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Cape Cods culinary landscape is evolving. Yes. there are still the delicious fried dams. fresh broiled or grilled fish. and Lobster.rolls
that have always been favorites. but many of today’s chefs are reinventing these traditional foods with a twist. Today’s
Cape presents a thriving and unique culinary landscape and Cape Cod Chef’s Table gives readers, locals, and visitors a
new perspective on this culinary scene. With recipes lor the home cook from the Cape’s celebrated eateries and purveyors
alongside beautiful full-color photos. Cape Cod Chefs Table is the ultimate gift and keepsake cookbook.

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Connecting Cape Cod to Italy
Story and photos by John F. Carafoli

After years of hard work and much frustration, I was granted an Italian citizenship. During the process people asked, “But why do you want it?” My answer? Who would not want dual citizenship in Italy if they could have it?

Last fall, with my new Italian passport in hand, I boarded a plane for Bologna, Italy, to spend a month immersing myself in the language, culture and everyday Italian lifestyle. I found an apartment and a school. I had classes every day and homework every night. After school, I would have lunch and look over my notes from class. I would then head to the grand marcarto (large market) not far from my school to shop for my evening meal. Everyone, including myself, carried a sacchetto (small bag) to shop, carefully selecting the best produce for the meal. I found specialty shops for my pasta, il marcellaio (butcher) for my meats, a place for the famous horn bread of Bologna, the one I grew up with. Each played a part in my daily routine. Mostly I looked for what was fresh, different and local in the market and stores; no different from what I do here at our farmers’ markets and specialty stops on Cape Cod.

Italians only cook with seasonal ingredients. This was confirmed by Elda and Lisa, mother and daughter, who owned and made fresh pasta in their shop. I bought potato and spinach gnocchi, the best I ever had, and squash tortelloni (large pasta tortellini filled with slightly sweetened squash and scented with nutmeg). When I asked for them in the middle of November, Lisa responded, “Ma no, fine! The squash (zucca) for the season has ended. Not until next year.”

During my stay in Italy I realized how rich and full my life was as a child, living in the small Italian village of Sagamore, Mass., and how much it influenced me today. My mother, father and I lived with my grandparents Inez and Luigi and Aunt Maria. Only Italian was spoken in our home. On occasion my grandfather would take me by the hand to the cellar, and we would roast castagne (chestnuts) together in our coal stove. Before leaving the cellar he would pick a bottle of his homemade wine from the rack. At the dinner table, a small glass of wine was poured for me, swirled with a little sugar as we all sat peeling the warm chestnuts and placing them in the wine. On those cold, damp days when I was in Bologna, a big treat was purchasing a small bag of warm chestnuts from my special vendor, Roberto, on Via Rizzoli. I would buy 15 chestnuts for three Euros. They were warm, comforting and soothing. As I ate them on my way home I was reminded of that fond memory from my childhood.

A perfect dish for the late summer and fall is bagna cauda. My grandfather used to bring fresh produce from his garden and my grandmother made this dish for the family. It is one of the most flavorful savory peasant dishes from the Piedmont region of Italy and it is quick and easy to prepare. You can serve it either as an appetizer or as a full meal, in the same dish or pot in which it is made.

I forage for my own mushrooms in the fall. Here in the U.S. we have a version of the Boletus similar to the ones found in Italy. Usually after a full moon and a rain storm the forest is full of them. I thinly slice them and dry them in the oven. When completely dry, they are placed in an airtight jar for further use. I learned about mushrooms as a child from my neighbor Rosina Boffetti. I noticed her coming home one day with an apron full of exotic mushrooms. Being an adventurous child I went out the next day and came back with a pan full of fresh mushrooms. I brought them over to Rosina. She quickly picked out the inedible ones and told me to go home and cook the rest with a silver dollar, a sprig of parsley and a slice of bread. “If the silver tarnishes and the parsley turns a strange color, the mushrooms are not good,” she told me in her broken English. “But what about the bread?” I asked. She threw up her hand expressively and said, “You feed the bread to the chicken. If the chicken dies, you throw out the mushrooms!”

Recently while eating supper with my partner on our back deck, I spotted a brown circle under a pine tree on the lawn. At first I thought it was a leaf. I realized it was the first fall Boletus. With a sharp knife I cut the stem—when forging for mushrooms, they should not be pulled from the ground but rather cut at the stem so they will create more spores. I sliced the mushroom, drizzled it with a little good olive oil and placed it on the still-hot grill for a few minutes. A real fall treat.  I recently made the following meal for a few friends. The bagna cauda was our appetizer. Then we sat down to the porcini risotto that I served with a petti di pollo, breaded chicken breasts pounded slightly with fresh herbs, dusted with flour, dipped in an egg wash, breaded and sautéed in olive oil and a little butter. If it is a cool evening, I suggest you try my grandfather Luigi’s roasted chestnuts in wine or for a different finale to your Italian meal, a chestnut and ricotta semifreddo served with an almond cookie or a biscotti.


