When I enter my kitchen, I am happily surrounded by my roots. Every day I am reminded of who I am.
My grandparents worked from poverty to affluence by spending decades, six nights a week cooking in their restaurant. It started as little more than a pool hall in an out-of-the-way town on the Redwood coast of California.
Then it grew. They moved it and built a place that would become a regional favorite.
As a child, my grandmother babysat my brother and me in her kitchen. I am proud of the splatter-burn scars on my foot I picked up one day in her kitchen, though I’m sure Nonie and my parents were none to pleased to have a toddler howling like a devil with a burn on his foot. I’m glad it happened; it’s a momento to my heritage.
The Big 4 Inn was a Northern California landmark. When my grandmother finally sold out to make way for Interstate 5, the San Francisco Chronicle documented its passing into history. The menus and the napkins and photos of the Big 4 still decorate my kitchen. The recipes are the staple of my cooking, the heritage I pass along to my children and know they will pass along to theirs (if they’d ever buckle down and give me grandkids, damnit).
The Big 4 was beloved, Twenty years after it closed I met a guy in passing in another state. We swapped a few stories. We were both italian. We both had roots in Humboldt County. I mentioned the Big 4. His jaw dropped.
“My God, that was your nona?” he said.
I nodded proudly.
“I swear to God I still taste those raviolli’s in my mouth. I can still taste them, you know. Do you unnerstand?”
I did. I still do to. It was that kind of place.
As an appetizer my grandparents served apple rings with every dish. I grew up on these apple rings. Something about them, to me, goes perfect with the heavy meat sauce Nonie Mary was known for and I still do my best to replicate.
Anyway, I say all this becase I decided to bring back the apple rings the other day when I entered a contest to win some olive oil from my latest WeBromance. I mentioned there were two contests. Nudo’s rosemary olive oil and Nonie’s apple rings seemed like a match made in heaven.
For those keeping score at home, here is my entry in the second one. Try it. The apple rings are wonderfully simple and you’ll experience a small taste of what made The Big 4 Inn truly a magical place.
Rosemary infused apple rings.
– Nudo Italia Rosemary olive oil
-Four granny smith apples, peeled and cored.
-1 cup 00 flour
– up to 1/4 cup 1/2 n 1/2 cream
– 1 tsp vanilla
-1 tsp salt, a dash of dried rosemary
– confectioner sugar for dusting
1) put flour in a bowl and create a well. Mix in a hint of dried rosemary.
2)crack egg into the well along with salt and vanilla.
3) use a fork to mix egg gradually incorporating some of the flour.
4) slowly add in cream until batter forms. Should be like pancake batter. Use a couple of tbls of milk if it’s too thick.
5) heat olive oil in a skillet on medium.
6 ) slice apples about 1/2 inch thick. Coat the apples in the batter holding aloft to allow excess to drain off.
7) put apples gently into heated oil. Cook until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel. Lightly dust with confectioner sugar. Repeat until all the rings are cooked.
8) arrange on a platter in a circle. Scoop ricotta cheese into the center for optional topping.
9) serve while still warm.