Monthly Archives: March 2015

LARGE PASTA WITH BROCCOLI “CREAM” AND WALNUTS…PACCHERI CON CREMA DI BROCCOLI E NOCI

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Vegetables and dairy are wonderful pairings especially when they are creamy and  used as a pasta “sauce”.  I put “sauce” in quotes because the correct term in Italian would be a “condimento”…a condiment that enhances the pasta which, sorry to do this to you carb-haters out there, but the Pasta is the main event on a plate of macaroni.  The sauce or condimento just adds more flavor and nourishment, it’s an enhancer. And the sky is the limit with pasta dishes. Italy is full of heritage recipes, family recipes, regional recipes, with new ones are being created all the time.  I’m going to think that I created this but somewhere out there this dish may already be on a table in an Italian kitchen.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Let’s create together…for more texture I’m adding crushed walnuts.  Why?  Why NOT?  They will make the dish more interesting and complex.  The crunch with play off nicely with the toothsome pasta and creamy blend of cooked Broccoli and Mascarpone.  Parmigiano sharpens the plate and it’s nuttiness works with the Walnuts. Peperoncino because I’m of Southern Italian extraction and it’s what we do.  So I’ll give you a pass here and say if dried crushed chiles are too hot for your palate, fresh cracked black pepper will work too.  I’m going to ask you to do something that you will probably have been taught not to do.  I want you to “overcook” your broccoli.  That’s right, no crisp bright green florets for this dish, it simply will not work.  It will only taste raw.  Are you up for the challenge??  Do you have the courage to turn your Broccoli into mush?  GOOD!  Continue with me into the kitchen then..let’s go..ANDIAMO!

 

SERVES: 4-6                                    TIME: about 1 hour

2 lbs. CHOPPED WELL COOKED BROCCOLI (cook the broccoli until it’s very soft, drain well and let it sit for at least 1 hour, drain off any water that collects).

1 1/2 cups MASCARPONE CHEESE

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

KOSHER SALT, PEPERONCINO (or fresh ground Black Pepper)

2 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Juice of 1 LEMON

3 TBS PARMIGIANO REGGIANO PLUS MORE FOR SERVING AND FINISHING

3 TBS. CRUSHED TOASTED WALNUTS

1 TBS WALNUT OIL (if available)

1 lb PACCHERI OR RIGATONI..cooked till Al Dente according to the package directions

In a Bowl, using a potato Masher, mash the Broccoli.  A Food Processor will make this  “CREMA” too thin, I like this with some small pieces of broccoli among the mashed pieces.  If you must have it thinner pulse it in a Food Processor.

In a large non stick pan, heat the olive oil…when it’s heated, add the garlic and a pinch of the peperoncino, pinch of salt.  Do not let the garlic brown, as soon as you really can smell the garlic add the broccoli  and heat the broccoli through keeping this on a low flame.  Heat for at least 8 minutes, being careful to stir frequently. Taste for seasoning, if you think it needs some salt, add a little now.  Add the lemon.,Gently stir in the MascarponeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA until it’s incorporated into the mixture.  Next add the grated PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO and the Pasta.           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Gently mix the pasta into the “CREMA”. Make sure it’s well blended.

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How nice is that? So, let’s finish this up…top with the toasted crushed walnuts, peperoncino or black pepper, a drizzle of Walnut Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil and more Grated Parmigiano.

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That is smoking “hot”.  A nice glass of wine or Sparkling Italian Water with fresh lime or lemon, or a frosty Beer or Coca-Cola…drink what you want.  Eat what you want.  You’ll want to eat this!  Happy Cooking!!

so let’s talk PACCHERI..what the hell is A FOOD OBSESSION talking about?  It’s an oversized Rigatoni like pasta that is loved in Naples (again with the Naples, sorry) and generally paired with light seafood sauces.  It’s big and toothsome and sucks into it’s center some of the Crema di Broccoli and the nuts.  Not easy to find but it’s what I use when I make the dish.  Rigatoni will work as well so, there’s your option.

