Winter hours and other news

Cari amici, it’s time to hunker down for the season and for us that means introducing WINTER HOURS. So please note that we will now be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday-Saturday 11:30 to 7pm, Sunday 11:30-3pm.

We also need the extra time to hunt down the perfect space for our brick & mortar incarnation!

As hardy Portlanders, we all need to get over it and embrace the rain–it’s just part of the package that comes with living in the gorgeous, lush, geographically blessed and verdant Pacific Northwest. This means supporting our favorite food carts through the slower, mucky season so that they’re there for us in July when temps are 80 degrees and we feel like frolicking in the sun :-) In our pod, the double-decker bus provides shelter from the elements, and Vino Wine Shop, right next door on 28th, encourages cart food to be brought in and consumed in cozy warmth. And what better way to enjoy the offerings of Guero, Steak Frites, Wolf and Bear’s, Grilled Cheese Grill or Burrasca than with a glass of wine? They’ll even provide the stemware should you pop for a bottle.

Portland Monthly graciously included us on their list of How to Devour Portland’s Restaurant Scene in 7 Days. Check it out–we’re in pretty fine company!

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Our recent event at the cart–the Sagra dell’Olio Nuovo–was a roaring success. We had great fun and it was wonderful to have Lee Collins from Oregon Olive Mill (the source of our peppery, freshly-milled EVOO) on hand to talk about olive oil and offer tastings. Steven Shomler, author of Portland Food Cart Stories (which features our Florence-to-Portland saga) was also there, talking carts and sharing his infectious enthusiasm.

As always, thank you all for your support and hearty appetites! We continue to feel blessed and pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming happy about our decision to make this fabulous city our home.

5 & 5: The street food classic of Livorno

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Burrasca’s 5 e 5

Every time I sit down to write about Italian food, my research unceremoniously chucks me down a rabbit hole and I stumble out the other end, a drunken Alice, into an impossibly raucous, ancient and labyrinthine paese delle meraviglie. Surely Italy possesses the lion’s share of history: feuding city-states, warring republics, teeming ports flush with Far Eastern vice, savage families, greed-steeped consiglieri, nefarious popes, festering plagues, exploding volcanoes. Her scientists and philosophers deftly probed the dominion of God, while her artists littered the centuries with jaw-popping masterpieces. She presented the learned and civilized men of the world with an ermine-cloaked Latin and flung a far more richly-loomed vernacular on the groundlings. Her voice soars above the mutterings of other nations in spectacular song, her operas transform the dull ceaseless drone of human comedy into a sweet and sublime music. All of this from a country more or less the size of California—why, the lifespan of an entire continent appears to have been crammed into the confines of its diminutive borders.

A case in point is the story behind the Tuscan port town of Livorno and its classic two-nickel sandwich, the 5 e 5 (cinque e cinque, or five-and-five). It is made of a thin chick pea flour cake called torta di ceci—or simply torta—in Livorno (it’s called cecina in Tuscany’s Versilia, farinata in Ligurian Genoa, and socca in not-far-away Nice). The torta comes nestled into either focaccia (also called schiaccia in Livorno) or pane francese (a French-style roll), and nowadays is usually offered with melanzane sotto pesto, which in Livorno means eggplant marinated in abundant olive oil, parsley, garlic and chili pepper. The sandwich’s unusual moniker came about in the 1950′s, when hungry and frugal Livornese could get 5 lire’s worth of torta to tuck into a 5 lire roll, making for a nourishing snack or light meal. It became expedient to flick a couple of nickels over the counter and simply say “Gimme five-and-five!”

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The torta is traditionally, ideally baked in a shallow copper pan in a wood-burning oven, enhancing the flour’s natural smokiness. The batter, made of chick pea flour, olive oil and salt, ferments for hours beforehand and gets cooked at high heat in order to crisp nicely on top and bottom while remaining creamy in the middle. The oven-hot cake then gets dusted with abundant cracked black pepper before it’s served on its own or betrothed to a piece of bread: simple and nourishing. Ask any denizen of Livorno where to get the best 5 & 5 and the response will invariably be, “Va’ da Gagarin, dé!” A hole in the wall near the old port, Torteria Gagarin is an institution.

