Tag Archives: ricotta

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.



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.)


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


1 cup gluten-free prosciutto, diced or not


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

Panettone Ricotta Pudding or Zuccotto di Panettone


What do you do with the extra panettone you got for Christmas?  How about this panettone ricotta pudding, or zuccotto di panettone from Gennaro Contaldo of Two Greedy Italians.  It makes an impressive dessert!





Two for Tuesday: Galbani

With all the Galbani commercials on TV, I had to try the products.  I found mozzarella at a lot of grocery stores but wasn’t for the longest time able to find the ricotta.  Finally, I did.  I like the fresh, creamy ciliegine, cherry-sized balls of mozzarella.  They are really nice added to a salad.

I’m not as happy with the ricotta as it has a sweet flavor that I don’t like in ricotta, and it also has added gums.  It’s made in the USA–not Italy.


Rigatoni With Pumpkin Ricotta Sauce

pumpkin ricotta sauce

I’ve been wanting to make a pumpkin sauce for a long time.  Since I had all the ingredients and since it’s a perfect fall recipe, I decided there was no better time than now.  I kind of eyeballed the ingredients, so more or less is probably OK.

Rigatoni With Pumpkin Ricotta Sauce

1 box rigatoni

2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta

1/2 stick butter

1/2 can pumpkin

crushed red pepper, parsley, salt and pepper to taste

Cook rigatoni according to package instructions.  While it’s cooking, put all other ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.  Lower and stir until thickened.  Serve over cooked rigatoni.  (Or pasta/macaroni of your choice.)

Want more fall pumpkin recipes?

Two for Tuesday: Italian Easter Pies

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?

wheat filling

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.

Easter pie

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.

pizza rustica

pizza rustica

Two for Tuesday: St. Joseph’s Day Zeppole/Sfinge

De Robertis is now closed.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!  Two for Tuesday just happened to fall on St. Joseph’s Day, so the two are the two variations of St. Joseph’s Day treats–zeppole and sfinge.  The zeppole are a kind of cream puff filled with custard cream, sometimes topped with a cherry (or not).  These are Neapolitan treats (from Naples).  Sfinge are also a type of cream puff with a cannoli-cream filling.  These are Sicilian.  I prefer the sfinge because I prefer the cannoli-cream filling.  But both are good.  My favorites are from Monteleone’s bakery in Jersey City, New Jersey (a few blocks from Journal Square).

Monteleone's sfinge (l) and zeppole

Monteleone’s sfinge (l) and zeppole

Monteleone's 2

I also like the ones from Villabate bakery in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.

In Manhattan, since there are fewer Italians living in the borough, the turnover for these is not as large as it is in the outer boroughs where you will wait on a line to get them. You can find them at Rocco on Bleecker Street in the West Village; Ferrara‘s, Caffe Roma (I’m guessing they have them–didn’t actually go), Cafe Palermo (ditto) in Little Italy; Bruno Bakery in Noho and Veniero’s

Veniero's pastry

and De Robertis

De Robertis pastry

in the East Village.

Ferrara zeppole (l) and sfinge

Ferrara zeppole (l) and sfinge

I got some at Ferrara in Little Italy.  Another customer asked a waiter and counter staff for “St. Joseph’s Day” pastries, but no one knew what they were even though they were sitting on top of the pastry case.  So I told him where they were.  The times they are a changin’.

Veniero's zeppole (l) and sfinge

Veniero’s zeppole (l) and sfinge

I also got them at Veniero’s and De Robertis’s.  If you are curious and want to try them, I’d say any Italian bakery in Manhattan is a good bet.

De Robertis zeppole (l) and sfinge

De Robertis zeppole (l) and sfinge