August 15, Ferragosto, is a national holiday in Italy, and one of the biggest events of the year. It originally was celebrated in Roman times as Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus, however it was later syncretized with the Catholic holiday of the Assumption of Mary and moved to August 15. It is a day of food and fun, and also marks the peak of summer vacation for many Italians (and the closing of all of the shops for at least 2 weeks). Each region of Italy has different specialties for Ferragosoto. Watermelon is popular as a refreshing treat throughout the country, but particularly in Sicily, where it is used for the Ferragosto specialty Gelo di mellone (in Sicilian dialect: gelu di muluna/miluni). Gelo di Mellone is an iced watermelon dessert, similar to granita, but thickened with cornstarch. Traditional toppings include pistachios, chocolate shavings, and sometimes jasmine blossoms. It doesn’t seem very hard to make, and there is no special equipment needed. Check out these recipes from Food Nouveau, Italy Magazine and Memorie di Angelina. We are entering the dog days of summer here, and we think we may make some this weekend!
Tag Archives: Italy
We recently put in an order for tea from one of our favorite Chicago purveyors, Rare Tea Cellar, and one of their varieties is Sicilian Wild Flower Chai, featuring the the flavor “Fiori di Sicilia,” which literally means “Flowers of Sicily.” We were intrigued, so we took a chance (and it turns out we love the tea)! We looked up the extract, and it is not from any Sicilian flower per se, but is actually a combination of citrus and vanilla extracts. You can buy Fiori di Sicilia from King Arthur, or a variety of online sources. Food 52 has a cookie recipe that calls for Fiori di Sicilia, and it can be easily substituted for vanilla extract in most sweet recipes. If you are feeling especially DIY, An Edible Mosaic has a recipe to make your own Fiori di Sicilia extract. A similar flavoring is called Panettone Extract, which combines both vanilla and citrus flavors, along with some additional spices. This variety is also especially popular in Brasil, where it is known as Essência de panetone.
My last post was almost a month ago, about Carnevale of all things, and now it seems like the world has completely changed…. No more traveling or going out to restaurants for the foreseeable future, so I am turning my attention to recipes and virtual resources for all of us cooped up at home. Stay safe everyone!
The latest YouTube channel I have been obsessed with is that of the Pasta Grannies. Pasta Grannies, the brainchild of British filmmaker Vicky Bennison, posts short videos of Italian and Italian-American grandmas making traditional recipes in their own kitchen. It is so comforting to watch, and really inspiring me to make some pastas. Giovanna’s (who reminds me of my grandma) sweet Sicilian Ravioli sounds pretty good right about now. Or how about some chocolate bunet from Ida in Piemonte for dessert?
There is also a Pasta Grannies Cookbook that has just been released last year with some of the favorite granny recipes. It looks great! If you are interested in the cookbook, please consider buying it from a local bookstore instead of Amazon, especially since Amazon is de-prioritizing book orders. You can also check out the latest pasta granny updates from Facebook.
Today is January 6th, the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, which traditionally marks the end of the Christmas season in countries that celebrate (see Mexico, England, Poland and France). In Italy, the Epiphany is marked by the arrival of the witch, La Befana, on the night of January 5th. According to legend, the Befana initially did not follow the three wise men on their journey, and instead stayed home. Later, she had a change of heart, and tried to catch up with the three wise men on her broom, to no avail. To make amends, the Befana gives presents to children instead. Italian Children wake on January 6th to find that their stockings had either been filled with candy if they were good, or coal if they were naughty (or coal candy). We will be celebrating by eating the last of our Christmas cookies and candy. Don’t have any holiday cookies left? A traditional treat for Epiphany in Italy is shortbread cookies from Tuscany called Befanini. Here are befanini recipes from 196 Flavors, Food 52 and My Travel in Tuscany.