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But if we really want to understand what makes this sandwich tick, we need to delve into the torta: how did the savory little wonder come into being? As legend would have it, the torta was born in 1284 out of the Battle of Meloria, a naval skirmish in the Ligurian sea between warring factions in the Genovese-Pisan War.

Genoa & Pisa engaged in their own personal West Side Story

The Pisan fleet was destroyed and their surviving sailors taken prisoner on a Genovese galleon. While trying to get back to port, the ship was caught in a fierce tempest that raged for days and days. Provisions ran perilously low. At the mercy of the storm-tossed sea, the ship rocked wildly and took on water; sacks of chick peas spilled their contents, a barrel of olive oil broke open, and the whole lot mixed with salty sea water, becoming essentially a fetid purée that continued to macerate in the hold. Finally, hunger gnawing at their ribs, the Genovese were reduced to eating the rather unappetizing mess. The Pisan prisoners, however, pigheadedly refused*.

Once the sea was calm, the slop was spread out in the sun to dry and it turned into something rather palatable: a sort of crisp chick pea flat bread, and the Genovese sailors gobbled it happily. Back on land in Genoa, it wasn’t long before the recipe was perfected and—with perfect irony—baptized as l’oro di Pisa (the gold of Pisa).

All of which brings up another vital organ in the seething belly of the Bel Paese: rivalry. In Italy, apparently, once you’ve established who your enemies are they’re your enemies for a lifetime. Hundreds of lifetimes. These rivalries are hard-wired into Italian DNA and manifest themselves to this day, usually in the form of good-natured ribbing but sometimes—particularly when it comes to soccer—in more crossbow-and-mace fashion. Genoa and Pisa–as we’ve seen–harbor an ancient animosity toward one another. Ditto Florence and Siena. But perhaps the most famous ongoing rivalry in the whole of the peninsula is the one between Livorno and Pisa. To the Livornese, Pisa is a moldering backwater of bungling half-wits whose buckets keep coming up bone-head dry from the intelligence well. Pisa ain’t exactly singing Livorno’s praises, either.

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But Livorno has built this rivalry into a monument of brilliant, outrageous, dialect-riddled piss-taking: the ferociously satirical journal called Il Vernacoliere. For example, right after the Chernobyl disaster its headline read: “First effects of the radioactive cloud: a clever Pisan has been born.” Here are some other examples of headlines that leave Pisans–and politicians and popes–much the worse for wear (click on the images for my rough translations ;-) ):

 

IMG_1559See what I mean about a rabbit hole? Okay, history and enmity aside, the 5 & 5 is a seriously good sandwich. So make like a good Livornese and come on down and try it.

A big GRAZIE! goes out to our customer and friend, Manuel Cantone (“Mano”), for pestering us ceaselessly to bring this beloved hometown nosh to our Portland food cart. He’s at Burrasca pretty much every Sunday with his brood, so if you like the 5 & 5 you can give him your thanks. And if you hate it, we’ll give you his phone number.

—Elizabeth Petrosian

* Of course, a dyed-in-the-wool Livornese would say the Pisan sailors stupidly refused to eat, idiotically preferring death by starvation—though a few Pisans less wouldn’t be such a bad thing ;-)

 

 

Some recent press

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Local food writer and blogger, Kathleen Bauer of  Good Stuff NW, wrote a piece on us for The Oregonian. She does a wonderful job telling our story and the motivations that drive (so to speak) our little food cart.

You can read it here. (Plus there’s the recipe for our summertime fave: pappa al pomodoro!)

Serious Eats, the online blog about all things seriously food, wrote about our food cart pod—which boasts a wonderful, superbly-curated variety of carts and food offerings (we know because we’ve eaten at all of them!). Nice input and insights from all the cart owners.

Read it here.

Our deepest gratitude to these writers for including us in their endeavors; and as always, we wouldn’t be here without the support from our wonderful customers–thank you!

 

 

New on the menu: Assunta’s polpette

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Polpette with tomato sauce, da Burrasca

By all family accounts, Paolo’s nonna Assunta was a formidable woman. Built with the bone matrix of a longshoreman or a linebacker, she was as tough as boiled beef and brooked no nonsense from either God, man or beast. She spent most of her life in the lean, hardscrabble existence of a contadina in Vicchio di Mugello until the family moved to their vine-strewn patch of earth in Florence.

