Tag Archives: Joe Brancatelli

The measure of a man

11 Dec

Note: The following is a feel good Holiday story (well, kind of—okay, not really) that has nothing whatever to do with food.

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My friend Joe has been trying to size me up for more than 30 years.

Often unsuccessfully.

Joe first formed an (incorrect) opinion of my character before we had ever met, or even heard of each other.

My new wife and I had just returned home from a hastily planned elopement only to be met by an endless string of urgent messages on my answering machine. All the calls originated from a magazine that I worked with at the time, but the man on the tape was a stranger to me.

His first message was plain enough. The man introduced himself as a new editor on staff. His name was Joe and, he said, I should call him at my earliest convenience regarding a freelance assignment that was already on my docket for a later date.

By the eleventh and final message his demeanor had substantially darkened.

“If I don’t hear back from you by end of business TODAY then don’t bother calling me back at all,” the man huffed. “You can also forget about ever working here again.”

I noted that the threat had been made a full two days earlier. The angry new editor’s hard deadline had long since passed.

When we finally did catch up, three days after “end of business TODAY,” neither the man nor I showed the slightest interest in civility.

“You’ve got some nerve calling me back now,” he growled as I introduced myself.

The man had remained as pissed off with me as I had gradually come to be with him.

“Maybe you should get your facts straight before going off on somebody,” I charged back. “I was on vacation. Getting married, in fact. I told everybody at the magazine that I’d be gone and when I’d be back in my office. Multiple times. So do me a favor and break somebody else’s balls, not mine.”

Several additional volleys, and no small number of colorful expletives later, Joe and I settled down and accepted that we had each been victim to a miscommunication that was neither of our doing. Still, there was no taking back the viciousness with which a couple of hard-headed Brooklyn street guys had attacked one another.

We have been very good friends ever since.

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That’s Joe right there, in the bathrobe that he wears with far greater frequency and zeal than is reasonable for a man not confined to a hospital or a nursing home. The photo was taken during a recent (and annual) Holiday visit to the home Joe shares with his wife Joel in the Hudson Valley.

He is in the process of trying to size me up. Yet again.

This time my friend is using an actual tool to get the measure of me. It is called a Brannock Device, and Joe has wanted to use it on me for some time. His motives are anything but pure, however. All my friend really wants to do is to prove me wrong.

For decades I have worn a size 13 shoe. There’s no reason why anybody but me should care about this. Joe, apparently, cares. Deeply.

“You’re not a thirteen, you should be wearing a twelve,” he lectured me at some length and some time ago, studying my shoes from a distance of many yards, mind you. “I’ll measure you next time you’re at the house and you’ll see that I’m right.”

Joe likes to be right. Even when he isn’t.

I should probably mention that my friend grew up working in his father’s shoe store in Brooklyn. The Brannock Device that he is using on my feet (above) is the very same tool that his father used on his customers, decades ago now. It happens to also be a treasured family heirloom that helps to define the man that Joe has become.

Which is the only reason why I finally allowed him the pleasure of using it on me this time.

What can I say? I tend to get pretty soft around the Holidays—and not just in the waistline.

As it turns out we were both right about me this time.

Just as Joe had predicted his father’s measuring device did indeed slot me closer to the size 12 range that to 13. But, Joe informed me, a EEE width is the reason that a size larger provides greater comfort. And so, he allowed, I have indeed been wise when choosing the larger-sized shoes lo these many years.

To celebrate our rarely achieved consensus I decided to take my friend out to the nearest bar and buy him a couple of drinks for the Holidays.

But he was still in his bathrobe and so we just stayed in.

A friend in deed

3 Mar


For purposes of this discussion the man above, known to many of you as “my friend Joe,” shall heretofore be referred to as San Giuseppe.


That’s right, the man’s a freaking saint. And I can prove it.


He just traveled all the way from Cold Spring, New York, to Bologna, Italy, just to do me a favor. If you’re counting that’s roughly 4,100 miles—each way.


Why would a man do such a thing?


Simple. So that I could shut up already and start producing a pasta shape that I have been yelling about—very often in his earshot—for nearly two years now.