Christmas is almost upon us, which means it is time to get our favorite Christmas dessert, Panettone! Panettone is an Italian yeasted sweet bread/cake that originates in Milan. However, Panettone is now popular worldwide and is seen on Christmas tables throughout Europe, North and South America. In fact, some of the best panettone we ever had was from the Bauducco panettone company’s “Casa Bauducco” company store in São Paulo, Brazil, the chocolate chip version was sold sliced and toasted… nothing better. Panettone is notoriously difficult and time-consuming to make, with several days of raising, resting and baking needed. So, this is one treat that even self-respecting Italian chefs will usually buy from a bakery or store. While the traditional filling of panettone is candied fruit, and chocolate chips have been on the scene for a while, more unique flavors have popped up in recent years including fig, black cherry, pistachio and orange and chocolate (which is what we picked this year).
Though panettone may be more famous, there is actually another Italian Christmas dessert that deserves some of the spotlight: the Pandoro. Pandoro means “golden bread” in Italian, and is native to Verona. Both panettone and pandoro date back to prior to the middle ages, and have been enjoyed as holiday treats ever since. Pandoro is similar to panettone in that it is a sweet, yeasted cake, however it comes in a tall, 8-pointed star shape (said to be reminiscent of the Alps) instead of the cylindrical panettone. There are also typically no fillings or mix-ins of any kind on a pandoro, but it is topped with vanilla powdered sugar. So which one is better? It’s all a matter of personal taste. While panettone adds more variety in terms of filling, there is something to be said for minimalism of the pandoro. You can find a good selection of both panettone and pandoro at Eataly or World Market. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have even gotten in the panettone game in recent years!
Happy Hanukkah! Every year for Hanukkah we try to highlight some lesser known (at least in the US) foods of Jewish communities. One country with a rich tradition of Jewish foods that you may not think of immediately is Italy. There has been a Jewish community in Italy since at least 150 BC, and it has continued through to the present day. In Rome, the Jewish population was forced to live in a designated ghetto from 1555 to 1870, and in this period a distinctive Roman Jewish cuisine emerged.
One of the most famous Rome Jewish-Italian foods, that has been adopted by Romans of all religions as a signature dish is fried artichoke. Its Italian name – carciofi alla giudia – actually translates to Jewish-style artichokes. This simple and delicious dish is perfect for Hanukkah, where fried food symbolizes the oil in the lamp that burned for 8 days instead of just one. Other Italian Jewish dishes include pinaci con Pinoli e Passerine (spinach with pine nuts and raisins), Baccalà all’ebraica (fried codfish), and concia (fried zucchini). If you are hungry for more recipes check out the cookbooks Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen and Classic Italian Jewish Cooking.
We have been traveling a lot this year: LA, Kansas City, New Orleans, Madison, Chicago, Columbus… and as a result, we have an ever-growing backlog of posts we have been meaning to write. So, we thought it was about time that we post about a restaurant we’ve been thinking of for a while: Lilia (567 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY). We are famously finicky about Italian food, we always figure that we can make it better (and cheaper) at home, so, other than pizza, we rarely order Italian out. But sometimes a restaurant seems interesting and special enough to lure us out of our old habits, and that was the case with Lilia. Lilia is the brainchild of chef Missy Robbins, and was named as one of the best new restaurants in 2016 by the New York Times and Time Out New York.
The restaurant is definitely scene-y, and we were certainly not cool enough to be there among New York’s buzziest. And I can’t say we were made to feel particularly welcome: even though we had a reservation early on a Thursday, we still had to wait about a half hour to sit, all the while waiting awkwardly in the vicinity of the bar, because the bar itself was completely full. Though in the meantime we did have time to explore the interesting space – which used to be an auto repair shop – and the menu. The menu was divided into small plates and entrees, but we opted for small plates to share. The pasta is all made by hand, and we heard only great things about the sorcery of Missy Robbins, who cut her teeth as Executive Chef at Chicago’s Italian icon Spiaggia from 2003-2008.
