27 December 2014

A salumaio's tour of Italy on Food and Wine Magazine's blog

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!! 

01 May 2014

Back on the Block!!!

Excited to be working again with il Buco Alimentari salumi!

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!!!

Check out the Eater NY article about our pizza al taglio, a Roman sensation in NYC, and Kamel our baker

29 September 2013

Recently, an organization from Manchester, England, United Cattle Products LTD., contacted me about posting news of their reprinting of an historic 1932 English book of tripe and cowheel cookery.  Now, tripe is something I love to cook and to eat, and I never fail to indulge when given the chance. Many recipes for tripe exist -- the reprinted recipe book contains 99 of them! -- ranging from the simplistic Stewed Tripe with Onions, which is hardly more than its name, to the intriguing Tripe and Tomato Pie, an elaborately concocted, many-layered, long-cooked casserole.  At Eccolo, we cooked Florentine-style tripe in our wood hearth, with tomato, garlic, dried ñora peppers, dusted at the end with grated Parmigiano cheese.  This book is from the northern English kitchen of days past, and relies on onion, celery, parsley, flour, butter, and lots of boiling.  It's a very different approach to our Italian one.  

Cowheel is what we in the U.S. call veal shank, and is cooked in much the same way as in contemporary American recipes, In earlier times, it was eaten often and believed to have restorative properties, with nutritional, health-building benefits. Two examples of recipes that might be shocking to our modern, more affluent palate, are "Cowheel and Sheep's Head Pie," and "Mincemeat," just as simple as it sounds. The first is completed by the addition of ketchup, with its balancing, acidic character; in the mincemeat recipe, the meat is tripe, no less, supported by the warming Medieval flavors of dried fruits, candied orange peel, spices, and suet.  

It is amusing to know that a book of 99 tripe recipes exists, utilizing an often overlooked and sometimes maligned part of the pig. It is not at all new that cooks and homemakers approach the pig with a nose-to-tail sensibility. However, such an approach and the tastes to support it were once not as much a matter of choice and privilege as they are nowadays, but more a matter of custom and practicality. And it didn't cost as half as much as it does now.  

03 April 2013

I loved Adam Gopnik's piece in the April 1st New Yorker about the great chef André Soltner.  For 34 years he owned the spectacular French restaurant, Lutèce, in NYC.  Mr. Soltner lived above his restaurant, as chefs typically did in earlier days, and he spent every night of those nearly three-and-and-half decades in his dining room welcoming his guests, overseeing service, making sure things were right.  I twice had the pleasure of cooking with him at Chez Panisse (accompanying him were Alain Sailhac and Jacques Pépin) for a fund raising dinner for the French Culinary Institute, now called the International Culinary Center, in Manhattan.  He's an elegant, gracious, unpretentious man who, sensing our intimidation, said to us gently, "I chop onions for a living, just like you do."  I met him again last year at a dinner in NYC, and he remembered what we'd cooked nearly 15 years earlier.  Few are like him.  He's a god to us cooks, a chef who knows everything from Garde-manger (in the proper sense) to Pâtisserie, and can explain and cook any of it on a moment's notice.   He comes from the Old School of apprenticeship and endless practice that defines the 10,000 hour paradigm and marks the road to his towering mastery.  That's why he can make a Sauce Béarnaise without seemingly giving it a thought.  That's not quite true, we know, but it sure seems like it.   If only there were more like him for us learn from, to hold onto that tradition, so young cooks didn't have improvise without a net, as they often do nowadays.

17 March 2013

Cooking Boudin Blanc

Boudin blanc means “white pudding” in French.  To the French, it is the most esteemed of all sausages. They are made with pork, chicken, onions, breadcrumbs, cream, and spices. They’re already fully cooked but need to be  gently browned and heated through. Kept in a cold refrigerator (below 40ºF) they will last 8-10 days, and frozen, up to three months.    

Cook boudin blanc in a mixture of half light oil and half butter, or in all clarified butter, if you have it. Use a cast iron pan or heavy fry skillet. Heat the pan well, then turn the heat down low. Add a thin coating of the fat to the pan.  Cook the sausages for 7 minutes each side, turning once, 15 minutes total. Do not brown them too darkly, as this will make the sausage skin bitter, and you will risk bursting the sausage. Do not cover them, which will definitely cause them to burst.

Serve boudin blanc with good Dijon and little parslied potatoes. Or with and sauerkraut.  I like a cru Beaujolais – a Morgon or Brouilly -- a Bourgogne Rouge of character, or a delicious Chinon. Then there’s always Minervois and Anjou…

Cooking Crépinettes

Crépinettes take their name from the light, membranous fat that they’re wrapped in, called crépine in French. The classic version, from Bordeaux, is a simple breakfast sausage with very restrained but precise seasoning of salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. There are variations: caillettes, a Burgundian version, include organ meats; with chard, from Normandy; and a Languedocienne sophistication, with black truffles.  

