Category Archives: Cheese

Italian Easter Rice Pie

This year for Easter, I made an Italian Easter rice pie.  I’ve written before about the Italian Easter pies, the pizza chiena, or pizza rustica, and the pastiera, or pizza grano.  This is a variation of the pizza grano.  The pizza grano is a Neapolitan wheat pie served at Easter.  My family traditionally made this pie at Easter time.  Part of my dad’s family is from the area near Benevento, Italy, and there they make a variation with rice instead of wheat.  So he grew up with both the wheat and rice pies at Easter.

I wanted to be ambitious this Easter/Lent and make a lot more, but I haven’t had the time.  I had wanted to make hot cross buns, but instead just got some yummy ones from a bakery.  I’m also going to make a pizza chiena.  My grandma has a variation of the pizza chiena that is vegetarian, using mashed potatoes.  I don’t think I will be making that one this year though, as I don’t have time.  Now, I do have a homemade crust recipe, but I can’t publish it or else I may get the malocchio from my aunt.

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Italian Easter Rice Pie

1 1/2 cups whole milk or 1 cup skim/1/2% milk and 1/2 cup light cream/half and half

1/2 cup rice

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 pound ricotta (I use Calabro brand.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 oz. candied citron  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 deep dish frozen pie crust

1 regular frozen pie crust

Cook rice according to package directions (with water).  Add milk and cook on low until milk is absorbed.  Cool.  Beat eggs and beat in sugar.  Add ricotta, orange blossom water, vanilla and citron and stir.  Stir in rice.  Put into deep dish pie crust and top with top crust.  (I used a regular pie crust for the top and cut strips with a pastry cutter.)  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  Cool and serve.

Two for Tuesday: Galbani

With all the Galbani commercials on TV, I had to try the products.  I found mozzarella at a lot of grocery stores but wasn’t for the longest time able to find the ricotta.  Finally, I did.  I like the fresh, creamy ciliegine, cherry-sized balls of mozzarella.  They are really nice added to a salad.

I’m not as happy with the ricotta as it has a sweet flavor that I don’t like in ricotta, and it also has added gums.  It’s made in the USA–not Italy.

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Two for Tuesday: Irish Cheddar

Even though St. Patty’s Day was yesterday, I’m still celebrating all things Irish.  How about Irish cheddar?  So I’m doing a side-by-side of Kerrygold Dubliner vs. Murray’s Irish cheddar.  (No, I’m not being cute.  I couldn’t get this photo to straighten in WordPress.  Something must not be working.)

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Both cheeses are from Ireland.  Dubliner (l) is more complex and nutty.  Murray’s (r) was softer, not quite as strong a flavor.

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Neighborhood Watch: Arthur Avenue in the Bronx

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Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx, is the only real Italian neighborhood left in NYC.  If you’re looking for an authentic Italian American experience, this is the place to be.  However, it’s not so easy to get to.  It’s a long, hilly walk from the subway.  Or if you take a cab, the cab driver will not know where it is.  I know cab drivers are supposed to know where to go in the boroughs, but they don’t, especially in the Bronx and Queens and sometimes, Brooklyn.  I suggest you have directions or your phone GPS on hand to assist the driver.

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The main strip is Arthur Avenue from East 184th Street to East 187th Street.  On East 187th Street, there’s Artuso’s Pastry, the home of the famous Pope cookies.  In case you are looking for them, the Pope cookies were made for Pope Benedict’s visit to New York and his recent resignation, but they do not have Pope cookies now.

Visit Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.

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Walk west to Egidio Pastry and admire the case full of beautiful pastries.

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The history of the building is evident with its tin ceiling.

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Here, we tried a mini cannoli and a mini sfogliatelle. They were both very good, but the sfogliatelle was particularly well crafted with flaky layers.

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DeLillo Pastry has outdoor seating and a mighty fine cannoli with creamy ricotta filling.

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There are a lot of bakeries on this small strip, so if you are doing a tasting, be prepared to eat a lot or to take some home. I brought my rolling backpack so that I could easily bring things home with me.

In addition to bakeries, there are ravioli/pasta shops, seafood markets, meat markets, cheese shops, pizzerias, Italian restaurants and kitchen stores. At Marie’s, you can get dinnerware and housewares, as well as coffee, from Italy.
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OK, vegetarians in the crowd will not want to look at the next photo–the body of a sheep hanging in the window of a meat market.

