New Confessions for Spring

Greetings and Happy Spring!

Lately I’ve been thinking about people who inspire me, especially for their ability to overcome obstacles in their lives. One of the most moving books I’ve read was about Lance Armstrong called “It’s Not About The Bike.”  There aren’t many people who can do what he did, to survive advanced cancer and come back to win one of the most extreme sport challenges (Tour De France) for the 7th time.

And then there’s one of my culinary idols, Mario Batali, a guy who doesn’t look even remotely Italian, with his red hair, pony tail, shorts and Crocs while cooking.  But I love to read his books telling of his experiences in the culinary industry, like memories about his training at a tiny trattoria in a remote Italian village just to learn how to make pasta dough.  Despite his difficulties, he became one of the most awarded chefs in the world, and he makes me extremely proud of Italian cuisine.

When I think back to my own experiences, the ones that stand out in my memory are either the most difficult failures – I mean “lessons” – or my most fulfilling achievements.  I like to think that in the future I’ll be able to tell these stories in a way that helps people get past their own challenges.  It’s become my pet project to put my memories to writing, and I hope this journal of mine can go from blog to book someday. When you read my “Culinary Confessions” blog, you’re actually reading thoughts that are making their way into chapters.

And like my role models, Mario Batali and Lance Armstrong, my stories will tell of a life that hasn’t been easy, but I’ve stayed true to who I am and the best has always come out of it.

So here’s your latest glimpse at a new chapter:

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Mom and I at the farmhouse

A Culinary Upbringing…

I don’t know if I ever shared this with you, but I started working in this industry at the early age of 14.  Just like a lot of teenagers, I was caught up in materialistic things, like designer brands, cool shoes, watches, scooters, and American gadgets.  All I wanted was to have really cool stuff to show off to the girls.  Quickly I realized that I needed to earn some money, so I went to work.

Soon I was making enough money to buy whatever I wanted, so I pulled out of school right after 8th grade and never went back.  Instead I visualized where I wanted to be one day and started pursuing those dreams. My goals were to have my own business, be self sufficient, create something that my family could benefit from one day, but most of all I wanted to make my parents proud.  They weren’t very pleased with my decision, but once Mom realized how serious I was about working, she let it go and stopped making me feeling guilty about it.

Back then my Mom owned a produce shop, and most of the products would come in daily from our farm.  Around this time of the year, the Artichoke Harvest was in full swing, and her clients would order sometimes 2-3 weeks in advance then wait right at the shop for my father to arrive. His minivan would be packed full of gorgeous Artichokes of many sizes, still wet from the morning dew and shiny as gold.  The artichokes were part of my family, because my father took care of those plants as much as he would take care of me and my sister.  He put so much passion and love into them.  I can still remember their delicious flavor, even though it’s been 15 years.

My passion for spring ingredients comes from those memories.  Spring is truly my favorite season, because everything is bright green (one of my very favorite colors), and there are so many  great flavors to combine.  My mom used to make this dish call “Scafata”, which had slow-cooked fava beans, artichokes, new potatoes, and the most amazing wild mint picked from the field.  She would serve it on a crusty piece of bread and drizzle some olive oil over the top along with a handful of grated Parmiggiano.  Man, it was good!

I also remember walking around the olive farm looking for things like Wild Mushrooms, Wild Arugula and another great vegetable called “Asparagina,” which translates to Little Asparagus.  They’re tiny little pencil asparagus, almost as thin as a toothpick, but so full of flavor.  We would make a Frittata with them and the eggs would come from our 1500 crazy chickens that were always running around everywhere.  I don’t think I would ever find Asparagina in this country, so I make up for it by using asparagus in creative ways.  One of my all time favorite Asparagus dishes is “Asparagi Milanese”, an asparagus dish with my own twist…

DISH OF THE MONTH:
Asparagi Milanese con Uovo e Prosciutto

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Milan Style Asparagus with Fried Egg and Prosciutto

Just like any other dish in the culinary world, chefs have their own method of preparation, and even when recipes should be set in stone, we still add our own spin to it just for fun.

