Fav Nashville Eats: Mangia Nashville

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

I’ve got a new favorite sandwich. Porchetta (I’ll explain), broccoli rabe, caramelized onions, on black bread. Yes, black. Not pumpernickel. Black. As in carbon charcoal black bread. Good? YES! It’s only at Mangia Nashville.

Nick Pellegrino started Mangia Nashville while hitching a ride at the Cool Cafe in Franklin. On Friday and Saturday nights he’d take over that meat n’ 3 restaurant to stage an elaborate Italian multi-course feast complete with feet-tapping music (and indeed, everyone gets up to dance) while Coppola’s The Godfather played on the screens. Each course was served family style with 2 or 3 offerings of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Wonderful success. So wonderful, he’s moved his happiness-generator to Melrose. Now, the place is all his. Mangia Nashville on Craighead just off of 8th Avenue still jumps every Friday and Saturday night with a seasonal fixed course menu of spectacular, authentic Italian dishes.

BUT! During the week, for lunch or for dinner, you can wander in and enjoy his special menu of panini, focaccia, and spuntini. Huh? Panini (sandwiches); Focaccia (thick, individual pizzas); Spuntini (favorite appetizers from across Italy).

One ingredient really stands out…it’s the killer (as in: “how do you make it taste so good?”) porchetta. Prochetta is a pork roast filled with herbs and garlic. Traditionally it is the young suckling pig, skin and all, but Nick’s is pork-belly-wrapped shoulder (including crispy skin). It is so moist and yummy.

My first run-in with porchetta was in Rome in the 1970’s. There’s a huge flea market there on Sundays at Porta Portese. I was making my way through the crowded market, buying scarves & shoes at great prices, hanging with my family…

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

…and there in the middle of the market was a man with a simple cart and a huge roast porchetta. He was selling sandwiches. Carving porchetta onto Roman rosetta rolls. The sandwich remained my Dad’s favorite food of Rome. Juice dripping down our arms while vendors shout “Saldi! Sadli!” (Sale! Sale!).

At Mangia I had porchetta on a roll of black bread. That bread was way too intriguing to pass up. And it’s delicious– it doesn’t taste like the carbon that makes it black…it just tastes good! And this carbon ingredient is supposed to be healthy for you, too. So why not?

Nick told me he was inspired by black carbon bread he had in Rome. He asked the Roman who served it how to make it and got an incomplete answer. So he came home and figured it out himself. Success! (And Yay for us.)

Mangia Nashville’s focaccias are about 8 inches — white or black bread. And the choice of toppings read like an encyclopedia of all luscious Italian tastes: arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, sausage, swiss chard, pesto, roasted tomato, pancetta, ricotta salata, roasted garlic, and on and on….(drooling).

verdure focaccia

verdure focaccia

I also tried the pannelle. This from the list of “spuntini” appetizers. Panelle are Sicilian chickpea flour fritters. I make them in class sometimes. The version at Mangia is soft and decadent served with a chili sauce.

panelle

panelle

So, yes, come to enjoy the big weekend parties (reservations please). Or go during the week. There’s a full bar with great selections (and, of course, Italian beer, too) (AND–NY throwback–Manhattan Special espresso soda). Lunch, dinner, drinks and a hang. There aren’t too many sincere & authentic Italian joints in town. I highly recommend this one!

Dreaming of Positano

Positano

Positano

Maybe it’s the weather. Spring. That fresh air. Carrying the scents of baby leaves, buds about to burst, the planet’s new tip toward the sun.

But I’ve got Positano on my mind.

Positano

Positano

There is only one place like it. Adjacent towns along the Amalfi Coast are not exactly Positano. They all have their own secret charm. But only in Positano do the buildings pile up so high.

Positano

Positano

Does the beach draw you to the sea. Do the meandering, circling, serpentine streets take you from the top…

Positano

Positano

…to the bottom and back again.

Positano

Positano

And every storefront, hotel, restaurant, cafe along the way is where you want to spend hours–

Positano

Positano

each place — one at a time…

Positano

Positano

— so that you stay in Positano for an unlimited amount of days. Yes, that’s what I want.

Positano

Positano

And now for the best part: Baby Artichokes

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

Artichokes are great any size. I can make a meal of them every day. And with each leaf I nibble I wonder: Who ever thought of cooking this thistle and eating it this way? You know: pull off a leaf, don’t eat the leaf, but eat the tip of heart at the bottom of the leaf. Why did any think we should go through all this trouble for a tip of a leaf?

Whoever it was had genius in his/her brain. The ritual is as enticing as the taste. Food that takes you on a journey. The going is a grand ride, the arrival a sumptuous feast. That concentrated heart, all on its own, full bites of genius.