Along the French coast, crépinettes are often eaten alongside local, flat-shelled oysters with sauce mignonette, the sharp-edged, perfectly delicious combination of shallot, crushed black peppercorns, and white wine. Purists argue that it’s a Parisian affectation, and many aficionados eat their oysters “au nature,” with no condiments at all. But, as the French say, “à chacun, son goût.”  Kept the in your refrigerator, crépinettes will last 5-6 days, no longer.  They will freeze well up to three months. 

Cook crépinettes in a half-half mixture light-bodied oil and half butter, or in just clarified butter, if you have it. Use a heavy fry pan or, preferably, a cast iron skillet.  Warm the pan to a gentle sizzle, and then turn the heat down low. Add a thin coating of fat and cook the sausages for seven minutes on each side, turning once, until firm all the way through, about 15 minutes. They are wonderful on the grill, too, cooked for the same amount of time.

Serve crépinettes with buttered baguette and roquette (arugula) salad, or if you’re living large, with your favorite oysters.  Some sacrilegiously serve Dijon mustard along side; it’s good but not correct. I like to drink a lovely Savennières from Château d’Epiré with crépinettes – it’s a stunning combination! Failing that, try a good Pic St. Loup blanc or fill-bodied Entre-Deux-Mers.  And there’s always Chinon. 

Cooking Spicy Calabrian Fennel Sausages

Italian fennel sausages typically come in either sweet or spicy hot.  These traditional all-pork Italian sausages are made with fennel seed, Calabrian chili, paprika, and garlic, and are on the hot side, though not blisteringly hot.  These Calabrian chilis are pickled and preserved in olive oil.  Their brilliant red color tints the sausage brightly.   

Cook the sausages over medium heat in a cast iron skillet or on the grill, about 7 minutes on each side, until browned nicely and cooked through, about 14-15 minutes altogether. They are delicious with arugula and pickled onions; uncased, they’re perfect in pasta with rapini and white beans (squeeze them out of the casing, crumble and fry the sausage meat before adding to the pasta); or, my favorite way, on toasted ciabatta with vinegary grilled green peppers and onions.  Kept in your refrigerator, they will last perfectly for 5 or 6 days, and can be frozen for up to three months.

26 November 2012

The new header photo (above and left) on my blog is a salumi board of meats we cure at Il Buco in NYC, all made in the on-premises salumeria.  From top to bottom and left to right you see finocchiona, lonza, toscano, coppa, lardo, mortadella, and fioccho, a small cured muscle of the leg.  I will soon begin posting regularly about salumi making, with the intention of providing technical and historical knowledge about its production.  For me, the history is an element that is missing from all the activity we see nowadays, is sometimes lost to innovation, yet is essential to the understanding of the craft of salumi and to its manufacture.  it is a long tradition we stand within.  I am aware that there are often questions about the technical and scientific aspects of salumi making among practitioners, while at the same time salumieri are eager to find and absorb this frustratingly hard-to-find information.

My mentor and friend, François Vecchio, feels the current exploding interest in salumi is in direct response to the USDA's oversight and regulation of the industry, and the resulting leveling of quality and uniqueness seen in most salumi produced in the U.S.  François is Swiss-Italian and has an understanding of these regional differences in his bones.  I try to avoid throwing about the term "terroir," as it is traditionally specific to wine, but it's an analogous idea with salumi.  I can't say that the causes are parallel, but European districts and towns have long traditions and local methods, and, undeniably, there exist local conditions that create these foods; the pigs have a tradition of breeding, are given a certain feed, breathe the local air, are fed whey from the formaggificio up the road, and so on.  All contribute to  their individuality and distinctness.

Beyond our excellent and definitive Southern hams, in the U.S. we don't yet have long and varied traditions of curing like we see in Europe.  Here, François is our link to the European tradition we emulate and which is the foundation of our craft.  The artisan cheese industry to burgeoning, and the interest in meat curing is simply exploding, among both chefs and home-curers.  It will be interesting to see who is curing ten years hence, and what the quality is.  I'm very excited about all the activity, because twenty years ago you couldn't give away this much pork fat.

12 September 2012

Everyone in New York is from Polizzi Generosa

Everyone in New York is from Polizzi Generosa

Some time ago, I blogged about my friend, Vincent Schiavelli, actor and cookbook author, who loved food, loved wine, loved cigarettes and cigars way too much, and for too long. He passed away from lung cancer in 2005.

