Category Archives: Cheese

The Italian Pantry: Cheese

When most people think of Italian cheese, they think of parmesan. But the go-to cheese for Southern Italians is pecorino romano. A popular brand is Locatelli, and in fact, we use the brand name in conversation much like Americans say “kleenex” for tissues. One thing is for sure–you will always find a block of pecorino romano in our refrigerator. And we grate it using a Mouli grater.

What is it used for? Mostly, we grate the cheese and use it to top off a bowl of pasta with tomato gravy/sauce. Or we use it to top off a bowl of soup like lentil or chicken soup. It’s used in other pasta dishes like lasagna or baked ziti. It’s used in meatballs. It’s used in my rice with eggs and cheese. We do not use it on top of seafood pasta dishes. (Another cheese that is not used as often but can be eaten or used to sprinkle on pasta is ricotta salata, similar to feta.)

–Dina Di Maio

Advertisements

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Alleva Dairy, America’s Oldest Cheese Shop

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Alleva Dairy

In 1892, Francesco and Pina Alleva from Benevento, Italy, (not far from Naples) opened the first cheese shop in the United States. Alleva Dairy is known for its fabulous mozzarella and ricotta and its sandwiches. The Alleva family sold the business in 2014 to the late John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia and his wife, Karen King. Actor Tony Danza is also a co-owner of the store.

 

Dina’s Best of 2017

As 2017 ends, it’s a time to reflect on all the delicious meals and treats I had this year.  I had some firsts this year that have become favorites:  pupusas,

pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts),

pasteis de nata

adjaruli khachapuri (a Georgian boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter)

and hot pot. 

hot pot at Good Harvest

It was a year of great food with the exception of two disappointing meals, one at one of those cheesy (pun intended) fondue restaurants that served mediocre cheese and another at the much-acclaimed Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina.  I had high hopes for Chef & the Farmer, especially since I lived in southeastern North Carolina for a number of years and know its farming history, but it turned out to be up there with my Dovetail experience a few years back as one of the worst restaurant meals I’ve ever had.  Regardless, I ate well this year, especially on my New Jersey pizza tour. 

pizza

I declared Star Tavern in Orange, NJ, and Brooklyn’s Coal-Burning Brick-Oven Pizza in Hackensack, NJ, as the best overall pizza in New Jersey with Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ, having the most traditional and flavorful crust. 

ice cream

I did a best ice cream in New Jersey tour too.  My favorite ice cream was from 

  1. Denville Dairy in Denville, NJ–the creamiest soft-serve ice cream.
  2. Magnifico’s in East Brunswick, NJ–best cherry-dipped cone.
  3. Cookman Creamery in Asbury Park, NJ–delicious vegan options.

I discovered Calandra’s Bakery and returned to my childhood with delicious pepperoni bread as well as many other great pastries.


There was a lot more, but these stand out as the most memorable of the year.

Dolce & Clemente’s Italian Market in Robbinsville, NJ

Owner Joe Clemente hails from Brooklyn where his family had successful grocery businesses. In 2008, he opened Dolce & Clemente in Robbinsville, New Jersey.  If you visit, it is in the same shopping center as De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies, so you can shop before or after your pizza.  They have a deli counter, bakery and prepared meal sections.

So much Italian bread

Imported cheeses

Giant cannoli

Plenty of taralli and even gluten-free pasta

NYC Cheesecake: Rocco’s vs. Veniero’s

Back in October 2013 in Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries on my blog, I declared that Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street in the West Village had the best New York-style cheesecake in the city. Four years later, do they still? I decided to compare theirs to Veniero’s for a West Village/East Village cheesecake challenge.

On a recent trip to Rocco’s, I got a slice as well as some taralli for the road. I love the creaminess of this cheesecake. In my book, it has the perfect consistency that I look for in cheesecake. In addition, it has the right amount of sweetness, which is not too much.

For the first time, I tried Veniero’s cheesecake. Veniero’s is located on E. 11th Street in the East Village. A nice creamy texture and good flavor, not too sweet. A serious contender, but for me, Rocco’s has a little something extra that makes it keep top spot on my list.

