There are over fifty Little Italy neighborhoods in the U.S., and today, Columbus Day, is a big deal for all of them. The celebrations marking the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America over 500 years ago began with weekend parades, and are being sucked up – sometimes in the form of pasta drowning in Italian style gravy – all day today.
I am familiar with and love quite a few of the big ones: the Little Italy of Cleveland, Ohio (close to where I grew up), Manhattan, The Hill in St. Louis, and handful of Little Italy’s out west where the cannoli and baked lasagna make you happy to be alive…I could spend hours studying old family recipes from these bakeries and romantic restaurants that burn away the hours on a Roman candle…. Here are my greatest Italian hits in pictures.
While I was dunking my favorite Italian cookie into a mug of espresso, I called up a Sicilian chef I met on an historic food tour of Boynton Beach this summer. Here she is in front of some goodies.
Chef Anna is from a village near Sicily. She and her family have managed Palermo’s in Boynton for decades. The bakery draws in all kinds of customers. Once, Charlotte York (actress, Kristin Davis) walked out of Sex & the City’s nearest Little Italy and straight into Palermo’s — celebrity photo on their site.
You can come into this colorful bakery and see a lot of history hanging on the walls. I asked Chef Anna what her favorite Italian dessert is, and she answered with one sweet word and this picture of it:
Cassata. It is a tort cake filled with ricotta cheese that involves a detailed process to cook, then intricately decorate. In fact, the making of the Cassata is considered a specialty talent done by skilled pastry chefs.
“The essence of Italian sweets goes back our ancestors, our grandmothers in Sicily who made sweets using naturally produced ingredients like honey,” said Chef Anna, adding that she just did a Cassata cake making demo in the culinary department at Macy’s.
Hmm…well, that’s food for thought. I love to bake and teach, so perhaps I will do a pastry inspired lesson with my next cooking class at the Diamond Creek Golf Club in Boone, NC.
Don’t forget, my cookbook, SUNDAY BEST DISHES: A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks has quite a few of Italy’s greatest hits.
My family style recipes, most ideally suited for culinary exploration on a leisurely weekend at home, can be purchased at Dorrance or Amazon, and is also available, with audio by me, at iTunes. Aaaaand…in my upcoming cookbook, CANVAS & CUISINE, the best culinary stops under the Tuscan sun are featured in chapter after chapter.
Caio – Happy Columbus Day! I leave you with my recipe for pumpkin risotto!
Pumpkin Risotto with Wild Mushrooms
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
1 quart home made chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces assorted wild mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup Marsala wine
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons half and half
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Whisk the chicken broth and pumpkin puree in a pot over low heat. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Season with sage, salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and cook to toast, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Pour in the wine and cook until the liquid disappears. Stir in a ladleful of warmed broth. When the liquid is absorbed, add another ladleful of broth. Continue until all of the broth has been absorbed. This should take about 20 minutes. The risotto will be wet, not sticky, chewy on the outside and tender on the inside. Stir in the butter, half and half and Parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with fresh parsley.