Thursday, April 28, 2011

Orechiette con ‘Nduja

Last night at my Italian class at the Museo ItaloAmericano (which is currently studying the Italian region of Basilicata), I gave a short talk about Peperoni di Senise, a red pepper that is grown in and around the town of Senise in the southeastern area of Basilicata. See this link for an interesting story about a chili fan’s visit to Senise.

In order to provide a bit more “flavor” for my presentation, I stopped by Barbacco on my way to class and picked up an order of their nduja. Nduja is a spreadable sausage with origins in Calabria, the region bordering Basilicata to the south, and which, at least in the Italian original, often incorporates Peperoni di Senise.

Rosetta Costantino, who teaches Calabrian cooking in Emeryville, and who last year came out with the wonderful cookbook, “My Calabria,” has done this blog post about ndjua. I have borrowed a couple of Rosetta’s photos from that blog to show just how much red pepper the real Calabrian ndjua contains!

I am afraid that Barbacco’s nduja may not measure up to Calabrian standards of spiciness, but it is spicy enough for me and is a wonderful dish.

After last night’s class there was a bit of nduja left over. Barbacco only serves its nduja as an appetizer with some toasted bread, and I had always wanted to try it as a pasta topping as Rosetta shows in her blog – mixed just with a bit of tomato paste. I did just that this evening with some orechiette (sorry, it’s a Pugliese pasta, but at least Puglia also borders on Basilicata). It could not have been easier, and the result was fantastic.

I highly recommend giving that a try!
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Tremè – The 2nd Season is Finally Here!

Sometimes when you have been looking forward to something for a while the actual event does not measure up to expectations. However, last night’s debut on HBO of the 2nd season of Tremè did not disappoint. There may have been a few nits about which some might quibble (see, for example, the very good review by Matt Zoller Seitz in Salon), but overall in my view it was an excellent start to the new season.

A challenge with Tremè is that since the story lines and characters are so well-developed and inter-related, I think it would be impossible to jump into Season Two without investing the time to watch Season One first (and maybe even visit the Crescent City, which
we were able to do in March, to get your bearings) – there would just be too much one would miss. Also, even if you have watched Season One (in my case, three times for most of the episodes), you really need to concentrate on the program to keep track of all of the threads. This is not a program you can just have on while doing something else and expect to keep up.

Happily, last night’s episode is already on Comcast On-Demand and I expect to watch it a second time this evening to try and catch at least a few of the things I missed the first time through. There are also a couple of sites I have come across which I would recommend checking out for some useful background AFTER you have watched an episode. First, Dave Walker, who writes for The Times-Picayune, has a very helpful weekly Tremè Explained” column which, as the title suggests, provides a in-depth explanation of many of the subjects, places, food, music, etc. appearing in that week’s episode. Here’s just one tidbit from his column about last night’s episode:

“The youngster practicing the trumpet is Jaron "Bear" Williams, who is a member of The Roots of Music marching band, and will be featured in Richard Barber's upcoming documentary about the recovery of school music programs in New Orleans, ‘The Whole Gritty City.’”

One thing I love about Tremè is that it so full of detail that it provides a platform from which you can jump off to pursue threads running in many directions, as well as to identify NOLA organizations which deserve continuing support.

The second site I have come across is the
Watching Tremè blog which also includes a great deal of information and links to other sites.

The third site is the
Inside Tremè blog of Lolis Eric Elie, a NOLA native and friend who, among other related accomplishments, has written for the Tremè series and produced the excellent “Faubourg Tremè” documentary which provides yet further insight into the city and series.

Finally, like many others, I have found the music from the series captivating and it has led me to explore some genres and performers with which I previously had little experience (I even downloaded last night “From the Corner to the Block” performed by Galactic and the Dirty Dozen Brass band (also featuring Juvenile) after watching their Episode 1 performance filmed at Tipitina’s).

iTunes is also now offering a series of music videos featuring performers who have appeared on the series – my favorites so far have been John Boutté’s "At the Foot of Canal Street" and “Homage A Poullard” performed by the Pine Leaf Boys with Lucia Micarelli (who plays Annie Tee in the series).

Music of Tremè site is one of the best I found which provides detailed information about all music (even the many fragments) heard on the series. For the moment it just covers the episodes in the 1st season, although I assume they will keep it up for Season Two as well.

Finally, for your daily music NOLA music fix, there is nothing like
WWOZ – a really entertaining station which you can stream on your computer either directly or via iTunes. Also, if you have some time, Jazz Fest in NOLA is just starting.

