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.

Food Cart of the Year

Photo: ronitphoto.com

Photo: ronitphoto.com

So we woke up yesterday and were all, like, bleary-eyed and making breakfast and stuff when we get a call from Valerie Hurst at KATU here in Portland, wanting to interview Paolo because the Willamette Week just named us Food Cart of the Year.

“What? You’re shitting us!”

Well, we didn’t actually say that to the lovely Valerie, but suffice to say we were taken by surprise. Those organic multi-grain squares sure tasted like caviar after hearing the wonderful news.

Read the article here, which also lists the other standout carts in the top 5, whose company we’re proud and honored to be among.

And if you’d like to see Paolo’s TV interview with KATU, click this link or go to katu.com.

Thank you, Matthew Korfhage and Willamette Week, and all of you cherished customers and friends who have stoked us with your enthusiasm and encouragement, and who continue to show us support and love.

Write-up in February’s Portland Monthly

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We’re very happy to see this latest vote of confidence in print. And we’re so grateful for all the support and enthusiasm you wonderful Portland eaters have shown us over these past months. Thank you!

Here’s the link to the article:

http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/eat-and-drink/articles/introducing-tuscan-food-cart-burrasca-february-2014

The Burrasca year in review

Because you can’t possibly have gotten enough of them, we too are jumping on the year-end wrap-up hurdy-gurdy and offering up a summation of 2013 – or, as we like to think of it, the Year of Lunatic Change – to appease the demanding New Years’ Eve Gods. Here goes.

The event of greatest moment was of course the big move from Italy to the States. 2013 was the year in which we quit our jobs, sold our house and (many of our) belongings and hightailed it out of Florence, only to land happily in Portland, OR.

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All our crap arrives in PDX

It was also the Year of Fiendish Bureaucracy (if you’re uncomfortably familiar with life in Italy you’ll understand that this is not hyperbole): we survived, just barely, all the paperwork entailed in selling a house in the Bel Paese, paying taxes, and officially divesting ourselves of Italian residency, securing Paolo’s immigrant visa, and starting a business in the U.S., etc. etc.

2013 saw us logging some travel miles: Paolo’s wooing of U.S. Immigration officials required two trips to incredible Naples (read: food orgy), proving that every bureaucratic cloud has a savory lining. We also journeyed to our beloved Val Gardena in the Dolomites for some much-needed R & R and canederli before crossing an ocean to open a food cart.

It was also the year we got robbed. That sucked.

And it was the year we opened Burrasca, the little yellow cart that could.

Tutto sommato, 2013 was a pretty voracious year in terms of our energy and patience, but an exciting one nonetheless. Looking forward to what 2014 has in store – here’s to new horizons, new friendships and a tall-timbered city full of good cheer and wonderful things to eat and discover!

A soup by any other name

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Burrasca’s farinata

Those frugal, ingenious Tuscans. They’ve an uncanny knack for making silk purses out of sow’s ears, poetry out of the vernacular: we’re talking food fit for a pasha out of a poor man’s pickings.

Like our new dish, farinata. This is deep-winter comfort food all over Tuscany’s hill regions and comes in various guises: polenta incatenata (polenta in chains), farinata con le leghe (tied-up cornmeal porridge), farinata di cavolo nero (black cabbage cornmeal soup). According to Slow Food’s Ricette di Osterie di Firenze e Chianti, this is food for those with “courage to spare and a wolf’s hunger.” Indeed, it’s hearty stuff.

These rich, flavor-packed recipes all have something in common: the black cabbage (Italian kale) that is the fruit of Tuscan winters, cannellini or borlotti beans for cheap protein, and farina gialla (cornmeal), that low-rent rib-sticker dear to many a mountaineer’s heart. Country-folk would pretty much leave it at that but the well-heeled might add some pig in the form of ham bones, prosciutto or pancetta. It’s a dish meant to go the distance, too: the farinata would be cooked for the evening meal and the leftovers–after setting/solidifying–would be sliced thickly and pan-fried for breakfast the next day, to be eaten with bread. And if still some scraps persisted, they’d be sliced, fried and served in a spicy tomato sauce for dinner.

