Category Archives: America

Delicious Pizza & the Best Broccoli Rabe at Denino’s NYC

Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern is the Greenwich Village outpost of a popular Staten Island pizzeria.  The Denino family came to New York City from Sicily in 1887. The family opened a tavern in 1937 and started serving pizza in 1951.  I visited their Village location.

I got a pizza with half cheese and half arugula and sausage.

I’m hard to please when it comes to pizza, so when I say a pizza is delicious, it really is!  Denino’s is delicious. For thin crust fans, this crust is crispy with enough chew to it so it’s not too crispy. It has a nice flavor, as does the sauce and cheese. Hard to find a perfect combo of the three, but Denino’s pulls it off.

In addition to pizza, we got a side order of broccoli rabe.  It was chopped, which was a nice touch and made it easier to eat.  It was also cooked and seasoned to perfection. In fact, this is the best broccoli rabe that I have eaten in a restaurant. It was so good, we got two orders!

 

Old Ragu Spaghetti Sauce Ad on Building in Tribeca

I don’t think it’s widely known that Ragu pasta sauce company was started by Italian immigrants. Assunta and Giovanni Cantisano immigrated from Potenza, Italy, to Rochester, NY, and began canning tomatoes for sauce. They started their company in 1937. At one time, the Cantisanos’s factory employed over 300 people. In the 1950s, Ralph Cantisano, the Cantisanos’s son, added the gondola to Ragu’s label. In 1969, they sold the name Ragu to Chesebrough-Pond’s. (Unilever owned Ragu for a long time, but Mizkan Group, a Japanese food manufacturer, bought Ragu and Bertolli in 2014 for $2.5 billion.) After the sale, the Cantisanos made pasta sauce under other names, including Francesco Rinaldi, which they purchased in 1981. An employee’s family bought their company in 2002, renaming it LiDestri Foods, and is a successful sauce maker today.

I read on Forgotten New York that there was an old Ragu spaghetti sauce sign painted on a building in Tribeca on 6th Avenue between White and Walker Streets. So I had to stop by and photograph it myself.

 

8 ’till late: Grocery Store Art Installation

You walk into your local corner store with all your favorite products on the shelves.  But when you reach for that box of Ritz crackers, it’s soft to the touch…and made of felt.  This is what British felt artist Lucy Sparrow’s debut US exhibition 8 ’till late:  A Felt Convenience Store is like.

Situated in a storefront on Little West 12th Street behind the Biergarten at the Standard Hotel near the High Line, it looks like your neighborhood bodega with everything you could possibly need from fruits and veggies

to frozen pies and ice cream.

But here, it’s all recreated in felt.

You can even get a felt Coca-Cola from a felt Coke machine.

Mmm…pupusas…my new favorite food…

In the back room, the felt pieces are displayed as art, with an Andy Warhol-like depiction of Campell’s Soup.

The items may not be edible but you can purchase them.  Prices are a bit steep, but I couldn’t resist taking home this package of one of my favorite childhood candies, Skittles.

This exhibition has been here since June 5 and will be ending next Friday, June 30, so get there while you can.  There may be a line but it went quickly when we visited.  The exhibit is free to attend, but the felt pieces are for purchase and prices vary.

 

Broccoli Rabe or Broccolini®: Is There a Difference? Yes!

broccoli rabe

I have seen a new bait and switch tactic going on in food circles these days.  When I order broccoli rabe at some restaurants, I’m not getting the familiar leafy vegetable of my upbringing, but a stalky substitute called broccolini.  In some magazines, I’ve seen articles on recipes for broccoli rabe with pictures of broccolini. Is there a difference between broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, and broccolini?  Yes!

Broccoli rabe, or rapini, is in the same family as other well-known vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. It most resembles turnip greens or mustard greens that are popular in the southern United States. In fact, turnips are in the same species as broccoli rabe, Brassica rapa.  Broccoli rabe, like turnip and mustard greens, has a bitter flavor that dissipates when prepared properly.

