As we enter mid-February, Carnevale / Mardi Gras / Carnival is right around the corner! It’s never too early to start planning some sweet treats for the festivities. In Italy, Carnevale is a big deal, and Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday) is celebrated with sweet, fried dough fritters called Chiacchiere. The simple-to-make Chiacchiere is popular throughout Italy, and goes by many regional names including Frappe, Cenci, Guanti and Bugie. There is a tradition of serving fried dough or doughnuts on Mardi Gras (think beignets, paczki and malasadas), in order to use up all the sugar and fats in the house before the austerity of Lent sets in, and Chiacchiere is no exception. Here are a few traditional Chiacchiere recipes from Academia Barilla, Cooking with Rosetta and Napoli Unplugged.
Tag Archives: Italy
Today is Three Kings Day / Epiphany – which officially marks the end of the Christmas holiday season! In addition to Epiphany (Epifania in Italian), the eve of January 6th is also when La Befana arrives in Italy. Similar to St. Nicholas Day in other parts of Europe, La Befana (who takes the appearance of a witch on a broom) leaves presents and candy for good children and coal for bad ones. In honor of La Befana and Epifania, we are heading to Sicily, where the holiday season is celebrated with a myriad of sweets including the fig and raisin-filled cuccidati cookies.
We have made cuccidati before, but we have recently learned that there is a similar holiday dessert that is basically a giant version of a cuccidati – a Buccellato ring cake. To add another layer of potential confusion, it seems that sometimes in Sicily buccellato refers to small-sized ring-shaped fig cookies, too. Now I am not really a huge fig or raisin fan (though M is) and even I like cuccidati cookies (which I guess are the distant ancestor of the Fig Newton). There are tons of cuccidati recipes with slight variations in filling according to region, family and personal taste so I will only include a few: A vintage Milwaukee recipe from 1965, Washington Post, Brown Eyed Baker and Savoring Italy (seen above). If you want to go all out, Cooking with Rosetta has a traditional buccellato recipe, as does L’Italo-Americano (seen below).
Chef Sarah Grueneberg’s new pasta restaurant in Chicago, Monteverde (1020 W. Madison, Chicago, IL), has earned so many accolades in the past year that it is hard to keep up (check out some awards from Eater, Food and Wine and GQ for starters). That means it is also pretty hard to get a reservation now (and probably even harder with each passing day), so plan to book far in advance and aim for early tables if you have to (we booked 4:30-5 PM each time). We visited Monteverde once over the summer and once over Thanksgiving weekend – and both times we were completely blown away by our meals. The vibe inside the restaurant is friendly and casual, with a comfortable, rustic-chic interior. We were able to site outside in the summer but the inside seating is nice and cozy in winter, too.
The focus of the menu is the handmade pasta, which is divided into two categories – Pasta tipica (classics) and pasta atipica (less traditional riffs on classic dishes). Intriguing “atypical” selections included a duck egg ravioli with pork and a wok-fried arrabiata with gulf shrimp. More traditional pasta dishes included pumpkin-filled tortelloni. Appetizers, called “snacks,” included raw hamachi and octopus spiedini. Small plates included country ham with buffalo mozzarella and mushroom and polenta stuffed cabbage. Monteverde also has a good wine menu and some distinctive non-alcoholic drinks including Sicilian lemonade in the summer and spiced soda in the fall.
On each table there are homemade crunchy breadsticks/ grissini to much on, though at times we wished we had more substantial bread so that we could sop up all of the sauces. Everything comes out as it is prepared, so it is best to order and plan to share – we ordered one large plate, 2 small plates and an appetizer. From the pasta atipica side we chose the Cacio whey pepe – a new take on cacio e pepe with Mancini rigatoni, pecorino romano, ricotta whey and a four peppercorn blend ($14- above); as an appetizer – Proscuitto butter toast – topped with with radishes, dill, and lemon ($6); and as a small plate – Burrata on thick slices of ciabatta, winter squash, balsamic, brown butter, roasted endive and pinenuts ($17). At the table, each one of us had a different favorite from the selections: the prosciutto butter toast was silky with a crunch; the cacio e pepe was toothsome and a little spicy; and the creamy burrata was perfectly complemented by the fresh bread and the roasted squash. On our visit over the summer we also tried a few different small plates: the ‘Njuda arancini -rice fritters, tomato, olive oil poached tuna ($8 – below); and the Little Gem salad with avocado and crunchy vegetables ($13). The slightly-spicy ‘njuda filling was a great riff on the classic Sicilian snack, and while the salad was good, it was as original as other offerings.
