Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Porchetta, Angelo Gallo, And Other Sicilian Delights...

Photo Credit: Todd Selby - The Selby
I hadn't been to San Francisco in five years. 

There had been a time in my life when I went quite often. I was dating my first husband at the time, a Navy Man who was studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute. Years later, I got to return with my current husband, (not the Navy Man), and we were treated like culinary royalty as guests of chocolatiers Michael and Jacky Recchiuti, who seem to know everybody in town.

Most recently, though, I was sent there as a contributor to Unique Eats, a weekly show on the Cooking Channel. My assignment was to sample the cuisine at five restaurants over three days. Pretty great, as gigs go... Between enormous meals, I planned to see old friends and try to fend off The Itis on the streets of San Francisco.

After a difficult flight, I arrived late Saturday/early Sunday, crashed and slept like a rock. Eventually, I got up, stumbled outside in search of coffee and in my semi-haze discovered that the streets were teeming with hot women (literally and figuratively) muscled and glistening from having just run the Nike Half Marathon. Awesome. During my layover, the ATL airport was so full of hot ass and big hair that had you added lights and music it could have passed for a club, Now this.

I wandered around for a while, feeling like a major underachiever (way to run those thirteen miles, ladies... I'm in town to eat everything!) After my coffee, I met up with my old friend Melissa with whom I formed a bond working at the beautiful (but doomed) Fressen many years ago. Melissa had gotten a job at Chez Panisse, moved to San Francisco, and had never looked back. We hadn't seen each other in about eight years, so after we met her husband and daughter over a delicious brunch at Bar Agricole, Melissa and I split off to catch up over a drink or three. As we left the bar, she suggested we walk across the alley to see if her friend Angelo was in his blacksmith studio.

Always game for an unscheduled adventure, I was DOWN. Her friend Angelo turned out to be Angelo Garro, chef/blacksmith/hunter/artist/winemaker/general raconteur and full on life loving Sicilian featured in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, a connection I didn't make until well after we had left.

Angelo was making sausage when we arrived. He promptly invited us in, and the next thing I knew we were sampling his homemade Syrah and Pinot Noir, (he grows and picks his own grapes, naturlich...) eating homemade sausage from the wild boar he stalked and killed, and olives he had cured himself. It reminded me of my friend Victoria's father, Victor, who is equally relentless with the proffering of his homemade pickles and charcuterie when you visit. I am in love with that Sicilian assault of hospitality.

We hung out with Angelo all afternoon, drinking, talking, stuffing ourselves and watching a film he shot about an Italian culatello specialist. I lingered until I was on the verge of being late for my JOB: A dinner reservation at a restaurant we were covering for Unique Eats. I had had such a fabulous time that I managed to invite myself back for January or February to cook a dinner with him and Melissa, and he offered to shoot a wild boar for us to prepare. Awesome.

I had a great time in San Francisco. How could I not? Great town. Seriously, the trip to Angelo's studio was the best four hours I've spent in recent memory, and definitely the BEST thing to happen to me in San Francisco. I am always so amazed when the universe turns just so, and sweeps you into a life-altering situation that you didn't know existed.  I decided to express my intense feelings about this experience by giving back and creating a dinner inspired by my afternoon with Angelo and Melissa.

The Menu:
Olives and Victor Tralongo's Pickled Eggplant
Chicory Salad with Fried Prosciutto, Preserved Lemons, Poached Eggs & Fried Brussels Sprouts
Pasta á La Norma
Porchetta with Angelo Garro's Seasoned Salt & Wild Fennel Seed
Red Onions Agrodolce
Roasted Fennel with Oil-Cured Olives & Chili Flake
Roasted Broccoli with Sicilian Sauce
Olive Oil Cake with Quartered Fresh Figs and Boozy Whipped Cream

The scooby snack was done for me. Victor pickles his eggplant with mint and capers all summer long and then doles it out to us a jar at a time throughout the year. Meaty, briny, salty, with a touch of brightness from the mint, it's perfect just on a cracker. We put them out with bowls of pickled shallots and olives.

