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THE UNION

Letters to the Editor

September 21, 2014
Trattoria Milano - yum
If you have not treated yourself to a meal at Trattoria Milano, you are missing a superb dining experience. We have had dinner there five times in recent months and have thoroughly enjoyed each visit. Chef Maffezzoni knows his way around an Italian kitchen, preparing fresh, authentic flavorful dishes... Read more
June 6, 2014
Add Trattoria Milano to your list
After a difficult and disappointing week, I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch at a restaurant I had not visited for quite some time.The name is Trattoria Milano (formerly Villa Venezia) on Bank Street, across from the Holiday Inn Express. It is situated in a beautifully appointed Victorian house and the cuisine is Northern Italian. Chef Giancarlo and maître d’ Stefano... Read more

Foothill Connoisseur

A Guide to Local Wine, Beer, Food & Art

ISSUE: September, 2014
I remember when I was a child, I watched my grandmother in her kitchen preparing one of my favorite dishes, which always brought excitement and anticipation. She used simple, yet carefully selected ingredients; potatoes, flour, eggs and spices, a special sauce bubbling on the burner, and there emerged the most extraordinary aromas. You could hardly wait to taste her creation. It was a simple fact that my grandmother made the best gnocchi in all of Italy! It filled the senses with a sumptuous abundance of flavors, homey and comforting so characteristic of authentic Italian cuisine. I’d like to share this experience with you during Trattoria Milano’s special Gnocchi Week, September 16-20. Each night we will offer delicious, freshly made gnocchi dishes using my family’s special recipes.
Gnocchi (pronounced “nyoh-kee”) is an Italian dumpling that has a fascinating history. It is believed that the name is derived from the Italian word for wood knot, knuckle or lump because of the size and shape of the dumpling.
Probably originating in the ancient Middle East, recipes for a starch-based dough formed into small balls and boiled, steamed or fried, were brought to Europe by the expanding Roman Empire. Each region developed its own variation, using different combinations of flours, eggs, breadcrumbs, vegetables and cheeses, giving the dumplings different colors, flavors and textures. These dumplings were called “zanzarelli” in Renaissance Lombardy and were made with bread crumbs, milk and chopped almonds. Of particular note is the famous variation called “strozzapreti,” with stories of the dish tasting so irresistibly delicious that people couldn’t stop eating them with dangerous speed. The name means “strangled priests!”
After potatoes were introduced to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, Italy developed variations of dumplings based on the new starch. Potato dumplings, named “gnocchi” as we now know them, were made very popular in the 1880s in Northern Italy, in the vicinity of Verona.
Today packaged gnocchi is widely available, but there is no substitute for the experience of freshly prepared gnocchi like my grandmother used to make. Gnocchi requires special attention and skill – it’s an art to make it with just the right balance of ingredients, which depends on many factors, such as the characteristics of the potato and the type of flour used. A wide variety of sauces are added to create the final dish. My favorite is my grandmother’s Bolognese with ground chicken liver. Just thinking about it makes me hungry! I also prepare it with many other sauces like gorgonzola, fresh pesto, and tomato basil.
In some parts of Italy there is a saying for the traditional Thursday night meal: "Ridi, ridi, che mamma ha fatto gli gnocchi!" which means, "Laugh, Laugh, that mama fixed them dumplings!"
Written by Stefano Landini
ISSUE: October, 2014
I have been living in America for almost 20 years. Now that I've decided to write this article I have noticed several details and curiosities of the Italian way of life, details that I had not noticed before. The first one that comes to my mind is that when Italians gather with friends or family everyone talks animatedly at the same time. Women get together at the end of the table and talk about problems with the in-laws, the children or who married whom, while men get excited talking about politics, soccer and sometimes -- when they are alone -- women...
What is curious is that, whatever happens, at the end everyone ends up talking about food.
The conversation can start because someone went to a restaurant and liked it a lot. He or she starts describing the dishes and then there is always someone who interrupts to tell that a certain dish should be prepared in a different way. Why do people do that? Why is it that in Italy food and wine occupy such a large space in people's life?
I don’t know if I have an answer for this question. What I can say for certain is that the purpose of eating is not just nutrition, for Italians food and cooking are a channel for experiencing intense emotions that are intended to remain for the rest of our lives.
For me personally, I can say that my greatest satisfaction as a chef is to evoke these emotions in my guests and this way create a moment of happiness that transports them to a place outside their everyday problems.
I have spoken with many customers and friends here at the restaurant who tell me that a dish reminds them of the one their mother (or their grandmother) used to make.
The ravioli is found in different forms, names and preparations throughout Italy, from North to South, from Milan to Palermo. It is a “noble pasta”, a way to transform a simple dish of low cost into a delicacy that conquered the world.
It's very simple, flour and fresh eggs for the dough, and for the filling homemade ricotta, vegetables, or chicken or roasted meat from the previous day -- everything bound with a sauce not too powerful in order to appreciate the flavors encased in the pasta.
In Modena you can eat tortellini in brodo (broth), that is like a ravioli sealed like a candy. The specialty of Modena (city of Ferrari) is to make very small handmade tortellini. They are served “in brodo”, with a wonderful broth of free-range chicken and (of course!) a good sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