We know broccoli rabe, or rapini, by its Italian name, as it is most associated with Italian cuisine, particularly southern Italian cuisine, although other cultures prepare it and it now grows all over the world.

broccoli rabe

The most common way to prepare it is simply blanching it, then sauteeing it in olive oil, and serving it dressed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. In the southeastern heel of Italy, Puglia, there is a popular pasta dish called orecchiette with broccoli rabe or rapini.

Italian immigrants of 100 years ago had grown broccoli rabe in their gardens, and the Andy Boy company in California is credited with commercially bringing broccoli rabe, or rapini, to the United States.  Their website lists all the attributes of rapini and has a plethora of recipes.   In the first decade of the 1900s, Sicilian immigrant Andrea D’Arrigo came to the United States, learned English, and earned engineering degrees.  His brother, Stefano, joined him and founded Andy Boy produce company.  In 1926, they invented a way to ship produce across the country in refrigerated cars.  The first vegetable shipped across country was broccoli, grown here from seeds they brought over from Italy.

broccolini

Broccolini is a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan, a vegetable popular in Chinese cuisine, also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale.  It was developed by a Japanese seed company, Sakata Seed Inc., that was looking for ways to extend the growing season of broccoli.  After seven years, it was developed and brought to the U.S. market in 1993.  Sakata trademarked the name Asparation because its stalks resembled asparagus.  Mann Packing Co. in California is the grower who trademarked the name broccolini.  (The COO’s wife, Debbi Nucci, came up with the name.) Mann’s website has product information and recipes for broccolini.  Mann’s was founded in 1939 by H.W. “Cy” Mann, a Stanford graduate, and became known for its broccoli.

Both rapini and broccolini end in -ini, which is an Italian suffix meaning “little,” and are often used interchangeably in recipes and restaurants. But they are different. Broccoli rabe is more leafy while broccolini has longer stalks with more broccoli heads. They also differ in taste with broccolini being more mild, and broccoli rabe being more earthy.  They are both nutritionally sound. From a culinary standpoint, they can be used interchangeably in recipes.  But from a traditional standpoint, broccoli rabe is the vegetable eaten for years in Italy and brought to the United States by Italian immigrants.  If a restaurant purports to sell broccoli rabe, it shouldn’t be switching it with broccolini, and vice versa. It comes down to personal preference whether or not one chooses broccolini or rapini, but it should be a choice, not the result of a convenient switcheroo.

–Dina Di Maio

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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Standard Foods May Be Standard But It Is Far From Ordinary

Standard Foods is the perfect name for this Raleigh restaurant by former Herons executive chef Scott Crawford. All the foods here are locally sourced, whole foods. And there’s a market attached so you can purchase them to cook at home. Kudos to you if you can cook them with an expert hand like this chef. I’ll stick with dining at the restaurant.

My friend and I started with smoked pecans from the snacks section of the menu. I guessed they would have some kind of seasoning on them. But they tasted like they had been cooked in a smoker. They are so wonderfully addictive.

smoked pecans

We ordered a turnip and apple salad from the small plates section. Is this the first time someone is writing that a turnip salad was absolutely delicious? But this one is. All the elements, including the creamy dressing and cheese, work well together.

turnip and apple salad

We followed with a nice, slightly sweet butternut squash ravioli.

butternut squash ravioli

The roasted chicken breast and leg cooked in duck fat with mushrooms and carrots is a very generous large plate. The chicken breast was cooked perfectly. The leg was very rich. We shared this dish, so it worked out well for two. The carrots had a delightful sweet glaze.

chicken

The potato puree arrived in adorable Le Creuset cookware. I really liked this very smooth version of mashed potatoes.

potato puree

The sopping bread was a very nice multigrain bread from Boulted Bread.

Boulted bread

For dessert, I got the sweet potato cheesecake, a deconstructed version of cheesecake with these caramel popcorn pieces and a creme fraiche. Divine! Just wish the serving was bigger!

sweet potato cheesecake

Day 12: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

apple butter, Mercier Orchards

Day 12, Blue Ridge, Georgia: Mercier Orchards apple butter

What better way to round out the 12 days of Christmas than apple butter from a fourth-generation family-owned apple orchard that’s been in business for over 70 years!