darrel corti

Darrell Corti, owner of beloved grocery store Corti Brothers, is world-renowned for his knowledge of wine and food. While his reputation places him on a very tall pedestal in the food world, he's actually a true blue Sacramentan at heart, a practical guy, a home cook and purveyor of quality products that help everyday folks shine in their own kitchens.

When it comes to tradition and to holidays, Corti's approach blends his love of history with a realist's simplicity. These are his tips.

corti illus coffee

Illustration by Benjamin Della Rosa

One of Corti's fondest holiday traditions comes at the New Year: cotechino, an Italian sausage made with pork skin, boiled in its pouch for 45 minutes, then sliced and served with cooked lentils, which, Corti points out, are easy to cook. Historically, the sausage for this dish was zampone, a similar mixture stuffed and sewn inside a pig's foot. This delicacy can't be found at Corti Brothers (though cotechino can), because it's no longer common and it's very difficult to find.

He said the dish resembles the American South's black-eyed peas New Year's tradition.

"It's having fat and plenty," Corti says. "It's an 'augury': a good wish for the New Year."

Winter is also a great time for crab and Corti's family recipe for cioppino. Corti Brothers provides copies of the recipe in the butchery department. It dates back to the beginning of the century, when Corti's grandpa, who arrived in San Francisco in 1907, wrote it down.

"It's a good recipe," Corti states, matter of fact. He explains that this recipe is unique because the crab is only cooked once, not twice. Rather than using pre-cooked crab, this recipe calls for fresh crab.

"The best thing is the sauce the next day, and then it dresses things like spaghetti." Corti describes this with a twinkle of anticipation for the approaching holiday season. "If you really want to be very special you shell all the crab leftover, put the meat in the sauce and put it on hot spaghetti."

Corti's final tradition isn't a holiday recipe at all, but one that he and his grandma would make as an after-school drink after grammar school. The recipe is best given in Corti's own words:

"Take a coffee cup and into the cup you put one egg yolk, two tablespoons sugar, and beat the sugar into the egg yolk until the egg yolk and sugar are white. It takes about 10 minutes. Then you heat up coffee and pour it over the mixture and drink it. It's got the three food groups: fat, sugar and caffeine."

Fellow grocer Rick Minderman now incorporates the drink as his own holiday treat. "It's so simple," says Minderman, "especially if you're a coffee and cream lover."

Perhaps Corti's most important holiday food advice: Eat with friends.

"It's not so much what you eat, it's who you eat it with," he smiles. "And that's very important. If you made a pot of lima beans and you made it with a great deal of care, that would be as delicious as anything you could eat if you shared it with friends. It's the frame of mind you're in when you're eating."