If there are any other Tremè fans out there, I would welcome any suggestions of resources you may have found to enhance your viewing experience. In the meantime, laissez les bons temps rouler.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Roast Goat Shoulder with Black Olives and Herbs

One Sunday morning a couple of months ago while at the San Rafael farmers market I picked up a goat shoulder roast at the Rossotti Ranch stand. I had never cooked a goat shoulder before, but my prior efforts with Rossotti Ranch's goat had turned out so well that it seemed worth a try.

I had put the shoulder in the freezer and had forgotten about it until earlier this week when I happened across a recipe I had found on the Rossotti Ranch website (that and other good recipes are available
here). I made the dish this evening and it turned out very well. The shoulder - which is not a very big cut (mine was about 2 pounds) - includes a good deal of connective tissue and is chewy, but I like that consistency in meat and the flavor was excellent. Here's the variation of the recipe I used:


• 1 goat shoulder roast, 2-3 lbs
• Salt & ground pepper
• 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
• 1 celery stalk, diced
• 1 small yellow onion, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, sliced
• 5-6 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, plus 2 tablespoons chopped
• 2 or 3 fresh oregano sprigs
• Extra virgin olive oil for coating
• 2 cups beef broth
• ½ cup dry red wine
• 10-12 kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
• 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch


1. Trim away all but a thin layer of fat from the goat. Rub the meat all over with the salt and pepper, place on a plate, and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before roasting.

2. Preheat the oven to 400°F

3. Select a heavy ovenproof pan just large enough to hold the goat. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, parsley sprigs, and oregano to the pan. Lightly brush or rub the goat with olive oil and place, fat side up, on the vegetables. Pour in the broth and wine.

4. Roast the goat for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and turn the roast. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to roast the goat for 20 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the roast again fat side up. Continue to roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 180°F, 20 minutes longer.

5. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the goat to a warmed platter, and tent with aluminum foil. Let rest while preparing the sauce.

6. Pour the contents of the pan through a coarse sieve placed over a bowl. Using the back of a spoon, press on the contents of the sieve to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the contents of the sieve. Using a spoon, remove as much fat from the surface of the pan juices as possible. You should have about 1½ cups of liquid. Pour into a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and add the olives, capers, tomato paste, vinegar, and chopped parsley. Reduce heat to low. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water and whisk into the simmering sauce. Cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm.

7. Transfer the goat to a carving board. Cut the meat into slices ¾ – 1 inch thick and arrange on warmed plates. Spoon a little of the sauce over the meat. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Cheesy Sunday Afternoon

On Sunday afternoon Alex, Cass and I attended a program at the Museo ItaloAmericano in Ft. Mason Center – a talk by Janet Fletcher on Italian cheeses followed by a tasting. Even better, it was free, thanks to support from Wells Fargo Bank.

In the past the three of us had taken a number of classes taught by Janet at The Cheese School of San Francisco and had found them uniformly excellent. Janet – who among other things writes the “The Cheese Course” column for the San Francisco Chronicle – has a wonderful knack of explaining about a cheese in the context of its place of origin. She also co-authored with Rosetta Costantino one of my favorite cookbooks - “My Calabria – which was published last year. Her skill in weaving a narrative about food, culture, history and geography are very much in evidence there too. Her most recent book is “Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying” – Janet is all about food!

Janet led off Sunday’s program with a general overview of Italian cheeses, then focused on the five cheeses that we were to taste at the end of the program:

1. Brunet – pasteurized goat milk – Piemonte
2. Marzolino Rosso – raw sheep milk – Toscana
3. Brescianella Stagionata – raw cow milk – Lombardia
4. Canestrato di Moliterno – raw sheep and goat milk – Basilicata
5. Blu di Valcasotto – raw sheep milk – Piemonte

As shown on the following map, the cheeses came from all over Italy.

Janet explained that all five of the cheeses had been provided by Fresca Italia, Michele Lanza’s Italian cheese and specialty food import company in Brisbane. She pointed out that Michele, who is originally from Basilicata, has done a great deal to expand the variety of Italian cheeses which are available to us at markets and restaurants here in California. Thank you Michele and Fresca Italia!!

Janet also told us that she had not specified the cheeses she wanted for the program, but had rather left it to Fresca Italia to select a range of cheeses with regional and milk-type variation that they felt were at their peak. As Janet pointed out, that is a good strategy to follow whenever one buys cheese.