You see, the last time I was in Bologna I came into possession of this totally awesome solid brass pasta extruder known as a torchietto.



Here is the torchietto right here, equipped with the spaghetti die that it came with.

Nice, huh? And the spaghetti that it makes ain’t too shabby either.

What I neglected to put hands on when picking up the torchietto in Bologna was an accompanying die for making passatelli. Passatelli is a simple pasta, in the shape of spaghetti only thicker in width and much shorter in length. It’s not made with flour but with breadcrumbs, egg and cheese. Traditionally it’s served very simply in a clear broth, or brodo


Like so. 

This, in fact, is a truly authentic passatelli en brodo, the one that I very much enjoyed at Ristorante Cesarina on Via Santo Stefano in Bologna the last time I was there. 

I love passatelli en brodo. And really want to make the stuff right here in my kitchen. 


But I couldn’t. Not without the solid brass die that I had so knuckeheadedly left behind at the ancient shop where the torchietto was discovered and purchased.


When he heard about this my friend Joe—at this point he had not yet achieved sainthood—was as ticked off about my oversight as I was. Not so much because he craved a taste of homemade passatelli but because, well, Joe is even more obsessive about getting things right the first time than I am.

“How could you even think of leaving that place without the passatelli die in hand?” he squawked. “You make me crazy sometimes, you know that.”

It is sometimes said that having friends who speak their mind freely is a blessing.

I suppose.


Only moments ago I received this photograph via email. It’s the passatelli die that San Giuseppe just picked up for me in Bologna. 
“I’m overnighting it as soon as I get home next week,” he wrote. “If I had any trust in the Italian postal system, believe me, I’d have overnighted it from here already.”
I informed my recently beatified friend that overnighting the die would not be necessary, that I had waited this long for the die and surely could wait a bit longer. 
“You’re already eating passatelli in your head,” he shot back, knowing how closely I had been following his movements around Italy these past weeks, anticipating the exact date and time that the die and he would come together. “No reason to torture you by making you wait any longer.” 
And so there you have it. Soon a package will arrive and in probably no time at all I’ll be at work preparing what will hopefully be a successful passatelli en brodo—in my own kitchen.


Thanks to my very dear friend Saint Joe.


Stay tuned.

Joe’s "Italian" hummus

8 Sep


My friends and I talk about food a lot. Probably too much, okay, you’re right, but who are we hurting?

Just yesterday Joe and I were having a not altogether satisfying email exchange about the New York Metropolitans. (All exchanges regarding the lowly Mets are unsatisfying, by the way, and in no way reflect the conversational skills of those persons involved, in this case the always entertaining Joe B.) Anyhow, right after correcting my spelling of Cal Koonce (don’t ask), my food-loving friend inserted the following line:

“Meanwhile, I have perfected a hummus recipe. You want? Only “Italian” angle I could find would be that I use Progresso ceci because they come in 19-ounce cans instead of normal 15-ounce cans…”

I should mention that Joe disapproves of my editorial position on this blog, i.e., focusing almost exclusively on Italian-inspired foods. “You don’t only eat Italian,” he barks at about every opening I allow him. “And you cook all kinds of food too, so why limit yourself? What sense does this make?”

Oddly, it is always in the middle of these conversations with Joe that I am called away on important matters; during yesterday’s rant (sorry, conversation) I remembered that I had neglected to clean out the lint trap in the dryer after running a pair of wet socks through it that morning.

I briefly considered informing Joe that, though the Progresso brand has some Italian roots, it is in fact a subsidiary of General Mills and operates out of Vineland, New Jersey. But here is where my friend and I part ways in the social skills department: I kept my mouth shut and simply said that I would be happy to share his recipe with all of you, if only he would be so kind as to forward it to me.

Actually, I may have made a crack about throwing some Red Sauce on his precious hummus, and how that might get it to belong on this “Italo-centric” blog. 

Okay, so I did. 

But he started it!

Joe’s “Italian” Hummus

Recipe

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas (I prefer the 19-ounce Progresso version)
3 tablespoons of drained chickpea juices
1/4 cup tahini (I prefer the Roland brand in the white container)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic run through a garlic press or minced
2 tables EV olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preparation


1) Drain the chickpeas, retaining at least three tablespoons of the juice in which they are packed. Then rinse the chickpeas well.