More precisely, the menu is divided into cocktail snacks, antipasti, “Little Fish,” Pasta, “Big Fish,” and Meat. The cocktail snacks are sort of like appetizers for your appetizers: Sicilian olives, prosciutto, house-made mozzarella or radishes with sea salt. Up one level in size are the antipasti, including many interesting veggie-forward combos: Red celery and fingerling potatoes; whole artichoke with mint; and cauliflower with spicy sopressata and pesto. I notice that now they have Bagna Cauda on the menu – which we certainly would have gotten! Our first chosen dish was roasted trumpet mushrooms with balsamic, arugula, and Sicilian almonds (above) – the mushrooms were woodsy, and almost meaty, and went well with the deep, aged balsamic. For a second “lighter” bite, we went with the fennel salad with oranges – one of our favorite dishes that we first tried in Siracusa, Sicily. There is something about the combination of fennel and oranges that is just perfect.
Next was the “Little Fish” menu which featured grilled scallops with walnut, yogurt and marjoram alongside mussels and sea salt. From this section of the menu, we started out with cured sardines with capers, butter and dill on top of fettunta (bread rubbed with garlic – above). This was our favorite bite of the night – salty, savory and a perfect flavor combination. Sardines have really been growing on us recently, and these were the salty, savory bite showcased on some excellent bread. The “Big Fish” and Meat sections of the menu had much larger entrees and included grilled swordfish with sweet/hot peppers and mint and grilled veal flank steak with hot peppers.
The pasta dishes are intended to be a starter course, as in Italy, but we basically ignored that advice. There were almost 10 pasta choices, and each sounded more delicious than the next: ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto, basil and pistachios; fettuccine with spicy lamb sausage; or potato-filled ravioli with crème fraîche, garlic and rosemary. From the pasta menu we chose the sheep-milk cheese agnolotti (mini, rectangular filled pasta pockets), topped with saffron, dried tomato and honey and Malfadine – flat pasta with wavy edges – with pink peppercorns and Parmesan. The malfadine dish was a great riff on cacio e pape. The simple Roman classic was elevated by the slightly thick, handmade pasta and high-quality Parmesan. The agnolotti was light and fresh, with a slight sheep’s-milk tang which shone through the light sauce. The handmade pasta was uniformly excellent. We finished off our meal with a seasonal apple galette with winter fruits- which was perfectly proportioned with flaky, crispy crust.
Flipping the script – Lilia is also known for their soft serve (we didn’t sample it this time, but maybe we will be back)! The Italian-only wine menu is quite extensive, and they have the widest selection of amari (after-dinner bitters) we have ever seen! In the morning, and for lunch, you can visit a more subdued Lilia for coffee, pastries and panini. Though you may have to cut through the hype a little bit to eat there, we really enjoyed our meal at Lilia. The small plates were all perfect and simple in an ingredient-forward way, spicing up traditional flavor combinations and dishes. Lilia lived up to our standards for Italian food, and that is saying something!
For a long while we thought that giant chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in bright metallic paper were a Brazilian thing, since that was where we saw them first. Turns out that large, hollow chocolate eggs filled with candy or other treats were an Italian thing all along, likely brought to Brazil by Italian immigrants. In Italy, it turns out the art of the chocolate egg has reached a completely new level, with gigantic, ornate varieties. You can get an astonishing variety of chocolate Easter eggs in Italy, as seen below, from cheap store brands to decadent (and expensive), specialty eggs. Your local Italian grocery store may have a few to choose from, though you won’t find the selection you would in Italy (or online).
Another sweet treat you may find on Italian Easter tables is the Marzipan Lamb or Pecorelle di pasta reale! Fanciful, shaped marzipan is a mainstay for Italian holidays, such a frutta martorana for All Saints’ Day, so it is only appropriate that we find a special Easter-appropriate lamb for this holiday. If you have the almond paste (which you can usually buy ready-made) it is not terribly difficult to make a Marzipan lamb, and you can find them in many Italian bakeries around Easter, though this also has us hankering for the decidedly more American lamb cake! If you are looking for more Italian Easter treats, be sure to try the colomba cake or pastiera.