Our version is made of cornmeal studded with Italian kale, cannellini beans and leeks, punched up with garlic and rosemary. It’s served drizzled with extra virgin and cracked black pepper, and is guaranteed to warm your belly and keep that wolf’s hunger at bay. Promise.

Tortelli: queen of pasta in Tuscany’s Mugello region

I think of the various regions of Tuscany as having personalities and characteristics as do people, and, like people, some are more simpatico than others. The Maremma, for instance, is an ambling and amiable urbane cowboy with a touch of SoCal hedonism: John Travolta. The Chianti is an over-popular glam girl who’s gotten rather full of herself–she’s the homecoming queen, the Kim Kardashian of Tuscany. By contrast, the Mugello–that mountainous, undulating region north of Florence, whose rugged Appenine spine straddles Emilia-Romagna–is the pensive, strong and silent type: pure Wayne, Eastwood or Bogart.

It’s a beautiful region of thick forest, serene pastures, rolling farmland and lonely mountain passes. Its towns are peaceful, slumberous, wrapped in the solitary life as befits hill folk and those who live close to the land. It’s a place of hunters and foragers, of Nature’s willing bedfellows; a place that prizes hard work, reserve and fortitude and the kind of quiet perseverance of earthworms. Mugellani are typically hardy souls, with rustic appetites that heavily favor meat in the form of beef and all manner of pig. Wild boar, porcini and pecorino feature predominantly on their menus. And the pasta most familiar to all who call this wedge of Tuscany home is tortelli, which are essentially large ravioli with a flavorful potato filling. A very homey dish, whose absence at any family gathering or holiday meal would be unconscionable: it’s the Martin Luther to their Protestant Reformation, Mick Jagger to their Rolling Stones, Sam Gamgee to their Frodo Baggins. And since both sides of Paolo’s family hail from this region, I can say with complete lack of irony that I’ve probably eaten about 6,346 of these potato-stuffed pillows of bliss, and I shall never tire of them.

Paolo’s aunts in Luco di Mugello and Borgo San Lorenzo are justifiably famous for their tortelli–which are, in a word, awesome. Cooking for 40 or 50 family members poses no problem to these fabulous, formidable ladies, who hold forth in a kitchen the way Elizabeth I held court at Whitehall. Paolo’s own mamma also inherited the family’s flair for this regional pasta specialty, and it is from this group of women that the secrets to good tortelli were handed down, to be served up in our little yellow cart right here in Portland, Oregon.

As with many regional dishes, each family has its cherished recipe, but tortelli mainly fall into two camps: those with a potato filling that’s flavored with soffritto and tomato, or one that is flavored with prosciutto, sausage or pancetta. The topping is nearly always a ragù, though they are delicious with a simple sauce of butter and sage, too.

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Just a *few* handmade tortelli for family Easter in Florence

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Burrasca’s tortelli with duck ragù

At Burrasca, our handmade tortelli are filled with potato amped up by soffritto, a touch of tomato and herbs, and we serve them in a rich duck ragù {we happily accommodate vegetarians by substituting a sauce of butter and sage–just ask!}.

Come try some and make Paolo’s aunties proud!

Peposo: the dish that built Brunelleschi’s Dome

While history would have us believe that behind every great man there stands a woman, I’d argue similarly that behind every great monument there is a food.

The laborers who built the pyramids were fueled by the flesh of some twenty-odd cattle and two dozen sheep and goats a day. The bellies of the motley international crew working on the Taj Mahal were stoked on rich meat curries and roti. And the cornerstones of the great cathedrals of Europe were heaved into place by the brute kilocalorie force of hefty animal rations and bread and rivers of ale and wine, more than any religious zeal or act of papal ego.

And that crowning glory of Florence’s own magnificent cathedral, Brunelleschi’s dome–the astonishing lid atop the great Renaissance treasure-chest–has a similar protein-centric backbone: the peposo alla fornacina dell’Impruneta. Our story begins….