I still had some delicious prosciutto left from last Christmas, courtesy of Irene Wong, so I sliced off thin pieces and then fried them lightly in a touch of olive oil.

Salty, porky and crunchy, they were the perfect foil for the bitter chicory. I topped the salad with poached eggs.

I made a preserved lemon vinaigrette and then fried brussels sprouts in the fat from the prosciutto pan, so not only were they nutty and uber brussels-y, but they were also PORKY.

 HELL, yes.
 The Porchetta, as you can see from the following pictures, was No Fucking Joke.

I got a boneless pork loin, about six pounds, and had Big John The Butcher cut it in half. Then I had him cut me two large enough pieces of belly that each piece of loin could be wrapped completely. And I bought a bunch of twine.

I made a paste in my food processor with a mix of fresh rosemary, thyme, dried wild fennel seed I got from Angelo, salt, pepper, lemon rind, and tons of garlic and olive oil to hold it together.

I rubbed the loin and belly pieces completely, and then wrapped them up and tied them tightly with twine.

The pretty tying job is Karl's. Mine is the one that looks like an angry child did it. I haven't mastered trussing yet.

The porchetta roasted for about four hours, initially at 425º for about an hour to crisp up the skin and then dropping the temperature to 350º for long enough to cook it through but not so long that the porchetta dried out.


It ended up being too much meat for our crowd of twenty-two (buncha pussies!) but we brought leftovers to Big John and to the kids next door at Vesta, and were treated like conquering heroes and rockstars.

Tying, Shmying. They're all beautiful when they're cooked...

I set about oven-frying the eggplant for the Pasta a la Norma.

 More delicate types might have been embarrassed for us. It was a frenzy. The eggplant is combined with a simple tomato, fresh basil and garlic sauce, and topped with thin slices of Ricotta Salata cheese, salty and dry. A perfect first course.

This dish is simple, gorgeous, and people literally inhaled it.

The broccoli was steamed (well, it's supposed to be, but in our case it was actually boiled quickly-- I don't seem to have a steamer...) and was topped with a Sicilian sauce  (anchovies, golden raisins, onions, garlic, chili flake and tomatoes.


Sweet, salty spicy...again the balance is key. I can see this dish alone being a great midweek dinner paired with a salad.

Sweet and Sour Onions, or Agrodolce, is one of my favorite go-to dishes for roasted meats. Onions with cider vinegar, butter and stock roasted on 350º for about an hour or so, is gorgeous and intensely flavored.

 When you slow roast onions with vinegar, the sweet elements are really accentuated, and the tartness of the vinegar nearly fades away, leaving just enough for a bit of pucker on the finish.


The Roasted Fennel with Black Olives is another frequent go-to.

Perfect for fall and through winter, the sweetness of the anise comes out in the roasting, the bitterness that oil-cured olives hold in their skin act as a great foil to the fennel. The chili flake adds a bit of spice, and if you're gentle with it, it doesn't give you full-on heat.

Olive Oil Cake is another fan favorite around here... I use the recipe from Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox's Olives and Oranges, and then doctor it with a little more citrus juice and zest.


A combination of tangerine, orange and a little lemon works for me.


Then I made a little boozy whip cream with orange flower water, powdered sugar and dark rum, and finished with the last fresh figs of the season.

Figs are so sexy, I wish I could eat them every day. But, like Great-Grandma Joy used to say, all good things come to an end. Even fig season, and trips to San Francisco. Lucky for me, they'll be back like clockwork next summer.

Turn, turn, turn.


rosannabrass said...

I've managed, (believe it or not) to finally have time off work that I can actually follow your blog, I was the copper who attended this Sunday evening, and I think about you and all the amazing people I met that evening. I have tried so many recipes from your book and absolutely adore them, and you! Rosanna x

Unknown said...

Love your table and fabulous menu! As a former flight attendant, the best training I received was to prepare way ahead! By the time the plane was beginning to taxi the food and galley had to be completely prepared.

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