Category Archives: Pie

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.

Advertisements

Ponzio’s, a New Jersey Diner in Cherry Hill, NJ

I couldn’t conclude a tour of New Jersey without visiting a Jersey diner.  And without getting Taylor ham, although it’s referred to as pork roll in South Jersey.

When you step inside Ponzio’s, the first thing you see is the huge bakery with cases of cakes, pastries and cookies.  A sight that has me drooling.

For an appetizer, we got the bay fries. These were really delicious!

I got a pork roll and cheese sandwich.

Pretty good, although I prefer a breakfast Taylor ham and egg roll.

My friend was excited to get calamari marinara, calamari as an entrée without breading.

I thought I’d try the peach pie, which looks amazing in this photo, with its whipped cream piled high. I have to say it was a bit disappointing though, as it didn’t have a fresh, farm-fresh pie flavor to it.  I think the whipped cream was artificial.

Penza’s Pies in Hammonton, New Jersey

Penza’s Pies at the Red Barn Cafe is the legacy of the originating Sicilian farmer whose family still owns it. You can’t miss the big red barn off Route 206 in Hammonton, New Jersey.

The cafe is small and quaint. When we visited, we got brunch.

Apparently, you can’t order a slice of pie, but they do have a pie-like dessert with Jersey blueberries.  This was really delicious!

We also got a blueberry pie for the road.

When you’re done, stop by the nearby farmers’ market for New Jersey peaches, blueberries and tomatoes.

 

Quote

New Jersey Pizza Tour, First Stop: Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville

Papa’s Tomato Pies, in Robbinsville, NJ, was originally opened in 1912 in Trenton, NJ.

It claims to be the oldest continuously family-run pizza restaurant in the country.

Neapolitan natives Giuseppe (Joe) and Adalene Papa founded the pizzeria

that is now run by their grandson, Nick Azzaro.

The first pizzeria in Trenton was called Joe’s Tomato Pies opened in 1910 by Joe Silvestro (closed in 1999).  Joe Papa learned to make tomato pies here before opening his own shop at age 17.

Papa’s serves “tomato pies” as opposed to “pizza,” the difference supposedly being that the cheese is put on the dough first, then the tomato sauce. But I must admit, I didn’t notice a difference. It’s all apizz’ to me.  According to Ed Levine’s Pizza:  A Slice of Heaven, the original ovens at Papa’s were coal-fired and changed to gas in the 1950s.

From the menu, I ordered a regular tomato pie. (Interestingly, they have what they call a mustard pie, that has mustard underneath the cheese and tomato. I’ve never seen this before.)

 

So I’ve written about pizza before. Pizza has three components:  crust, sauce and cheese. The hardest part to perfect is the dough. Good pizza dough is kind of like porn–I know it when I see it. Papa’s has perfected the dough. It has a great bake and flavor. It has a pretty thin crispy crust, which I’ve come to learn, is popular in New Jersey. The sauce, on the sweet side, showcases the tomato nicely.  The cheese is creamy.  With an excellent crust, albeit on the thin side for my taste, all in all, Papa’s makes a great pie.

(I ordered a house salad too to make eating pizza a bit healthier. However, the salad was lackluster to say the least. Stick to the pie and get your greens elsewhere.)

The restaurant is located behind another building off the road. There is a gravel driveway and a parking lot with plenty of parking. It is cash only so be prepared. They do have an ATM on site.

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

The Myth of the Italian Pastiera

The Italian dessert served at Easter, the pastiera, or pizza grano, has its origins in the myths of the ancient world.  In fact, it stems from a legend straight from Homer’s Odyssey.  According to legend, because the siren Parthenope could not lure Ulysses to crash on her shores, she jumped to her death in the waves, but the god Poseidon saved her by bringing her to the Gulf of Naples where some fishermen rescued her.  Every spring, she would revisit the people of Naples.  The people gave her seven gifts:  flour to symbolize wealth, ricotta to symbolize abundance, eggs to symbolize fertility, grain boiled in milk to symbolize the harmony of animal and vegetable, orange-flower water typical of the area, spices and honey to symbolize the sweet siren’s song.  These are the ingredients in the pastiera.

Sorghum Pecan Pie

pecan pie, sorghum

Last year, I bought some sorghum syrup when I was in Helen, Georgia.  I saw this sorghum and bourbon pecan pie from Smoky Mountain Living magazine and thought it was the perfect opportunity to use the sorghum.  For the pie, I made my own crust and decorated it with these fall pie crust cutters from Sur La Table.

pecan pie, sorghum