Of all the regions of Italy, the further South you go, the more things heat up. Our hearts are always with Tuscany, but other regions of our bodies and souls are more South, finally arriving at the epicenter of a dizzy feeling of ardor… Sicily. This dish, Shrimp Puttanesca, is ground zero in sexiness.
This dish is a real classic and very popular in restaurants all over the world. As always with Italian dishes, Scampi requires the highest quality ingredients to be really memorable. Here in our wild savory kitchen, we are always looking to find the most umami flavors possible, along with the most authentic ingredients. We have always felt that the usual Shrimp Scampi you would be served in a restaurant… which is generally just lots of butter, garlic and Italian parsley… wasn’t explosive enough in taste. We wanted to make a memorable version… and this is it.
Of the 14 regions in the city of Rome, my favorite area to wander around with Rebekah is Trastevere, arm in arm, taking our time… strolling within its maze of narrow winding cobblestone streets. We like to get lost there. First we go to the Coliseum, stare in awe, and then we head for Trastevere to eat.
In our wild savory kitchen, we are always searching for new flavor combos, creating dishes which explode with umami tastes that are unique. This simple little feast is a mashup of different cuisines, like worlds colliding in your mouth.
This is a taste of rustic Italy, where we first learned the meaning of the word “abbondanza”. This is the Italy of our deepest memories, authentic and imposing, like the looming Medieval fortified hill towns of Tuscany.
For us a pot of clams and pasta brings a certain serenity. Living along the coast of the Monterey Bay, we are always amazed at the abundance of the ocean… but at the same time, shellfish makes us ravenous. Sweet, meaty, briny… they embody the taste of the sea. Toss in some chewy spaghetti or some hair fallen from an angel to soak up their natural juices released when steamed, some tomatoes for a summery freshness, each chubby clam simmering in the lemon/garlic/butter/wine reduce sauce… and you have a little feast that is both simple and extravagant.
Some meals are simply perfect. This light pasta is amazing on a lazy summer day with ice cold champagne, or a romantic warm evening with rose. Actually, it’s wonderful any time and any place on Earth, because this little feast will make it a special event.
Imagine yourself at a beautiful two person mosaic tiled table, in a Greek cafe, leaning back against the cool of the white washed plaster wall, in the shade, away from the blazing sun. There is a glass of ice cold crisp local white wine in your hand, or maybe some tangy ouzo… and across from you is the love of your life. You turn slightly and look out at the turquoise blue sea, the briny air penetrating and clean… carrying the scent of the wild thyme and mint on the hillsides. The waiter with the white apron brings two plates of the house specialty, Greek Shrimp, fresh from the sea. And on the side, marinated gigantes beans and seared arugula. Sometimes life is perfect.
We love the delicate finessful flavor of halibut, but there was always something slightly missing in its depth of flavor. Without the powerful umami flavors of tuna or swordfish, the rich exquisite oil-rich salmon, or the dense flavorful flakes of snapper, sea bass or mahi mahi, halibut seems to need some umami richness. Usually in restaurants, halibut is drowned in creams or butter to avoid its tendency to dry out. This little feast solves all those problems… with Italian prosciutto!
Pasta e Fagioli translates as Pasta and Beans but this dish is so much more than that. It’s a feast! This classic Italian dish is perfect when there is a bite to the air, and the dry leaves are blowing past the door. Build a fire in the fireplace and sit down to this classic rustic comfort food at the weathered kitchen table. This is an authentic Italian umami bomb, so rich and savory, often served with rosemary and garlic focaccia, or toasted Kalamata olive bread with cheese, and a rich red wine to stand up to it all.
These crunchy juicy sweet red bell peppers were just asking to get stuffed and baked, so we obliged with lots of savory stuff like spinach seared in tons of garlic and Italian olive oil, smoked Cajun sausages and Italian sausages, lots of feta cheese along with three other cheeses like Pecorino Romano grated inside with smoked Provolone and Gruyere on top, held together with our own spiced Jasmine rice… all made really creamy with roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. They are crazy tasty awesome wonderful.
This is the Chicken Roulade of our dreams, the one we first experienced in Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany… the extravagant chicken roll that incorporates every savory ingredient we ever wanted to include.
We first saw this gorgeous meatloaf (named Polpettone) in Tuscany, when we came across one of those big glass storefronts you find on the main streets in Florence, and the hill towns, with endless mind boggling dishes of food stretching from the doorway all the way across the wall, behind glass cases, with the whole store a dizzying aroma of umami goodness. When I tasted the amazingly complex flavors of this meatloaf, I instantly realized this was not my mom’s meatloaf.
For Rebekah and I, this dish is our most intensely romantic meal… it was the meal that began everything for us as a couple.
This feast is your ticket to Umami City. This is a fusion feast, as if it were cooked by two lovers, a lady chef from the South of France, bringing her thyme, cream, bacon, duck fat, Dijon mustard, butter and Chardonnay… and her chef lover from Tuscany, with his Porcini powder, Marsala, olive oil and garlic. It’s a magical dish for all lovers.
The first time I had this classic Italian-American delight was in New York at the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. It was a savory revelation, an umami bomb inside some awesome hot toasted and buttered buns. I was hooked for life. And this is that recipe, Italian grandmother approved!
Beginning in the late 1800s, the commercial fishing fleet out of San Francisco’s North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf was dominated by Italian fisherman, usually from the port city of Genoa. But some boats were manned by a mix of fisherman from many other nations. Working side by side with the Italians were Portuguese from Lisbon, Mexicans from Baja, Spaniards from Barcelona, Frenchmen from Marseille, Chinese fisherman who had been in the city for many years fishing for shrimp, and there were even some highly skilled long range seafarers from Basque. Cioppino became so popular among the families in the bay area that it began to be served as street food for laborers along the wharf and by 1906, after the devastating earthquake, it was served in several restaurants in town. It is a classic San Francisco feast and always eaten with the wildly popular local crusty sourdough bread.
Early in the Tenth Century, the Moors of North Africa conquered Sicily and for more than 200 years they transformed the cuisine of this ancient, once Greek island. To this day, many of the classic Sicilian meals trace their origin to the highly sophisticated Moors, who brought with them oranges and lemons, rice and saffron, cloves and nutmeg, raisins and cinnamon, and crucially they brought couscous to soak up all those exotic flavors. We have always loved the aromatic and intoxicating spices and aromas of the cooking of North Africa, and this meal is a fusion of that exotic cuisine with this haunting and beautiful rugged land called Sicily.
Piccata is an Italian style of cooking in which either veal or chicken is pounded flat into cutlets, dipped in egg whites, dredged in flour and Parmigiano cheese, and then pan fried. Like all Italian cooking, very fresh and high quality ingredients are the secret. We find that Parmigiano Reggiano that has been aged two to three years makes a big difference, as well as extra rich chicken bone broth, free range air chilled chicken thighs (much richer tasting than chicken breasts), and high quality virgin olive oil. The combination of creamy young artichoke hearts and a lemony butter sauce make this meal a crowd favorite. And if that crowd is your family and close friends, this meal will be the one they barge back into the kitchen for… to ask for seconds and thirds, and most of all, for more sauce.