She was bawdy in the way of die-hard country-bred Tuscans: every morning along with her caffè d’orzo she’d pop a raw clove of garlic into her mouth and chew forcefully, under the awestruck gaze of young Paolo and his siblings. To their little nose-wrinkles of disgust she’d laugh and say “Meglio puzzare d’aglio che di coglioni” [better to stink of garlic than of balls].

She had a farmer’s obsession with the land and a workaholic’s mania for industry; even in Florence and at an advanced age she was unflagging in her cultivation of the large orto and the tending of her flock of chickens and rabbits (over whose care and caprices she’d cuss lavishly). She was also the main cook in the nine-odd member family—and the bane of her daughter-in-law, Paolo’s mother—until an octogenarian stroke plunked her firmly into a wheelchair. Though still a force to be reckoned with, she was reduced to a state of clamorous resentment at her lot and wept bitter tears over the severing of her connection to mother earth. She was chucked out the door of this life kicking and screaming.

But for all her salt and crust, she was tender and artful at the stove: a culinary virtuoso deftly slinging the down-home classics of the Tuscan repertoire like some kind of hillbilly Puccini. Her pappa al pomodoro was sublime and is perhaps the dish for which Paolo loved her most (and which he recreates in the cart, in season), but a close second was her polpette: crisp, burnished croquettes with an earthy bass line of ground chicken and potato and a bright, delicate counterpoint of lemon zest and herbs.

In honor of dear, indomitable old Assunta—and because they’re just so flippin’ good—we’re now serving these delicious, surprisingly light beauties at the cart. Garlic clove optional.

 

Gnudi and other news

We’ve set off a sort of Spring molotov cocktail at the cart: ebulliently slinging a number of dishes to lighten the winter-encumbered spirit as well as the carb-weary waistline (well, kinda).

Naked ravioli

Gnudi (gnudo meaning nude) are little balls** of ravioli filling that are unashamed to be unadorned; they’re a naturalist primo rebelling against the chafe of fresh pasta, refusing to be swathed in anything but a light veil of sauce, a modest sprinkle of parmigiano. Ours are made as they typically are in Tuscany: with fresh spinach and ricotta, and we offer them with either a tangy tomato sauce or–for purists–a simple dressing of butter and sage. (In Tuscan trattorias, you’ll also often find them topped with meat ragù). Either way you go, our gnudi are vegetarian and you’ll find them as a daily special this season.

Oh, and because around here we geek out on food facts, here’s an interesting one for you: gnudi go back centuries; they actually pre-date pasta. As is typical of the origins of many Italian recipes, it’s a humble, poor-man’s dish born out of the contadino tradition: whatever seasonal, inexpensive vegetables were at hand got shaped into small rounds along with a bit of cheese or egg, and were topped sparingly with whatever sauce could be mustered out of the family larder.

Sformato: a taste of ancient Greece and Rome

Many folks approach the cart, read “sformato” on the menu and are stumped: “How sweet is it?” “Is it a dessert?”

Actually, the sformato has various linguistic guises: it’s called flan in France and Spain (this word is often used, perhaps confusingly, in Italy too, and thus it appears in our menu description), and pudding in English. Note that a sweet pudding is a budino in Italian. Technically, all of these can be classified as “pudding” in terms of their basic ingredients (see below), however the sformatoin reality, is pudding’s oldest form–and it is always savory (salato–i.e. NOT sweet).

It was the savory version (as a vehicle for life-giving eggs) that was deemed most salubrious by the health-conscious ancient Greeks and the predominant way they consumed their “pudding”. The ancient Romans, however, in their penchant for wanton excess, preferred to make theirs sweet, using eggs, cream, milk and honey in abundance–thus giving birth to the concept of dessert pudding (as well as, inadvertently, to Weight Watchers). All of these old versions of pudding have two common elements: eggs, and a cream of some sort to bind it up nicely. As the pudding plodded on down through antiquity, different countries gave it their own imprimatur, be it savory or sweet.

The word sformato in Italian means literally “un-molded”, and refers to the cooking preparation wherein small molds are filled with a mixture of seasonal vegetables, egg, béchamel and cheese, baked in a bagnomaria, and then turned out, or unmolded, onto a plate. The sformato is sometimes likened to a soufflée, but this is misleading as it is somewhat heavier and denser, while still remaining delicate and refined.