Following Janet’s formal remarks, we moved to an adjacent room where we enjoyed samples of the five cheeses, together with a red wine (2008 La Maialina Chianti Classico) and a white wine (2009 Mancini Vermentino di Gallura) wine that Janet had selected, and Janet did some book signing. I took the following picture of a set of the samples – unfortunately I was not able to get a shot of the cheeses before they were cut.

1. Brunet – pasteurized goat milk – Piemonte

This cheese was the subject of one of Janet’s articles in The Cheese Course which is worth reading. It is produced by the Caseificio dell'Alta Langa in the town of Bosia in Piemonte, a firm that produces a number of other excellent cheeses (La Tur is another of their cheeses we like a lot). Brunet, the name of a breed of goat, is not a traditional name of an Italian cheese, but rather a proprietary name given to the cheese by the producer, a recent trend in Italy that seems to be increasing as producers seek to stake out marketing territory. In her article Janet described the flavor as follows:

Brunet's soft, thin, bloomy rind fuses with its creamy interior; don't even think about trying to cut the rind away. The supple ivory paste, or interior, smells of mushrooms and creme fraiche and feels like silk on the tongue. A tangy finish keeps the cheese from being cloying.”

The cheese also made her top 10 list for 2008.

2. Marzolino Rosso – raw sheep milk – Toscana

There is a traditional Tuscan sheep milk cheese called Marzolino del Chianti which, as the name indicates, comes from the Chianti area of Toscana between Firenze and Siena. As the name also suggests, in the past it was primarily produced in March (“marzo” is March in Italian) using the milk from sheep that had been eating the new grass on the Tuscan hillsides.

Marzolino Rosso is basically the traditional Marzolino which has been rubbed with a tomato paste to give it a reddish hue. This can be seen in the above photos – the traditional Marzolino del Chianti is on the left, and a slice of the Marzolino Rosso is on the right. As far as I could tell, the tomato paste did not affect the flavor, although my piece did not include any of the rind.

I was not able to determine exactly from where in Toscana the cheese we had comes. Janet said it is purchased from the producers by the
Luigi Guffanti firm in Arona, in northern Piemonte (one of Italy’s leading cheese agers - they have been at it since 1876!), who then age it before selling it to distributors. I have always wanted to visit the Guffanti caves!

Janet also did an
article in The Cheese Course about Marzolino Rosso, in which she described it as follows:

“…it has an ivory interior with the warm, milky fragrance of melted butter. The flavor starts sweet and nutty but finishes with a faint bitterness.”

This cheese also made her top 10 list for 2008.

3. Brescianella Stagionata – raw cow milk – Lombardia

The Brescianella Stagionata is another traditional cheese, this one from around the town of Brescia northeast of Milano, from which the cheese derives its name (“stationata” simply means “aged”). It struck me as very similar to a Taleggio. Here is Culture’s take on the cheese:

Brescianella Stagionata is a washed rind cheese with a classic orange-brown, slightly sticky rind, marked with linear indentations where the cheeses have matured on straw. Aromas are pungent and sweet. The interior paste of the cheese is smooth and yielding and ivory-white in color. Flavors are rich and milky, with notes of vanilla and hazelnuts, and sweet with a lingering grassy aftertaste.”

It is another cheese which spends some time in Guffanti’s caves before making its way to market. Note to self – future trip to Arona a must.

4. Canestrato di Moliterno – raw sheep and goat milk – Basilicata

For the fourth cheese – the Canestrato di Moliterno - we headed far south to Michele Lanza’s home region of Basilicata (if you would like to learn more about that region here is a great video narrated by Francis Ford Coppola whose relatives came from the region). Molierno is a hill town in the mountains in the province of Potenza and over the years a combination of numerous sheep and goat herds in the area, as well as a climate favorable for aging cheese, resulted in the town becoming a center of cheese production. “Canestrato” refers to the woven baskets seen above used to hold the cheese when it is first made, and which give the rind a distinctive pattern. Typically 70-90% of the milk used for its production is sheep milk, and the balance goat milk. The cheese was very good with a nutty flavor and nice level of saltiness – similar to a number of other Italian sheep milk cheeses I have had in the past such as Pecorino Romano or Fiore Sardo.

