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.

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!