In winter we offered a lovely sformato of cauliflower, Italian kale, béchamel and parmigiano. Currently, in keeping with the season, we’re serving up a delicious artichoke version.

Quintessentially Spring

Paolo’s father has a gigantic orto (vegetable garden), and one of the things he grows–to the great satisfaction of the entire family–is bacelli (fava beans). When he was very young, our son would simply toddle out and eat them right off the vine, shucking them deftly and scattering the gaping pods about him till he had a small green mountain at his feet. In Tuscany, fava beans are traditionally eaten this time of year raw (because they’re so tender), along with a young, fresh pecorino cheese. For a simple family meal at home the washed pods are piled up in the center of the table along with a platter of cheese and a big basket of bread, and everyone shucks their own till the table–in the end–is a great chaos of thick green husks, bread crumbs, spilled red wine and crumpled napkins.

Alternatively, you can shell the beans, cube the pecorino, and toss them in olive oil and vinegar as a wonderful salad–fresh, vibrant, singing with flavor. This is how we’ve been serving pecorino e fave lately at the cart as a special.

Pecorino toscano & fava beans - photo Nico Galoppo

Pecorino toscano & fava beans – photo Wolf & Bear’s

 

Inzimino lovers, take heart!

We’ve been running the squidalicious inzimino as a (practically every) Friday special, so if you’ve a hankering just check us out on the Twitters or Facebook for updates.

As always, thank you for your support and appetites!

** We understand that the proximity of the words “nude” and “balls” is somewhat disconcerting. It couldn’t be helped.

Arista and the best sandwich this side of the Arno

In a town like Portland filled with excellent sandwich slingers, to crown any one as the best is a fool’s game, a folly of personal opinion and pure zeitgeist between two pieces of bread. But we like to think we’ve got a serious contender.

Legend has it that back in 1439*, Cosimo de’ Medici convinced Pope Eugenio IV to shift the Greek and Roman Catholic ecumenical council from plague-ridden Ferrara to Florence and allow the Medici bank to host the guests. While in Florence, the Greek cardinal Basilios Bessarion tasted some Tuscan-style roast pork that really tickled his cassock: he promptly declared it aristos!, using the Greek word for “the best.” Apparently the Florentines thought he was using a name for that particular cut of pork; they found it simpatico and adopted the moniker themselves–and thus the word arista strolled amiably into the Tuscan lexicon. However, I’d wager that there was also a certain appeal in the idea that the Florentine way of cooking pork trumped all others.

For our arista sandwich, we use Carlton Farms pork loin which is encrusted with herbs (including foraged fennel pollen) and roasted. The bread is homemade schiacciata (Florentine-style flat bread–think flatter foccaccia), liberally slathered with an incredibly zesty and tangy salsa verde (a heavenly concoction of parsley, garlic, capers, egg and anchovies), drizzled with sughino–the pork’s pan juices–and cracked black pepper, and topped with fresh watercress. It just might make you bust out the superlatives in Greek, too.

*The charm of legend notwithstanding, evidence of the use of the word arista in Tuscany goes back to even 1287.

April fish: a story

 

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Holy mackerel

Some years back, I (Burrasca wife Elizabeth) was working at the bookstore in Florence, when a package arrived. Thinking it to be books, I opened it and was puzzled to find a heavy, terra cotta-colored brick wrapped shoddily in bubble wrap.

The (Italian) owner walked up, saw the brick, and went ash white. “What? What’s the matter?” I asked. He told me in grave, measured tones that sending a brick is mafia code–meaning, specifically, that if a business owner doesn’t cough up the pizzo (extortion money) he’ll likely find a brick or two through his plate-glass windows in the near future.

Holy sh**, well zero-to-thirty the place revved into panic mode. Before long, the quiet little book shop was swarming with carabinieri (including a swaggering, slim jeans-wearing Commandante who looked like a sexy Latin version of Kojak, only with way-cool facial hair), phones were ringing like church bells on Sunday and I was giving a deposition as to the delivery guy’s description and what was said, etc. I pondered the prospect of continuing to work in a place that might wind up a charred pile of bomb-blasted rubble–a little monument to the far-reaching tentacles of the Camorra or ‘Ndrangeta.

By the way, the date was April 1.

Only a few hours later did we find out that one of the courier company’s employees took it upon himself to play a little prank on us all. In Italy, there isn’t such a thing as an April “Fool”–rather, there’s an April “Fish” (pesce d’aprile).

