Wanted to give this recent article on the Food and Wine blog a boost...
Back in California now, after a long time away. Culatello will be my focus for the time being, while the next project gets put together. When my son and I spent time at Spigaroli end of summer 2013, I was struck by the similarity of the the foggy Po River basin as it passes through Polesine parmense, near Busseto, to the California Delta. Here's a furry culatello from Spigaroli's ancient stone caves
and two experimental ones from il Buco's salumeria in NYC. They're coming!!
Excited to work on these beauties and see how they turn out!!
And upgrading and expanding the little shop that could... We're making all kinds of things delicious and wonderful: salads, salumi and pizza (pizza?!) al taglio!!!
|Elizabeth Street in 1912|
Recently, I watched – almost out of obligation – what turned out to be a terrifically engaging film: Martin Scorsese’s, “My Voyage to Italy” (1999). Describing his childhood, Scorcese mentions that he’d grown up on Elizabeth Street, where his family lived in the 1940’s. I jolted to attention at his mention of this. He explained how as a child on Friday and Saturday nights he’d sit with his family and a few neighbors, glued to the television set, watching the Italian films that had come to America. This was their big night out. Like many others with a similar immigrant experience, he and his family were transported back to their homeland by the bittersweet films they studiously watched.
Scorsese’s subdued narrative is a quiet history of Italian filmmaking. He recounts being drawn into that world by the masterpieces of Italian Neo-Realism, and includes clips from 38 of the seminal films of the genre; Vittorio di Sica, Lucchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni are all represented – it was they who seduced him into filmaking. Roberto Rossellini’s films comprise more than half of those referenced, and Scorsese’s title reflects that of Rossellini’s own Viaggio in Italia (1954).
|"Riso Amaro" by Giuseppe De Santis (1949)|
You may have guessed by now that Scorsese’s family were also from Polizzi Generosa, who, like any others left their beloved homeland for a new life in America. But what was this place that so many left behind? How small is the world that these three men were delivered into the world by families from that same distant place? I later understood that they all left Polizzi for a life none of them could imagine but one they knew held the promise of a better life for them and their families. That I found all of them in a tiny circle within New York City by incredible accident was astonishing to me.
In the early 20th Century Elizabeth Street was an Italian ghetto, crammed with immigrant families who were fed and supplied by their local general stores, bakeries, cheese shops, and fishmongers. There were no less than 6 butcher shops in the block of Elizabeth Street where Moe is located. Moe’s mother, Mary, was born on this block; his father, Vincenzo, a butcher from Sicily, emigrated to New York from Polizzi Generosa, a tiny, hidden, hilltop town near Palermo. (This was a remarkable coincidence for me; the grandparents of the actor Vincent Schiavelli, a friend I wrote about earlier in this blog, also came from Polizzi; Vincent wrote about his family's ancestral home in his lovely book Many Beautiful Things, for which I cooked a book signing dinner at Chez Panisse many years ago.) Moe’s father didn't speak English when he arrived in America, and they agreed his mother would help the customers in the front of the shop, while his dad would cut meat in the back. Papa Vincenzo died at a young age and left his widow and their son, Moe, to run the shop. That was in 1954. Moe and his mother continued that way until Mama Albanese passed in 2002, at 97. Moe has run the shop alone since then.
Don’t take me wrong: I like Kurlansky’s writing and have read “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” twice. It’s just that we need to be careful with our ideas, the way our friend Harold McGee usually is. It's a moral and social responsibility.
Pil pil is a delight no one should pass up. It seems difficult but it is as easy a pie. Give it a try, but be patient with it.
It's a stunningly handsome building, in the same red brick American Gothic style as the main house, a style the original owners sought to reproduce from their origins in the northeastern U.S. Their aesthetic was brought to the farm’s west coast builders in drawings, sketches, and one large oil painting. It has two large iron doors (the refitted ones) that open onto its under-story fire pit; you have to crawl in through one of these small iron access doors to build and stoke the fire. Inside, you can just about stand up in the dark of the fire pit, if you’re not too tall. Gregg smokes his meats with several woods from trees on the property: fig, apple, almond, and black acacia wood. Black acacia was familiar to me, as we had our wooden tables at Eccolo fashioned from that variety by Chris Weiss, the elegant, charming designer and wood worker we know so well. For many years, we had cooked over same fruitwoods both Chez Panisse and Eccolo.
I will soon return to fire up this smoker, to see what it can do. My first project will be bacon and saucisse de Morteau, a particular sausage from the village of the same name in Franche-Comté, in eastern France, along the border with Switzerland. It's an enticingly fatty sausage slow-smoked for about 48 hours at 77ºF over pinewood, its indigenous Alpine wood. Can’t wait.
