).

When we arrived, the ingredients for the evening’s adventure were already laid out beautifully in the cooking area.

We were poured a glass of Col Vetoraz Prosecco from the Valdobbiadene area of the Veneto – one of my favorites – and enjoyed some appetizers, including some burrata from Gioia Cheese in Southern California (not buffalo milk but nevertheless not bad) and CASTELVETRANO OLIVES warmed in oil which somehow, given the background of how we got there, seemed most fitting.

Kelsie started off the evening by introducing Judy, and Judy then told us a bit about her background. She has lived in Tuscany since 1984. The bulk of that time was spent in Florence where she ran a cooking school, although she has now closed that school and moved with her husband to the town of Certaldo, to the southwest of Florence near Siena.


We then got down to business. Judy had selected the following as the menu for the evening:

~ Squash Soup, inspired by the “Passato di Zucca” of
Fabio Picchi, the owner/chef of Cibreo Restaurant in Florence;

~ Arrosto Fiorentino with a Tuscan Herb Marinade, inspired by
Dario Checchini, the famous owner/butcher (and subject of the latter half of Bill Buford's book "Heat") of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano, a small town between Florence and Siena [Nancy and I stopped off to visit the Macelleria on our trip through Tuscany in 2006 - for a video that reflects some of Dario's enthusiasm for beef and general showmanship, see here];

~ Oven Roasted Beans Infused with Garlic; and

~ Hot Apple Tart inspired by
Giovanni Cappelli, a now-deceased Tuscan character who among other things produced "salsa di mosto,” the Tuscan equivalent of balsamic vinegar, with Gelato and Balsamic Vinegar.

The participants split up and Alex, Cass and I ended up as part of the group working on the Arrosto Fiorentino. The cut we used was an eye-of-round from Marin Sun Farms, a relatively tough cut if over-cooked.

However, according to Judy, that was the point of the technique we would use – a technique which barely cooks the cut and results in a very tender and flavorful dish. We immediately threw the meat into a couple of roasting pans and into the oven. We then got to work on the marinade which included chopping rosemary, sage, garlic, chilies and sea salt into a fine mix and then adding a LOT of olive oil and whisking vigorously.

Hard at Work - Our Team at This End of the Table Preparing Herbs

Work Product - Chopped Herbs, Chili, Garlic, Salt, Prior to Adding Olive Oil

When the meat was just done, it was removed from the oven, the marinade was ladled over it and it was then left to rest under tinfoil for about 10-15 minutes. It was then sliced very thinly, put back in the pan, sloshed around a bit in the marinade, and served.

Judy Ladling on the Tuscan Marinade - the Meat has Just Come out of the Oven

Meanwhile, a lot of other work was going on around the room, including the cooking and caramelization of a soffritto (onion, celery, carrots) that was to form the basis of our soup.

The dinner was great!! Below are photos of our soup, main course and apple tarts.

Of everything we had, the dish which made the biggest impression on me was the oven-roasted beans. Although Judy’s recipe called for cannellini beans, Kelsie had gotten butter beans for us to use. They were meaty and the garlic flavor was great (no worries about any vampires last night!). A whole head of garlic, with the top cut off, was thrown in with the beans and those of us who had a particular fondness for garlic were permitted to squeeze the cooked cloves onto bread!

To accompany the squash soup, Kelsie served us a crisp white 2007 Falanghina produced by Feudi di San Gregorio in the Irpinia region southeast of Naples. For our main course she selected a 2003 Chianti Classico (95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot) produced by Brancaia, a producer in the Chianti Classico area south of Florence. I had enjoyed Brancaia’s “Super Tuscan” “Il Blu” (a 50% Sangiovese, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon blend) before, but had never had their Chianti. Although I am not in general a big fan of Chianti wines, the Brancaia was great and a perfect match for the Arrosto Fiorentino and the garlicky beans.