When we were in Rome for our honeymoon years ago, we stopped by a little walk-up pizza counter near the Vatican, the Pizzerium, run by renowned pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci. The pizza was delicious, and served al taglio – by the piece – which in the case of Roman-style pizza means cut by scissors and priced by weight. Roman style pizza is served on a somewhat thick crust with the texture of focaccia bread, with an abundance of topping varieties. We never expected to have Bonci pizza again (short of taking another trip to Rome) so we were floored when we heard that Bonci himself was opening his first overseas location in Chicago. Bonci himself supervised the opening of the Chicago shop, the eponymous Bonci (161 N Sangamon St. Chicago, IL) over the summer of 2017, and by the time we arrived in December, it seemed to be a well-oiled machine.
The Chicago Bonci location was similar to the Roman one – except supersized. The concept is the same – you peruse the pizzas on display and get slices to order, which are then, cut, weighed, heated up and brought out to you. When we were at Bonci there were at least a dozen pizzas on display. They varied by weight but most were $10.99 – $14.99 a pound. You can get any size you want, but we went with the smallest samples possible so we could try many varieties (which ran us about $3.50). The flavor combos ranged from classic margherita, to spicy meatball to salmon, and there is something for every taste. We started out with 3 varieties, but then went back for 2 more.
On our first trip we sampled ricotta, zucchini and lemon; anchovy and zucchini; and arrabiata (red sauce and spicy pepper). We followed up with potato and rosemary, and arugula and prosciutto. As we waited for our order to be heated up, we grabbed some stools behind the counter and watched the pizzaiolos do their thing – pressing the dough into rectangular pans and sprinkling toppings across the surface. One of the great things was that in less than 20 minutes, there were already some new pizza varieties to try on our second trip. We really enjoyed all of the pizzas, and we appreciated the attention to detail in the chewy, flavorful crust and all of the super-fresh toppings. Most of the pizzas did not come with red sauce, and all of the cheeses were fresh and delicate. Our favorite slice of the day was the ricotta with lemon, which was light, fresh and bright – and we felt like we could eat a whole pizza!
The service at Bonci was also excellent, and when the GM noticed that our slices did not have enough arugula, he brought some over himself. If you are thirsty, there is still and fizzy water on tap along with a selection of Italian soft drinks, single-serve wines and beers. Unlike the Rome location, there are counters along the wall to sit, though a good deal of the patrons were taking their pizzas to go. All told, we were stuffed with top-notch pizza for less than $20. If you like high-quality pizza, we highly recommend that you give Bonci a try – it is a little slice of Rome right here in Chicago.
It’s that time of year – Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day are right around the corner – which means it is time for special holiday treats! Like in Latin America, All Saints’ and All Souls Day in Italy (especially in Sicily) is not a morbid affair, it is an occasion to celebrate your family and ancestors. It also used to be one of the few days a year children in Italy would get presents, said to be brought by their dead ancestors. Italy is big on treats for Ognissanti – All Saint’s Day – and we have previously featured Torrone dei Morti and Ossi dei Morti, classic Italian treats. One of the most common treats you will find in Italian bakeries this time of year, along with fanciful marzipan shapes – Frutto Martorana– is pan dei morti (bread of the dead). Though it sounds similar to Latin American Pan de Muerto, these two holiday treats are very different. Italian Pan dei Morti is a cocoa biscotti-like cookie filled with fruits and nuts. You can check out recipes for Pan dei Morti at Linda’s Italian Table and Passion and Cooking (seen below).
As we enter mid-February, Carnevale / Mardi Gras / Carnival is right around the corner! It’s never too early to start planning some sweet treats for the festivities. In Italy, Carnevale is a big deal, and Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday) is celebrated with sweet, fried dough fritters called Chiacchiere. The simple-to-make Chiacchiere is popular throughout Italy, and goes by many regional names including Frappe, Cenci, Guanti and Bugie. There is a tradition of serving fried dough or doughnuts on Mardi Gras (think beignets, paczki and malasadas), in order to use up all the sugar and fats in the house before the austerity of Lent sets in, and Chiacchiere is no exception. Here are a few traditional Chiacchiere recipes from Academia Barilla, Cooking with Rosetta and Napoli Unplugged.
