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.
Concetta Di Palo and her husband, Luigi Santomauro, opened Di Palo’s in Little Italy in 1925 as a dairy. Concetta was from the Basilicata region of Italy. Now, in addition to ricotta and mozzarella, Di Palo’s carries a myriad of Italian grocery and specialty items. It is an overwhelming experience for the senses to see the hanging provolone cheese and prosciutto and salami and the variety of unique items on the shelves and in the refrigerated case. The shop is still family-owned today and a popular spot for foodies. It is like an old school deli, so be sure to take a number because it’s always crowded here.
For Easter, Italians from the Naples area make two different types of Easter pies, one savory and one sweet. I’m featuring these pies for this week’s Two for Tuesday. These are the kind of traditional Italian dishes, that if you didn’t grow up with them, you may not like them at first.
The first is the pastiera, or pizza grano. We called this “wheat pie.” It’s a sweet ricotta and wheat pie that originated during pagan times to celebrate spring. It also has citron in it. You can tell it by its distinctive criss-cross design on top. You can buy cans of wheat from Italy to use in the pie. They are available at stores like Di Palo’s in Little Italy and Buon Italia in Chelsea Market. This can depicts a finished piece of pastiera:
If you don’t use canned filling, the process of cooking the wheat takes longer. This is what the wheat filling looks like. Appetizing, right?
I made one and took the easy way out using frozen pie crust and you can tell my criss-cross is lazy. However, it was delicious and had that familiar taste inside.
The second pie is called a pizza rustica, or pizza chiena (pizza chien’ as we called it), that is filled with ricotta, mozzarella, chunks of salami and ham and eggs. My grandmothers both made this pie from scratch, and my Aunt Nancy made them every year as well. This pie is very dense and heavy from the egg and cheese filling. It’s much larger and taller than a pie in a traditional pie plate. The one I pictured from La Bella Ferrara
(now closed) in Little Italy is a lot smaller and thinner than they usually are. Pizza chiena is the type of pie that would sustain you for a long journey.
Posted in Holiday, Italian, New York, Pie, Pizza
Tagged Buon Italia, Chelsea Market, Di Palo's, Easter, Italian, Little Italy, Naples, Neapolitan, pastiera, pie, pizza chiena, pizza grano, pizza rustica, ricotta, wheat