Senza Gluten, Senza Worry

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In Italian, the word “senza” means without. Senza Gluten is an Italian restaurant in the Village that is completely gluten free. This restaurant is a great concept because Italian food, with its myriad of pasta dishes, is often hard to find gluten free.  It is nice for people with celiac disease and those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance to have a night out senza worry.

For starters, we had cauliflower parmesan, cauliflower breaded with cheese and tomato sauce. A nice way to eat cauliflower.

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My friend ordered a Cesare, or Caesar salad.

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My entree was a vegetable lasagna, so the restaurant is vegetarian friendly as well.

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My friend got the risotto ai funghi, risotto with mushroom, parmesan and truffle oil.

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Finally, one is lucky to find a gluten-free entree at the average restaurant, let alone a dessert. Here, there are a number to choose from of Italian classics like tiramisu and panna cotta as well as a chocolate torte and biscotti.

One good thing to keep in mind while dining here is that Senza Gluten is cash and American Express only, so come prepared.

Day of the Dead Pan de Muerto

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I got some pan de muerto, or pan de los muertos, from a Mexican bakery for Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, also known as All Souls’ Day, November 2. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread made for the occasion that is a round loaf with bone shapes on top. Some of the bread is shaped like a person.

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I saw a wonderful replica of an ofrenda, a Day of the Dead altar, at the Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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Gluten-Free Candy Corn Pretzel Fudge

This Halloween, I made a gluten-free version of Lil’ Luna’s Candy Corn Pretzel Fudge with gluten-free candy corn and white chocolate and my favorite Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzel sticks.

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Halloween Chocolates

I saw these delightful Halloween-themed chocolates in the window at Li-Lac Chocolates on Bleecker Street. Choose from pumpkins, witches, skulls or ghosts. I love the ghosts, and they are also available in milk and dark chocolate.

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Upper West Side Brunch

I recently had brunch at two very nice spots on the Upper West Side, an area of the city where I usually do not spend much time.

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One is Machiavelli on Columbus & 85th.  A gorgeous restaurant with lush decor, the menu is decidedly Italian, including brunch with dishes like polenta with parmesan and truffle oil, nutella crepes, and lemon and ricotta pancakes.  I had the frittata salsiccia with Italian sausage, goat cheese, spinach and tomato.  It was wonderful.

Another spot is Ella Kitchen & Bar on Columbus & 72nd.  Here, the brunch consists of appetizing Latin & Mediterranean variations of classic dishes like baked eggs with Argentine sausage; eggs Benedict with grass-fed skirt steak and sauteed spinach; or avocado toast with edamame, black sesame seed, scallions, radishes, and hard-boiled egg.  I got the classic baked eggs with heavy cream and parmesan.

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San Gennaro Festival 2016

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New Yorkers are a resilient bunch with much pride in their city.  The bombing in Chelsea on September 17 would not deter them from carrying on.  The bombing occurred only two days into the ten-day San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, but it didn’t keep the crowds from coming.  That’s good because it’s an important year for the festival–its 90th anniversary.

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September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro and that is the day organizers celebrated with a mass and procession from the doors of the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street around Canal Street and up through Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood Church

Most Precious Blood Church

This year’s grand marshal was Joe Causi.  A Bronx Tale‘s Chazz Palminteri also made an appearance at the festival.  (Tony Danza was the grand marshal of the parade last year, but this year,  I had my second run-in with the actor.  I was shopping in Alleva Dairy, the country’s oldest Italian cheese store, when a man said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and brushed past me.  It was Tony.  Years ago, I ran into him on Bleecker Street and I asked for a photo to which he rudely said no.)

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Before Mass, I pinned a dollar on the statue of San Gennaro and got a pamphlet about him as well as a pin and prayer card.  Inside the church, there is a large presepio (Nativity scene) from Naples on display.

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Street vendors sell everything from American food to fair festival food like roasted corn,

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to pizza and cannoli

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to Italian tchotchkes

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to traditional Italian foods like these Italian cookies, taralli, mostaccioli and biscotti.

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I ate at Sal’s Pizza on Broome near Mulberry for pizza, sausage and broccoli rape.  At Sal’s, you get a side order of pasta with your entree, the traditional way.

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For dessert, some cassata and coffee at Caffe Palermo.

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Bucatini all’amatriciana in Honor of Italy’s Earthquake Victims

Last week, the Italian town of Amatrice was preparing for the 50th anniversary of sagra, its food festival to celebrate its famous dish, bucatini all’amatriciana, when a devastating 6.2 earthquake hit, destroying much of the city and killing 291 people.  A number of restaurants and chefs, including Jamie Oliver, are serving the local dish and donating a portion of the cost to the Italian Red Cross to help the victims.

Bucatini all’amatriciana is made with a tomato-and-bacon-based sauce with red chili, topped with pecorino romano cheese.  The bacon used is called guanciale, and it is a locally made bacon using the pork cheek, or jowl.  The fat is rendered from the bacon and used as the base of the sauce.

Of course, this is Italy, so there are different ways of making the sauce.  Some recipes add olive oil, onion, garlic, wine or basil.  These particular additions are usually made to “cut the fat,” as the guanciale can impart a gamey, fatty taste.

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Some substitute pancetta or bacon for the guanciale, but that’s only if guanciale is not readily available because all these products are different and will change the dish.  Some use a different pasta besides bucatiniBucatini is similar to perciatelli, which my family uses.  These are used interchangeably today, but I have seen them as two distinct pasta shapes in old cookbooks.  Some think spaghetti is a reasonable substitution but scoff at using a short pasta.  But there are reasons for using a particular pasta, such as how the sauce adheres to it.  Because tomatoes were not grown in the area, canned tomatoes are used.  (Before tomatoes arrived in Italy, the dish was made white, or in bianco.  The tomato-less version is called alla gricia.  Some think the dish only started having tomatoes after World War II.)  Finally, it is essential to use pecorino romano cheese and not parmigiano reggiano because the former is a sheep’s-milk cheese, which is from the local area with its history of shepherding, not cow’s-milk, like the latter.

I made bucatini all’amatriciana this weekend from the recipe in La Cucina:  The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine.  Luckily, I found guanciale and got it cubed, which is how it is typically cut for this dish.  I substituted perciatelli for the bucatini, since I already had some.  Really, you can do what you like because the resultant dish will be delicious no matter how it is prepared.  The only criticism of mine would be that I used a lot of sauce, but this is how we like it.

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In addition to bucatini all’amatriciana, I made farro all’amatriciana with some farro I got from my cousin in Italy.  The farro recipe comes from Savoring Italy by Robert Freson.

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