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Teitel Brothers is an Italian grocery store owned by a Jewish family that has been in the neighborhood since 1915.

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Now this is something you don’t see anymore–a bread bakery.  Zito’s and Vesuvio’s in the city closed awhile ago.  Thank goodness Addeo’s is still here in the Bronx.

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Look at that bread.

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At Biancardi’s meat market, you can still get capuzelle, or sheep’s head.

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Madonia Bakery has beautiful bread and also fills cannoli to order.

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I got some yummy cookies for the road.

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In the middle of the block, there’s an indoor market, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, with a butcher, fish and produce market as well as products from Italy and Arthur Avenue T-shirts and souvenirs.

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The butcher here had beef feet.  I’ve never seen these before and am not sure how Italians use them.

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If you’re into offal, this is the place to be.  Here’s cotenne, the pig skin I’ve written about, in the rear of this photo.

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Brains, anyone?

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OK, I definitely share the sentiment with these T-shirts.

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Check out Cerini Coffee, a fun store with housewares from Italy.

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At Morrone Pastry Shop & Café, I got a rainbow cookie cake slice and a tortoni.  Both were delicious.  (I also bought a rainbow cookie cake for my aunt’s birthday.  I froze it the day I bought it and thawed it a week later.  It was fresh, moist and delicious.)

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In case you thought I just had sweets, I did stop for a slice of pizza at Catania’s.

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What to Eat:  pastries and bread from Artuso’s, Egidio’s, DeLillo’s, Madonia’s, Addeo’s or Morrone’s; pizza from Catania’s.

Where to Shop:  Marie’s and Cerini’s for kitchen wares; the Arthur Avenue Retail Market for souvenirs, produce and Italian goods; Borgatti’s for ravioli; Randazzo’s for seafood.

What to See:  Columbus statue at East 183rd Street and Arthur Avenue, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on East 187th Street.

Two for Tuesday: Brooklyn Pizza

I finally made it out to Brooklyn to try Totonno’s in Coney Island and L&B Spumoni Gardens’ pizza in Bensonhurst.  Pizza is a controversial topic, I realize.  My grandmother talked about wood-fired pizza from Naples.  My mother grew up on coal-fired pizza.  As my family worked in the pizza business and owned a pizzeria, I’m pretty critical of pizza.  Among aficionados, Totonno’s has a history and is known as some of the best pizza.

Totonno's
On our visit, we didn’t have to wait on line.  There was one table available.  There are no frills here.  You sit; they bring you paper plates and plastic cups.  You have your choice of canned or bottled soda and water.  Service is rushed and not friendly.  Because of the demand and lack of space, you may have to share a table with other patrons, as we did.  We ordered the large plain cheese pie, which is a steep price at $19.50.

Totonno's pizza
The three elements of pizza are crust, sauce and cheese.  With a coal-fired oven, one would expect the blackened bottom and a certain flavor.  Sally’s Apizza in New Haven has the perfect coal-fired crust.  Totonno’s crust didn’t have that blackened bottom, and the dough was lackluster.  The tomato sauce was bland–just a tomato taste.  The cheese was also pretty flavorless.  I had really wanted to love this place because of its history, but I felt it was lacking in taste.  I really don’t think it’s worth a trip out to Coney Island just for this pizza.

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L&B Spumoni Gardens is a subway stop and short walk away from Totonno’s.  Here, the specialty of the house are Sicilian-style pies.  For those who don’t know, Sicilian style pies are square pies that are more doughy.  My mom says that when she was young, Sicilian pies came with tomato and onion, but that is not how they are served today.  The pie at L&B is good, but where’s the cheese?  I understand the sauce is on top of the cheese, but I don’t think there’s enough cheese.  It’s unfortunate because the sauce is very good, slightly sweet and with oregano.  With more cheese, this would be one hell of a Sicilian pie.