Today is Three Kings Day / Epiphany – which officially marks the end of the Christmas holiday season! In addition to Epiphany (Epifania in Italian), the eve of January 6th is also when La Befana arrives in Italy. Similar to St. Nicholas Day in other parts of Europe, La Befana (who takes the appearance of a witch on a broom) leaves presents and candy for good children and coal for bad ones. In honor of La Befana and Epifania, we are heading to Sicily, where the holiday season is celebrated with a myriad of sweets including the fig and raisin-filled cuccidati cookies.
We have made cuccidati before, but we have recently learned that there is a similar holiday dessert that is basically a giant version of a cuccidati – a Buccellato ring cake. To add another layer of potential confusion, it seems that sometimes in Sicily buccellato refers to small-sized ring-shaped fig cookies, too. Now I am not really a huge fig or raisin fan (though M is) and even I like cuccidati cookies (which I guess are the distant ancestor of the Fig Newton). There are tons of cuccidati recipes with slight variations in filling according to region, family and personal taste so I will only include a few: A vintage Milwaukee recipe from 1965, Washington Post, Brown Eyed Baker and Savoring Italy (seen above). If you want to go all out, Cooking with Rosetta has a traditional buccellato recipe, as does L’Italo-Americano (seen below).
Chef Sarah Grueneberg’s new pasta restaurant in Chicago, Monteverde (1020 W. Madison, Chicago, IL), has earned so many accolades in the past year that it is hard to keep up (check out some awards from Eater, Food and Wine and GQ for starters). That means it is also pretty hard to get a reservation now (and probably even harder with each passing day), so plan to book far in advance and aim for early tables if you have to (we booked 4:30-5 PM each time). We visited Monteverde once over the summer and once over Thanksgiving weekend – and both times we were completely blown away by our meals. The vibe inside the restaurant is friendly and casual, with a comfortable, rustic-chic interior. We were able to site outside in the summer but the inside seating is nice and cozy in winter, too.
The focus of the menu is the handmade pasta, which is divided into two categories – Pasta tipica (classics) and pasta atipica (less traditional riffs on classic dishes). Intriguing “atypical” selections included a duck egg ravioli with pork and a wok-fried arrabiata with gulf shrimp. More traditional pasta dishes included pumpkin-filled tortelloni. Appetizers, called “snacks,” included raw hamachi and octopus spiedini. Small plates included country ham with buffalo mozzarella and mushroom and polenta stuffed cabbage. Monteverde also has a good wine menu and some distinctive non-alcoholic drinks including Sicilian lemonade in the summer and spiced soda in the fall.
On each table there are homemade crunchy breadsticks/ grissini to much on, though at times we wished we had more substantial bread so that we could sop up all of the sauces. Everything comes out as it is prepared, so it is best to order and plan to share – we ordered one large plate, 2 small plates and an appetizer. From the pasta atipica side we chose the Cacio whey pepe – a new take on cacio e pepe with Mancini rigatoni, pecorino romano, ricotta whey and a four peppercorn blend ($14- above); as an appetizer – Proscuitto butter toast – topped with with radishes, dill, and lemon ($6); and as a small plate – Burrata on thick slices of ciabatta, winter squash, balsamic, brown butter, roasted endive and pinenuts ($17). At the table, each one of us had a different favorite from the selections: the prosciutto butter toast was silky with a crunch; the cacio e pepe was toothsome and a little spicy; and the creamy burrata was perfectly complemented by the fresh bread and the roasted squash. On our visit over the summer we also tried a few different small plates: the ‘Njuda arancini -rice fritters, tomato, olive oil poached tuna ($8 – below); and the Little Gem salad with avocado and crunchy vegetables ($13). The slightly-spicy ‘njuda filling was a great riff on the classic Sicilian snack, and while the salad was good, it was as original as other offerings.