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ROASTED PEPPERS, ONIONS,AND SAUSAGE…A SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT APPROACH TO A CLASSIC

539675_2943376545857_1304531591_32176322_1139794649_n Sausage and Peppers with Onions is one of THE most identifiable dishes from the Italian and Italian-American cuisines.  Yes, It’s a bonafide Italian dish that is a common combination in and around Naples and other areas of the south.  The sweet fennel sausage is the base of this dish and the better quality of the sausage, the better this dish will taste. One can only get the foods that are available in one’s area so hear me out….Most fresh made Sausage comes from Italian Pork Store and is made daily.  Supermarkets sometimes have an in-house meat department that makes its’  own daily.  Then there are factory made Italian Sausage, generally sold in family packs or in bulk made locally or nationally.  These are usually sold fresh but sometimes they will be sold frozen.  The typical profile of a Southern Italian Sweet Pork Sausage is quite simple.  There’s salt, lots of cracked black pepper, fennel seeds and a blend of fatty and lean pork.  When the mix is too lean, your sausage cooks  up somewhat dry. Proper fat content provides moisure and flavor to the cooked product.  All too often the grind of a factory made Italian sausage borders on the consistency of a hot dog…really? no Thanks.  The texture of the sausage is as important as everything else.  Ground too fine it loses it’s identity as an Italian sausage.  Suffice to say I’m a little fussy, but we are talking about Italian Sausage not Vienna Sausages. But there is something called availability.  Simply put, try to find the best of this list in your area and try to stay away from the bottom of the choices, it will just not be the same.

The typical Peppers and Onions pairing with grilled,roasted,or fried sausages is a saute’ of Italian Frying Peppers or Bell Peppers with onions,sometimes additional ingredients.  For this blog post let use a different type of pepper, the readily available  RED ROASTED PEPPER. Like that?  GOOD! Just a little recipe here for a Roasted Peppers and Onions for your Sausages.

 

SERVES:  4 people                                                         TIME:  40 minutes

2 LBS SWEET ITALIAN PORK SAUSAGE WITH FENNEL

3 DRAINED ROASTED RED PEPPERS, SLICED INTO 1/2 INCH STRIPS

1 LARGE ONION, SLICED

2 CLOVES GARLIC, SLICED

1/2 TSP OREGANO

3 BASIL LEAVES

2 TBS OLIVE OIL

KOSHER SALT, CRACKED BLACK PEPPER

1/2 TSP CRUSHED FENNEL SEEDS

1 TSP BRANDY or SHERRY

1/8 cup BRANDY OR SHERRY

1/8 cup water

In a large heavy pan heat  1/2 tsp Olive Oil..then add the Sausage,and let them brown on one side, about 5 minutes each side. That should give nice color to both sides. Now add the brandy and deglaze the pan, then add the water.  Swirl it around and gentle cook this until all the water is evaporated and the sausage gets a little more browned when the water is gone. This process takes about 5-6 minutes.  Remove the sausage and add 1 tbs. of olive oil. Then add the onions. Move them around so they pick up all the flavor and browned bits from the bottom.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 3 minutes then add 1/8 cup Brandy or sherry and continue to cook until the onions  become translucent and soft.  10 minutes at least.  Then add the oregano and the garlic..continue to saute’ for another 3 minutes then add the roasted peppers.  Gently cook this for 5 minutes then add the sausage back in and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the flame.  Add the basil…Serve on a plate or in Sandwiches (Hero rolls or Italian bread…NOT soft bread…get the crusty stuff)

saseeze You may use all Sweet or Hot or a Mix..up to you!!

Drizzle the finished product with the remaining olive oil.  I can’t get enough sausage, blame my Southern Italian DNA pool for that!