L&B Spumoni Gardens pizza

Two for Tuesday: Cheesecake Variations

Cheesecake is a classic New York dessert, and it’s also ubiquitous.  Every restaurant has its version, and some are better than others.  While I’m not a big fan of cheesecake, I have enjoyed a piece of Junior’s.  Then, I found something on Junior’s menu that caught my eye:  strawberry shortcake cheesecake.  Yes, the best of both worlds.  Strawberry cheesecake sandwiched between strawberry shortcake.  It is as good as it sounds.  And the best part:  delivered to your door.

Junior's strawberry shortcake cheesecake

Another interesting cheesecake I found was at Spot Dessert Bar on 32nd Street in Koreatown.  On the third floor of the Food Gallery, there’s a Spot Dessert Bar location with ice cream, cupcakes, macaroons and fancy dessert plates.  I ordered the smoked coconut cheesecake, coconut cheesecake smoked with Thai aromatic candle and coconut ice cream with basil seeds.  It comes with peaches, blueberries and jellies.  I’m not sure what is meant by Thai aromatic candle, but this was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time.  The foam on top had a citrus flavor.  The clear jellies had a hard texture, but I wasn’t able to discern the flavor.  All the accompaniments went well with the cheesecake, but the cheesecake can stand alone.

coconut cheesecake

Neighborhood Watch: Little Italy’s Grand Street

Today, it’s hard to imagine that Manhattan’s Little Italy once encompassed a much larger area than a few blocks along Mulberry Street.  Yes, my family lived on Mulberry Street south of Canal Street close to Bayard Street.  And Italians lived as far east as the Bowery.  Little Italy shrinks as the years go by.  It’s pretty much just Mulberry Street now maybe from Spring to Canal.  But that’s a stretch, as most of the businesses along that strip are not Italian or Italian-owned.  I would say the most Italian section of Little Italy is right off Mulberry and Grand Streets.  Here is the fairly new Italian American Museum, opened in 2001.  The building was the Banca Stabile, a bank founded in 1885 to aid the local Italian community and arriving immigrants.  Due to financial reasons, the museum is seeking a developer to build a new building at the site, so if you want to see the historic building, you should visit now.

Museum

The Alleva Dairy for cheese and meat and other Italian grocery items and the Piemonte Ravioli Co. for pasta.

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Piemonte

Across the street is E. Rossi & Company, an Italian housewares store that used to be on the corner and that every Italian American from NYC remembers.  Here is a great history of the store.  The article also mentions Paolucci’s, a restaurant that closed as rents went up.  Paolucci’s actually had perciatelli on the menu.  The owner introduced me to Goodfellas‘ author Nick Pileggi at the restaurant one night.

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Of course, no stop to Little Italy is complete without a visit to the famed pasticceria Ferrara.

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Try gelato or pastries, such as cannoli, napoleons, eclairs, or rum babas.

At the end of the block on Mott Street is Di Palo’s, an Italian deli/grocery.

Di Palo

Head south on Mulberry Street to the Church of the Most Precious Blood.  Established in 1891, this church is the site of the San Gennaro festival in September.

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For coal-oven pizza, try Lombardi’s on Spring and Mott Streets, the first pizzeria in the United States, opened in 1905.

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Lombardi’s pizza

What to Eat:  Cannoli from Ferrara, pizza from Lombardi’s

Where to Shop:  E. Rossi & Company for housewares and Italian novelties; Alleva Dairy and Di Palo for cheese, meat and grocery items; Piemonte Ravioli for pasta

What to See:  Italian American Museum, Church of the Most Precious Blood

Weekend Whets 4/5

Community Cookbook Extravaganza, Saturday, April 6, 2013, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn:  Bring a recipe or food story to include in the community cookbook.

Smorgasburg, Saturdays starting April 6, 2013, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at East River State Park—Kent Ave. and N. 7 St.—on the Williamsburg waterfront; and Sundays on the DUMBO waterfront at the historic Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn:  Event with local food vendors.

Cheese and Wine Pairing Class, Sunday, April 7, 2013, 6 p.m., Cheese and Wine Hoboken, Hoboken, NJ:  Class on how to pair wine and cheese.  $60.

A Taste of Fifth Avenue, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 6:30 p.m., Grand Prospect Hall, Brooklyn:  Food tasting of Fifth Avenue’s best restaurants.  Music, dancing and complimentary wine and beer.  Tickets are $45 and $25 of that goes to a local charity of your choice.

