Category Archives: Cookie

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Vinny’s Nut House

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.

Vinny’s Nut House

Vinny’s Nut House is a street cart owned by Vincent Sabatino, who was born and raised in Little Italy. He sells torrone, which is an Italian nougat, as well as roasted nuts and Italian cookies like anisette toasts and lemon cookies. The stand is on Mulberry and Grand outside of the Italian American Museum.

–Dina Di Maio

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Little Italy Isn’t Dead: The Legendary Ferrara

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.

Ferrara

Ferrara, a legendary Italian pastry shop, opened in 1892 by Enrico Scoppa and Antonio Ferrara.  The fifth-generation pastry shop gained fame when Enrico Caruso became a regular.  Ferrara’s became well-known for its cannoli and torrone.  Talk about being a kid in a candy store.  I take one look at the glass case of glistening glazed fruit atop an array of pastries in a myriad of colors, and I’m mesmerized.  The pastry case at Ferrara’s is a work of art.  When I talk to people who’ve never been to an Italian bakery, I show them pictures of Ferrara’s.  Everyone in my family will attest to Ferrara’s being the gold standard of New York Italian pastries.

Ferrara’s pastries

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: La Bella Ferrara

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.

La Bella Ferrara

Opened in 1970 by Sicilian immigrants Frank and Nick Angileri, La Bella Ferrara is an old-school Italian bakery. The smell of freshly baked Italian cookies greets you as you open the door. I’ve tried so many cookies and pastries here and have never been disappointed.

Calandra’s Bakery

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I stepped inside Calandra’s Bakery in Fairfield, New Jersey.  Well, this is my idea of heaven.  Tall cases of colorful revolving cakes, a wall of crusty breads, and cases and cases of pastries glistening with sugary glazes.  This bakery is the epitome of an Italian bakery.

The bakery was started over 50 years ago by Italian immigrants Luciano and Ortenza Calandra.  Today, they are a mini empire with three bakeries that supply over 500 establishments in four states as well as restaurants and hotels.

Gorgeous lobster tails with custard or cannoli cream.

rum baba

St. Joseph’s Day zeppoles in custard or cannoli cream

cookies

I got a box for the road with lobster tails, cannoli and a sfogliatella.  Really great sfogliatella, crispy and flaky with a delicious filling.

My favorite was the pepperoni bread.  This brings me back to childhood. Absolutely delicious!

 

Neapolitan Nzogna e Pepe Taralli

nzogna e pepe taralli

Taralli are a Southern Italian snack. I’ve written about taralli before.  Today, I’m sharing a recipe for the Neapolitan taralli known as nzogna e pepe, which translates to “lard and pepper,” in the Neapolitan language.  These make a crunchy savory biscuit.  Unfortunately, you can’t substitute the lard because that’s where these biscuits get their flavor and texture.  (You could make taralli with olive oil but it would be an entirely different biscuit.)

Nzogna e Pepe Taralli

4 cups flour

10 oz. lard

3 packages (3 tablespoons) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper (can add more, to taste)

Dissolve yeast in about 1/4 cup warm water and sugar.  Add about 1/5 of the flour and mix.  Cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour.  Add remaining flour, lard, salt and pepper.  Work into a dough and knead for a few minutes.  Here, you can add more water if the dough is too dry or add flour if it’s too sticky.  Roll out on a floured surface.  Cut into small pieces and roll into ropes of equal size.  Intertwine the ropes to form a pretzel shape, joining them at the ends to form a ring.  Let these rest for a few minutes.  Then, bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.  If they are larger, they can go in for an hour.  You want them to be somewhat golden brown.

–Dina Di Maio

6 Italian Christmas Foods & Traditions

(Scroll down for list.)

Christmas is a special time of year in an Italian household. The holidays bring many traditions, but Italian traditions differ based on region. Italy is divided into 20 regions, but these regions came into existence only after Italy was unified in the 1860s. Prior to that, the peninsula and surrounding islands and areas were part of various kingdoms and under different rulers through the centuries. There are many influences from other countries, and some traditions that date back to the earliest inhabitants. So the things I’m going to mention on this list may not be celebrated by all Italians. Keep in mind that the majority of Italian Americans are descended from people from Naples and Sicily and other areas of Southern Italy, so the traditions of Italian Americans are primarily Southern Italian traditions. For example, while we may buy a panettone, it was not something Southern Italians made. Cookies like struffoli, bows, pizzelles and anginettes are classic Christmas cookies of Southern Italians.