At each visit we ordered the piece de resistance, a higher priced and larger dish – the Ragu alla Napoletana ($41 – below) – with fusilli rustico pasta, cacciatore sausage, soppressata meatballs, tomato braised pork shank and wild oregano. This a dish you definitely HAVE to share, since it is probably enough to serve 2-3 as main course, or 4-5 in addition to other plates. If you are ordering the Pasta alla Napoletana, we would recommend 1 extra pasta small plate and 2 other apps for 4 people (which will likely still give you leftovers). Though the description may make it sound like glorified pasta with red sauce and meatballs, it was way more complex than that. This amazing dish was our favorite of the night. The tender on-the-bone veal shank was our favorite meat preparation, and for once we actually enjoyed the “red sauce” at a restaurant! Completely delicious, hearty and homey, this dish was at once simple and sophisticated – a must-order!
Each time, we managed to barely save room for desserts. We sampled the homemade Cannoli in the summer, which was delicious. In the fall we got to try the seasonally-appropriate apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The crostata was particularly tasty and we appreciate that they make the desserts seasonally-appropriate. Beyond the mouth-watering food, the ambiance and service at Monteverde are also great. Everything was scrumptious, and provided a fresh little twist on an Italian classic. It is rare that we like everything we ordered equally, but Monteverde may be the exception to that rule – we can’t wait to go back and try more!
The cheese plate at Cleveland’s French stalwart L’Albatros (11401 Bellflower Rd.) is the best one we have ever tried. Usually, when you order a cheese plate at a restaurant, you get a small plate of pre-selected cheeses. Maybe at better restaurants you choose from 10 or so cheeses off of a list. One of the most disappointing things about cheese plates is either that they have repetitive, common cheeses, or the servers have no idea how to direct you to the right cheese selection. However, at L’Albatros, nothing is left to chance, and the staff goes above and beyond to help you get the right selections. You can get the cheese plate for either lunch or dinner, and you can select either 3 ($11), 5($14) or 7 ($17) cheeses. There are no pre-set selections, and the cheesemonger comes over to your table with a giant tray of dozens of cheeses, and you can talk about what you want, and even have samples! Check out at the amount of cheese to choose from (plus there were even more that didn’t fit into the frame).
Here’s what we ended up with after much discussion and sampling:
- Tomme de Savoie – France – A good start, Tomme is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor.
- Cantal – France – A sharp, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that was almost Cheddar-like in taste and consistency.
- Cabrales – Spain – M asked for the “blue-est” cheese they had, and after sampling, this was our choice. It was indeed a super sharp, crumbly sheep and cow’s milk cheese (so sharp it was almost metallic, which sounds weird, but was tasty).
- Robiola Bosina – Italy – The first of two Robiola varieties we tried. This was a more mild, creamy goat and cow cheese.
- Robiola Rochetta – Italy – As a contrast to the first robiola, this was a sharp, super-creamy (almost runny) blue cheese made with sheep, goat and cow’s milk.
We really enjoyed all of our our selections, and felt we got exactly what we wanted: a good mix of flavors and consistencies (granted we did take a while with the process). The plate also came with bread, honey and quince paste. We loved our cheese choices that night, but if we went back, we may end up with a totally different selection of just-as-delicious choices, depending on our mood. We cannot recommend the L’Albatros cheese plate enough!
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to Chicago Gourmet, an annual food and wine extravaganza that showcases some of Chicago’s best restaurants alongside international food and drink. As in years past, it was a wonderful time, and I am working on posting a comprehensive recap within the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out the ETW Instagram feed for some of my favorite Chicago Gourmet pictures.
