Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fagioli alla Salvia ed Aglio (Tuscan White Beans with Sage and Garlic)

This was one of the side dishes that we prepared during a February 2009 cooking class at Cavallo Point led by Judy Witts Francini. Judy has a description of this dish, and the use of beans in general in Tuscan cuisine, on her Divina Cucina website. Here is an extract:

"Florentines are known in Italy as bean eaters. Beans are an important part of their diet, forming a perfect protein with spelt or farro, an ancient wheat
grain used by the Egyptians and Romans. Beans form the base of quite a few well-known dishes--Tonno e fagioli (tuna and bean salad), Minestrone (vegetable soup), Fagoli all'uccelleto (beans in tomato and sage sauce), Zuppa di gran farro (bean and spelt soup), Fettunta bianca (toasted garlic
bread with beans, new oil and pepper) and Zuppa Lombarda (beans and their broth served with garlic toast)."
The dish we made at the class was was really tasty and I had been wanting to try it for some time. Finally tonight I gave it a try based on the recipe copied furthest below that Judy gave us at our class.

For the beans I used some dried “Italian Butter Beans” that I had purchased from the folks from Iacopi Farms (Half Moon Bay-based farmers) at the Sunday San Rafael Farmers Market (one pound for $5). I soaked the full one pound of beans overnight, which resulted in 6 ½ cups of soaked beans.

I then followed Judy’s below Cavallo Point recipe almost to the letter, using six cups of water and a full head of garlic, plus two additional crushed cloves. I ended up cooking the beans in the oven just under 2 ½ hours, adding some water along the way. You just have to taste them along the way to see if they are ready.

I served drained, drizzled with some olive oil and with a bit of fresh black pepper. If you like garlic (as I do!), as Judy indicates below the softened cloves from the head of garlic are great squeezed out and spread on toast – in effect the Zuppa Lombarda dish Judy mentions in the above extract.

The dish really turned out well and was a great accompaniment to some roast chicken Nancy prepared. The quantity would easily have been sufficient for 8 servings, and probably closer to 10 (some left for tomorrow - I'm going to try some bruschetta with cavolo nero and the beans). Although we ended up discarding the broth, as Judy indicates below it would be great as a starting point for a soup.


The following recipe (click to enlarge) was provided by Judy Witts Francini at her cooking class at Cavallo Point – 21 February 2009

Continue Reading »

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another Cavolo Nero Dish

Last night Patrick and I cooked dinner. Pat made the main course - a Pasta alla Trapanese that we had learned from our cooking classes at Mezzo Mezzo - and I made a couple of side dishes, a roast cauliflower, and another dish using the same Cavolo Nero (black kale) that I had used in the Tuscan soup described in my previous post. Everything turned our really well, with the meal enhanced by Alex' announcement of his engagement to Cassie!

Here's the recipe I used for the dish - Cavolo Nero with Raisins, Pine Nuts and Pancetta - which served six of us as a side dish:


~ 2 bunches (a bit over a pound) cavolo nero
~ 2 tablespoons raisins
~ 2 tablespoons pine nuts
~ Extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ Pinch of hot red chili flakes
~ 1/3 lb. pancetta - cubed
~ Sea salt
~ Pepper


Destem the kale. Chop roughly (1/2 inch strips). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the chopped kale and boil until it is just tender, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain.

Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with warm water. Set aside to plump for 30 minutes, then drain.

Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan and let cool.

Slice the pancetta. Saute until crisp - remove from pan and set aside.

Add the garlic and chili flakes to the pan with the pancetta fat - saute briefly until the garlic is translucent. Add the cooked kale, pancetta, drained raisins, toasted pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until all the ingredients are well distributed and the greens are warmed throughout.

Mashed anchovies would also have been an alternative to the pancetta. There are a number of recipes out there employing cavolo nero (including one I saw using it instead of basil in quasi-pesto sauce) and I am looking forward to trying a number of them while it is in season.

Continue Reading »

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh Waiter – There’s a Black Horse in My Soup!!

Angelino Restaurant, looking out on the Bay in the center of Sausalito, has for many years been one of our favorite Italian restaurants. However, we have almost always just gone there just for dinner.

Recently I went there for lunch on a beautiful afternoon with some friends visiting from out of town and was struck with what a great place it is to be during the day when you can really see the view. Since then I have become a regular for a lunch on the weekend.

Remember the 1987 movie “Moonstruck” set in New York and starring Cher and Nicholas Cage? The Castorini family had a favorite Italian restaurant in their Brooklyn neighborhood – Grand Ticino - that they went to frequently, and where they were always warmly greeted and waited on by the solicitous waiter, Bobo.

That feeling of genuine hospitality and welcome from the Ancona family and their staff is what one finds at Angelino. Recently, Angelino was reviewed by Leslie Harbib in the MarinScope, and I thought her review hit the mark. As she noted there, apart from the food, one of the factors that adds immeasurably to the overall experience and authenticity at Angelino is that in addition to Pasquale Ancona, the owner who comes from Napoli, two of the waiters, Danilo and Giancarlo, are also from Italy.

When I go to Angelino for lunch I love to sit at the bar, which is tended by either Sal or Ted, and which commands a nice view of the room and the Bay beyond. In addition, if they have some time, either Pasquale or his wife, Donna, will stop by for a chat.