I have fond memories of Christmas. We always had bowls of mixed nuts around the house. The Saturday before Christmas we’d bring my grandma to the fish market so she could pick out what we needed for dinner, which always included a live eel and lobster. At the market, they would cut off the eel’s head and skin and chop it. As a family, we would make the bows and struffoli cookies. I liked using the pastry cutter to cut the bows. I watched as my grandmother cut a hole in the middle and pulled one end through to make the bow. Or else she would just tie the piece of dough in a knot like tying a shoelace. She’d fry them and shake powdered sugar on them. They kept through the holidays. The trick to our struffoli is cutting the pieces small because that’s how we like them. We also like honey syrup, pine nuts and sprinkles on top.

For Christmas Eve, my grandmother made a tomato-based sauce with some shrimp, calamari, scungilli, lobster, mussels and clams to serve over linguine. Traditionally, my family also had octopus salad, baccala salad, fried baccala, fried eel, fried smelts, lobster tails and baked clams. Sometimes we’d go to Midnight Mass.

For Christmas, we had antipasto consisting of Italian meats like Genoa salami, prosciutto, soppressata, capocollo and dried sausages; cheeses like provolone imported from Italy and fresh mozzarella; olive salad; pepper salad; some kind of pasta dish like lasagna or ravioli served with a tomato gravy cooked with pork, beef, beef and pork neck bones and meatballs; a green salad; and pastries from an Italian bakery or an Italian cheesecake my grandmother would make.

cannoli, pasticcioti, sfogliatelle

cannoli, pasticcioti, sfogliatelle

My grandma always put out plates of finocchio, celery and olives as palate cleanser between courses. With dessert, the adults might have some liqueur such as anisette or Galliano.

La Befana

La Befana

La Befana is also a holiday tradition in Italy. La Befana is known as a good witch, but is really just an old Italian lady who was busy cleaning her house when three visitors arrived. They were the Three Wise Men, and they wanted her to come along to see the Infant Jesus. She had too much cleaning to do and didn’t want to go. (Sounds like an Italian lady.) However, she later regretted that decision and set off with her broom to find the Christ Child and bring him a gift. She is still searching, so that is why she gives gifts to children on Epiphany, January 6. Historians say La Befana may have her origins in a pagan goddess called Strina, or Befana may be the pronunciation of the Greek word for Epiphany, epifania. We were aware of the tradition of La Befana, a tradition my grandparents grew up with but didn’t continue with their children. My grandmother would put her shoes out for La Befana, who would fill them with oranges, nuts and candy. Children would get coal if they were bad–a tradition my grandmother did continue, as she gave one of my aunts coal when she was bad. La Befana still visits children in Italy on Epiphany, and my cousins get candy and gifts in stockings.

panettone

panettone

  1. Panettone and Christmas breads–Panettone is probably the most recognizable Italian Christmas food and was declared the national Christmas cake in 1931 in the Gastronomic Guide to Italy. It comes from Milan in Northern Italy. A number of Christmas breads come from Northern Italy like pane al doge from Venice,  
    pane al doge

    pane al doge

    pandoro (pan d’oro or golden cake) of Verona,

    pandoro

    pandoro

    pandolce of Genoa (more buttery than panettone) or pan dolce from Friuli. There are a number of legends as to the origins of panettone, one being it was pan di Toni (bread of Tony or Tony’s bread) named after a baker named Toni. (A more modern dessert is the zuccotto di panettone, a Christmas pudding made with a panettone.)

    zuccotto

    zuccotto di panettone

  2. Chestnuts and nuts–Chestnuts have a long tradition in Italy.
    chestnuts

    chestnuts

    They were once a staple of the poor and then a popular export. They are roasted and eaten plain or candied or used in other dishes.

    chestnuts

    roasting chestnuts

    Filberts/hazelnuts are also eaten at this time of year. Both chestnuts and hazelnuts were eaten by the Etruscans.

    hazelnuts

    hazelnuts

    As I said earlier, we always had bowls of mixed nuts, including chestnuts, around during the holidays with old-fashioned nutcrackers. Almonds have been cultivated in Puglia for 7,000 years.  Along with hazelnuts, they are used in the confections in #3.