Or in this instance, an April Asshat.

Le novità: new on the menu & such

Cari amici, head on over to the menu page to see what Paolo’s been up to at the cart! Inzimino fans: don’t fret, even though we’ve phased it out for the moment, it’ll make a cameo appearance from time to time :-) And be on the lookout for pasta specials and other goodies. (Apropos of this, if you haven’t already, do follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter in order to keep up with the shenanigans).

Ciao – a presto!

 

Simplicity

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The Beaneater (Il Mangiafagioli), by Annibale Carracci, 1583-84

Anyone who thinks Italian food is all about pasta hasn’t been to Tuscany. In this region abundantly blessed by the Goddess of Culinary Awesomeness, beans and bread are the humble staples and Immortal Beloved of its denizens. Just consider the ways in which stale bread gets put to use, a glorious instance of lean mean frugality breeding inspired ingenuity: in soups like ribollita and pappa al pomodoro, or the even humbler, bare-bones pan molle. But it is beans–the locals being referred to as mangiafagioli (beaneaters), and not always kindly, by other Italians–that claim pride of place in the inner chambers of Tuscan hearts. There are so many delicious varieties, too, in addition to the well-known cannellini, and they merit seeking out and tucking into your suitcase on your next trip to this patch of the Bel Paese: di Sorana, tondini, zolfini, cicerchie, et al. Whisperingly toothsome on the outside, creamy on the inside, these diminutive Mediterranean beauties are to hungry toscani what flush fat-cats are to high-priced hookers.

Italian food, in its true form–its real-deal incarnation–is essentially only about two things: simplicity and quality ingredients. In other words, use the best ingredients you can find–keeping in mind everything has its season–and don’t f*** around with them too much. Let their flavors sing on your tongue.

Which brings us to our new menu item, a celebration of the bean–and aria-worthy simplicity–if ever there was one: pasta e fagioli, a soothing, protein-packed soup lively with fresh herbs and a good manciata of handmade pasta. [Aside: I, Elizabeth, grew up in Detroit eating Campbell's Bean & Bacon; Paolo got this. Geography is a cruel mistress, indeed.]

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Burrasca’s pasta e fagioli.

Another super-Tuscan soup that we often enjoy at home and which features beans in all their earnest forthrightness is the zuppa lombarda. (Don’t let the name fool you; this poor-man’s dish was born near Florence as cantine-fare for hungry railway workers from Lombardy).  This easy-to-prepare, inexpensive, tasty and nourishing soup should be in everyone’s short-order repertoire; it’s one of those dishes whose near-angelic purity of intention has the power to deeply satisfy even the most hunger-mongering soul. And maybe even achieve world peace.

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a frequent Burrasca family supper: zuppa lombarda, made with tondini from our Italian stash

Paolo says there are three cardinal rules to keep in mind when making this soup: you need good beans, good bread, and good olive oil. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

- as many dried (never canned) cannellini beans (or other small Italian varietal) as you think you want to eat, soaked overnight

- a clove or two of garlic, peeled

- a few fresh sage leaves

- a few slices of rustic, hearty bread (stale is fine)

- extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

It’ll be quicker if you cook the beans in a pressure cooker, but you can certainly do the stove-top/low heat option if you want (depending on type of bean, it takes about an hour and a half, but keep checking). Cook beans (after a post-soak draining and rinsing) with the garlic cloves and sage until done, in abundant water (which will serve as the broth). And by done we mean a slight intact firmness that segues into creaminess, not mush. Salt to taste.

Get out some roomy individual bowls. Toast thick slices of your favorite crusty bread. While the bread is still warm from the toaster, rub as liberally as you like with a raw clove of garlic. Place a generous slice (or two if they’re small) in each bowl. Ladle some beans with the hot broth over the bread, drizzle with good olive oil, and crack some fresh black pepper over the whole lot. *

Serve this humble dish like we do at home with some equally simple greens such as kale, chard or dandelion sautéed in garlic and olive oil, or with a big green salad, some more bread if you want, and a no-frills, honest glass of earthy red.

You’ll be an avid beaneater, too, before you know it.

–Elizabeth Petrosian

* Obviously, you can render this gluten-free by simply forgoing the bread. And it will be equally glorious and nutritious.