The Room Just Prior to Dinner Being Served

Alex and Cass

Our "Elves" - The Cooking School Gang - Jayne on left with Kelsie Next to Her

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Cheese School Class #20 -- Laura Werlin’s Favorites

"Green Hill" from Sweet Grass Dairy - Our #1 Favorite!

Our first class at The Cheese School of San Francisco was on September 17, 2007 (“Cheeses of France” with Colette Hatch). Last Thursday, about 1 ½ years later, Alex, Cass and I attended CSSF class #20. Hopefully graduation is still far in the future.

Although we had met many Northern California cheese world personalities in the last year and a half, Laura Werlin was one that we had somehow missed. Accordingly, when we were looking over the Cheese School’s course offering for this term, last Thursday’s class – “Laura Werlin’s Favorites” – caught our eye. Laura was certainly someone we had heard about, and as suggested by her Cheese School faculty bio, she seems to know something about cheese:

“Laura Werlin is positively passionate about cheese and has written four highly acclaimed books on the subject: Cheese Essentials (2007), Great Grilled Cheese: 50 Innovative Recipes for Stovetop, Sandwich Maker, and Grill (2004), The All American Cheese and Wine Book (2003), and the pioneering The New American Cheese (2000). Her passion and expertise on these topics have landed her on The CBS Early Show, the Television Food Network, Martha Stewart Living Television, and numerous local television and radio segments from coast to coast. She also writes for national magazines including Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, Saveur, Cooking Pleasures, Cooking Light, and Country Livingand several others. Laura is on the board of the American Cheese Society and is an active member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, the James Beard Foundation, and the San Francisco Professional Food Society.”
We were greeting upon our arrival at the Cheese School on Thursday night by the School’s Director, Sara Vivenzio, and her staff, Abby Ward and Ariel Clute. Sara introduced Laura at the start of the program and Abby and Ariel kept our glasses filled during the course of the evening.

Eleven (!!) cheeses awaited us on our plates, which I think may be the largest number we have seen before in a single class. Laura confessed at the beginning of her presentation that those cheeses were in fact not necessarily her 11 favorite cheeses of all time – perhaps a meaningless concept – but rather a group of exceptional cheeses which she felt were representative of a wide range of styles and of which excellent representatives were available at this time. That was fine with us!

Laura selected the following cheeses for the evening:

Name – Producer – Provenance – Milk Type

1. Crescenza
BelGioioso – USA (Denmark, WI) – Cow (pasteurized);

2. Chèvre/ “Humbug Mt.” –
Rivers Edge Chèvre (Three Ring Farm) – USA (Legsden, OR) – Goat (pasteurized);

3. Chèvre/ “Sunset Bay” – Rivers Edge Chèvre (Three Ring Farm) – USA (Legsden, OR) – Goat (pasteurized);

4. Green Hill –
Sweet Grass Dairy – USA (Thomasville, GA) – Cow (pasteurized);

5. Clothbound Cheddar –
Cabot Creamery [cave-aged at Jasper Hill Farm] – USA (Cabot, VT) – Cow (pasteurized);

6. Pleasant Ridge Reserve –
Uplands Cheese Co. – USA (Dodgeville, WI) – Cow (raw);

7. Comtè
Marcel Petite (Daphne Zepos selection) – France (Jura/Franche-Comtè) – Cow (raw);

8. Raspberry BellaVitano – Satori Foods – USA (Antigo, WI) – Cow (pasteurized);

9. Moliterno al Tartufo – Italy (Sardegna) – Sheep (raw);

10. Testun al Barolo
Occelli Agrinatura (Beppino Occelli) - Italy (Piemonte) – Mixed;

11. Caveman Blue –
Rogue Creamery – USA (Central Point, OR) – Cow (raw).

After 20 classes we have found that there does begin to be some duplication of the cheeses presented in different classes, but in fact I believe we had had only one of the cheeses before - Marcel Petite’s Comtè (actually the first time at our very first class at the Cheese School), although it is one of our own favorites so we did not mind at all.

