Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Under The Tuscan Gun" Pop-Up Dinner

Have you ever attended a pop-up dinner? If you're not familiar with them, it's kind of like a supper club, where an up-and-coming chef cooks for a small group in a home, or in an underutilized restaurant space. This one was held in a small cafe in Brooklyn, not far from Prospect Park, with twinkling lights greeting us as we arrived. We ate simple, but delicious food, from start to finish, including these mascarpone and amaretti cups (recipe at the end of the post).

 And who was the chef, you might ask?

Recognize this handsome fellow? It's Gabriele Corcos, otherwise known as "The Tuscan Gun" on social media and as the co-star of a show on the Cooking Channel called "Extra Virgin."

 He's also married to this lovely woman - Debi Mazar - co-star of "Extra Virgin." You may remember her from her role in the movie "Goodfellas" or from the HBO series "Entourage." She, along with Giulia, one of their two adorable daughters, stopped by to greet the diners and drop off some food for Gabriele, (so he doesn't have to eat the same thing for all 10 nights that the pop-ups were held).

If you've ever seen "Extra Virgin," one of the things I enjoy most about the show, (aside from the recipes and the scenery in Tuscany) is watching the close bond between all members of the family. You couldn't miss it at last week's dinner either.  No qualms about PDA here (public display of affection). 

 OK, so on to the food - and drink - starting with a favorite of mine - aperol spritz.

Next came a plate with three different appetizers - one more delicious than the next: pecorino cheese drizzled with honey and red pepper flakes; white bean and pancetta bruschetta, and beef tartare served on a grilled lemon slice. Never having eaten raw beef, I was skeptical but gulped down the bite-size portion in one shot. Wow, the tartness of the lemon complimented the hand-chopped filet so perfectly. If it always tastes this good, I wonder what took me so long. I'm now a convert to beef tartare.

Lentil soup has long been a favorite of mine, and Gabriele's version did not disappoint, with pancetta and parmesan rinds added for flavor. 

 Gabriele came out before each course to give a little background and explain what we were eating. Here he is readying one of the pasta courses (yes, there was more than one). Can you tell he's happy in the kitchen?

This pasta was dressed with a "finto" or "fake" sauce, originating with farmers who wanted the full body and flavor of a red sauce, but who couldn't afford the meat. It was laden with chunks of carrot, onion and celery and red wine added color and depth.

 Next came pasta alla gricia, one of my favorites whenever I'm in Rome. It's made with guanciale, from the cheeks of the pig, and was tossed with pecorino cheese and sage leaves. 

Porchetta, imbued with the flavors of rosemary, garlic and fennel seeds, was the star of the main course, but the side dishes held their own too - grilled endive with gorgonzola and peperonata with potatoes.

 A refreshing salad of arugula, fennel, olives and orange slices provided a light finish.

The vibe was fun and lively, and with about 20 people present, it was intimate enough to converse with nearly everyone, but not so crowded that it became too noisy. 

 Gabriele was so friendly and gabbed with everyone.

Including me.

His sous-chef Anthony Michael Contrino did a fabulous job on everything from drinks to dessert.

Actually, the entire staff was friendly and helpful to a person and made the evening run effortlessly (or so it seemed to us diners.)

Everyone at our table was practically moaning over the dessert - mascarpone and amaretti cups - and we finished up with digestivi shots of limoncello and Averna. 

After hearing that all the recipes from the dinner were in Debi and Gabriele's cookbook "Extra Virgin,"    I had to buy a copy and prepared what will be served for dessert tonight when friends stop by for dinner.

For all you folks in the New York City area, Gabriele is planning another series of pop-up dinners in Brooklyn in October. The best way to find out details is to follow "Under The Tuscan Gun" on social media, like Facebook or Instagram. Don't miss it!   

Mascarpone and Amaretti Cups

From the cookbook "Extra Virgin" by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar


  • 3 eggs, separated

  • 2 ounces sugar

  • One 8-ounce container mascarpone

  • Salt

  • 1 1/2 cups roughly crumbled amaretti cookies

  • 1 shot brandy

  • Cocoa powder

  • Shaved dark chocolate, for garnish

  • Fresh seasonal berries, for garnish

  • Fresh mint, for garnish


Mix the egg yolks with half the sugar until you obtain a creamy light mixture. (I had only supermarket eggs, not farm fresh, so I cooked the egg yolks and sugar on top of a double boiler, whisking until they got thick.- Ciao Chow Linda) Work the mascarpone in a separate bowl using a wooden spoon, making sure you eliminate any lumps, then add to the eggs and continue to mix well. 

In another bowl, mix the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the remaining sugar until they reach a somewhat firm peak, and then fold them into the mascarpone. 

Add the cookies to a medium bowl and stir in the brandy (just until moistened, you don't want them soggy). Add a dash of cocoa powder. Divide the cookie crumbles into the bottom of 6 glasses. 

Add the mascarpone cream to a pastry bag and pipe the cream into each glass. Top with a sprinkle of cocoa powder and shaved dark chocolate. Garnish with a few berries and a sprig of mint. 

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