POTATOES AND EGGS, ITALIAN AMERICAN COMFORT FOOD

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Today we go back to Italian-American cuisine, that oftimes misunderstood, sometimes terribly gone bad cuisine that is the evolution of Immigrant Italian’s cuisine with their new country, America.  Let me first say that most of the offensive forms of Italian-American cuisine are created in the corporate board rooms and kitchens of large U.S. corporations.   Red Bell Peppers are not part of a Sunday Tomato Sauce for pasta,  here or in Italy. What seems to have happened is that a single ingredient that IS part of Italian cooking gets thrown into everything that a corporate type or misinformed American thinks SHOULD make a dish Italian. Like that completely un-Italian dried mess known as “ITALIAN SEASONING”.423047_2817814366881_1304531591_32126981_153248436_n  The ONLY thing ITALIAN about that mixture is the word ITALIAN on the label, after that, it’s an AMERICAN convenience food idea of what constitutes a mix of herbs used in Italian cuisine.  Rarely will Italian cooking contain a mess of more than 2 herbs, and with the exception of dried Oregano, dried herbs are NOT used in Italian cooking.  Dried Oregano yes, that’s authentically Italian, fresh is hardly ever used, it’s a more modern addition to recipes if you see it.  Dried Rosemary, Basil (NEVER!), Tarragon, Savory, whatever else they blend together in those spice factories is not Italian.  Rant over. It’s 2015, most people live near big supermarkets which carry fresh herbs, all the time. Seek them out rather than a dried mess in a very non-Italian blend.  The number one way you produce outstanding dishes starts with the raw materials/ingredients.  So speaking of ingredients this brings us to the point of this blog..POTATOES AND EGGS, a frittata, scrambled egg-ish mix of cooked fried potatoes, beaten eggs, with only a few other ingredients added. Traditionally this is tucked into a good Italian hero roll or Italian bread, or can be eaten on it’s own.  It’s Italian-American comfort food.  Clearly it’s the evolution of a simple frittata from Italy.  The quality of this dish comes from the quality of the ingredients.  Start with the best eggs you can find (at the risk of sounding like Ina Garten’s teleprompter).  Eggs should not cost 1.87 @ dozen.  Cage Free, Organic, these are some labels you should be looking for when purchasing eggs.  Best?  Farm fresh, but seriously expounding that notion is quite romantic but ridiculously impractical.  If there’s a local farmers market where you can access those types of egg that’s perfect.   548528_2971219081903_1304531591_32189688_1417227459_n  So that’s living ina perfect world for buying your ingredients.  Not practical though, so seek out what are the best in the market you are going to.

POTATOES AND EGGS, A FOOD OBSESSION’S VERSION

SERVES: 4                                           TIME:  20 MINUTES

2 PEELED AND DICED BAKING POTATOES,COOKED IN SALTED WATER TILL  JUST ABOUT TENDER, DRAINED AND COOLED.

8 FRESH EGGS, CRACKED INTO A BOWL

GROUND BLACK PEPPER or PEPERONCINO

KOSHER SALT

3 TBS. GRATED PECORINO ROMANO

2 TBS. GOOD OLIVE OIL

In a non stick frying pan heat 1 tbs. of the olive oil and pan fry the potatoes, sprinkling about 1/8 tsp of salt over the potatoes.  Fry them until the are just light golden brown on both sides.  While the potatoes are frying beat the eggs with the cheese and 1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper or a pinch of Peperoncino NOT BOTH!!.  Add  additional tsp. of olive oil to the pan when the potatoes are done and swirl the new oil in the pan gently around.  Now pour the egg mixture over the potatoes.  When the sides have started to set leave the pan on medium heat and in 3minutes, with a rubber spatula, check the bottom of the eggs to see if they are not only set but lightly browned.  Slide the eggs onto a plate, cooked side down. Then invert the plate over the pan and slide it back into the pan..cooked side up remember.  Let this cook for no more than 3 minutes.  If using a flameproof pan, you can run the eggs under a broiler for 2 minutes and skip the “inversion” process.   When it’s done simply slide back onto the plate and cut in quarters to serve.

Did I just hear someone say…”What about the onions?””What about the peppers or mozzarella???””No herbs??”  Here’s the deal.  ALWAYS learn the basic version first.  This is how it was done originally, then the bits and pieces from the fridge started to show up..maybe cooked onions, or peppers, or both.. (Peppers and Eggs is another distinct dish from the same school) bits of salami, mozzarella, scamorza, swiss, ricotta, oregano, parsley, zucchini, etc. all found there way into this delicious mix.  Try the basic to start.  Add it to some good Italian bread for an awesome sangwich. I sprinkle some Peperoncino and a little Pecorino over it..do that, or not..up to you. Simple. Basic.  Italian.  Try this out and tell me how you like it!!