Although there was European representation (two from Italy and one from France), most of the cheeses were from the US and none from California: Oregon (3), Wisconsin (3), Vermont (1) and even Georgia (1).

The cheeses were accompanied by three wines:

~ Chardonnay - 2006 -
Liberty School - Paso Robles, California;

~ “Bricco del Cucù” – Dolcetto di Dogliani – 2006 -
Azienda Agricola Bricco del Cucù di Sciolla DarioPiemonte, Italy; and

~ Vidal Gold Ice Wine – 2006 -
Inniskillin – Ontario, Canada

We enjoyed the Liberty School Chardonnay, but did not care as much for either the Dolcetto di Dogliani or the Inniskillin Ice Wine. My preference for similar wines would have been for a Barbera d’Alba for the red, and the Rivesaltes Ambré Domaine Fontanel “rancio” wine we had at a class with Janet Fletcher for the dessert wine (that would have been fabulous with both the Pleasant Ridge Reserve and the Comté).

Although our tastes often diverge, Alex, Cass and I were fairly close this time on our favorites for the evening. The Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy was on all of our “top 3” lists. Alex and I also both picked the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and Alex and Cass picked the Clothbound Cheddar from Cabot Creamery. I also had the Comté on my top 3 list and Cass selected the Sunset Bay (with its vein of paprika running down the middle) for Rivers Edge Chèvre - perhaps I have mentioned in earlier posts Cass’ love of goat cheeses? (incidentally, for some cute shots of baby goats I recommend the Rivers Edge website). As always Sara and her staff at the Cheese School had done a great job of procuring cheeses that were just at the peak of perfection and it particularly showed in the ones we picked as our favorites.

We enjoyed Laura’s class and look forward to future events where she will be presenting, including at the 3rd annual
California's Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma March 20-23.

Laura, Alex and Cass

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Gathering of the Sung and Moyle Clans

Our son, Andrew, and his fiance, Connie, came up from Santa Monica to visit us here in the Bay Area over the Valentine's Day weekend, and brought Connie's parents, Sam and Elaine, and Connie's brother, John, along with them. This was the first chance Nancy and I had to meet the Sung's so we were very excited.

Although the wet weather put a crimp in their plans to do some sightseeing around San Francisco, we all (including Pat, Alex and Cass) met at
Angelino Restaurant in Sausalito for dinner last night and had a great time. Still no date set for the wedding but hopefully more information will be forthcoming soon!

Cass, Alex, Pat, John, Mike, Nancy, Andrew, Connie, Elaine and Sam at Angelino
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yummy Memories of Bologna

Our friend, Antonio, recently showed me a copy of the April 2008 issue of a UK magazine - Taste Italia - that he had been reading. There, on page 69, in the middle of a section on cooking schools in Italy, was a photo of Carmelita Caruana of Cook Italy, a cooking school located in Bologna, with two rather familiar looking students – Nancy and me!

In 2005 Nancy and I went to Italy for the first time together. We had been lured there by the fact that our nephew, Bark, and his family (his wife Kim and their two kids, Madison and Colin) had recently moved to Bologna, a city we knew absolutely nothing about. We had a great time on that trip and decided to return the following year – again imposing on the Browns.

Bologna is a beautiful city with several nicknames, including La Rossa (“the red,” apparently referring to either the red bricks and tiles from which much of the city is built, or the communist government which governed the city for many years) and La Dotta (“the learned,” referring to the fact that the Università di Bologna is the oldest university in Europe). However, the one I enjoy the most, and which for me is the most appropriate, is La Grassa, “the fat one,” reflecting the fact that Bologna has perhaps the best food in all of Italy.

