Category Archives: Italian

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.)

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

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1 cup gluten-free prosciutto, diced or not

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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.

Gluten Free St. Joseph’s Day Zeppole

zeppole, sfince, sfinge

Happy St. Joseph’s Day! Now, everyone can partake in the festivities with a gluten-free version of zeppole or sfince/sfinge di San Giuseppe. I used the basic gluten-free cream puff recipe from King Arthur Flour. However, I did not have gf King Arthur flour on hand, so I used a homemade blend. My blend is from the all-purpose flour blend in Gluten Free & More magazine with a little tweak.

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend

1 1/2 cups sweet rice flour

3/4 cup tapioca starch

3/4 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

OK, so you will still use 3/4 cup of this flour blend to make the cream puffs. Follow the directions for cream puffs. I spooned generous tablespoons of dough onto the parchment paper. For me, it made 8 cream puffs. When they are cooled, you will add the ricotta filling.

Ricotta Filling

about 2 lbs. ricotta (or two containers, some containers are 15 oz.), drained in a colander or cheesecloth to remove excess water

1 cup confectioners’ sugar (or to taste, if you like it more or less sweet)

milk, optional

chocolate chips

candied citron or orange peel

crushed pistachios

maraschino cherries

Mix the ricotta and sugar. If it is too thick, add a bit of milk (not too much because you don’t want it liquidy). If you want, you can add some chocolate chips or candied citron. You can also decorate them with candied citron, candied orange peel, crushed pistachios, and/or a maraschino cherry.

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.

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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Taralli, an Italian Snack

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Taralli are a Southern Italian snack food.  If you’ve visited Italian-American bakeries or grocery stores, you may have seen the ring-shaped snack food sold in different varieties, such as fennel-flavored.  These crunchy snacks originate in Southern Italy.  Like much of Italian food, taralli are different in different regions.

In Naples, they are traditionally made with lard, pepper and almonds.  They were first made from scraps of leftover bread dough.  To this dough was added lard and pepper.  In the Neapolitan language, lard is “nzogna,” so you will see these as nzogna and pepe.  In Naples today, you will see this variety also has almonds.  Almonds were added in the 1800s, but the older version of these did not have almonds.  This older version is what my mother remembers at bakeries of her youth, bakeries that carried on Southern Italian traditions from the late 1800s here in the United States.  In fact, there were other crunchy breads that also had lard and pepper added to them.

In times past, the taralli vendor would sell the snack from a cart.  In Napoli today, miniature depictions of taralli vendors are sold on Via San Gregorio Armeno where you can find the famous presepio, or Nativity figures.

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In Puglia, taralli, or tarallini, are usually smaller, more crunchy and smoother with no almonds.  They are not made with lard but with olive oil and are often flavored with fennel or chili.  These are the ones most often found in Italian-American bakeries and stores.  They can also be made sweet instead of savory, which is popular in Basilicata.

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The origin of the word “taralli” is unknown, but it is thought to derive from the Greek word toros, meaning toroidal or round.  Or the Greek word daratos for a kind of bread.  It could also be from torrere, Latin for toast, or for a French type of bread.

Taralli are served year round but also during Carnevale.  They are made by either baking or by boiling then baking, similar to bagels.

They are plentiful at bakeries in Naples.  I like the nzogna e pepe from Leopoldo Infante.

Sfogliatella, a Neapolitan Pastry

The sfogliatella (sfogliatelle, plural) is a popular Neapolitan pastry eaten for breakfast or dessert that is also prevalent at Italian bakeries in the United States.  There are four varieties of sfogliatelle that exist in Naples–the shell-shaped riccia, which is the classic sfogliatelle, often with a ricotta-based filling;

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the circular frolla, which has a pasta frolla crust and the same filling;

pasta frolla

frolla

the santarosa, which has a custard filling and cherries on top;

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and the lobster tail, a longer version of the sfogliatelle riccia.  The classic shell-shape of the riccia, santarosa and lobster tail is named for its many sheets of dough.  Foglia means “leaf” or “sheet” in Italian.  It is very labor intensive and difficult to make, so one usually buys them in a bakery.  In contrast, frolla is easily made at home.

The traditional sfogliatella riccia was first made in a Medieval convent in Naples.  Pasticceria Pintauro in Napoli’s Quartiere Spagnoli, or Spanish Quarter, a historic area of the city, is about 200 years old, although it has had different owners through the years.  It is known for its sfogliatelle.

As is Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio, a bakery not far from the main train station, opened in 1930. It comes hot from the oven–just how it was made in the convents of old.  Attanasio’s is by far the best I’ve ever had.  The thin layers are crisped to perfection for a wonderfully crunchy bite.  According to its history, it is not only supposed to appeal to the taste buds, but the ears as well.

sfogliatelle

sfogliatella

The santarosa is named for the convent where it was first made, Monastero di Santa Rosa, which is now the site of a hotel on the Amalfi coast.

In New York City, sfogliatelle riccie and lobster tails are found at most Italian bakeries.