In the lead picture I added some fresh picked oregano for color to make LA BELLA FIGURA for a nice shot.  A little chopped fresh oregano is very tasty on this. Since I make this basic and with fridge additions as well, the day I decided to snap a shot of the dish, i had some cut onion in the fridge so it went into the potatoes and oil. I’ll leave that all up to you.

 

PENNETTE CON VERZA, SALSICCE E POMODORINI , A PASTA WITH CABBAGE, SAUSAGE AND CHERRY TOMATOES

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The middle of March brings lots of Cabbage into the grocer’s produce stall for the upcoming St.Patrick’s Day making of Corned Beef and Cabbage.  It’s a winter vegetable and it’s in large supply right now. Did you know that in Italy the word for cabbage is VERZA?  Consider this a lesson in expanding your horizons with regard to what you thing IS or ISN’T Italian.  Cabbage is used throughout Italy especially in the  north of the country yet nowhere  as popular as it is in the Northern and Eastern European nations.  Yet it still shows up in many regional Italian dishes.  This pasta dish I developed is not me recounting a regional dish.  Instead I created it in my kitchen but it is in no way unique, maybe my approach to it is, but Cabbage and Sausage dishes with rice, beans or Pasta are to be found in Italy. One head of cabbage yields quite a bit, especially if it is chopped or shredded.  Let’s have some fun with this dish and you’ll be serving it in your own home real soon!

SERVES:  4 to 6                         TIME: 50 minutes

1 lb. PASTA, my preferred for this dish is PENNETTE

4 SWEET ITALIAN FENNEL SAUSAGES, MEAT REMOVED FROM ITS’ CASINGS

1 MEDIUM ONION FINELY DICED

1 1/2 CUPS FINELY CHOPPED CABBAGE

1 14 oz CAN ITALIAN CHERRY TOMATOES or 1 CUP OF CRUSHED SAN MARZANO TOMATOES

3 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

1/8 CUP DRY WHITE WINE

KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

2 CUPS RICOTTA

1 CUP COARSELY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO

In a dutch oven heat 2 tbs of the Olive Oil. then add the onions, a pinch of salt and let them gently cook for a good 5 minutes.  Add the sausage meat, stir and let this cook till the sausage is browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the cabbage, a pinch of salt and mix well.  Let this saute’ for 5 minutes, then add the wine.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and let it cook for 8 minutes.  Now add the tomatoes crushing the whole ones with the back of a spoon. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let this cook down for 35 minutes on medium-low heat.  There should be no hard boiling going on.  At this point the sauce should have good down a bit.  Stir frequently.  Check the sauce for seasoning and thickness, there shouldn’t be a ton of sauce in that pot.  Remove from the heat.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions but only cook until al dente, this is so important. Drain reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water in case you need it. Now add the fully drained pasta to the sauce and return to the heat on low for 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of the coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and the remaining tbs. of Olive Oil.  Serve with a side bowl of ricotta, ground black pepper, and more Parmigiano-Reggiano.   A delicious dish with starch, meat, and vegetable all together.

Happy Cooking!!!

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A QUICK PASTA SAUCE…THE LEGENDARY SCIUE’ SCIUE’…IT MEANS HURRY UP!!