In Mantua we find the pumpkin ravioli with “amaretti di Saronno” and mustard and in the Emilia region (and even a little everywhere) the ravioli filled with meat, that can be chicken, pork, duck, beef or a mixture of them.
Written by Gianfranco Maffezzoni
ISSUE: November, 2014
The first time I went to an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, more than twenty years ago, one of my friends who accompanied me there recommended to try the “cioppino” dish. That took me by surprise because I had never heard that word before in Italy. I was born and raised there and come from a family of cooks and pizza makers and that dish was never mentioned in any of our family gatherings. I tried it anyway and it was wonderful, but it reminded me so much of a fish stew that my uncle Giuseppe used to prepare called Cacciucco. I didn’t think too much about it. I just enjoyed the wonderful evening with my friends, the wine, the food we shared… at the end we end up talking, about soccer, a passion for all Europeans. Then I got used to see “Cioppino” in the menu of many of the so-called “Italian restaurants” and didn’t really question the authenticity of the dish. However, last Spring I went to Italy and spent long evenings with my uncle, who used to own a restaurant in Friuli, close to Venice. We talked about my experience in America and how, we Italians in the US missing all the time the best of Italy, mainly its food, history and landscape. Finally I asked my uncle and my mother about Cioppino. They never heard about it neither. I described it to them and at all at once they said: “ma quello e’ il Cacciucco!” (“But that is Cacciucco”).
So why is Cioppino well known in America and not Cacciucco?
Cioppino is a fish stew, which was originated in San Francisco, and it is considered an Italian-American dish, which was created mainly by the Italian fishermen who settled in the Bay area during the last part of the XIX century. Many of these fishermen came from Genova and that could explain the similarity of the Cioppino with its ancestor Ciuppin.
The word Ciuppin originated from the word “suppin” that in the Ligurian dialect means small soup (zuppetta).
Ciuppin indeed exists in small towns in the coast of Liguria each of them willing to claim authorship. It is basically the same as what in the rest of Italy we called simply “zuppa di pesce”. The Ciuppin in its origin was more a thin broth than a soup because after cooking the fish together with olive oil, herbs and tomatoes the result was strained to discard the bones. The soup had an intense aroma and flavor and was usually accompanied with some scraps of stale bread.
The main difference between Cioppino and its cousins, Ciuppin and Cacciucco, is the Dungeness crab that in San Francisco is so plentiful and that the fisherman added to their fish soup, creating, inadvertently, one of the most famous “Italian dishes” in America in its own right.
These three dishes share a humble origin, as it is the case with other great Italian dishes. In these cases the fishermen used the fish that remained unsold in their baskets, either because they were too small and difficult to debone, either because they were no longer intact and became aesthetically ruined by the fishnets but still fresh and full of flavor.
Each town in Italy is unique and each one could have its own version of “Zuppa di Pesce” with many different variations like buridda, ghiotta and brodetto abruzzese.
The “Zuppa di Pesce” at Trattoria Milano is more similar to the Cacciucco alla Livornese (from the Tuscany town of Livorno) and chef Gianfranco prepares it following the old Italian tradition that says that Cacciucco should include at least 5 different types of fish, one for each one of the “c” in it’s name.
Written by Perla & Stefano Landini
ISSUE: December, 2014
Pellegrino Artusi wasn’t a cook; he was a rich merchant from Romagna with an incredible passion for food and cuisine who in his spare time collected hundreds of regional Italian recipes from innkeepers, friends, restaurants, and relatives. His book, “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangier bene”, a best seller written in 1891, is considered the first and most important cooking book printed in Italy.
This book is important not only for being the first official cookbook of Italian cuisine but also because it was written in a very pleasant way with many anecdotes and amusing short stories gathered by the author during his travels and his research in the culinary field. It was translated into several languages, including English under the title: "Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well" -- you can find it easily online and I recommend it to all of you passionate about cooking.
The fresh pasta that is used for the lasagna normally is prepared only with flour and fresh eggs (no water) but, according to the famous Artusi, to give a touch of “gourmet” and to make it lighter and more digestible you can add spinach; the result is a paste of green color that is softer and more delicate. The most popular lasagna in Italy originated in Bologna, the city at the center of the Italian peninsula famous for its very rich and seasoned cuisine and the exceptional quality of its fresh pasta.
The other main ingredient of the lasagna is the “Ragu” or Bolognese sauce -- here is my recipe:
  • Finely chop onions, celery and carrots in equal parts and sauté in a pan with extra virgin olive oil in medium heat for a few minutes.
  • Add minced beef and pork, cook until the meat changes color from red to gray, at this point add a glass of fully bodied red wine (Cabernet or Zinfandel), let the wine evaporate, and then add tomato sauce.
  • Never add garlic to a Bolognese sauce!
  • Add spices: rosemary, thyme, some laurel leaves (all fresh, not dried), salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 2 hours.
The preparation of the lasagna starts with a layer of pasta boiled for one minute in water and salt, then a layer of Bolognese and béchamel sauces (the recipe for this last sauce is very simple: butter, flour, milk, and nutmeg), a generous splash of good Italian Parmesan cheese, and now you can continue with the next layer. A “real” lasagna has at least eight layers -- do not overdo with the sauce, remember that it is a pasta dish so the “pasta” is the main attraction!
The lasagna can also be prepared with other ingredients and, to the delight of the vegetarians, is excellent with pesto sauce, zucchini, béchamel sauce, and Parmesan cheese.