But imagine eating the entire artichoke. (It puts me in mind of soft-shelled blue-claw crabs: yes, you can eat the entire crab!) Baby artichokes are easy to trim, then you cook the whole thing, and then you eat the WHOLE thing. Sometimes I wonder if baby artichokes are like baby fish or clams or lobsters. Shouldn’t we throw them back in so they can grow? But with this plant, it’s not too much of a crime to eat them while young.

baby artichoke ingredients

baby artichoke ingredients

Here’s how:

First, cut off the top third of the leaves. And cut off the stem.

cut top off baby artichoke

cut top off baby artichoke

Then pull off all the tough dark green leaves until you come to the pale green leaves. Trim away any bright green from heart bottom.

trim away any green

trim away any green

Place them in acidulated water as you go (water with the juice of lemon). This helps them keep their color and not blacken.

lemon water

lemon water

Then add them to a medium or large saucepan (depending on how many artichokes you have). Add water (you can even use your acidulated water for a lemony taste). Add parsley. Add smashed garlic cloves. Add a few healthy drizzles of olive oil. And season with salt and pepper.

artichokes in water, olive oil, parsley and garlic

artichokes in water, olive oil, parsley and garlic

Bring to a simmer, then partially cover and cook for about 40 minutes, until a paring knife pokes easily into the heart.

There you have it. Eat the whole thing (I use a fork and knife). The world is your artichoke.

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

And check out this cool story about what happens when you let the thistle grow. It turns into a wondrous purple flower. (Beautiful, yes, but I want my artichoke.)

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

 

Italian Drinks – Shortest Way to Get to the Boot

Italian drinks

Italian drinks

I have a lot of favorite Italian drinks, liquors, liqueurs. They all have distinctive flavors and assertive personalities. They are each built with the character of Italy.

Sip any one of them and feel the air of Italy, the bumpy cobblestones of a Roman street, the colliding aromas of espresso & moped fumes, the centuries-old sparkle of the Ligurian Mediterranean, the stunning (seemingly impossible) vistas of Campania & Venezia, the roller coaster ride of the language of Italy floating about your ears.

Taste one of these drinks and the sensory receptors of your palate will zap you back to where you first tasted it. It takes you there. To Italy.

And if you haven’t been to Italy, taste any one of these and be privileged to know the secret aura of true Italian taste.

Some are aperitivi (before dinner drinks), some digestivi (after dinner drinks), some find their way into any part of the day, like grappa.

Here are some of my favorites and their particular “spirit.”

Campari…

Campari

Campari

This bright red bitter drink was first spied on by my mom on her first trip to Rome. What are they all drinking that is look-at-me red and savored with ice, with soda, and straight? We had to explore. And WOW. Both my mom and I fell in love with Campari. Some say “stay away!”…they think cough syrup is at hand. But Italians (and me and mom) beg to differ. Refreshing, bright, summery (but have it in winter, too), add rocks with some soda or tonic, add a sliver of lemon or lime. Oh yes.

(In Italy you can find little adorable bottles of Campari and soda already mixed.)

Campari Soda

Campari Soda

Punt e Mes…

Punt e Mes

Punt e Mes

This one has a secret recipe. I imagine the creator in a Torino apartment surrounded by floor to ceiling books. John Coltrane plays on the record player. A cigarette likely hangs from his mouth as he dices some onion for a risotto and in between sips Punt e Mes on the rocks. But the recipe is a lot older than that and likely involves a wearer of wide-pleated trousers, suspenders, and a broad mustache. My first sip took place on a top floor of the Ansonia Hotel in NY. My Italian teacher (who was from Verona) took out a bottle during class and served it to the five of us around her dining table. I felt like my taste buds were socked in the nose. And I was suddenly speaking Italian with ease. Che sorpresa! Where can I get this? (Also a candidate for rocks and lemon.)

Vermouth “Bianco”

Carpano Bianco

Carpano Bianco

Vermouth Bianco

Vermouth Bianco

I usually buy the Italian Carpano Vermouth Bianco, but once in a while I go for the French version: Dolin Blanc. So look at this way. You have your dry vermouth — the stuff of martinis. And your have your sweet vermouth — the stuff of Negronis. But here we have something in the middle. A “white” vermouth with a touch of sweetness. But this sweetness is a full flavor of its own. In the “old days” you could only find this in Europe. Now the liquor stores have gotten smart. And we are the lucky ones for that. Another drink for rocks and a bit of lemon before dinner. (This could turn out to be your absolute favorite.)

Amaro…

Amaro

Amaro

On the other side of dinner look for a digestivo called “amaro.” There are many. Amaro actually means bitter, but these are very easy to swallow. It’s the taste of a bouquet of unknown and foreign herbs all corralled together to give your taste buds a unique ride. Taken just straight (maybe a bit less than a shot glass quantity) after dinner. The digestivo name is quite literal: it helps you to digest.

Sambuca….