003  Sciue’ Sciue’…in Napoletana dialect is simply means “Hurry Up”…more love from the City of Naples.  Let this blogpost serve to open some eyes of people who only think an Italian Pasta Sauce made with tomatoes is a long-term prospect.  Most Italian tomato sauces are simply never cooked as long as non-Italians (that includes American-Italians) seem to cook their sauces.  That long simmer should only be reserved for a tomato sauce that includes meats,like Ragu’ di Bologna (Bolognese) or Ragu’ di Napoli (the prototype for Sunday Sauce from Naples and the south). Most of the other pasta sauces highlight the vibrancy of the tomato,they are fresh tasting. My trips to Italy always have included many pasta dishes where lightly cooked Cherry tomatoes were used. Growing up Cherry Tomatoes were something for salads, antipasto or vegetable platters, delicious snacks, or sometimes if Dad had a bumper crop, would be cooked down and frozen for the winter.  But, that was a rarity, they were just not used the same way we used Dad’s plum tomatoes. In Italy they were in so many pasta dishes, including versions of Spaghetti con Vongole Verace, the iconic Spaghetti with local clams.  Cherry Tomatoes also come packed in 15oz cans packed in Southern Italy known as POMODORINI.  Southern Italians use lots of cherry tomatoes along with the San Marzano and Plum tomatoes.  WHO KNEW??  That was a wonderful revelation. I love a good eye opener and since that first trip to Italy in 1986 I’ve been voraciously using Cherry tomatoes in all sorts of Italian ways.  Wait. Are you asking yourself, “is  A FOOD OBSESSION talking about an out of season item??”  Yes, you are correct, WAY out of season for most of the U.S., certainly where I am in  the Northeast. Let’s just give you a good reason why I am writing this today…008  That’s why. I need to think of fresh Summery, outdoorsy foods.  Using raw tomatoes is so indicative of the Summer growing season I’m compelled to blog this purely as therapy.  It’s March 6 and this morning it was 7 degrees F at home. That’s far from normal after a long record cold February.  WHA WHA WHA!!! Crying feels good sometimes!  Instead of throwing snowballs I’ll think  about summery food since you can find decent grape or Cherry tomatoes in your produce departments through the Winter and marinating them or cooking them even at this time of the year will yield a tasty dish.

 

SERVES: 4-6                                                TIME: 30 MINUTES

2 1/2 PINTS WHOLE OR SLICED FRESH CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES

3 TBS. GOOD OLIVE OIL

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

KOSHER SALT, BLACK PEPPER

6 FRESH BASIL LEAVES or a PINCH of GOOD DRIED OREGANO

1 LB ITALIAN PASTA,  COOKED ACCORDING TO PACKAGE DIRECTIONS BUT KEEP TO THE AL DENTE DIRECTIONS

GRATED ITALIAN CHEESE…MOZZARELLA, PECORINO, RICOTTA SALATA, CACIOCAVALLO, PARMIGIANO..this is up to you…stick with the simplicity of the dish, use only one of them.

in a large skillet heat 2 tbs of the Olive Oil. Add the Tomatoes and cook on medium heat letting them get a bit of color on them.  Toss the around a bit..add some salt and pepper to taste and when they are soft (takes about 10 minutes or so) add the garlic.  Let this cook for 10 minutes on low.  Add the 3 Basil leaves.  Now add the al dente Pasta to the pan.  Toss well and heat through, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat..season with grated cheese, the remaining olive oil and basil leaves..taste for seasoning, add more salt or pepper at this point, not before. So often the cheese will add that additional saltiness you want.  Was that SCIUE’ SCIUE’??

Pull up a cup of coffee or a glass of wine now and sit here with me and let’s talk…If there is nothing else I convey to people through my blog and other Social networking/media it’s that there may be more to a cuisine than you’ve been taught or exposed to.  The long hours of a Nonna in black standing over a stove or open fire for hours are certainly wonderful and sentimental but hardly the total picture.  Many Italian tomato sauces have no herbs in them at all and here in the U.S.A. I see so many dumping that hay ball of “ITALIAN SEASONING” created in the boardroom and corporate food labs of big American food conglomerates.  There’s no such thing.  Dried oregano is used in ITalian cooking..the other dried herbs are not.  Today fresh herbs are available in most places where the population really lives.  If you are 100 miles from your nearest neighbor, you are in the minority..most of us live in and around urban/suburban centers and mega Supermarkets and Mega Stores are within an hour’s drive.  Fresh herbs can be grown or bought and they will last a while in your fridge, certainly more than 1 week.  Use them. Find them.  This Sciue’ Sciue’ would be a disaster if you added that green gray ball of dried herbs…what’s allowable is a pinch of  dried oregano (PINCH!!! NOT A TEASPOON).  That’s ITALIAN, not the other stuff.  No longer think of Tomato Sauce for Pasta as a single entity..there are hundreds of regional recipes with a different tomato sauce, and certainly every cook/chef/family has their own personal versions.