We had so much delicious international food and drink, that is is hard to pick a single thing to use as a teaser, but we decided to go with something refreshing and Italian: The Aperol Spritz. Even though it is technically fall, it still feels pretty summery outside, so why not! The Campari Group had a booth at Chicago Gourmet, as in years past, and it always fun to try out some of the Italian cocktails there, like the classic Negroni. This year we went for the Aperol Spritz, a refreshing summer-y cocktail made from Prosecco, Aperol liquer, and soda that is one of Italy’s iconic beverages. Aperol is a liqueur made from bitter oranges, gentian and other herbs and spices, and is similar to Campari, but with a lower alcohol content. We have only had it a few times before, but we are fans!
Bagna Calda / Bagna Càuda is a homey Northern Italian dish from Piemonte made primarily with butter, oil, garlic and anchovies. It is a mainstay at our own family celebrations, but we have never seen it on a restaurant menu… until now! We were at Della (1238 Prospect Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11218) in Brooklyn with friends, when we spotted the bagna cauda on the menu, and we just had to order it. Della has a homey Italian-inflected menu of fish, hearty meat dishes, homemade pastas and some unusual appetizers (case in point). The homemade pasta was delicious, but the bagna cauda was even better. It came served in a small bowl, with endive, radishes and chunks of bread for dipping. We had to ask for more bread to sop everything up- delicious! We encourage you to make bagna calda on your own for your next party – it couldn’t be easier. Even if you don’t normally like anchovies, you can’t help but love the salty, garlicky goodness!
The story of Modica chocolate is one of our favorites, and we are looking forward to bringing it to you in advance of of the most visible Mexican holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo. So we know that chocolate is a new-world creation, and was popular among Aztecs (where it was known as Xocoàtl) for centuries. So now that chocolate has spread the whole world over, where can you still find the most traditional Aztec recipes? Sicily! No, I am not joking. It turns out that Sicily, conquered many times over, was under Spanish rule while the Spanish were also colonizing the new world, and these colonizers brought back the Aztec recipes for chocolate to Sicily. These traditional recipes are still made in certain parts of Sicily today with nothing but cacao, sugar and (maybe) spices.
The process of making the chocolate by grinding it on a metate (as it was originally in Mexico) imparts a pleasantly gritty, natural texture to the chocolate, which is delicious and completely unique. A historical and picturesque Sicilian town in the province of Ragusa, Modica, is known for its expertise in all things chocolate, and is home to several longstanding chocolate shops producing chocolate the traditional Aztec way, which has become known in Italy as “Modica Chocolate.”On our trip to Sicily, we took a visit to Modica to see this piece of chocolate history for ourselves, and stopped at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy), one of the more famous chocolatiers, in operation since 1880. This shop in particular is known for their wide variety of Modica chocolates made on the premises. The chocolate bars here come in almost every cacao percentage, plus unique flavors like lime, marjoram, almond and orange peel. Fortunately they let you sample, so we were happy to taste a bunch of varieties before we arrive on our two favorite picks: sea salt and hot chili.While you can find good traditional Mexican chocolate in Oaxaca and other places in Mexico itself, what Sicily has to offer is on par with these treats. And truth to be told – we could see that this chocolate and that found in Oaxaca were cousins, maybe even siblings. If you are unable to visit Modica itself, you can get the Modica-made Sabadi chocolate bars at Eataly. P.S. If you visit the Bonajuto shop they also have the best cannoli ever!
Forno Rosso (1048 W Randolph St., Chicago, IL) recently opened up a West Loop branch of their original Harlem avenue pizzeria, complete with a signature red tile oven (the titular “Forno Rosso”). Authenticity is the name of the game at Forno Rosso, and it is one of only three restaurants in Illinois to be given the official mark of authentic Neapolian Pizzas – the Verace Pizza Napoletana – which dictates the flour, cook time, oven, etc. needed to formulate the most authentic Neapolitan pizza. Despite its close adherence to tradition, this branch of Forno Rosso is brand new, and gives off a sleek urban vibe with muted grays. Continue reading
The West Loop is on fire! Well, not literally, but it seems that a great new restaurant is opening up nearly every week, from Japanese to small plates, to Italian. When I was searching for good birthday-appropriate brunch and lunch options, my search led to many options in the West Loop, where we landed on the relatively-new Bar Siena (832 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL), a venture from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani.