Sambuca

Sambuca

Speaking of after dinner: where’s the Sambuca? (Although my dad would sometimes take a nip in the morning to “clear his throat.”) This is the relative to anisette — if you remember that old classic served after dinner at Italian restaurants (and homes). It’s anise-flavored liqueur that’s a bit syrupy and sweet (yet not as sweet as anisette). I used to pour it into my espresso instead of sugar. Espresso and Sambuca are a splendid marriage — the Italian version of Irish coffee (which I LOVE). But more usually sipped in a cordial glass after dinner. Or order it on the rocks any time just for fun. They have finally stocked the black Sambuca locally. It’s as dark as ink and almost a shock when you pour it. But pure magic.

Grappa…

grappa

grappa

Grappa exists to knock your socks off. It’s what Italians make from the leftover skins, seeds, and stems of winemaking (why waste anything?). Therefore there are as many grappas as there are grapes and then some. They come in many flavors, but usually grappa is clear white (and quite high in alcohol), and packs a punch. I call it the moonshine of Italy. It’s been known to cure colds, settle stomachs, warm an icy day, and bring on a rosy complexion. I’m currently slowly rationing the gorgeous skinny bottle I brought back from Italy. This one is prosecco grappa from a wonderful wine tour we took at Frozza vineyards in the Veneto.

Sip on any of these drinks and Italy will make an appearance in your soul. Try whispering an Italian expression while sipping: “Mmmm. Molto buono!” You will feel like Sophia Loren. Or Marcello Mastroianni. And you might actually hear a careening vespa in the distance.

Italia

Italia

Fav Nashville Eats: Skyking Pizza (Kingston Springs)

Sky King pizza

Skyking pizza

It’s a well-known fact (probably just in my head) that I’m pizza-fussy. I will not eat any ole pizza. Maybe it’s my NY-Italian-American upbringing. Maybe my 30 years in NYC. Maybe my life in Roma and my many trips to Italy. Maybe my finicky tastebuds. Maybe all of this created a pizza-snob monster: me.

But when I bite into a good pizza I fall in love immediately. And a cozy spot in a small town, about a half-hour from Nashville, makes a pizza I love: Kingston Springs’ Skyking Pizza. They know how to ring that elusive  yummy pizza bell.

When I first heard they were opening a pizza place in Kingston Springs (and they were importing a heavy wood-burning oven) I was skeptical. Because I’m always skeptical about pizza. But the first time I walked into Skyking Pizza I was encouraged by the open and warm environment. The impressive huge pizza oven. The appetizing menu. And the super friendly wait staff.

At first bite I knew I hit the jackpot. The crust has a crunch AND a chew. The crust reminded me of Naples-style pizza. A beautiful chew, but the blackened spots licked by the fiery oven hit you with a crunch.

Sky King pizza crust

Skyking pizza crust

Skyking offers about a dozen different pizzas… from Margherita to Very Veggie to “Go Forth” (which loads on the meats) and more (my fav: white pizza with ricotta, garlic, artichoke hearts, spinach, basil, and mozzarella).

Sky King white pizza

Skyking white pizza

They have house-made sausage, meatball & salad side dishes. They serve beer and you can bring your own wine. They make it easy to have a good time. And to want to return as often as possible.

I’ve always been a fan of Roman-style pizza. In Rome (if you go to the right pizzeria) the crust is so thin it’s almost cracker crisp. In Rome, I almost always get pizza con funghi (mushrooms). This is me and my pizza at my fav Roman pizzeria “Dal Paino”…

me with mushroom pizza in Roma

me with mushroom pizza in Roma

But in recent years I’ve discovered the wonders of Naples-style pizza. Crust thicker at the edges and chewy. When done right. It’s great. Skyking delivers that taste and texture.

Skying Pizza Kingston Springs

Skying Pizza Kingston Springs

Wondering where they got that name? Skyking? Maybe it puts you in mind of the 50’s TV show. Do you know the show?

Sky King TV show

Sky King TV show

It’s about a pilot in Arizona who, in every episode, flies around and helps people or solves mysteries with his little 2-seater plane. I used to watch it and I used to love it. I was probably a fan because I always wanted to fly. As an adult I was after getting my pilot’s license. I took a few lessons out at Teterboro Airport in NJ, but then lack of time and enough money spirited me away. The flying bug was inspired by my father, who also wanted to get his pilot’s license. We used to go to JFK airport just to watch planes take off and land.

Sky King had a niece, too…Penny. She was also a flier. I don’t really remember her as much as Sky King himself, taking to the skies in his plane named Songbird.

Sky King TV show

Sky King TV show

I asked them at Skyking pizza. My now favorite pizzeria has no connection to the TV show. Just as well. I don’t think that massive pizza oven would fit into the plane.