At each visit we ordered the piece de resistance, a higher priced and larger dish – the Ragu alla Napoletana ($41 – below) – with fusilli rustico pasta, cacciatore sausage, soppressata meatballs, tomato braised pork shank and wild oregano. This a dish you definitely HAVE to share, since it is probably enough to serve 2-3 as main course, or 4-5 in addition to other plates. If you are ordering the Pasta alla Napoletana, we would recommend 1 extra pasta small plate and 2 other apps for 4 people (which will likely still give you leftovers). Though the description may make it sound like glorified pasta with red sauce and meatballs, it was way more complex than that. This amazing dish was our favorite of the night. The tender on-the-bone veal shank was our favorite meat preparation, and for once we actually enjoyed the “red sauce” at a restaurant! Completely delicious, hearty and homey, this dish was at once simple and sophisticated – a must-order!
Each time, we managed to barely save room for desserts. We sampled the homemade Cannoli in the summer, which was delicious. In the fall we got to try the seasonally-appropriate apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The crostata was particularly tasty and we appreciate that they make the desserts seasonally-appropriate. Beyond the mouth-watering food, the ambiance and service at Monteverde are also great. Everything was scrumptious, and provided a fresh little twist on an Italian classic. It is rare that we like everything we ordered equally, but Monteverde may be the exception to that rule – we can’t wait to go back and try more!
The cheese plate at Cleveland’s French stalwart L’Albatros (11401 Bellflower Rd.) is the best one we have ever tried. Usually, when you order a cheese plate at a restaurant, you get a small plate of pre-selected cheeses. Maybe at better restaurants you choose from 10 or so cheeses off of a list. One of the most disappointing things about cheese plates is either that they have repetitive, common cheeses, or the servers have no idea how to direct you to the right cheese selection. However, at L’Albatros, nothing is left to chance, and the staff goes above and beyond to help you get the right selections. You can get the cheese plate for either lunch or dinner, and you can select either 3 ($11), 5($14) or 7 ($17) cheeses. There are no pre-set selections, and the cheesemonger comes over to your table with a giant tray of dozens of cheeses, and you can talk about what you want, and even have samples! Check out at the amount of cheese to choose from (plus there were even more that didn’t fit into the frame).
Here’s what we ended up with after much discussion and sampling:
- Tomme de Savoie – France – A good start, Tomme is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor.
- Cantal – France – A sharp, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that was almost Cheddar-like in taste and consistency.
- Cabrales – Spain – M asked for the “blue-est” cheese they had, and after sampling, this was our choice. It was indeed a super sharp, crumbly sheep and cow’s milk cheese (so sharp it was almost metallic, which sounds weird, but was tasty).
- Robiola Bosina – Italy – The first of two Robiola varieties we tried. This was a more mild, creamy goat and cow cheese.
- Robiola Rochetta – Italy – As a contrast to the first robiola, this was a sharp, super-creamy (almost runny) blue cheese made with sheep, goat and cow’s milk.
We really enjoyed all of our our selections, and felt we got exactly what we wanted: a good mix of flavors and consistencies (granted we did take a while with the process). The plate also came with bread, honey and quince paste. We loved our cheese choices that night, but if we went back, we may end up with a totally different selection of just-as-delicious choices, depending on our mood. We cannot recommend the L’Albatros cheese plate enough!
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to Chicago Gourmet, an annual food and wine extravaganza that showcases some of Chicago’s best restaurants alongside international food and drink. As in years past, it was a wonderful time, and I am working on posting a comprehensive recap within the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out the ETW Instagram feed for some of my favorite Chicago Gourmet pictures.