Up and down the picturesque old town – Ortigia – in Siracusa, Sicily, tiny osterias line the alleys, and it is nearly impossible to choose which one to visit. In Osteria La Gazza Ladra (Via Cavour,8 – 96100, Siracusa, Sicily) or “Magpie” we found a spectacular hole-in-the-wall serving up tasty, homemade Sicilian food at reasonable prices. The moniker osteria used to refer to an inn, but now just refers to a rustic bar or restaurant where you are likely to get a good home-cooked meal. The menu is small and consists mainly of specials that are updated daily. The restaurant had only 8 tables and we had the sheer luck to arrive at about 9:30 PM JUST as a table was vacating. Sicilian food is very different than what most Americans associate with typical Italian food, and Sicilian cuisine focuses on fish, nuts, citrus and olive oil. Continue reading
Okay, vegetarian and vegan readers, now is the time to look away. So you probably already have, given the leading picture on this post. If you were wondering about that pictures, yes, the entire ceiling covered with meat, spicy Calabrian dried and cured salami, soppressata, to be exact. The Calabria Pork Store (2338 Arthur Ave., The Bronx) in the heart of the Bronx’ Little Italy, is a real throwback, and is one of the only places you can see meat hanging up at a butcher (a practice that used to be common). The soppressata, for which the shop is rightly famous, comes in mild and spicy varieties, and you can buy a whole or half link. However, the soppressata is only half the story, you can buy all manner of other fresh sausage and cuts of meat behind the counter, by unit or weight. To make a meal of it you can also buy provolone, olives and other cold deli items. M got a tub of sliced, cured Calabrian sausage to eat throughout the day in the manner of potato chips. It’s worth it to visit for the atmosphere alone, but the soppressata is the real deal, and is a must-try for any lover of cured meats.
When I went to school in Philadelphia, an essential component to my foodie explorations was a monthly pilgrimage to Isgro Pasticceria in South Philly (1009 Christian St., Philadelphia). I used to bring home a box of cannolis from there on the holidays, despite some major flak from the TSA (the major question: Is ricotta a liquid?). Year in and year out, I still think Isgro has the best cannolis, and I think it’s about time they were featured on ETW. Isgro’s is the type of old-school Italian bakery that once graced most major Northern metropolises, and they have been doing business in Philly since 1904. The difference is, Isgro’s is still here, and they are baking up pastries and cookies like it is still 1940. Stepping into Isgro’s is like stepping back into time, from the retro store, to the gruff but friendly service, to the shelves piled high with cannoli shells. There is definitely too much to chose from, so long story short, get the cannoli. The traditional type, filled with ricotta with chocolate chips my favorite, but you can also get special chocolate or mascarpone varieties. However, I think the ricotta strikes the perfect balance of a sweet, but not too sweet, filling and super fresh crispy shell, which is filled to order. The filling to order is essential – as it preserves the integrity of the crispy shell. M pointed out that Isgro’s website is Bestcannoli.com and while that is pretty somewhat boastful – we think it’s true!Beyond that, Isgro’s serves a huge variety of Italian-American favorites like pignoli, biscotti, Rum Baba, Sfogliatelle and tiramisu. On the American dessert side they have heaps of fruit tarts, brownies and spritz cookies. On our last visit, there were even special pastries and cookies dedicated to the Pope’s 2015 visit (and Isgro’s was even tapped to make him dessert). Everything we tried there has been excellent, but we keep coming back for the cannoli. If you are in Philly, definitely give Isgro’s a try, if you like cannolis it is an absolute must.We wish we lived closer!