2) In the bowl of a food processor, add the lemon juice and tahini. Process for about a minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl and add one tablespoon of the reserved chickpea juices. Process for another minute. This step will ensure that your hummus will be smooth and that the tahini will be evenly distributed.


3) Add olive oil, garlic, salt, cumin and cayenne. Process for about 30 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add another tablespoon of the reserved chickpea juices and process for 30 seconds.


4) Add about half the drained and rinsed chickpeas. Process for a minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Add the other half of the chickpeas. Process for another 1-2 minutes.


5) Add another tablespoon of the reserved chickpea juices. Process until smooth and mixture is at your desired consistency.


Joe’s note

I’ve tried dried and cooked chickpeas and canned chickpeas. Really can’t tell the difference. I’ve also skinned the chickpeas, an annoying and time-consuming act. Can’t tell the difference from when I haven’t shelled them.

Pepperoni & eggs

9 May

It’s growing on me.

Until last weekend I had never eaten an egg with pepperoni mixed into it. In fact, I rarely eat anything with pepperoni in it, on it, or even near it.

America’s Number One pizza topping just doesn’t do it for me. It never did.

But while going through a list of favorite childhood foods that friends helped me to compile recently, this one showed up under a category termed “comfort foods.” It was passed along to me by my friend Joe and I must admit to being a little surprised by its inclusion. Joe and I are around the same age, have similar food tastes, and are proud products of the same social condition: Italian-American neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

And yet I had never heard of pepperoni & eggs, let alone tasted it.

“What is it about the combo that works?” Joe pondered in his notes. “Salt and sweet? Smooth and chewy? A mystery of life.”

“Haven’t had it in a while,” my friend added. “Should do something about that.”

Long story short, he didn’t, but I did. I have prepared pepperoni & eggs twice since Saturday (aka Derby Day, at least this year), once for breakfast and once for lunch. To do this, I needed to go out and buy some pepperoni, which got me wondering whether I had even done such a thing before.

If you are a fan of the pepperoni then this has got to be a must-try. If you are not a fan, it might still be worth a one-off, as it is nothing if not filled with flavor.

Me? There’s still enough of the spicy sliced stuff left in the fridge to make two, maybe three more servings. After that I’ll decide whether Joe and I are on the same page with this “comfort food” of his.

I’m beginning to lean in that direction, but the morning line still shows even odds.

North China on the Hudson

24 Jan
If you “like” my Facebook page then you may be familiar with the Meatball News Network. MNN was founded in Rome on January 3rd, not by me but by Joe and Fred. These friends of mine were traveling together, you see, and decided it might be fun to share the trip with others by shipping to me the photos and videos of their favorite Roman restaurants and meals.
It was a lot of fun, actually. But by January 12th, MNN had gone black, the result of its only two correspondents returning to their respective homes in New York.
When the idea was floated that we get together and swap stories of the trip, I suggested what to me seemed an appropriate venue: Maialino, the Roman-style restaurant in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park Hotel.
My friends had an entirely different idea. Turns out they had had quite enough cacio e pepe and gnocchi and fried artichokes and Roman-style pizza, at least for a while.
And so on Sunday I found myself at a place called Palace Dumpling, not in the city but about 70 miles to the north, in Wappingers Falls, NY, along the Hudson River. The MNN team was not alone, either. Seated at the six or eight tables which had been joined together were 20 people who, like me, had traveled some distance for the occasion, it being to celebrate Chinese New Year: the Year of the Dragon.
Joe and his lovely wife Joel had got together with Chef Jenny at the Palace Dumpling to plan an elaborate banquet, the likes of which I had not seen before. In all, the chef prepared more than 22 different dishes for our group, virtually none of them found on the menu.
It was an amazing thing to witness, really. Chinese cuisine may not be the subject of this blog, but I’m betting you’d like to see what went on, and so here are just some of the highlights.
Cold meat platters of ham, chicken and sausage started things off nice and slow.
Lamb and scallion dumplings, one of four kinds we sampled. They don’t call this place Palace Dumpling for nothing. Amazing.
Cold cellophane noodle “salad” with carrots, cucumbers, pressed tofu and a light sesame dressing.
Five-spice braised beef with hardboiled eggs.
Fresh noodles with meat sauce.
Braised fatty pork. I done died and gone to China!
Tender squid with garlic chives.
Stir-fried vegetables including eggplant, peppers and potatoes.
Stewed fish in red chili oil. Zounds!
Salt-fried shrimp, served in the shell.
Spicy pepper pork.
Caramelized sweet potatoes with peanuts. A real standout.
  