**Wine pairing from Cellar 55 in Sandwich. For the roasted chestnuts: Novecento Chianti Riserva 2005 ($14.95). Risotto con Fungi: Anna Maria Abbona Langhe Dolcetto ($15.95).

John F. Carafoli is an internationally-known food stylist based in New York and Cape Cod. He wrote Food Photography and Styling. Carafoli has presented papers at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, published in Gastronomica, is a contributor to The New York Times and was profiled on the Food Network.

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al Fresco
by John F. Carafoli
Photos by Mark Willard, styled by John Carafoli

MENUBagnat (Cooked Salsa Verde)
Mixed Green Salad, with a simple dressing of chopped fresh herbs with oil & vinegar
Escabeche Striped Bass with
Jasmine Rice
Summer Berry Pudding with
Rose Geranium Cream

Summer on Cape Cod is short. It’s our time to play, be outdoors and take advantage of the bounty our area offers us. One of the ways of doing this is through cooking as an extension of the way we live. It is creating a moment, a sensation, a memory through the senses.

Whether I’m cooking for friends or styling food for the camera, I feel a connection to my ingredients and techniques. I love experiencing the textures, smells and sounds that are so essential to cooking. Each aspect of preparation—from conceiving the menu to selecting ingredients and wines, to setting the table—can be a personal expression of your own style.

Having friends and family over for a festive outdoor gathering, sharing the day’s activities over a glass of wine or serving a meal on the deck are all part of the summer experience. I suggest starting with the fresh produce in our local farmers’ markets or farm stands. Purchase seasonal fish from your fishmonger. Joes’ Lobster & Fish Market on the canal is my favorite for striped bass and mussels, if I don’t gather them myself. Whenever possible, use the herbs, vegetables and fruits from your own garden.

Relaxed entertaining is all about planning and organizing. Setting the table, creating an environment and ambiance and, most of all, timing the meal, come next. For a stress-free menu, you want most of it to be prepared ahead of time. That way your party will flow easily, and everyone can enjoy the event, including you, the host.

Since it is summer, most of the dishes on this menu can be served at room temperature as is the tradition of Italy and most Mediterranean countries. The food can be made ahead of time and set out on a table or tablecloth—colorful or white, depending on the color of the plates and serving dishes. guests will be able to serve themselves.

The setting should be playful and festive. use your imagination. Mix glasses and dishes that have been stored away for years; they do not necessarily have to match. I sometimes use a table of assortedcolored Fiestaware.

As a food stylist, I am very conscious of how food looks on plates. For this menu, select serving plates of all different shapes and sizes. The appetizer works well with the toast points on a colorful platter (if the tablecloth is white) and the Bagnat itself in a white bowl, either placed off to the side or centered on the platter with a serving spoon. You want to make the food the hero, it should look as appetizing and appealing as possible.

For the salad, use a variety of different greens, nasturtiums and flowering herbs for color. A simple oil and vinegar dressing will bring out the flavors of the lettuces, but you can also use freshly chopped herbs like tarragon, thyme, parsley, and sprigs of cilantro or mint. Remember that the lettuces are the heroes.

Place the plates at one end of the serving table with silverware, napkins and glasses. Arrange the serving dishes in the order you want your guests to select the food.

Use a wood cutting board for the bread, a copper kettle or an unusual container filled with ice for the wine. For atmosphere, fill a clean terra cotta flower pot with sand, and place a small votive candle inside under a globe to protect the flame from the wind. (You can also do a similar thing with paper bags.) Place the pots or bags around the patio or deck and a few on the table. Creating a setting and feeling of abundance is important. Make it playful and fun.

Leslie and Kevin Plumb of Town Center Wine & Spirits in Eastham provide the wine paring for this menu. They specialize in small handcrafted and artisanal wines. When we tasted the wines with the food, we were amazed by how beautifully they complemented the dishes. You can sign up for Leslie and Kevin’s wine newsletter atwww.towncenterwine.com.


John F. Carafoli is an internationally-known food stylist based in New York and Cape Cod. He wrote Food Photography and Styling, has presented papers at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, published in Gastronomica, is a contributor to The New York Times and was profiled on the Food Network.

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