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Photograph by Paolo Nobile; 'Italian Slow and Savory'

Grove Groove: From olives, as might come from this tree, to baked fish, Joyce Goldstein's handsome new cookbook praises the slow ways of Italy.

Italian State of Mind

New cookbooks showcased at Simi series

By Gretchen Giles

For some, reading cookbooks is as satisfying as reading poetry; for others, it's even more satisfying. I am of the latter opinion, for where meter and metaphor often escape me, the imaginary pleasures of plump pigeons baked in "blankets of country bread and cream" assuredly do not. Not trifling with such mundane matters as where to obtain said fatted urban animals, I instead swoon to thoughts of how the custardy blanket of breaded bird would smell, how the preparation would feel under the knife and how its browning body would look direct from the oven.

Simi Winery draws from three recently released culinary poem-books to create a "Bounty of the Harvest" slate of special winemaker/ chef meals. The last of them, focusing on holiday appetizers drawn from Bay Area-based food writer and editor Tori Ritchie's new book, Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors (Chronicle Books; $14.95), is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13.

The former food editor for San Francisco magazine, Ritchie is no stranger to parties, either hosting or attending them, and she is quick to add smart tips to help the harried host. It's one thing to skewer Moroccan-influenced merguez meatballs with yogurt sauce on toothpicks; it's quite another to consider quizzical friends secretly pocketing dirty toothpicks for lack of a better receptacle. Put a small glass out for used sticks, Ritchie reminds. Clean the bathroom, she warns; you wouldn't believe how many people forget to do that.

Writing in a clear style accessible to even the most novice host, Ritchie admits that she only throws cocktail-type parties nowadays, and never a sit-down dinner parties. Her living room is her office, the table's not big enough, who's got the time? So she seasons nuts, serves room temperature treats like miniature artichokes with a Meyer lemon aioli at the ready, bakes shrimp in salt and does such marvelous things with fruit and wheat as a fig and gorgonzola crostini with carmelized onions (see Sidebar below).

But the other two cookbook authors featured in the Simi series have wandered far from San Francisco for their books. Renowned restaurateur and author Joyce Goldstein embraces the Italy-based Slow Food movement with the glories included in her latest work, Italian Slow and Savory (Chronicle Books; $40). Goldstein is serious about cooking and eating in the Italian manner and learning to slow one's life down to the pulse of enjoyment--"learning" being the relevant term, as she admits that when outside of that country, she's still apt to be a multitasking stress-freak like most other Americans.

"Slow" being somewhat subjective, Goldstein defines it as taking a culinary approach to any food, even a five-minute fish, and extending it to a golden half-hour. Anything that roasts or bakes or simmers or stews fits into this definition of the nonfast. As with her other cookbooks, Goldstein's style is straightforward and accessible, even for such delicacies as pigeon and bread soup, which is neither a soup nor features pigeons, but is described by the words "soft and custardy." And so back into poetry we slide, landing firmly by her pork stew with apples (see Sidebar).

San Francisco Chronicle food writer Janet Fletcher feels that there is simply no healthier way to eat than a daily bowl of pasta lightly dressed with a homemade sauce and fresh vegetables. Her Four Seasons Pasta (Chronicle Books; $19.95) uses the harvest to determine the dinner. As with Ritchie and Goldstein, Fletcher's writing voice is that of a patient and interested friend who would simply like you to do as well at the stove as she does.

And, unlike many books devoted to the mysteries of pasta, Four Seasons doesn't beat the reader over the head with the superiority of the homemade variety. Rather, Fletcher agrees that for many dishes, homemade is preferable--assenting that she herself doesn't attempt it except on the weekends--but that many dried pastas are excellent. Best of all, she even names brands, a nicety many authors sidestep, making it that much harder to be at the market imitating them. Pronouncing DeCecco the best inexpensive dried brand marks Fletcher as a brave and rare woman in my estimation, and means that I'll be buying DeCecco.

In one nearly erotic recipe, Fletcher overly braises radicchio when she neglects to turn the heat out under a pan. She returns only to discover that the vegetable has "melted, merging with the onion and pancetta until you couldn't tease the parts apart," resulting in fresh ribbon pasta with braised radicchio, pancetta and parmesan (see Sidebar below). Yes, please.


Tori Ritchie appears as part of Simi Winery's 'Bounty of the Harvest' celebration on Saturday, Nov. 13, from 11am to 3pm. Cooking demonstrations are followed by lunch and wine pairings. 16275 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. $85. 707.473.3213.


Home at the Range

Fig and Gorgonzola Crostini

extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 baguette (about 1 pound), cut diagonally into 24 slices
18 ripe Black Mission figs, thinly sliced
5 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, thinly sliced

Warm 3 tablespoons oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until limp. Sprinkle sugar over the onions and stir well. Turn heat down to low and spread the onions out in the pan. Cook until they turn golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and stir in fresh rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat broiler, brush both sides of bread slices with oil and broil, turning once, until golden. Leave broiler on.

Spoon onions onto each piece of bread, dividing equally. Add three or four slices of fig over each. Top with a slice of Gorgonzola and broil until cheese has melted.

 

Pork Stew with Apples

olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 pounds fatty boneless pork shoulder, cut into two-inch pieces
10 cloves garlic, chopped
1 fresh chile pepper, minced
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 c. dry white wine
4 apples (try Gala, Golden Delicious or Renette), peeled, cored and sliced

Place large sauté pan over high heat and thinly coat bottom with olive oil. Working in batches, add pork and brown on all sides. Add oil as needed and season with salt and pepper. Each batch should take 8 to 10 minutes, lift out with slotted spoon and transfer to plate when a batch is done.

Return all the browned pork to the pan, place over medium heat and add garlic, chile, rosemary and wine. Mix well, bring to gentle boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for almost an hour. Uncover and skim off excess fat. Add apples and some water if necessary, re-cover and cook over low heat until pork is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove rosemary sprigs from pot and discard. Serve garnished with fresh orange, if desired.

 

Pasta with Braised Radicchio

1/4 pound pancetta, minced
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 pound radicchio, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 c. dry white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound fettuccine (Fletcher calls for fresh egg pasta but we now know that DeCeccos will work just as well)
2 tbsp. minced Italian parsley
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Put pancetta and olive oil in large skillet and cook over moderately low heat until pancetta begins to crisp. Add onion and cook, stirring often until it becomes soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add radicchio, wine and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to simmer and cook, stirring, to soften radicchio. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until radicchio is tender, about 30 minutes.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Stir parsley into the radicchio mixture and add a few tablespoons of hot pasta water to loosen sauce.

Drain pasta and return to pot over low heat. Add butter and toss well. Add sauce and cheese and toss. Serve immediately in warmed bowls.


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From the November 3-9, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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