There is nothing we love more than a bookstore/cafe combo, and though they are already popular in other parts of the world, it seems that more and have been popping up in the US recently. A good example of this trend is Archestratus Books & Foods (160 Huron St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn), a cookbook/food book shop with a Sicilian bakery and cafe. Food books and Sicilian cuisine – two of our favorite things! Named after the Greek-Sicilian philosopher Archestratus, owner Paige Lipari calls on her heritage to serve classic Sicilian treats like cannoli and arancini in the cafe. In addition to the books and food, Archestratus also hosts demos and events. Continue reading
We came across one of the most unusual cheeses we have ever encountered at the new Whole Foods in Cleveland, which looked like tiny wedges of lemon cheesecake. Turns out it was a baked buffalo milk ricotta, flavored with lemon, from the Puglia region in Italy. When the ricotta is baked it takes on the texture and consistency of a cheesecake! So is it a dessert or a cheese? Maybe a little of both…. When it is whole, the cheese looks like a round or bundt cake (which may vary between brands), and you can buy the whole thing or little wedges. So even though you will usually find this in the cheese section, we think it may be better suited to the dessert case. We also saw this cheese in the inimitable DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia, so we are hoping it will be relatively common in cheese stores with better selections (or Zabar’s online). We think we have found the perfect dessert for cheese lovers (or cheese for dessert lovers)!
We love making special food for the holidays, and foods for Halloween/ Day of the Dead tend to have a bit of a macabre bent, which is always fun! Many foods for these holidays feature bones, skulls or similar shapes, and we are always interested to see how this is even true across cultures. Pan de Muerto from Mexico is topped with mini dough bones, and we recently discovered an Italian cookie that is all bones – the “ossi dei morti/ossa dei morti” – bones of the dead. The “Ossi” are like biscotti, and are flavored with almond and cinnamon/clove. Though this cookie is from the region of Piedmont north of Italy, it is found throughout the country. Bread & Honey has a good-looking recipe, as does Passion and Cooking which includes hazelnuts and a slightly less macabre shape.
Despite being Italian, both eaters are paridoxically not much into going out for pizza. Maybe this is because so much of it is mediocre? But when we do go for pizza, we either do Neapolitan-style of Chicago-style deep-dish (Yes, Chicago-style IS pizza). So when we heard about Vero Pizza Napoletana (12421 Cedar Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH) and the accolades heaped on it and its owner Marc-Aurele Buholzer we were cautiously excited. The focus here is on Neapolitan pizzas cooked in authentic 900° wood-fire oven (inside which a pizza is cooked in only 90 seconds). Vero’s interior is sleek and simple, and has two stories – but even so, it is not a huge place. Another feature of the second floor is that you can look right into the kitchen and see the oven and pizzaiolo at work, which is pretty cool.
The only thing on Vero’s menu is basically pizza (10″ pizzas that serve one, with a little to spare), which we always appreciate in a pizza place. The varieties available at Vero run the gamut from classic to creative ad include pizzas with and without red sauce – the Blanca features mozzarella, basil and garlic (and no red sauce). The inventive Milk ‘n’ Honey is topped with a farm egg (which you can also add to other pizzas for $2) and wild honey. For those feeling peckish, you can get a local cheese platter, olives or charcuterie to start off your meal.
First, we selected one of our favorite pizzas, the stalwart Margherita – tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella – the classic by which we judge almost any pizzeria. Next, we opted for the “Capua” variety which was topped with prosciutto, arugula and Parmesan cheese. The pizzas arrived quickly, as advertised. The pies initially come out uncut and the server will cut them for you into whatever configuration you may wish. The traditional way to eat this kind of pizza is by knife and fork anyway. Overall, the topping were fresh, generous and uniformly excellent, and the sauce was the perfect consistency. The crust was a little thicker than Neapolitan pies might be, but we don’t have any complaints.
The hype behind Vero’s fresh and authentic pizzas turned out to be warranted, as evidenced by the fact that we practically inhaled our pizzas. We also appreciated Vero’s commitment to the art of Neapolitan pizza. For example, in addition to the authentic oven of course, Vero doesn’t deliver pizzas and instead focuses on having the in-person Neapolitan experience. This makes perfect sense, since this kind of pizza really doesn’t taste the same unless you are eating it fresh out of the oven. We would definitely go back for another pizza fix soon, especially since we are so far from our deep-dish alternatives. As if that wasn’t enough, the gelato in the front counter looked pretty good, too.