Peruvian Sushi Night, Saturday, April 13, 2013, 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., Somethin’ Jazz Club, 212 East 52nd Street, Manhattan:  Gabriel Alegria and the Afro Peruvian Sextet playing.  Peruvian sushi must be ordered in advance.

Eat Like a Chef!  Danny Meyer and Michael Romano with Adam Gopnik, Monday, April 15, 2013, 8:15 p.m., 92nd St Y, Manhattan:  Restaurateur and chef discuss culinary secrets to making staff meals at Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and more.  Tickets are $29.

Tasting Brooklyn, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., The Green Building, Brooklyn:  Event that celebrates the borough with tastings from area vendors and restaurants like Robicelli’s.  VIP tickets, $75; general admission, $50.

2nd Annual Taiwanese Night Market, Friday, April 19, 2013, 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., The Villian, Brooklyn:  A night market of Asian and Taiwanese food vendors.  Tickets $40.

NYC Hot Sauce Expo, Saturday and Sunday, April 20-21, 2013, 10 a.m., Food Karma Projects Presents Events on Kent, 110 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn:  Live music, fire breathers, spicy food vendors, awards show, eating challenges and contests, adult beverages and the best hot sauce companies from North America.

Earth Day Dinner at Del Posto, Monday, April 22, 2013, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Del Posto, 85 10th Avenue, Manhattan:  A five-course vegetarian dinner in honor of Mother Earth with Annie Novak, Urban Garden Goddess, and Amy Thompson of Lucy’s Whey.

Baking for Spring!  Make Homemade Pies & Delicious Cocktails, Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., GE Monogram Design Center, 150 East 58th Street, Manhattan:  Hands-on pie making event making mini blueberry, raspberry and blackberry pies to take home. $40.

The Joy of Cheese and Gastronomie 491 Present The Gastronomie 9, Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 7 p.m., Gastronomie 491, 491 Columbus Avenue (between 83rd and 84th), Upper West Side, Manhattan:  A discussion and tasting of nine cheeses.

LuckyRice New York, Monday, April 29, 2013 through Sunday, May 5, 2013, Manhattan:  A celebration of Asian cuisine.  Each night showcases a different type of Asian food.  Opening night is a dumpling party.

Third Coast ShortDocs Challenge in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, deadline April 30, 2013:  Create a story inspired by the idea of “appetite” that’s two to three minutes in length, presented in three “courses” and includes one of the five tastes in the title: bitter, salty, sour, sweet or umami.

Obscure Italian Easter Foods

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Italian Easter pies, pizza grano (pastiera) and pizza chiena (pizza rustica), which are both served on Easter Sunday.  There are lesser-known foods that Italians eat at Easter.  Last year, I wrote about casatiello, a peppery Neapolitan Easter bread made with meat and cheese.  Here’s a recipe for casatiello.  Unlike pizza chiena, it’s a bread–not a pie, though some ingredients are similar.  It often has a hard-boiled egg in it for decoration.  I have seen Italian Easter bread at area bakeries, but it is not the casatiello my family made.  The bread I’m seeing at the bakeries is more like a plain bread with the hard-boiled egg in it. 

Easter bread

In addition to casatiello, there’s another dish served on Easter; however, it’s probably something you won’t be serving any time soon.  It’s called capuzelle, or lamb’s head.  Yes, it is sheep’s head.  My late aunt was one of only two people in my family who actually liked eating capuzelle.  My grandfather, who came from a mountain town in Southern Italy, ate capuzelle, including the eyes.  Ewe, gross, no pun intended.  I don’t know anyone who eats this anymore.  Like cotenne, which I’ve written about before, it was something that was eaten when people utilized all parts of an animal.  Here’s an essay about it that was published in Gourmet in 2009.  I am glad I don’t have a picture of this, but if you are interested, do a search on Google if you dare.  If you’re adventurous, Staten Island restaurant Enoteca Maria serves it.

Lenten Lunch: Beecher’s Eggs and Cheese Sandwich

I got a really delicious eggs and cheese sandwich at Beecher’s in Flatiron.  This is also a great breakfast/lunch for Lent!  It’s on really good toasty bread.  It’s more cheesy than eggy, which I would expect from a cheese shop! 

Beecher's eggs and cheese