My favorite dish at Angelino is their Linguine alla Pescatore, which is served with a wonderful spicy tomato and fish sauce including shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, squid and chunks of fish. The pasta is also cooked perfectly al dente, which adds a great deal to the dish. A glass of the Vermentino from Sardegna is the perfect accompaniment for the dish.

The other day when I was at Angelino for lunch I was a bit hungrier than usual and decided to also have a bowl of their soup of the day, which turned out to be a Tuscan soup made with kale, beans and farro. It was absolutely fantastic – both great flavor and a very interesting texture provided by the slightly chewy farro, a grain I had never had before. I asked Pasquale about the ingredients, which unexpectedly led him to burst out laughing. It turns out I had confused the Italian for Lacinato kale (cavolo nero) with that for a black horse (cavallo nero). Something to watch out for in the future.

When I got home that day I was able to find a recipe online for Farro Soup with Kale. A few days later I used that recipe as a starting point for my own attempt at the dish as follows:

INGREDIENTS (serves 8):

~ 6 ounces whole grain farro (Note: I used a brand called Bartolini from Umbria, which was “semipearled” (i.e. perlato), a term which apparently indicates that the hull has been removed from the grain. I read in one place that if the hull has been removed, there is no need to pre-soak the grain before using it. However, I did soak it overnight..

~ 1/2 pound borlotti beans (Note: Borlotti beans, also known as roman beans or romano beans, are a variety of cranberry bean bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. Borlotti/ cranberry beans originated in Colombia where they were known as cargamanto. The bean is a medium large tan bean, splashed with red/black to magenta streaks. I used a brand of dried beans called Riso Carena from Pavia in Lombardia))

~ 1 can (28 oz.) whole, peeled tomatoes, including the juice (I used La Primavera brand from Napoli imported by AG Ferrari)

~ 1/3 lb pancetta, coarsely minced

~ 2 cloves garlic, minced

~ 1 medium onion, minced

~ 1 carrot, minced

~ 1 8-inch rib of celery, minced

~ 2 bunches (about a pound) of Cavolo Nero kale (also called Lacinato Kale, Tuscan Kale, Black Kale or Dinosaur Kale), stems removed and coarsely shredded

~ 1 qt. chicken stock (I used Pacific Natural Foods brand)

~ Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

~ Olive oil

~ Salt & pepper to taste


The night before you are doing the cooking soak the farro and, assuming you are using dried beans, the beans.

Before starting the preparation of the soup, cook the soaked beans until close to being done. I put them in a pot with water to cover by about 2 inches, brought it to a boil, and then simmered the beans for about 2 hours.When the beans are ready, blend about 2/3 of them in a blender. Put the blended beans, the remaining whole beans, the water the beans were cooked in, and the soaked farro (drained), into a soup pot.

Sauté the minced pancetta in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When done, remove to a dish and hold.

Sauté the garlic in the pancetta fat over a low flame (you may need to add a bit of olive oil). When just translucent (but not browned), remove it to the same plate as the pancetta.

Sauté the onion, celery and carrot (i.e. to make a basic soffritto) in 1/3 cup olive oil over a low flame. Once the onions are translucent, stir in the tomatoes (including the juice from the can), add back the pancetta and garlic that was set aside, and simmer for a couple of minutes more. Transfer the onion/ celery/ carrot/ garlic/ pancetta/ tomato mixture to the soup pot, and add the kale and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently. Should the soup become too thick add water. Check the seasoning towards the end of the cooking time.

Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.


The soup was very good the first time I made it – here it is:

The one major deficiency I found my soup had by comparison to the Angelino version was that the farro in my soup was too soft. The farro in the Angelino soup had a definite chewiness to it which mine lacked. It may be that it should not be soaked as long, or perhaps I should try to use unhulled farro (i.e. not “perlato”).

Also, although it was not bad, the broth in my version had more of a tomato flavor and red color to it than the Angelino version. The next time I plan to omit the juice from the canned tomatoes. Obviously using fresh tomatoes would be best, although this is a winter dish.

I think the soup would also be enhanced by being served with some garlic-rubbed bruschetta (toast, ideally made with ciabatta bread) on the side.

The overall preparation/cooking time (from the time I started the pre-cooking of the beans to the time the soup was served) was about 4 ½ hours. The actual ingredient preparation – primarily the mincing and chopping of ingredients – took about an hour.

I definitely plan to make this again.

Continue Reading »

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Year's Worth of Dawns

It has been just about a year now since our son, Andrew, created this blog for me as a 60th birthday present, and it has been a lot of fun learning how to use it (still an ongoing process!). Andrew, thanks again!

Whenever I can, I commute from our home in Sausalito to my office in San Francisco by ferry, which has to be one of the most enjoyable commutes in the world. It is about a mile from our house to the ferry dock in downtown Sausalito -- an easy downhill stroll in the morning; a bit more of a workout in the evening. Then, after traveling past Angel Island and Alcatraz en route, on the San Francisco side it is only about 4 blocks from the Ferry Building to our office.

Since I try to take the early ferry, I almost always get to enjoy the sun rising over the Bay and no two sunrises are the same. I have included above and below some shots I have taken over the course of the past year which provide a sample of the variety I have been fortunate to enjoy. I have to say that the last photo below -- taken at 6:54AM on September 10, is my personal favorite since I took it just a minute after I learned that Catherine Childs ("Cece") Moyle, our first grandchild, had been born in New York City.

I hope you will enjoy the pictures. Happy holidays, and for my friends from Japan, rainen mo yoroshiku!

Continue Reading »