Of course, you can do your own cheesecake taste test and see which old world Italian bakery makes the best cheesecake to you.

Georgian Food in NYC at Old Tbilisi Garden

One thing is sure at Old Tbilisi Garden on Bleecker Street in NYC’s Greenwich Village, you won’t leave hungry. OK, I knew going here that I was going to get the cheesy bread thing I’ve seen posted everywhere. Not schooled in Georgian cuisine, I wasn’t sure what it was, but my waiter educated me on how to eat it. The most popular variation is the adjaruli khachapuri, a boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter. I wasn’t familiar with sulguni cheese, but it is a stringy cheese made from cow and/or buffalo milk. What you do is break the egg and mix it together with the cheese. Then, you break off bits of the bread to dip in the cheesy mixture and enjoy! This is a meal in itself!  The bread dough here was very good, reminiscent of my grandma’s delicious calzone dough. It is the perfect example to show that something so simple as bread, or dough, can be amazing.

I didn’t want my meal to consist of only carbs and fat, so I also got a Georgian salad, which was a pretty basic salad with a large enough portion for a few people.

For protein, I got the bazhe chicken appetizer in which chicken pieces are topped with a walnut sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.  This dish is served cold, and the sauce had a curry-like flavor to me.

Old Tbilisi Garden is a popular spot with a bustling business. It’s best to make a reservation, as I had been turned away on a prior occasion. This time, I didn’t have one but luckily, there was a table available on a busy weeknight.

Gluten-Free Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Chiena/Pizza Rustica

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica, or Savory Italian Easter Pie

Pizza chiena or pizza rustica is a savory Neapolitan pie served at Easter time.  My family is from the area surrounding Naples and they called it pizza chiena, pronounced like pizzagaina, or pizzagain, as they pronounce the hard ch sound as a hard g in Neapolitan dialect and the last vowel is often left off.

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena

For the crust:

5 cups gluten-free flour, not sifted

5 teaspoons xantham gum

3/4 cup shortening

4 eggs

warm water

olive oil

Put your flour on your work surface.  Dot with shortening and incorporate until it becomes somewhat crumbly (won’t be as crumbly as gluten flour would be).

Make a well and add eggs, incorporating them.  Add enough warm water until you have a workable dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes.  Put a little olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dough ball.

Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for about a half hour.

For the filling:

People use different ingredients in the filling.  It usually always has ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and salami.  From there, it varies.  You can also use gluten-free soppressata, capocollo, mortadella, or Italian sausage.  We only used soppressata, capocollo and salami.  One of my grandmas used provolone.  Also, some provolone can be sharp and you don’t want it to be too dominant a flavor.  Some people lump all the ingredients in there, some people chunk it, some people dice it very small, some people layer it.  It’s all your preference. 

1 lb. ricotta (Use a good brand with no added gums or thickeners.)

1 lb. basket cheese (If you can’t get this where you are, you can just use another pound of ricotta.  Or you can let one pound of ricotta sit in a colander or in cheesecloth the night before to drain out water.)

photo(25)

1 cup gluten-free salami, diced or not (You can use any of the above listed meats, as long as they are gluten-free.)

photo(31)

1 cup gluten-free prosciutto, diced or not

photo(32)

8 eggs

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

black pepper to taste

egg yolk for egg wash

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.  Just stir it all together.  No mixer needed.

Grease and gluten-free flour a 10-inch springform pan or a 13×9 rectangular pan or a large cake pan or pie dish (depends on how much filling you have).

Cut off 2/3 of dough.  Roll it out into a circle and line springform pan.

Fill with filling.

Roll out remaining dough into a circle.  Top pie with it.  I used an Italy-shaped cookie cutter to decorate the top.  You can use any shape you like or no shape at all.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Lower heat to 350 for 1 more hour.  Let cool for a few hours.  Refrigerate.  We eat this at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

–Dina Di Maio