I'll be the first to admit that I'm kind of a grocery store-holic. So when Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food: A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community Through Food showed up on my doorstep for review a couple of months back, I couldn't help but feel as if the stars had aligned. (For all of you foodies out there -- I promise, you will go bananas over this book!)
Authored by Dabney Gough and Sam Mogannam, the second generation owner of San Francisco's popular Bi-Rite Market in the Mission neighborhood, this tell-all grocery store guide is a must-have for anyone with a passion for food. It's not only inspirational with its eco-friendly and love-local themes, but it's incredibly interesting -- walking you through each department of the market, aisle by aisle, and how to choose and use your ingredients best -- from olive oils, to salt, to dried pasta, and beyond.
Featuring 90 of Bi-Rite's bestselling in-house seasonal recipes and a healthy dose of profiles for local farmers and small business owners peppered throughout, Eat Good Food is a delicious resource through and through.
Starting his career in the restaurant industry, Mogannam begins the book by stating that he had no ambition to ever be a "grocery guy." Yet when his father asked him in 1997 if he'd be interested in taking over the historical family market, he ultimately agreed under one condition: that he had to do it his way. And his way is exactly how the market still operates and thrives today -- and how it has also become known as an in-city haven for food lovers. "We are community," Mogannam writes, "Nobody is anonymous in our store. It's a lot like the bar in Cheers -- we're the place where everyone knows your name. We encourage our staff to build relationships with our guests -- to know not just who they are, but also what they like to eat, what they're looking for, and what kinds of foods are exciting to them."
One of our favorite aspects of this book, is the excitement in Mogannam's voice as he writes about how the public can easily change the food industry (or, the industrial machine, as he likes to put it) for the better, by simply asking for it. Certainly an idea that's not news to many, his encouragement in buying better foods for our bodies, buying local, and avoiding products that contain genetically modified organisms is one that is welcomed -- and it's hard not to walk away from this book feeling extremely recommitted to this important cause that affects all of us.
Mogannam writes, "Take heart. Each time we go grocery shopping or sit down to a meal, we're casting a vote about the kind of food we want to see more of... If we are to live sustainably, we must return more than we take. Being conscious of what we eat and thus making better shopping decisions is one of the most powerful ways to change the food landscape for the better... Ask for better products... Remember: grocery stores will not change unless we tell them what we want."
Bi-Rite's Sicilian Meatballs with Fresh Basil Marinara
Makes 6 large meatballs
These baseball-size meatballs are a mainstay of the Bi-Rite Market's deli case. Full of flavor, tender and a dish that stays good for several days after being made, these delicious meatballs can make an incredible meatball sandwich if, by chance, you're lucky enough to have leftovers the next day.
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, more for sprinkling
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
Sugar, as needed
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking pan with parchment or a nonstick liner and set aside.
Put the breadcrumbs and milk in a large mixing bowl, stir to blend, and set aside for 5 minutes. With your hands, squeeze and mash the breadcrumbs so that they make a smooth paste. Add the egg and whisk, then add the Parmigiano, ketchup, parsley, oregano, thyme, half the onion, half the garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to blend.
With your hands, break the beef into small chunks and add to the bowl. Mix gently but thoroughly; overmixing will make the meatballs tough and dry. When all the ingredients are evenly combined, shape the mixture into 6 balls and arrange on the baking sheet.
Bake until an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F at the center of a meatball, 40 to 45 minutes.
While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining half onion and 1 teaspoon salt and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining half garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, and lower the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a thick sauce, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and add a pinch or two of sugar if it seems too tangy, and season with more salt if necessary. Stir in the basil and keep warm until the meatballs come out of the oven.
Spoon the sauce generously over the meatballs and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Garnish with a sprinkling of Parmigiano.