5. Blu di Valcasotto – raw sheep milk – Piemonte

For the final cheese – a blue– we headed back north to the small town of Valcasotto in the Ligurian Alps just a few miles from the French border. Beppino Occelli is another major cheese producer in Piemonte with a broad portfolio of cheese types, similar to Caseificio dell'Alta Langa, and a sophisticated marketing approach. The Blu di Valcasotto seems to be a relatively new cheese for the company, although it may be that, for marketing reasons, they are simply distributing the same or a very similar cheese under different names. I enjoyed the cheese, although my preference in blue cheeses tends towards younger and milder varieties.


While all the cheeses were good and I would look forward to trying them all again, our overall #1 preferences for the day were:

Cass: Brunet
Alex: Marzolino Rosso
Mike: Brescianella Stagionata

It just goes to show you that after so many cheese tastings together, our preferences head in different directions. Thanks again to Janet, Fresca Italia, the Museo and Wells Fargo for a most enjoyable event.
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Pizza at Cotogna

Another excellent pizza for lunch today at Cotogna - a topping of broccoli di ciccio, lamb sausage and aged provolone. Apart from the superbly balanced ingredients, they really know how to do a thin crust there. Rounding it out was a glass of Gavi di Gavi from the beautiful Villa Sparina estate just outside of Monterotondo in Piemonte - one of the most memorable stops of our trip to Italy last fall (see #18 on this post).

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dinner for Japan Disaster Relief

On Sunday evening Alex, Cass and I attended a dinner at Prospect Restaurant in San Francisco to raise funds to help with the recovery from the recent disaster in Japan. The dinner – entitled “Chefs Unite for Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Aid Dinner” – had been organized by the following group of Bay Area chefs:

~ Paul Canales (formerly of Oliveto) ~ Bruce Hill (Bix, Picco & Zero Zero) ~ Sho Kamio (Yoshi's) ~ Ravi Kapur (Prospect) ~ Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani (Ame & Terra) ~ Staffan Terje (Perbacco & Barbacco)

A couple of years ago, that group (without Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, but including a writer, Ella Lawrence) had visited the area in and around Miyagi Prefecture in order to learn more about traditional Japanese ingredients which could be incorporated into different cuisines here in the US. Upon their return they gave a presentation about their trip sponsored by the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO), which had organized the trip, and also shared some recipes for dishes incorporating Japanese miso. Ella also did this series of posts on her blog about their trip.

Sunday’s event started with a cocktail hour during which the chefs visited with the crowd. It was the first time Alex, Cass or I had ever been to Prospect (a spinoff from Boulevard, which has long been one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco) and it is certainly an elegant space. We set up shop at the bar and enjoyed some of the cocktails (something green which I think involved cucumber, sake and Pisco) and appetizers that were circulating.

Then it was time to head into the dining area for the 6-course dinner. Here is a copy of the menu for the evening.

Each chef had come up with a dish and a sentiment. I hope that Prospect will not object to my use of the shots from their Facebook site.

“Brotherhood” – Bruce Hill - American Miyagi oysters poached with pork belly and pickled Spring garlic

“Hospitality” – Ravi Kapur - Zuckerman Farm asparagus, Dungeness crab, Brokaw Nursery avocado, local uni and Oro Blanco grapefruit

“Collective Consciousness” – Paul Canales - Smoked Hoffman Farm hen with tomato sauce, tosaka salad and crunchy shallots

“Home” – Staffan Terje - Riso Carnaroli di Acquerello with butter poached mushrooms and Sendai red miso

“Persistence” – Sho Kamio - Land Three Ways: ~ Rib eye with tamari honey caramelized cipollini and bourguignon sauce ~ Lamb loin with wild ginger confit, lemon grass and veal jus ~ Beef tongue with Spring garlic mousse and cognac sauce

“Family” – Hiro Sone & Lissa Doumani - Matcha panna cotta with Albion strawberries

At the end of the evening the chefs gathered at the end of the room and each said a few works about their experiences with Japan (both Sho Kamio and Hiro Sone come from area most directly affected by the disaster) and the dish they had prepared for us.

Earlier today I happened across the blog Presentation Zen and this post entitled “Fall down seven times, get up eight: The power of Japanese resilience.” It is worth reading and reflecting on the admirable qualities and behavior of the Japanese people both in this time of tragedy and under more normal circumstances which hopefully will return soon.

It was an emotional but fun evening, and the event ended up raising about $42,000. For any who may be interested, a variation on this theme will be held at Yoshi’s this weekend, and, of course, there are many organizations where contributions may be made to assist with recovery in the affected areas in Japan (among them, the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, and Give 2 Asia).

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