As cassoulet will soon be behind us, I'm thinking I may have to put on another such wintry dinner, maybe next time choucroute garnie...
then there was the wonderful michael recchiuti, patient doug volkmer at acme on 9th, acme on cedar, culture-rich pizzaiolo, over-the-top bakesale betty, tartine tartine tartine (on another plane)... bi-rite (very busy, but no sam or morgan)
both pasta shops (market hall location is spectacular), marin sun farms, esteemed café rouge meats, bittersweet on college (doing the right thing, their thing), xocolate (a chocolate grotto), ici (here, from paris), summer kitchen (charlene, you love, and paul), grégoire (just a visit), cheeseboard (collective)
ferry plaza was a revelation, an annunciation, for them - boccalone, boulette's larder, il cane rosso, out the door, acme again, alan king's fish shop, cow girl
and outside in the rain: al @ frog hollow, della fattoria (we were theirs, they were mine, you are what you are), dan @ flatland, christy knoll, happy girl kitchen (new to me), the sprout guy, andante - i suddenly realized what we have here that exists nowhere else, not nyc, not uk, not europe - it's right here, all of it!
across town were trés francaise miette, sleek and slick fatted calf, ever so cool blue bottle kiosk, off topic to gimme shoes for two of us (nothing bought), delivered my manual little pasta machine to ryan, hip hip bar tartine (thank you chris!), then to paolo's childhood friend who owns la ciccia with his lovely wife, donella, a wonderful meal with lots of shellfish and lovely sardinian wines, totally charmed us
wow, what did i forget? an impromptu visit early sunday morning to bob, who lives in the heavens and lets some few of us see it, if we can, with a only gesture
For most of my time in London I lived in an area called Maida Vale, also known as Little Venice, that sits at the confluence of Regent's Canal and the Grand Union Canal, just behind Paddington Station. The London canals are part of an elaborate network of waterways built in the 18th century for transport of commercial goods. The canals snake all over London, and beyond, and new, imaginative businesses have -- dare i say -- popped up along parts of this charming yet practical web of channels from an earlier time. It's a nice kind of rebirth. More on that in another post.
If you walk or bicycle westward from my flat a couple of miles along the Grand Union, you come Portobello Dock, where Dock Kitchen is located. Of course, there are no signs, just a gate and door bell, but you can see it from where you stand on Kensal Road, on the edge of north London. It's in a very modern building with a glass façade, but it's unassuming despite its drama. It's designed by the well known architect and designer, Tom Dixon, who shares the compound with Dock Kitchen. This is the restaurant at night:
After that satisfying meal, we took the no.18 bus via Harrow Road back to our flat in Maida Vale. No one on that bus speaks english. It's humbling, and heartening. The English are living on history.
Stevie just finished a refurbish end of August, and we tried to do a pop-up at Dock, but the refurb took longer than expected, ran into September, and in the end the timing was off; he had to finish installing his tandoor and I had to return to the US. But I am happy to have met Stevie and expect he will continue to shake up the London scene in his personal, perfect quiet way. Congratulations Stevie!
In my recent postings about wild fennel liqueur, I failed to mention where I where I first learned about it and how to make it. In November of 2002, I had the opportunity to cook a book signing dinner at Chez Panisse for Vincent Schiavelli, the actor and cookbook author. I had been focused on Italian food for some time and was thrilled to collaborate with him on the menu. Vincent was of Sicilian decent, having grown up in a Sicilian ghetto in Brooklyn, where english was not a necessity, long before Brooklyn was the fashionable place it is today. His first cookbook, Bruculinu America: Remembrances of a Sicilian-American Brooklyn, is about growing up in the embrace of family and a community of Sicilian immigrants, eating Sicilian food, helping his grandmother cook sauce and many other traditional dishes. It's a charming book in which the stories of community and home merge with the recipes, as I imagine they did in his life; these things are always inseparable.
The book we cooked from, his second, is Many Beautiful Things; Stories and recipes from Polizzi Generosa, about his ancestral home, where he had kept house and lived part time. It's a lovely, hand-illustrated book by a lovely man who had an immense sense of history and where he came from, and therefore who he was. At the end of the book he has an entire section about making liqueurs, simple but definitive recipes and instructions that enlightened and excited me. We served wild fennel liqueur as an aperitivo at the dinner, and it was the perfect beginning to a wonderful meal. To his delight -- and mine -- we served coppa I had made. I learned, suddenly at the last minute, that it was incorrect to use fresh sardines in pasta with broccoli, that it had to be made from tinned sardines. We had to rush out and buy some from a nearby Italian deli.
The menu was:
wild fennel liqueur
antipasto: cooked carrot salad; pumpkin caponata; rapini omelette; sweet and sour meatballs; coppa
pasta with broccoli (and tinned sardines)
veal shoulder roast with Marsala
dessert was almond crostata
Vincent was endlessly charming, generous, and enthusiastic, and we had immense fun cooking for him. He kept in loose touch in the following years, and though he invited us many times over, I never made it to his home in Polizzi Generosa. Vincent was a heavy smoker, and he died there in 2005, of lung cancer, in the home his grandfather had grown up in but had left behind for Bruculinu, America.
We all learn initially from someone else, some inspiration, then go on to develop our own thinking about our craft or art; it's like finding one's own voice. It is important to me to always keep in mind where I came from, who my mentors are, and to give them the respect and recognition they deserve. Deserving is a difficult idea -- how does one come to deserve something, and how are others to respect that? For me, it's a coming together of understanding, appreciation, and love. That, and remembering who you are. People sometimes to forget who they've learned from, and where they've come from. Without that, you can't know who you are. I always try to keep these notions in the forefront of my mind. I always say, no new food has been cooked in two hundred years. (That doesn't mean it hasn't been improved upon!) I think about that every time I cook. I explain to young cooks learning the craft of making prosciutto or other dry cured meats, that one stands in a river of tradition that goes back 2000 years.
That is my thanks to and respect for him, both of which he deserves.