PENSARE FUORI LA SCATOLA!!!   THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!!!

My Sciue’ Sciue’ pictured was made with DeCecco’s egg GARGANELLI, a delicious pasta.

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CAULIFLOWER “SCAMPI”

cauli 005  Inspiration for cooking, where do you get it?  Books, TV, the store, a friend or family making something, the seasons, it comes from many places…ahhh..from Facebook or Instagram? Twitter? Certainly we are bombarded with images today and sometimes they give us our ideas for cooking.  On Friday while shopping for pecorino at a local Salumeria I noticed their Catering menu and saw the words “CAULIFLOWER SCAMPI” on the list.  HMMM, I said, i guess you take out the shrimp and add cut Cauliflower and cook it in the style of Italian-American Shrimp Scampi.  Cauliflower is a wonderful cooked vegetable AND very Italian/Sicilian I may add, although we take no ownership of it, it’s loved in cuisines around the world but most people don’t associate it with Italian cuisine.  Anyway the idea intrigued me and having a head of cauliflower at home meant that I would have to experiment with this idea over the weekend.  I played around with a simple, basic “Scampi” style preparation and was very happy with the results.  Took the pictures using the wonderful light that was bouncing off the fresh falling snow and beaming through our windows.  Perfect for some indoor amateur food photography.  I posted on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and suddenly I was in demand, well, not me…but people were asking for a recipe…YIKES!!!  Know this about me, A FOOD OBSESSION, I don’t have a recipe when I cook, i have an idea in my head of what I need to do to get a dish to the table, what type of cuisine, flavors, etc.  So when asked on the spot for a recipe this is something I can’t give back, i need to backtrack my steps and tweak it to make sure YOU will be able to make it like I did in your kitchen.  So….here goes…

SERVES: 6                                        TIME: around 45 minutes

2 heads of Cauliflower, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (the thicker they are, the longer they will take to cook, keep it to 1/2 inch)

2 1/2 TBS OLIVE OIL

2 CLOVES GARLIC, SLICED

1/8 CUP DRY VERMOUTH OR WHITE WINE

JUICE OF 1/2 LEMON

KOSHER SALT, CRACKED BLACK PEPPER

3 TBS CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

 

In a large skillet heat the olive oil, then in a single layer add the cauliflower, you may need 2 pans or to do it in batches. Let them cook for at least 12 minutes on medium, checking the bottoms to make sure they are only browning, and not burning.  Sprinkle with salt and turn.  Let them cook an addition 10 minutes.  Test one, it should be nicely colored and al dente or medium tender.  Now add the garlic, raise the flame a bit and gently shake the pan.  Let the garlic cook for about 2 minutes then add the Vermouth or White Wine…hear that sizzle?? how’s that aroma that’s coming off the pan?? HOLLA! you’re loving this!!, now let this cook for 8 minutes on simmer as the cauliflower absorbs all those flavors.  Remove from the heat and add the parsley and the fresh lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.  Done.

If you want to increase that lemony flavor, 1/2 tsp of Lemon zest added at the end will do that for you.  Cheese?  Parmigiano or Pecorino, a little..i personally prefer this with no cheese (can you imagine that I just said that? I just think in this dish no cheese is better but , that’s up to you).

This dish is Vegan and  Vegetarian Friendly.

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WHEN TRADITION MATTERS IN FOOD AND LIFE…CANNOLI AND CLOSINGS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier this week our local PBS Channel, WNET-13 broadcast it’s PART 2 of it’s documentary called, “THE ITALIAN AMERICANS OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY” hosted by Maria Bartiromo.  You can catch both parts 1 & 2 on the website   ( http://www.thirteen.org/italian-americans-ny-nj/)
It ran before each of the installments of the PBS National documentary “THE ITALIAN AMERICANS” so there’s been a boatload of nostalgia and pride, happiness and sadness, a hope for the future and a longing for the past.  Inevitably it brings up those memories of family no longer here, of youth long gone and the grasping at things which help connect all those dots to form your comfort zone and your life.  Out of a large number of submissions of family photos and stories mine was one that was picked to be part of the broadcast, a proud picture of my maternal grandparents on their 60th wedding anniversary in 1981 along with a quote from me.  It was a proud moment for me, and I hope for them as well as they gaze down from another place.  So for the bulk of this week I’ve been thinking about the past, not in a morose way but in a grateful way to have be fortunate to enjoy pieces of their world still here in the present.  BUT…things, they are a’changing.  This year my blogs will be a mix of my stories and recipes, but some will be like this one, just a story, a thought.