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Once upon a time, in Impruneta–that rolled-up-sleeve sort of town that insinuates itself into the vineyard-strewn hills just south of the Tuscan capital and which, since at least 1098, is famous for its rich clay soil and the terracotta it produces–a group of rough-hewn, bestubbled laborers in the brick furnaces were hard at it, hunger licking at their insides like flames, and, as Italians throughout history are wont to do, discussing their options for lunch.

{Though our protagonists may be medieval men, you can bet that the Tuscan they were talking differed little from that of today. Get a group of contemporary toscanacci together and you’ll hear much the same speech: those aspirated, throaty c’s that sound like a bellows in the hands of an over-enthusiastic chambermaid; the muscular cadences and roughly chopped syntax, spiced up with good-natured ribaldry and liberally seasoned with blasphemous-yet-benign oaths and abundant raucous laughter}

Eventually, the foreman–a pragmatic, no-nonsense sort of fellow in charge of loading the hot kilns that spit forth their bounty of red tiles, bricks and orci (earthenware pots)–wipes the sweat from his brow with an oily rag and calls over an errand boy. Handing the lad a few coins, he says “Fetch some beef. The cheapest you can find.” Cattle–particularly the ancient, revered race known as Chianina–being plentiful in Tuscany, this was an easy enough task. And while the nobler cuts were earmarked for those with plenty of florins in their pouches, the poor-man’s cuts, such as muscolo, were within a laborer’s reach.

The boy presently returned with a good quantity of meat. It had been abundantly seasoned with pepper so it would keep, and the foreman added even more (thus the name peposo, deriving from pepe [pepper], meaning a peppery dish). He cut it into small chunks with a crude pocketknife and threw it into a large terracotta pot. Knowing the sinewy beef would need to cook at length in order to soften into something less resembling hide and more forgiving to medieval dental work, he grabbed a full flask of the ubiquitous red wine–Impruneta being in Chianti country, after all–and up-ended its entire contents into the pot. He then placed the pot just inside the maw of the roaring furnace, where the heat was mellower, and left it there to slow-cook for hours.

Later, when the scent of the simmering meat had become almost too much to bear with any pretense of fortitude, and fatigue made them stoop like willows, the men dragged the pot from the kiln’s mouth like an unwilling molar and hunkered down around it, reaching in with great chunks of bread and scooping the meat up into their mouths. That heretofore tough cut of cow now yielded to their hunger like an impatient virgin; it was butter-soft, and dripping with a velvety, wine-dark sauce which their rustic bread soaked up like perfect absolution. They washed it down with still more wine, clapped the foreman on the back, and were satisfied. And from this auspicious beginning the humble peposo of Impruneta was to go on to achieve something very grand, indeed….

Brunelleschi’s dilemma

In 1420, when scaffolding enshrouded the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and the great cupola was under construction, the workers–perhaps understandably–tended to blow off the steam that comes from sweating over such a colossus of engineering by climbing down to take their meals and disappearing for what was, to Brunelleschi, a rather alarming amount of time into the rough-and-tumble osterie hidden in the sinuous alleys nearby. They would come back thoroughly soused, mount the scaffolding unsteadily, sing bawdily, and recommence their work with visibly diminished dexterity. The brilliant architect hit upon a solution. Since the four million-odd terracotta bricks used in the dome’s construction were being fired round-the-clock and brought in daily from the kilns at Impruneta, he ordered a continuous supply of generous potfus of peposo and had them delivered with the brick shipments and hoisted up onto the scaffolds, along with countless loaves of bread and a carefully rationed (and watered down) quantity of vino. The men thus lunched under their boss’s watchful eye, high above the teeming city, leaving Florence’s taverns to the riffraff.

And so it was that the rich red earth of Impruneta helped nourish Brunelleschi’s vision, just as the peposo–born of Impruneta’s kilns–nourished the men who would help him realize it.

–by Elizabeth Petrosian

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Burrasca’s peposo

Our peposo is served as it often is these days in Tuscany: with polenta. It’s a wonderfully warming dish, perfect for winter. Come see us and taste for yourself the savory foundation upon which the Duomo was built–there’s no telling what fabulous things you will accomplish with a bellyful of the stuff!