Whole fried fish in sweet and spicy sauce.
Puffy fried sweet dough, for dessert.
Joe even found a Chinese Riesling — with a dragon on the label no less.
And what Chinese banquet is complete without an Italian liquer?
Oranges for good luck and little windup dragons.
Chef Jenny.
And the (now defunct?) Meatball News Network team.
Never did hear much about the Rome trip, so I’m hoping another MNN “reunion” is in the works.

How to roast a chestnut

21 Nov
Saturday food shopping took a decidedly holiday-like turn when I noticed that two of the local food stores that I frequent (Rosemont Market and Micucci Grocery) had gotten in fresh Italian chestnuts.
I was in the middle of making a soup with these chestnuts (note to locals: Micucci’s are a lot cheaper) when my friend Joe called. He had wanted to discuss matters relating to his business, except that as soon as he discovered what I was doing, all he wanted to talk about were chestnuts.
“I can’t get a good chestnut panettone anymore,” my friend moaned in a truly sorrowful way. “For awhile I had an outfit in Italy ship them to me, but I can’t get them to do it anymore. I just gotta find another source.”
As I know how much my friend loves his chestnuts, both in a panettone and warm out of the shell, this hurt my heart deeply. I do not like to see my friends suffering.
After several more minutes of chestnut talk he asked whether I would be blogging about the soup that I was preparing, but sounded less than enthusiastic when I said that I would.
“Nobody knows how to roast a chestnut anymore,” Joe groaned. “All they know is opening a jar or a vacuum pack.
“If it were my blog,” he went on, “I would just do that: How to roast a chestnut.”
It is helpful to have friends who are smarter than yourself, don’t you think?
The first step in roasting chestnuts is a little dangerous, so be careful and work slowly. Using a sharp knife, cut an “X” into one side of the nut.
After all the chestnuts have been scored soak them in water for about an hour. If you’re in a hurry, 30 minutes will do, but they should be soaked at least that long. At an appropriate time in the process you’ll need to preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and have a roasting pan on hand to accommodate both the chestnuts and some water.
These chestnuts roasted for 20 minutes. There are two things I’d like to bring to your attention. First, you can tell that the chestnuts are done because of the way the skin has curled up where the “X” was cut. If that doesn’t happen then they need to cook longer. Second, there is still ample water in the pan. Some people use no water, others use so little that it evaporates entirely. I find using a good quarter inch of water works well.
Here’s the soup that I wound up making, by the way. And a recipe from La Cucina Italiana should you be inspired to do so yourself.
I don’t expect Joe to make it. He’s too busy trying to track down his panettone. Poor guy.
Enjoy the Holidays.

Every picture tells a story

17 Jun

If you read “Queen of the Sausages” then you know just where I stand on the topic of mortadella (firmly at its side), and so what better subject to kick off a new feature on the blog?

“Photo: Mister M” is an outlet for the vast number of JPEGs resting quietly, and largely unappreciated, on my desktops. Its frequency will be random; so will its subject matter.
Scroll the column on the right and you’ll find Campo de’ Fiori (for the next few days anyway; after that there will be a new pic). Like the (sepia-tinted) mortadella above, I came upon the outdoor market while in Rome where, thanks to my very wise friend Joe Brancatelli, I ate for ten days straight without having a single meal I wouldn’t gladly eat again, and then again. (One day I should get Joe to write a guest column on eating your way through Roma without breaking the banca. Yeah, I outta get on that. Wonder where he stands on mortadella.)
Anyway, enough with the sausage. Enjoy the pics.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.