We had so much delicious international food and drink, that is is hard to pick a single thing to use as a teaser, but we decided to go with something refreshing and Italian: The Aperol Spritz. Even though it is technically fall, it still feels pretty summery outside, so why not! The Campari Group had a booth at Chicago Gourmet, as in years past, and it always fun to try out some of the Italian cocktails there, like the classic Negroni. This year we went for the Aperol Spritz, a refreshing summer-y cocktail made from Prosecco, Aperol liquer, and soda that is one of Italy’s iconic beverages. Aperol is a liqueur made from bitter oranges, gentian and other herbs and spices, and is similar to Campari, but with a lower alcohol content. We have only had it a few times before, but we are fans!
Bagna Calda / Bagna Càuda is a homey Northern Italian dish from Piemonte made primarily with butter, oil, garlic and anchovies. It is a mainstay at our own family celebrations, but we have never seen it on a restaurant menu… until now! We were at Della (1238 Prospect Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11218) in Brooklyn with friends, when we spotted the bagna cauda on the menu, and we just had to order it. Della has a homey Italian-inflected menu of fish, hearty meat dishes, homemade pastas and some unusual appetizers (case in point). The homemade pasta was delicious, but the bagna cauda was even better. It came served in a small bowl, with endive, radishes and chunks of bread for dipping. We had to ask for more bread to sop everything up- delicious! We encourage you to make bagna calda on your own for your next party – it couldn’t be easier. Even if you don’t normally like anchovies, you can’t help but love the salty, garlicky goodness!
The story of Modica chocolate is one of our favorites, and we are looking forward to bringing it to you in advance of of the most visible Mexican holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo. So we know that chocolate is a new-world creation, and was popular among Aztecs (where it was known as Xocoàtl) for centuries. So now that chocolate has spread the whole world over, where can you still find the most traditional Aztec recipes? Sicily! No, I am not joking. It turns out that Sicily, conquered many times over, was under Spanish rule while the Spanish were also colonizing the new world, and these colonizers brought back the Aztec recipes for chocolate to Sicily. These traditional recipes are still made in certain parts of Sicily today with nothing but cacao, sugar and (maybe) spices.
The process of making the chocolate by grinding it on a metate (as it was originally in Mexico) imparts a pleasantly gritty, natural texture to the chocolate, which is delicious and completely unique. A historical and picturesque Sicilian town in the province of Ragusa, Modica, is known for its expertise in all things chocolate, and is home to several longstanding chocolate shops producing chocolate the traditional Aztec way, which has become known in Italy as “Modica Chocolate.”On our trip to Sicily, we took a visit to Modica to see this piece of chocolate history for ourselves, and stopped at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy), one of the more famous chocolatiers, in operation since 1880. This shop in particular is known for their wide variety of Modica chocolates made on the premises. The chocolate bars here come in almost every cacao percentage, plus unique flavors like lime, marjoram, almond and orange peel. Fortunately they let you sample, so we were happy to taste a bunch of varieties before we arrive on our two favorite picks: sea salt and hot chili.While you can find good traditional Mexican chocolate in Oaxaca and other places in Mexico itself, what Sicily has to offer is on par with these treats. And truth to be told – we could see that this chocolate and that found in Oaxaca were cousins, maybe even siblings. If you are unable to visit Modica itself, you can get the Modica-made Sabadi chocolate bars at Eataly. P.S. If you visit the Bonajuto shop they also have the best cannoli ever!
Forno Rosso (1048 W Randolph St., Chicago, IL) recently opened up a West Loop branch of their original Harlem avenue pizzeria, complete with a signature red tile oven (the titular “Forno Rosso”). Authenticity is the name of the game at Forno Rosso, and it is one of only three restaurants in Illinois to be given the official mark of authentic Neapolian Pizzas – the Verace Pizza Napoletana – which dictates the flour, cook time, oven, etc. needed to formulate the most authentic Neapolitan pizza. Despite its close adherence to tradition, this branch of Forno Rosso is brand new, and gives off a sleek urban vibe with muted grays. Continue reading