Thursday, May 21, 2009


Two years ago, while I was visiting Italy (the Piemonte area to be exact), we dined in a restaurant in the city of Alba. We had been to this restaurant on past visits and had become friends with the chef owner Bruno. He was kind enough to set up visits at wineries, and other restaurants. We always looked forward to dining at Bruno’s restaurant whenever we were in Piemonte, because he is a man of size both physically and in personality. We’ve shared many a great meal and many many bottles of great Piemontese wines there. On the last night of our stay in Italy we again ate at Bruno’s restaurant. The meal was multi coursed with a lot of Alba white Truffles being shaved over many of the courses. As we were leaving he handed us gifts he had made, one of which was a bottle of his Amatriciana sauce.

Amatriciana is a southern Italian condiment from Rome, so I asked Bruno why he was making this in a northern Italian restaurant. He said he loved this sauce on pasta and used it a lot in his restaurant. I then asked him how he made his, and he went into great detail explaining the sauce to me. Well I liked his so much that it has become the recipe I now use.

Amatriciana sauce is very simple to make so that’s why I’ve decided to share it with you. There are very few ingredients but cooking time is rather long so plan ahead. Take 1 lb of good Guanciale (dry cured pork jowls) and chop into very small pieces. Finely mince one small white onion. Puree one 6lb can of whole tomatoes in juice until very smooth. have on hand 750 ml of white wine, lots of red pepper flakes, a TBS of sugar, and 2 bay leaves. In a thick bottomed pan large enough to hold all the ingredients, start heating a1/4 cup of olive oil. Add to this the chopped Guanciale, and cook slowly to render the fat from the jowls. As the fat starts to render, add the minced onion. Stirring the whole time, turn the heat down and let the onion slowly melt into the rendering fat. When the onions have melted then add the white wine, and turn up the heat. While the white wine is reducing add the bay leaves, the sugar and as much pepper flakes as you desire (I like mine very spicy so I add a lot). When the wine has reduced by half add the pureed tomato and again turn the heat down, and let the sauce come to a simmer. Stirring often let the sauce simmer for 1 1/2 hours. When the sauce is done toss it with your favorite pasta and you have a very tasty pasta course that will please all. Store the left over sauce in the refrigerator for up to one week. I recommend using Bucatini pasta for this sauce. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's a Restaurant to do?

Times are hard, recession, depression, swine flu, it’s all a downward spiral. The press needed a break from pounding into us how bad the economy is, so luckily a flu pandemic was just the ticket. Stay home, don’t go out, avoid public places, close the school, just don’t spread that flu.
Well that’s just great. Restaurants are for the most part taking it on the chin during this recession, so why not give us the knockout punch and create a pandemic just to make sure America has another reason to stay home. Driving to the restaurant the other morning listening to the news, with its endless stats on how many have died how many are sick and how many probable cases are looming, I thought to myself… maybe I should just turn around and go back home... no wait can’t do that, who would open the restaurant? Besides I need the pay check. Trust me I feel very fortunate to be able to say that.
I live in a world that for the most part is never black and white. My world is the restaurant world and it’s painted in many shades of grey. My world is measured by 3% to 5% profit margins, and by rising costs that are all a result of this recession. The food I buy to prepare for you costs a lot more than 2 years ago. Yet because of the hard times, I can’t raise the prices just so that I can maintain the same profit margin I’m used to. I’m not talking getting rich here just maintaining the same margin is all I’m after. I watch fewer customers come in everyday, not because we don’t put out a great product, but because people are afraid. We're afraid that tomorrow will be worse than today; afraid that this pay check will be my last for a very long time. Afraid that our houses will be taken away from us. It’s all just too depressing, so stay home. You won’t catch the pig flu at home, and you won’t spend any money if you stay home, so that’s got to be the correct answer: STAY HOME!!!! By the way did I win anything for coming up with the right answer???
I don’t know about you but it really makes Americans look like a country of wimps, and damn it that’s just not right. I’ll take much less of a profit margin in order to serve good food to good people. You know share the wealth, extend a helping hand sorta thing. I’ll even come up with deals to entice the customer to come in. But come in we must start doing, or this recession will last even longer. Hello, we are a nation that lives by supply and demand. So I’m demanding you all to go out to eat at a restaurant, and support the only business I know and love. I don’t mean go out to micky d’s or the box, those so called restaurants are doing just fine during these rough economic times. Yep just fine, and also contributing to the on going obesity problem in this country. But hey I can feed my family of 6 for under $13. What’s a restaurant to do?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Step One: The Mother Sauce...

When I first moved from the island of Maui to the San Francisco Bay Area, it was to take a job at a famous Italian restaurant in the city of San Jose. One of the first things I learned to make was what they called Marinara sauce - a simple sauce of tomato, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, pepper and a little sugar. This sauce was simple and quick cooking (about 35 mins), and also known as salsa pomodoro. However you want to refer to it is up to you, all I know is that it’s delicious on its own with pasta or it can be the base of many other sauces. In French terms it’s a mother sauce; indeed, very much so an Italian “salsa madre”. I have always used this recipe because in my opinion it is the best version I’ve ever tasted.

To make this sauce you will need........... 1 white onion diced very small, 2TBS of finely minced garlic, 1TBS dried oregano, 2TBS sugar, 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste and 6lbs of canned pear shaped tomatoes in juice. In a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, start heating the oil. Add the onion, and stir over medium heat until the onion starts to give off aroma. Now add the minced garlic to the onion and cook stirring always until the onion is translucent and the garlic is white. Now add the canned tomatoes stirring everything and mixing well. Next add the sugar the oregano, and again mix well. As the tomatoes begin to come to a boil turn the heat down to low and let them simmer for 35 minutes. While the tomatoes are simmering begin to mash them with a potato masher in the pot. Crush them according to how chunky you would like the finished product to be (I crush them quite a lot so that the sauce has body and bits of tomato). As you are crushing the tomatoes add the salt and pepper to your taste. When the sauce is finished, you can toss it with fresh Tagliatelle; tear some basil leaves on top and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Left over sauce freezes well, or can be refrigerated for up to 6 days.

I have pureed this sauce and then thickened it with tomato paste to be used as a pizza sauce. You can also add some pepper flakes to the pureed sauce and make a spicy sauce to toss over penne pasta. I’ve also used it to flavor reduced stocks to get acidity and a different flavor enhancement. The possible uses for this simple recipe are limited only by your imagination. So try it out for it truly is a mother sauce waiting to be used. I will be printing different recipes here and maybe just share my feelings on foods and the restaurant business. Ciao.