New York City is changing again, for the better?  In some ways.  For the worse?  In some ways.  What made this city what is it was the neighborhood, distinct enclaves set up by ethnicity, socio-economics, religions.  You used to be able to tell a neighborhood by when the stores changed from one ethnic group to another.  At present out of control rents are being asked by landlords and in the process the old guard is being completely forced out.  Gentrification is the word.  In the case of Times Square it was a welcome change.  In other neighborhoods, like lower Manhattan’s Little Italy, it’s not so great.  Why?  Because it all looks the same.  The Restaurants which are my barometer now instead of being all Italian, or Sicilian, are turning into upscale Hipster Yuppie (not all the same but you get my drift) boutiques for clothing, food, and anything retail.  At some point Manhattan will become a single neighborhood with repetitive retail and residential zones stretching from North to South and East to West.  That brings up my reason for writing this:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA DE ROBERTIS PASTICCERIA at 176 First Ave between 11th  & 12th Sts in what was once a heavily Italian enclave in the East Village.  The family run business closed this past December after being open for 110 years.  Amazing.  The family is getting older, it’s increasingly tougher to compete and profit for the mom and pop places and real estate prices are making these decisions for tired families very tempting.  Apparently that’s what happened here, can you blame the owner?  Of course it’s sad because the old school Italian Pastry shop is becoming increasingly hard to find and this was one of the best in show for a variety of reasons.  It’s age.  That alone is a reason why it’s closing really takes a living piece of NYC’s Immigrant and Italian-American history away.  We need these places, they are living museums.  The look and aroma in the shop always took me back to “the old days”.  Everything about it suddenly brought my mom and dad, my grandparents and other deceased family members back to life if only for a moment.  For me, that’s priceless. You would step down into DeRobertis and get Punched in the face with the smell of what every Italian Pastry shop should smell like.  I still don’t know if any other Italian or Italian-American bakery in NYC bakes the array of old traditional cookies and biscotti that DeRobertis did.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

For some reason Italian bakery cookies are a much bigger connection to the past than the pastries are, but let’s just say that DeRobertis had on of NYC’s best cannoli bar none.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  The Ricotta cream filling was that right combo of cheese and flavorings, with an almost custard like mouth feel and flavor. Crisp shells in irregular shapes added to the handcrafted feel of this place. Delicious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Have a taste of that…My last trip there was on May 2, 2013. I took home a box of Cannoli and one of their Sfogliatelle and a Pignoli tart.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Who knew then that I’d not be able to experience these pastries or walk on that ancient NYC immigrant floor again.  Is it all about the loss of some good pastry?  Certainly not,     While my Grandparents’ picture on TV the other night will not bring them back, or my posting these pics of DeRobertis will not reopen its’ doors, they make us think.  They make us realize that we must maintain certain traditions in life and in cooking that will keep up connected to the past or they will be forever lost and eventually die.  I enjoy Starbucks, but sitting in a Starbucks is not the same feeling one received sitting in DeRobertis with a house made pastry or cookie.  Seek out a mom and pop place in your neighborhood, not just Italian, but any one and enjoy what is being produced there.  Especially the ones that have been in a neighborhood forever.  Thankfully for those still pining for the old East Village’s Italian side, there is still Veniero’s on E.12 St.  Run, don’t walk, time seems to be running out for these living museums of Italian food that helped to build the City of New York.  Please , no panna cotta or trendy Gelato shop for me, I want a simply family run pastry shop making the standards.  Happy Eating!!!

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