Italian Cooking in Paradise: A16 is A-1

As a cookbook junkie — close to 200 of my 3500 cookbooks concern Italian cooking — I drool when books like Nate Appleman’s A16: Food + Wine show up. The cover alone is worth the $35.00 admission price, for the photo makes my soul cry out for the simplicity it represents. Not because anything’s sad about it. No, the spirit of the place and the food and the history and the beauty, all those things that make us human curls up between the covers of this book. Just watch the video and I defy you not to feel a gentle tug in your guts, toward the kitchen, the food, and the land of Italy.

Here’s the deal:

At San Francisco’s acclaimed A16 restaurant (named for the highway that cuts across southern Italy), diners pack the house for chef Nate Appleman’s house-cured salumi, textbook Naples-style pizzas, and gutsy slow-cooked meat dishes. Wine director Shelley Lindgren is renowned in the business for her expeditionary commitment to handcrafted southern Italian wines. In A16: FOOD + WINE, Appleman and Lindgren share the source of their inspiration—the bold flavors of Campania. From chile-spiked seafood stews and savory roasts to delicate antipasti and vegetable sides, the recipes are beguilingly rustic and approachable. Lindgren’s vivid profiles of the key grapes and producers of southern Italy provide vital context for appreciating and pairing the wines. Stunning photography captures the wood-fired ambiance of the restaurant and the Campania countryside it celebrates.

By the way, paradise can be either Italy or San Francisco or, for the particularly blessed, both at once.

A taste of Paradise this way comes:

C. Bertelsen)
Pumpkins, a Squash (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Serves 6

This recipe of mine warms body and soul on a cold night. Serve sided with plenty of crusty bread, red grapes, and a glass or two of Pinot Grigio.

2 1/2 lb. butternut or acorn squash, or sugar pumpkin
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup chopped bacon
2 medium onions, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 t. fresh thyme
2 small bay leaves
6 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 t. sugar
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½  t. freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scrape out seeds and fiber with a large spoon. Sprinkle cut side of squash with 1 t. fine sea salt; place each half cut side down in lightly greased baking pan lined with aluminum foil.

Add ½ cup water to baking pan. Bake squash for  about 1 ½  hours, until skin is shiny  and brown. The squash will be tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove cooked squash halves from the oven and let rest until cool and you can scoop out the flesh with a spoon, discarding skin.

In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat butter until bubbles form. Toss in bacon and cook until slightly crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Add onions and season with ½ t. salt. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the onions. Add bay leaf. Cook over medium heat, stir often, until onions are tender and translucent, do not let them brown, about 10 minutes.

Add squash. Season with nutmeg and additional salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add stock and simmer uncovered 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste. Remove bay leaf. Stir in sugar. Cool slightly. Purée soup, in batches, using a blender or food processor.

Return soup to pot and let simmer. Stir in ½ cup heavy cream and 1 t. grated nutmeg.  Bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning; add salt, pepper, sugar, and nutmeg as needed. If necessary, add more chicken stock to make soup of thickness you like.

Garnish with the chopped parsley.

To reheat soup, cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until heated through. Do not boil!

You may cook the soup two days ahead; be sure to reheat it gently.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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