On our second trip in 2006 we decided we would try to take a cooking lesson while we were in Bologna and came across some very complementary reviews of Carmelita’s school. We got in touch with her and made arrangements for a class, which would entail meeting her in the Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main square. Carmelita’s class was an all day affair, involved an initial tour of the traditional market area where we would purchase the ingredients for the class, and then a short walk to her apartment to get to work.

April 12, the day of our class, was the last day of school for Madison and Colin before the Easter vacation and they were very excited since, apart from the impending vacation, there would be a drawing for some of the gigantic chocolate Easter eggs that are a tradition in Italy. After dropping the kids off at school, we went on to the Piazza where we met Carmelita.

The historic market area in Bologna is in the Quadrilatero area of the city between the Piazza Maggiore and the city’s landmark Due Torii, the two towers at the center of the city. The market is primarily is a network of streets named after traditional professions and guilds - Via Caprarie, Via Drapperie, Via delle Pescherie Vecchie, Via Mercanzie and Via Orefici.

Carmelita knows the merchants in the area very well and we explored several of Bologna’s best known food stores, including Atti, Melega, Drogheria Gilberto (great balsamic vinegar), Macelleria del Vicolo, and Salumeria Simoni.

We did not visit A. F. Tamburini, which is perhaps the best known of all Bologna’s food stores since Carmelita feels that the store is too overrun with tourists. As always the meat stores were my favorites.

Ciccioli at Melega

Salumeria Simoni

Macelleria del Vicolo di Negrini Roberto

Roccati Cioccolato, an artisan chocolate maker was also a fun stop, especially given the Easter season. They were offering some remarkable chocolate works of art, including, in the front window, the good ship Pasqualina surrounded by chocolate sharks and wind surfers.

Our final stop of the day was at the
Bruno e Franco salumeria not far from Carmelita’s apartment where we picked up some mortadella and lardo for our lunch. Although not something I took, I found on line a wonderful clip of a group of nimble-fingered women – “le sfogline” - who work at Bruno e Franco making the very special Tortelini Bolognesi.

When we arrived at Carmelita’s apartment we met Silvia Guccione, an Australian from Melbourne who has her own cooking school there –
Pomodoro Italian Cooking School. Silvia was visiting Bologna and sat in on our class.

Carmelita had us prepare the following dishes, and broke open a few bottles of both white and red wine for us to enjoy during the class and to accompany our meal:

~ Antipasto: Tegoline di Parmigiano con Spuma di Mortadella (crisp baskets of parmigiano-reggiano cheese filled with a mortadella mousse)

~ Primo: Garganelli con Speck and Asparagi (egg pasta quills with a smoked ham and asparagus topping)

~ Secondo: Timballo di Spinaci con Polpettine all”Emiliana (a spinach and cream timballe with tiny meatballs with lemon and cinnamon)

~ Dolce: Tiramisu al Limone (Limoncello dipped lady fingers with mascarpone lemon cream and coffee topping).

Nancy Working on a Parmigiano Basket

Kim with Timballo di Spinaci con Polpettine

Towards the end of the class Bark excused himself and went off to pick up Madison and Colin from school. When they arrived they were all smiles lugging some of the huge Easter eggs they had won at school. Here is the photo which was edited for the Taste Italia ad:

At the end of our meal (by this time it was quite late in the afternoon and was starting to get dark!!) Carmelita suggested that we stop by her favorite coffee shop - Caffetteria Terzi – just a few steps up Via Oberdan from her apartment.

