Thursday, September 30, 2004

Long Live Linguine

Pasta makes me happy. Looking around the dimunitive dining room at Stelline, I'm not alone. Sitting elbow to elbow, people break into smiles as bowls of spaghetti, gnocchi and rigatoni arrive. The kitchen sends a heaping plate of warm garlic-parmesan toasts while you skim the menu. It takes much restraint not to eat the whole thing, but if you do, the sympathetic servers deliver another plate of crusty goodness.

It's heartwarming to see people enjoying pasta without guilt. Certain diets have made it unfashionable to eat carbs, as if a steaming bowl of capellini al pomodoro can be reduced to vituperative shorthand for a macronutrient. I admit to a period of dabbling in which I chose osso bucco over orrechiette and ate scrambled eggs without toast.

I hope it never happens again.

Fortunately, I never succumbed to the madness that compels people to rid their pantry of rice and pasta. A world without pappardelle is too horrible to imagine, but so is gummy low-carb 'pasta'. My order of linguine gambero--real linguine tossed with shrimp, garlic, chili, butter, and white wine--is as rewarding and rich as I imagined. Give me the real thing in satisfying portions on occasion as well as a gym membership, and I'll never stray again.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Bread and Bivalves

The Ferry Building Marketplace is an embarrassment of riches. I get giddy at the sight of heirloom tomatoes, freshly butchered lamb, and piles of baguettes. It's overwhelming and all I can do is shuffle indecisively. I don't know where to start, but I know where I want to end up.

My bloodhound-like olfactory senses latch onto the scent of chocolate and lead me to the small stand of Michael Recchiuti. I can't resist the beautiful chocolates and squares of fruit gelees--so I don't. I leave with a small translucent carton containing a few of each, as well as a candied orange peel to nibble while I wander the halls.

That was the plan, anyway. Nibble describes my first delicate bite into the confection; devour is how I finish it.

Snapped out of my reverie, I walk toward The Acme Bread Company, the primary source of my bread consumption. Do I want a tender sweet batard to annoint with butter and olive oil? A crusty ciabatta for pressed sandwiches? I consider the slender baguettes, bronze onion rolls and the dark, dense pugliese. The patient baker waiting on me smiles when I finally select the herb slab, a focaccia-shaped loaf with ciabatta-like holes.

Keeping the momentum, I walk over to the Golden Gate Meat counter. I almost give in to spontaneity and imagine myself walking out with a perfectly frenched rack of lamb. The left brain fights back and focuses my attention on two types of Hobbs salami: the wine dry cured and the Genoa. The nice man behind the counter offers me samples of each, and I am simply taken with the former--smooth, mellow, and meltingly rich.

Purchases in hand, I eye my final destination: Hog Island Oyster Company. Taking a seat at the smooth bar, I order a glass of Andre Bregeon Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. The crisp acidity begs for plump, briny oysters. I am nearly crushed when my server informs me that they are out of Kumamotos, but a half dozen of the Hog Island Mix--two each of the Hog Island Sweetwater, Hog Island Atlantic and Effingham Bay--do the trick. I bathe each morsel with the cilantro-flecked mignonette, wash it down with muscadet, and give in to bliss.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Purity of Pizza

Modern life is far too complicated, and a trip to Starbucks reinforces my suspicion that we've got no one to blame but ourselves. Sometime in the last decade and a half, we went from regular or decaf to tall, grande, or venti; non-fat or 2%; caramel, vanilla, or hazelnut; and my personal favorite, 'with whip.'

So I decided to make pizza.

What's simpler than flour, yeast, and water? The recipe for the dough comes from Alice Water's Chez Panisse Pasta Pizza & Calzone. She uses a small amount of rye flour for a bread-y flavored pizza dough. I love kneading the sticky dough and seeing the fine flecks of grain distributed throughout.

My favorite is also the most basic: pizza margherita. You don't need a recipe, but you need great ingredients. The best mozzarella you can find is a must. Grande Cheese in Wisconsin makes a deliciously creamy whole milk mozzarella. I bought an eight-ounce slice from Andronico's and had more than enough for two 12" pizzas.

I always keep a batch of tomato sauce in the fridge. Again, there's no recipe. Roast some tomatoes in a pan with garlic, oregano, and olive oil. When the tomatoes are slightly charred and have collapsed, they're ready to be pureed into a sauce that's the essence of tomato.

And when the pizza comes out of the oven, shower it with a handful of torn basil. It's one of the best aromas in the world.

We sat down with pizza margherita and glasses of 2000 Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel. Simple, satisfying, and no mind-bending customization required.

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