The Asparagi Milanese recipe is actually quite simple.  It’s just steamed asparagus, grated Parmiggiano, olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings.  But I added a couple of ingredients to make the dish a little more flavorful and more interesting.

If you host a dinner this would be the perfect “starter” to serve instead of the everyday salad or soup.  With so many foodies around these days, you want to give your guests something out of the ordinary.  This is also a great meal to fix after a long day.  To use for dinner, just increase the quantities proportionally and you will have a great entrée.

The following recipe will prepare a starter for 4 to be plated individually:

20 Jumbo asparagus
4 Organic brown eggs
4 Slices of San Daniele Prosciutto
1 Lemon
1/2 Cup grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
1 Tsp Pink peppercorn
1 Tsp Olive oil
Kosher salt

Fill up a large pot with water, add one handful of Kosher Salt and bring to a Boil. Place asparagus in boiling water and cook covered for about 10 minutes until semi soft. Drain asparagus and let it rest.  Julienne or slice the prosciutto in very thin strips.

In a large skillet, heat up 1 Tbsp of olive oil, place the prosciutto and let it get crispy, when done let it rest on a paper towel.

In a no stick skillet heat up 1 Tbsp of olive oil, crack the eggs and cook them over easy.

Per each serving place 5 asparagus on the plate, add some grated Parmiggiano, add the crispy prosciutto, drizzle some olive oil, squeeze a little lemon juice, add some pink peppercorn, salt to taste and at the very end place the fried egg on top and enjoy with a good slice of crusty bread.

My wine suggestion for this specific dish is  Sauvignon Blanc or even better a semi dry Rose.

Museum Cafe at MCASD

I’m not sure why, but I recently realized that I haven’t talked much about our Museum Café at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.  Last week, instead of eating my lunch at my desk and checking email, I sat outside at the end of the lunch rush.  It was a great sunny day, so I opted for a nice table under the veranda with its blooming wisterias.  It was so pleasant and relaxing, I felt like I was back in Europe. I decided to take a photo and post it here and on our Facebook page to let everyone know how lucky I felt to have such a gracious space to operate my business.

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Wisteria in bloom at Museum Cafe

The wisteria is truly an attraction for people. We can barely do a seating without a full round of people waiting at the doors for those tables.  So in honor of Spring and the Summer fast approaching, we are going to switch gears and adapt the Museum Cafe menu to the season’s best ingredients.  Be on the lookout for some new items coming on board.

How do these sound… Grilled Artichoke Bottoms and Egg White Scramble complete with Garden Pesto and Sundried Tomatoes.  Or how about Asparagus Grilled Cheese on Bread & Cie Sourdough with Black Truffle Butter, Vermont Cheddar and Mozzarella?

Oh and by the way, for all the ladies who’ve been after me for not having a chopped salad, this one’s for you…Local Baby Lettuce, Hass Avocado, Sweet 100’s cherry tomatoes, corn, feta, all tossed together with a light Red Wine Vinaigrette.  Come on,  now we’re getting serious!  Though I would love to tell you all about the new seasonal menu, it’s always good to keep a few secrets…

One more thing, before Cousin Rosa kicks my a&$, the new batch of Olive Oil has been shipped.  This is the 2009 Harvest (we call the new batch OLIO NUOVO), and it’s top of the top of the top of the line blow-your-mind type stuff.  But please remember, I can only order so many bottles at the time.  I have 60 bottles coming for this one, so I would highly suggest ordering ahead.  I’ll try to have some available if you walk in, but bottles will be reserved first for advance orders.

Man, it’s almost noon, and no wonder my stomach has started rumbling.  I’ve been writing about all this great food and I just realized that I haven’t eat yet.  But as I go, wish me luck for my big day tomorrow.  The GMAN (this has become my Triathlon nick name) has returned to racing!  I’ll keep you posted on the results.  For now, I’m going to prepare myself a nice carb-loaded dish and start mentally preparing for a good physical challenge.  As always…….Mangia Bene e Vivi Meglio!

Truly Yours,
Giuseppe

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