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Eating Well: Southern Italian cooking with A16

Lifestyle

Eating Well: Southern Italian cooking with A16

The “A16: Food + Wine” cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2008) is named for a 6-year-old restaurant in the marina neighborhood of San Francisco. The A16 restaurant, in turn, is named for an east-to-west highway in southern Italy that runs from Naples in Campania to Canosa in Puglia. If the boot of Italy wore an ankle bracelet, the A16 highway would be it. “A16: Food + Wine” won the 2009 International Association of Cookbook Publishers Cookbook of the Year award.

The cookbook’s authors, Nate Appleman, executive chef at A16, and Shelly Lindgren, wine director and owner of the restaurant (and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier), traveled through southern Italy along the A16 highway, enjoying the rustic cuisine and robust wines of the region so much that they decided to open a restaurant featuring Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza, pasta with meatballs, braised vegetables, slow-roasted meats, crunchy bruschetta, sweet desserts — and wines to complement each dish.

You might like to try their roasted butternut squash with pancetta and chiles, or the roasted beet salad with fennel, black olives and Pecorino. Pair these dishes with Ciro Rosso, a dry, red, full-bodied wine from Calabria.

I hope you’ll try the penne with eggplant and the pistachio almond cake.

Penne with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Basil

Meaty bits of sautéed eggplant, tomatoes, olives and basil are combined with toothsome penne in this recipe. Lindgren suggests pairing this dish with a primitivo from Puglia. Primitivo, a red wine similar to zinfandel, goes well with pasta and pizza.

1 large globe eggplant (about 1 pound)
Kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1/2 cup black olives, pitted
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
12 ounces penne
1 pint cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces), halved
Handful fresh basil leaves

Cut off the green top of the eggplant and trim both ends. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off lengthwise stripes of the skin so the finished surface is covered with alternating stripes of skin and flesh. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss the cubes with about 1 tablespoon salt, place in a colander in the sink, and weigh down the cubes with a heavy plate. Set aside for 20 minutes to 1 hour. This will leach out some of the water, giving the eggplant a better texture when it cooks.

Pat the eggplant dry. In a large saute pan, heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Add about one third of the eggplant, toss to coat with the oil, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the eggplant has browned and is nearly cooked through. Transfer the eggplant to a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggplant in 2 batches, using about 2 tablespoons oil for each batch and adding each batch to the plate.

Give the saute pan a good wipe, return to medium heat, and add about 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the eggplant, olives, and chili flakes and continue to simmer over medium heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute less than specified on the package. When the pasta is about 2 minutes from being ready, add the tomatoes and basil to the eggplant and continue to simmer over medium heat.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, return the pasta to the large pot over medium heat. Add the sauce and toss well, adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute. The sauce should be loose enough to barely pool at the bottom of the pot, but not too watery. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

Serve the pasta in a warmed large bowl, family style. Drizzle with olive oil to finish and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course.

Pistachio and Almond Cake with Orange Salad

This is a rustic cake baked in a loaf pan. The batter is ground pistachios and almonds held together with eggs and flour, and a citrusy zing of lemons, which pairs well with the topping of blood oranges.

Pistachio and almond cake

1 1/3 cups unsalted shelled pistachio nuts
1 1/3 cups blanched whole almonds
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 lemons
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Orange salad

3 blood oranges
2 Valencia, navel, or blood oranges
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Topping

1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
Unsalted shelled pistachio nuts

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 4-by-8-inch loaf pan. Then, using a sifter or a fine-mesh strainer, dust it with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a food processor, combine the pistachios and almonds and pulse until finely ground. Set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Grate the zest from the lemons directly into the bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Mix in the vanilla just until incorporated. On low speed, gradually add the nuts and mix just until incorporated. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stir in the flour and salt and mix just until incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, run a paring knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake sides, invert the cake onto a plate, and lift off the pan. At this point, the cake can be served warm or allowed to cool completely before being sliced and reheated.

To make the orange salad, cut a slice off the top and bottom of 1 orange, stand the orange upright, and cut downward to remove the rind and pith in thick strips. Cut the orange crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, capturing any juice. Repeat with all of the remaining oranges. Set the orange slices aside until needed.

Gently heat the marmalade in a pot over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until syrupy. Add any captured orange juice along with the lemon juice to the marmalade. Remove the pot from the heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons water to thin the marmalade to the consistency of a vinaigrette. Let cool.

To serve, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the cake into generous slices and place on a baking sheet. Bake the slices, turning them over once, for about 5 minutes, or until warm and slightly toasted on both sides.

Place 4 or 5 orange slices on each plate and drizzle generously with the marmalade syrup. Place the warm pieces of cake next to the orange slices and top with a dollop of yogurt and a few pistachios. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.