We said good-bye there after our coffees, and headed back to the Brown’s apartment. As I recall we skipped dinner that night, although I believe there was some Easter egg consumed.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Un Bel Tramonto - GG Bridge After the Storm

Finally some rain. Yesterday was one of those days here in the Bay Area where we would have a downpour one minute and sunshine the next. I had been called for jury duty and spent the day cooped up in a courtroom in San Rafael only to be dismissed at the end of the day. On my drive in to San Francisco I came through the Waldo Tunnel and found the GG Bridge lit by bright sunshine from the setting sun with a backdrop of dark clouds over San Francisco. I had to make a brief detour up to the Marin Headlands to snap the attached.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sunset Over San Francisco

Happily we finally had a couple of days of rain this past week. Yesterday on my way home to Sausalito on the ferry the clouds were just beginning to break up and the sunset over San Francisco and the Golden Gate was quite spectacular.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Classic "Bollito Misto" at Poggio

Poggio Trattoria opened in Sausalito in November 2003. We live in Sausalito and have been to Poggio four or five times over the years. There is no doubt that it is a tastefully decorated restaurant with its beautiful interior and row of outdoor tables along Bridgeway. Although we have always wanted to love it, sadly each time we have been underwhelmed, and in the recent past had not gone back for the last couple of years, favoring instead Angelino just down the street if we are eating locally, and Perbacco in San Francisco, if we want the best in Italian cuisine.

I walk by Poggio almost every evening on my way home from the ferry. This past Monday I noted from a flyer that they were presenting a dinner this week featuring a classic Italian dish, “bollito misto.”

I had never had that dish before and was intrigued. Plus a review in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the first such dinner last year was very strong. I hustled home, convinced our son, Patrick, to join me for dinner, and made a reservation for Thursday night.

Bollito misto – which means “mixed boil” in Italian – is a classic Italian winter comfort food. It is primarily a northern Italian dish, although in one form or another it is found throughout Italy - after all, boiling meat may be the most basic means of cooking it. A variety of cuts of beef are traditionally included, as well as the head, tongue and tail, together with a chicken and a fresh pork sausage named “cotechino.” For the best results, each ingredient is cooked separately since each calls for a different length of cooking. The meats are served with a variety of condiments, including one called “mostarda,” a candied fruit mixed with mustard seeds.

Our waiter for the evening turned out to be Alex who we had known when he worked at Perbacco. It was nice to see him again, but it made both Patrick and me sad since we were reminded of our favorite waitress of all time, Auxilia, who also used to work at Perbacco and who has now returned to Abruzzo.

Auxilia and Pat at Perbacco in Happier Times

After a glass of Prosecco, we started off with appetizers. Patrick selected a spinach gnocchi in a meat sauce from the main menu, and I ordered the taglionlini alle frattaglie (with a sugo of calf liver, prosciutto, wild mushrooms and sweetbreads) from the special Gran Bollito Menu.

For our main courses, Patrick decided on the Chicken “Al Matone” (cooked “under a brick”), while I, of course, went with the bollito misto. It was wheeled in on a traditional “carello” or cart, and individual items were carved at the table.

As noted on the flyer, Poggio's bollito misto included six meats, beef brisket, veal breast, a capon (chicken), beef tongue, oxtail and a cotechino sausage made inhouse.

It was served with five of the traditional condiments.

Poggio recommended a short list of wines to pair with the bollito misto and we picked the 2006 Barbera d’Alba produced by Negro Angelo e Figli in Monteu Roero, just to the northwest of Alba in Piemonte.

In reading about bollito misto before we went to dinner, I noted that one of the most famous restaurants in Italy for the dish is one named Il Moderno located in the town of Carrù in Piemonte.

I also learned that in addition to its bollito misto, Carrù is also famous for "La fiera del bue grasso" (the fair of the fat bull) which is held each year on the second Thursday before Christmas, to select the best representative of a special breed of Piemontese cattle called in Italian the Razza Piemontese. In fact they even have a society to protect and promote them (for any who want to practice their Italan vocabulary for cuts of meat ("i tagli"), see this helpful chart).
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I am sorry to say that I do not think I am going to become a fan of bollito misto any time soon. While my taglionlini was quite good and paired well with the Barbera d'Alba, the bollito misto was frankly a bit bland (apart from the tongue which was great), even with the condiments. While it was a pleasant evening, I am afraid Poggio underwhelmed us once again.

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