  3. Confections and candyPanforte of Siena is a confection using spices, nuts, dried fruits and syrup to create a cake.
    panforte

    panforte

    It is similar to the pangiallo of Rome. Panforte dates back to the 12th century and derived from a honey and pepper bread named panpepato. Torrone is a nougat from Cremona with dried fruit and nuts.

    torrone

    torrone

    Italians love candied fruit like orange rind and sugared nuts as well.

    Candied citron

    Candied citron

    Candied citron is very popular in Italian desserts–not just at Christmas time but also at other times of the year. For example, citron is included in the Easter wheat pie, pastiera.

  4. Christmas cookies–Cookies are everyone’s favorite holiday food. And Italians take their baking very seriously. Both sides of my family always made strufoli/struffoli (also known as pignoccati) and fried bows. Struffoli are a Neapolitan treat–fried dough balls in honey syrup decorated with pine nuts, sprinkles or dried fruits like the picture below. These are a favorite of mine.
    strufoli, struffoli

    strufoli, struffoli

    Bows are another fried dough treat that cross many cultures. In Italy, they are made in many regions and have many names like chiacchiere, cenci, cartellate, galani, bugie, frappe, donzelli, crostoli, farfellate or “wandi,” which I think is guanti or gloves in Italian. Thinking about this more, I think it may be “vanti” because in Neapolitan dialect, we pronounce “v” like “w” and “t” sounds a bit like “d.” Vanti are boasts and since these cookies are also called “bugie,” or “lies,” I think they could be called boasts as well. These are a family favorite. They can be sprinkled with powdered sugar or honey syrup.

    bows

    bows

    In Puglia, there’s a variation called cartellate in a circular shape drizzled with a honey syrup or vincotto (cooked wine syrup). Anginetti cookies, also known as knot cookies, are a popular Italian cookie. My Aunt Angie made the best ones I’ve ever had. Anise cookies are made with anise flavor. Similar in taste to licorice, anise is a flavor that appears often in Italian foods.  Mostaccioli are diamond-shaped Neapolitan chocolate spice cookies. Tri-colored rainbow cookies are a favorite as well.  Sesame cookies are finger-shaped cookies coated with sesame seeds.

    sesame

    sesame cookies

    Cucidati/cuccidati are fig cookies from Sicily. These cookies, when made by hand, are labor intensive but great fun for the family.

    cuccidati

    cuccidati

    Pizzelles are originally from the Abruzzo region of Italy and most likely predate the Roman empire. Years ago, families had irons to create this waffled cookie, and the iron included a family crest or design.

    pizzelle

    pizzelle

    Pignoli cookies are popular Italian cookies made with pine nuts. I’ve also seen wine biscuits although my family didn’t make them. Many of these cookies like struffoli, bows, sesame cookies and pizzelles have their origins in ancient times.

  5. Liqueurs–Anisette is an anise-flavored liqueur that can be used as a digestive, by itself in a small glass or in coffee along with a dessert. Galliano is an herbal digestive (an acquired taste–not a favorite of mine).
  6. Feast of the Seven Fishes–As I’ve written on my blog before, we always had fish on Christmas Eve but never called it by this name. And there was no requirement of seven fishes. I think this may be from a different region of Italy from my family. The tradition of fish is a religious one, stemming from the Roman Catholic Church and abstaining from meat on certain holy days, Christmas Eve being one. The most popular fishes to eat include baccala (cod),
    baccala

    baccala

    calamari,

    calamari

    calamari

    and octopus.

    octopus

    octopus

    My grandfather made fried smelts, and my grandmother made eel. We also had baked clams.

    baked clams

    baked clams

     

Neapolitan Holiday or Rainbow Cookies

I love these rainbow cookies or Neapolitan holiday cookies by Valerie Bertinelli. They are one of my favorite bakery cookies. I had never made them before, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. They are a bit time consuming but worth it. I used more jam and chocolate than the recipe calls for.

Neapolitan holiday cookies

Neapolitan holiday cookies