COOK’S NIGHT OUT: Cookbook Writer Carol Field

San Francisco Chronicle PUBLISHED: September 30, 2007 | By Karola Saekel

Asking Carol Field to a dinner interview at her favorite San Francisco restaurant is a question with a foregone answer: You know she is going to opt for one of the city’s true Italian outposts. Berkeley-raised Field, a longtime San Francisco resident, is one of the most recognized nonnative scholars of Italian cuisine and culture and has written half a dozen books on the subject, mostly cookbooks, but also an erudite volume on the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria, and a novel.

Choosing a dinner venue did put her into a quandary. Should we meet at Quince? Too elegant, she decided. Should we savor the tastes of Tuscany at Delfina or Neapolitan fare at A16? Bay Area diners are so lucky these days, she says, having the pick of restaurants that are respectful of both the ingredients and the traditions of specific regions of her favorite country rather than the minestrone, pizza and pasta of generic American Italian restaurants of the past century.

Field finally settled on a relative newcomer, Noe Valley’s La Ciccia, which serves the cuisine of Sardinia, one of Italy’s lesser-known and – until recent years – poorer regions, which nevertheless has a noteworthy and distinct cuisine.

Traditionally, Field says, Sardinians were sheepherders, and, to this day, their sheep’s-milk cheeses rank among Italy’s finest. Discerning Genovese cooks, she says, always make their pesto with Sardinian pecorino, and the region’s sheep’s-milk ricotta, she asserts, is to die for.

Goats also roam Sardinia’s rocky hillsides in great numbers, and their meat as well as their milk contributes to the region’s menus. We got a taste of this specialty in a pasta we shared, macaroni (the straight Italian kind, not the American elbows) in a tomato-pepperoncini sauce incorporating beef and goat meat for a distinctive, robust but not overly gamey taste.

This pasta was a special that night, as was our outstanding starter, a salumi of tuna and salmon imported from Italy. Both fish are smoked and very thinly sliced. The texture and taste are unique (the salmon bears no resemblance to lox) and addictive.

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