SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine

Editor’s Note:  Linda Avery returns with a review of SPQR, the new cookbook from the popular San Francisco restaurant with the same name. Find out what especially hit home for her in this modern Italian cookbook.

SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine
by Shelley Lindgren and Matthew Accarrino with Kate Leahy
photos by Sara Remington

Facts: Ten Speed Press, 304 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon $23.10)
Photos: 180 plus maps
Recipes: 79

SPQR. Hmmm… SPQR? I didn’t know what to make of it. A typo? No, an acronym for Senatus Populesque Romanus. SPQR was the emblem of the Roman Empire and translates to “The People and Senate of Rome.” And now it translates to a restaurant in San Francisco. And a book — actually a cookbook — featuring wine and recipes from the restaurant.

Shelley Lindgren is wine director and co-owner of SPQR (the restaurant); Matthew Accarrino is executive chef. Together, they stitched this cookbook, covering the northern and central regions of Italy in a very clever manner.

Eight regions are featured in the book: Lazio, Le Marche, Umbria, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Aldige, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia, Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta, Liguria and Toscana.  Hey, that’s more than eight regions. Yes, it is, but they weren’t literally referring to regions of Italy as we know them. The authors chose ancient roads of the Roman Empire to define their chapters.

Everyone has heard of The Appian Way or Via Appia in Italy. Via Appia travels only through Lazio. But Via Aurelia, for example, spans Liguria and Toscana.

That is the clever thing. Many of the ancient vias (aka roads) in the network traveled through more than one region as we know them today. It’s logical that this connection — geographical, agricultural and sociological — would inspire many of the same dishes.

I like it. I like it particularly because my ancestral region of Le Marche on the Adriatic is usually a forgotten area, but there are 20 pages devoted to Le Marche in SPQR.

Each chapter begins with a map and anecdotal information about the area. And it includes the names, along with the history and profile of the white and red grapes grown in the area with recommended producers; e.g., for Alto Adige, red grapes include “Lagrein…. nearly black in color… flavors in the wine exhibit blackberries, blueberries, red currants, leather… Recommended Producers: Alois Lageder,” plus several more.

Following Lindgren’s take on wines, Accarrino relates an aspect of the foods in the region, like the truffle hunt in Umbria and the German and Austrian influence in Alto Adige. The recipes in each region include starters, mains, and a dessert.

The subtitle of the book “Modern Italian Food and Wine” is exemplified in recipes such as Spiced Ricotta Fritters with Smoked Maple Syrup; Asparagus with Lardo-Wrapped Rye Dumplings, Goat Cheese and Sprouting Green; and Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Coconut Spuma (foam).

The recipes aren’t particularly complicated, but several have sub-recipes within. Ingredient amounts are listed in volume and metric weight measures (which we love).

When it came time to select a recipe to share, I naturally gravitated to my roots.

FLUKE CRUDO, Sausage-Stuffed Olives, and Citrus

(photo © by Sara Redington)

Serves 6

Senigallia, a cosmopolitan beach town on the coast of the Adriatic, has two of my favorite restaurants in Italy, La Madonnina del Pescatore and Uliassi. Both take advantage of the bountiful local catch, focusing heavily on seafood. It is a particular specialty of chef Moreno Cedroni, who in addition to running La Madonnina, operates a bar where he specializes in crudo and “salumi,” made from fish. Crudo is seafood served in its freshest, purest form: raw. I find it pairs well with salty accents, like green olives stuffed with sausage and fried – a specialty of the southern Marche town of Ascoli Piceno. To match the briny flavors of the olives, I also garnish the crudo with sea beans, little vegetables that grow in the San Francisco Bay. Their salty crunch pairs particularly well with seafood. (Use capers if sea beans are unavailable.)

Serves 6
For the crudo
1 cup (150 g) kosher salt
1/3 cup (75 g) sugar
About 1/4 cup mixed citrus zest (orange, Meyer lemon, grapefruit)
5 to 10 mint leaves
One 8- to 12-ounce (227 to 340 g) fluke fillet, boned and skinned

For the olives
2 ounces (57 g) sweet Italian sausage meat
12 to 18 large green pitted olives, like Casteveltrano or Cerignola
1/4 cup (32 g) Wondra flour
1 egg (50 g), lightly beaten
1/4 cup (30 g) fine dried breadcrumbs
Kosher salt

1 orange, segmented
1 Meyer lemon, segmented
1 grapefruit, segmented
1/2 cup sea beans (or capers)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
Extra virgin olive oil
6 to 12 small mint leaves

1. Using your hands, rub the salt, sugar, zest, and mint leaves together to release the mint and citrus flavors.

2. Lay out a long sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface. Scatter half of the cure on the plastic in an even layer about the length of the fish. Place the fish on top and cover with the remaining cure. Wrap the sides of the plastic wrap over the fish, forming a snug package and refrigerate for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

3. To make the olives stuff the sausage meat into the hollows of the olives. Dredge the olives in Wondra, then egg, then breadcrumbs (add kosher salt to taste). Refrigerate until ready to fry.

4. Cut the citrus segments thinly crosswise and mix together in a small bowl. Bring a pot of unsalted water to a boil. Prepare the ice bath. Blanch the sea beans for about 1 minute, then drain and shock in the ice bath. Unwrap the fish, rinse it under cool water, and pat dry. Slice crosswise into 1/8-inch thick pieces. Lay the pieces on chilled plates.

5. In a small bowl, mix the salt and lime zest together. In a small pot, heat 1 inch of olive oil to 360°F and line a tray with paper towels. Fry the olives until the breading has turned golden, 1 to 2 minutes. With a spider skimmer or slotted spoon, lift the olives out of the oil and drain on the paper towels. Season with lime salt.

6. To serve, spoon the citrus around and on top of the fish slices. Drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with lime salt. Finish with the fried olives, sea beans, and mint leaves.

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