Skyking's wood-burning pizza oven

Skyking’s wood-burning pizza oven

My Secret Package of Mini Chocolate Donuts

mini chocolate donuts

mini chocolate donuts

It’s probably been years since I slipped out of a convenience store with a package of mini chocolate donuts in my hands. After paying, of course. If you ever have to go IN to the gas station store when buying gas (or maybe a lottery ticket?) you always pass those black wire sturdy stands with displays of mini crumb cakes, cupcakes, powdered mini donuts, and chocolate-iced mini donuts.

I love those little chocolate donuts. But I tell myself I’m not allowed to eat them because they’re made of junky ingredients and I don’t need the extra empty calories and I better stick to eating good stuff. Instead.

mini chocolate donut

mini chocolate donut

But once in a while I fall off the wagon. Usually on long road trips when there’s a feeling of “anything goes” in the air. At each gas station stop I might buy a bag of potato chips or a package of strawberry twizzlers or the chocolate-iced mini donuts. Or–(and I’m not trying to shock you) a Slim Jim.

mini chocolate donuts - 4 left

mini chocolate donuts – 4 left

I remember when I lived in the Bronx I once caved and bought a package of the donuts at a local grocery store. (I was probably stressed about something to put me over the edge of donuts.) I ate them on the 5-block walk home. I kept the donut package in the plastic grocery bag and took one out at a time (like I was afraid a passing car would actually see what I was eating)… until I had eaten 3. I convinced myself that 3 minis equaled 1 regular-sized donut and then threw the rest of them away.

chocolate mini donuts - 2 left

chocolate mini donuts – 2 left

The other night I caved again (must be about 7-8 years since last cave…could even be that walk-in-the-Bronx cave). This time a whimsical “c’est la vie” got me. I ate the whole package. One at a time. And with a glass of milk.

mini chocolate donut with milk

mini chocolate donut with milk

And they were really good. (How can that be? They’re really good!)

chocolate mini donut

chocolate mini donut

We just had a snow storm here in Nashville. And I wouldn’t even make pancakes. That comforting breakfast when the snow is piled up over 6 inches and you can’t go out and you’re looking for cozy. No, I wouldn’t even make pancakes.

snow in Nashville

snow in Nashville

But last week I ate the donuts. One daring thrill at a time.

empty donuts

empty donuts

It’s Christmas. Bake!

babka bread and rugelach

babka bread and rugelach

Have you all been keeping up with the Great British Baking Show? I LOVE it. Seems the season is over now (even tho the American version for Holiday Baking is on, but the show is not as good except for Mary Berry). Still, when I enter the kitchen with baking recipes in hand I think of the two hostesses barking “Bake!”

My go-to holiday cookie is the Italian Rainbow Cookie or Italian Flag cookie. A pretty involved recipe, but we dive in each year and send goodie tins to Duane’s kids and brother. We both dive in, because when it comes to the chocolate coating part that’s Duane’s job. He brings his building skills, and treats the melted chocolate and offset spatula like mortar and trowel. Excellent work. (He’s not available for hire.)

Duane applying the chocolate for rainbow cookies

Duane applying the chocolate for rainbow cookies

Duane applying chocolate

Duane applying chocolate

Duane surveying his work

Duane surveying his work

But this year I changed it up, In ADDITION to the rainbow cookies I made rugelach and a sweet bread recipe that is a cross between babka and challah. Both of these are Jewish-related confections and crept into my non-Jewish related Christmas kitchen because I LOVE these treats. Not being a sweet-sweet lover, these are a cross between breadish and sweetish. I find them absolutely irresistible and easily pass by a rainbow cookie to devour either the rugelach or babka/challah.

I didn’t make up these recipes. I’ve been tracking rugelach recipes for years and never dove in. Some recipes sounded good, some didn’t (as if you could taste by reading). I recently found one I wanted to try from the New York Times. Of course, I’m always changing things from recipes I source…I used strawberry jam instead, and my nuts were spiced with ginger & nutmeg.

Rugelach recipe by Emily Weinstein

rolling up the rugelach

rolling up the rugelach

little crescent rugelach

little crescent rugelach

right-out-of-the-oven rugelach ...yum

right-out-of-the-oven rugelach …yum

The babka-challah mashup I found in Bon Appetit. The picture alone had me. And the making of these elaborate breads is easier than it looks. The first time I made the recipe I made one large loaf as directed (and I think I ate the entire thing on my own) (over time). For Christmas, tho, I was able to make four smaller loaves with the same recipe.

Cinnamon-Chocolate BabKallah by Claire Saffitz

babka-challah bread dough

babka-challah bread dough

filling the braids

filling the braids

braiding the bread

braiding the bread

braided babka-challah

braided babka-challah

baked loaves

baked loaves

babkallah inside

babkallah inside

I know. Your mouth is watering. Well there’s only one way to satisfy that craving. Bake!