All three of his lovely cookbooks were about his Sicilian family. The first one, Bruculinu, America (1998), whose title mellifluously Americanized the name of his native Brooklyn, painted a vivid picture of a childhood spent in an insular Sicilian ghetto of Bushwick, Brooklyn.  At the time of his youth, Brooklyn was a world of immigrants struggling to adapt to a strange life in a new country, and Sicilian was still their language.  His second book, Papa Andrea’s Sicilian Table (2001), recounted his grandfather’s life as a monzù, or professional chef, and presented many of Papa’s personalized traditional recipes.  His last cookbook, Many Beautiful Things (2002), told of his ancestral home in the mountaintop village of Polizzi Generosa, near Palermo; he visited Polizzi regularly, and eventually moved there permanently in his later years.  He died and was buried there, on his family’s land. Polizzi Generosa dates back 2600 years, over which time it was won and lost by many.  Maybe accepting all those invaders was how Polizzi became generous.

While I was chef at Chez Panisse Restaurant, I had the good fortune of being asked to cook for the book signings of his first and third books.  Many Beautiful Things, told in a poetic, wistful tone, is my favorite of the three.  Its cover is beautiful.  From that book I learned to make wild fennel liqueur, or finucchiedda. Wild fennel is ubiquitous in northern California, as it is in Sicily, and a gracious distiller friend provided me with the spirits. 

Amid great confusion and with endless re-calculating of formulae, I produced my first batch of finucchiedda and surprised Vincent with it at the dinner. Miraculously, the liqueur had come out absolutely correct and Vincent was delighted by it, saying it captured the exact flavor and smell of Sicilia.  Vincent and I remained in contact until his death.  Since that first attempt I’ve made finucchiedda every year, and have given it away to friends.

Elizabeth Street in 1912
Last year, while living in Lower Manhattan, I met the butcher Moe Albanese, whose shop was just a few doors from my funky Elizabeth Street railroad flat.  I wrote about him in an earlier posting, too.

Moe’s father, Vicenzo, had emigrated to the U.S. in 1911; his mother, Mariannina, had been born and grew up on Elizabeth Street, then the heart of New York City’s Little Italy.  One block west on Mott Street Vicenzo operated a little restaurant that closed in 1923 under Prohibition laws.  Vicenzo needed to find a new livelihood. He and Mariannina were newly married when they opened their little shop at 239 Elizabeth Street, across the street from where Moe's is now located. Mariannina spoke English but Vicenzo did not, so she helped the customers in the front and he butchered the meats behind the counter.

Moe came up in the shop, and became a butcher instead of a physician. After his father passed away in the 1950’s, Moe ran the shop along side his mother for over 50 years.  Mariannina died in 2002 at age 97, the year Many Beautiful Things was published. 

To enter Moe’s shop is to step into the past, in the best sense.  You immediately notice a very thick butcher block worn to waviness by years of cutting and scraping clean; an antique but still-working scale (original, not recently bought) on the back counter; and two very old enameled meat cases with several large primal cut pieces inside them. Remember, Moe cuts his meats to order.  Moe’s there every day, selling to the few regular customers who come through the doors, many of whom are from the neighborhood and have known Moe for a very long time; some even knew his mother as a young woman.  He’s the last butcher in Little Italy, and he represents its history. These days, Elizabeth Street is mostly exclusive boutiques and trendy, smart restaurants patronized
by models, artists, and tourists from everywhere.  It seems as though there’s always a movie being shot on the block.  But if you can, drop by his shop and chat with him. Though Moe shows no signs of selling up or retiring – I asked him both questions – who knows how much longer he’ll cut steaks and pound veal scallopini?

I’d occasionally lurk in the shop, hoping to politely engage him in conversation about his life as a butcher, or about the neighborhood as it once was.  Lurking wasn’t easy since it there’s no place to hide in the tiny shop, and not infrequently I find no one there but Moe.   Sometimes it was awkward, and I’d buy a steak or an oxtail, say goodbye, and quietly leave. Other times, under the guise of browsing, I was able to observe the conversations between him and his guests. It was hard to distinguish who was family and who were friends. Once, eager to bond with Moe and show him that we shared a profession, I gave him my business card, which reads, “Old Fashioned Butcher.”  When I presented it to him, he muttered, with wry humor, that I’d stolen his name.  I was shamed by his comment and embarrassed that I’d used the name “butcher.”  I felt I’d disrespected him. After that, I stopped in a little less often, and when I did I tried not to make too much eye contact.  I’d meant only to show him respect but it backfired nastily.  Who are we to call ourselves butchers, in comparison to him?   

Moe Albanese
Once, while I was purchasing one of his hand-cut, prime grade steaks, Moe was chatting with a friend seated in the metal chair opposite the counter.  I was, de facto, part of the conversation.  Moe explained that his father came to New York from a tiny mountain top village called Polizzi Generosa, and arrived on Elizabeth Street by way of Ellis Island. This news struck me hard and fast.

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)
Often, the films are dark pieces presenting a picture of brutal, harsh, and sometimes hopeless realities of the impoverished Italian populace, portraying life in war-ravaged Italy and Sicily, and the indescribable losses that people suffered at the hands of the ruthless Germans.

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.