We were afraid to eat in Venice. Maybe it is because of a super strict ordinance serving fines and police scrutiny for eating in St. Mark’s square. Not that many tourists would have dared, considering that St. Marks was well under 2 feet of water when we arrived on a soggy cold day. However, with this first impression, we were a little intimidated, since getting food from various shops, cobbling together a picnic meal and eating al fresco is our obligatory European mealtime.
But, no matter, we figured out a way to do it, and you can too. Our first stop was the Rialto Market. Rialto Market is a classic open-air fruit and veggie market. It is surprisingly un-touristy though you will find quite a few tourists alongside the hustle and bustle of locals. By 2:30 everything is pretty much closed up – so hurry to get there before lunchtime if you can. We picked up some Sicilian oranges and sundried tomatoes, though as you can see there is a wide variety of produce available (and even some chili peppers and flowers).
In order to supplement our fruit and veg we got cheese and prosciutto at Casa Del Parmigiano (San Polo, 214, 30125 Venezia). It is an absolutely tiny little store, but is completely packed with cheese. In fact, this is probably one of the highest cheese-to-square foot ratios I have ever seen. The store has been in operation since 1936 and you can tell they are experts at the craft of cheese. There is every type of Italian cheese under the sun We got some goat’s milk Latteria della Valsassina cheese to go, which was creamy and mild. In addition, there is a small but well-curated selection of prosciutto, and the San Daniele we chose was among some of the finest we ever tasted. We picked up two little ciabatta rolls from a grocery shop nearby to complete our sandwich. We ate clandestinely, evading authorities just off the Rialto market under a covered sidewalk that led to some sort of governmental building.
Our final stop Gelatoteca SuSo (Calle della Bissa, 5453, 30124 San Marco, Venezia). It is a little way back from the canal and found it only through a 6th sense that directs us toward gelato products. Suso makes gelato artiginale – artisinal gelato – produced in-house in a large number of unusual flavors. M got the Orient Express (cinnamon, clove and caramel) and L got Death in Venice [ha ha!] – coffee and chocolate swirl. The gelato was excellent, and the perfect finish to our al fresco lunch. Though we had to do it on the sly – we managed to find (and eat) some non-touristy food in Venice.
D’Amato’s (1124 W Grand Ave., Chicago, IL) is the type of place that hasn’t changed in decades. Like Bari, D’Amato’s is carrying on the tradition of the old Italian enclave that once existed (and now exists in pockets) on West Grand Avenue in Chicago. Carrying it one step further, this cash-only place has a ornate, copper cash register from the 1920s. We tried to get a video of it in action, but we were so mesmerized that we couldn’t even get a proper shot. However, go take a look for yourself, we know you will be mesmerized too.
The stock in trade at D’Amato’s is classic Italian American baked goods and thick squares of coal-fired Sicilian pizza. They are known for their cannolis – you can even get a giant cannoli filled with miniature cannolis, one of our favorite things in existence. For Lent, they also are famous for their zeppole, the Sicilian fried doughnuts, which were superlative. We also tried another assortment of Italian treats including sfogliatelle and chocolate dipped cookies. Everything was tasty but the zeppole were standouts, and we really look forward to trying their Sicilian pizza!
Italians are all about festive breads for holidays: Christmas has Panettone, and Columba di Pasqua (“Easter Dove” in English) is brought out for Easter. Like panettone, this Milanese bread is made with yeast, and filled with candied citrus peel, however what sets it apart is its unique dove shape and a generous topping of pearl sugar. Also like panettone, it is a little hard and time-consuming to make, and requires a yeast starter. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth an effort, and King Arthur Flour has a great and detailed recipe. They are typically baked in dove-shaped paper or metal pans (though the King Arthur Flour recipe goes freeform), but if you don’t have those, you can buy your Easter dove at many Italian bakeries, Eataly, and even Trader Joe’s.