Summer is around the corner and for many of us, that usually means travel and vacation. For me, it usually means travel to Italy, but this year, with things still a bit in the air, pun intended, a trip to Italy may not be in the cards. If traveling outside the US is in question, but you still need an Italy fix, I’d like to recommend a visit to the many “Little Italy” spots that can be found in the US. New York’s Little Italy is perhaps one of the most popular, but my personal preference is for Boston’s North End, perhaps because it’s only a few miles from my home, and a neighborhood I am very familiar with.
The North End is Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, and one of the oldest neighborhoods in the US. While once home to Italian immigrants who couldn’t wait to move to the suburbs, it is now one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in Massachusetts.
It was throughout the 20th century that Italians arrived and started making it their own by opening many businesses such as restaurants, bakeries and other food establishments. The Prince Macaroni Company was born on Prince Street in the North End. Italians also brought with them their religious customs and festivals, still celebrated today.
Summer weekends in the North End are like one giant street party. The religious celebrations are accompanied by musical bands proudly playing old Italian tunes, street vendors, food stalls, face painting for the youngsters and religious processions.
With its narrow and dense streets, the one-square mile neighborhood is home to approximately 10,000 residents. With over 100 restaurants and bakeries to choose from, visitors mostly flock to the North End to eat! Hanover Street is the “Main Street” of the North End and one can easily spend several hours strolling and stopping at the numerous shops or historical sites along the way.
What to See:
Old North Church
193 Salem Street
One of the oldest and most visited sites in Boston, the Old North Church dates back to 1723 and is one of the major stops on the Freedom Trail. Visited by over a half million sightseers annually, you can opt for a self-guided tour or one led by a guide.
The Paul Revere House
19 North Square
Built in 1860, the home of famous Patriot Paul Revere is still standing with 90% of the current structure being original, although as one might expect, it has been restored several times. Visitors of all ages are welcomed and can take part in self-guided tours.
St. Leonard’s Church
320 Hanover Street
Celebrating Mass in Italian every Sunday at 10:30AM, St. Leonard’s is where many North End Italians residents reunite for Sunday Mass. Having just completed a multi-million-dollar remodel, the church is frequently visited by visitors from near and far.
Where to go for a quick lunch or food souvenirs
289 Hanover Street
Their menu is limited, they accept cash only, the décor is rustic at best, they open only from 10:45AM to 2:30PM, or whenever they sell out, and you’ll be served wine in a plastic cup, but a visit to the North End would be incomplete without a stop at what locals simply call Umberto’s. If you are visiting right around noon, you’ll see a line wrap around the outside, don’t let it scare you, it moves quickly and their pan pizza, calzones, arancini and panzerotti are worth the wait.
11 Board Alley (Behind 241 Hanover Street)
Hidden behind Hanover Street, you’d likely walk right past Bricco Panetteria without even knowing it’s there. Owned by native Italian restaurateur Frank DePasquale, who owns and runs numerous North End eateries, Bricco Panetteria is a combination bread shop, pasta shop, salumeria, and importer of Italian meats, oils and canned tomatoes. With a few tables hidden in the alley, they serve delicious panini and a few select hot items.
151 Richmond Street
Located on the Freedom Trail, Salumeria Italiana is a staple for North End residents and visitors alike. An all-around small Italian grocer, they offer limited panini during the lunch hours. Carrying imported products such as salumi, cheeses, canned tomatoes, tuna packed in oil and Italian packaged cookies, you’re sure to find hundreds of Italian products to select from as souvenirs.
Where to go for a sit-down dinner:
24 Fleet Street
As if the handmade pasta, homemade meatballs, creamy polenta and braised meats weren’t enough to prompt a visit to Prezza, wine aficionados will certainly appreciate the 6000 bottles from more than 600 labels offered. Named after the Abbruzzese village from which the owner, Anthony Caturano’s grandmother hails from, Prezza is sure to please the most discerning eater.
Lucca Restaurant and Bar
226 Hanover Street
Serving Northern Italian delights, Lucca is a favorite among locals, tourists and local companies hosting corporate parties. Hailed as one of Boston’s best fine dining experiences, Lucca boasts a large dinner menu with handmade pastas, seafood, grilled meats and ample sized appetizers.
307 Hanover Street
If you’re taste buds are craving something a bit spicier, head over to Carmelina’s. Serving typical Sicilian cuisine, Carmelina is one of the newest North End restaurant at just around seven years old. While the menu offers various selections, some of the seafood favorites include the spaghetti puttanesca, exploding little neck clams and tuna arrabbiata.
Where to go for dessert:
257 Hanover Street
A staple in the North End for over 70 years, Modern Pastry is where all Italian and Italian Americans go to for their wedding cakes, rum cakes or any other specialty cake that requires a taste of true, authentic Italy. Be sure not to miss indulging in their filled-to-order cannoli, ricotta pasticciotto, which is a miniature of their best-selling ricotta pie, and the ever-popular lobster tail, large enough to be shared by at least two.
300 Hanover Street
With their unmistakable blue and white box, Mike’s Pastry is the go-to shop for all tourists and visitors coming from out of town. Founded by native Italian Michael Mercogliano in 1946, the bakery has Americanized its menu substantially over the years, but you’ll still find Italian classics such as Tiramisu, Parigini and Sfogliatelle. Although it offers ample seating space, those seats fill quick, so do like everyone else does and grab some goodies to go, and make your way down Hanover Street eating right out of the box, you’ll be in good company.
My first cookbook is entitled The Five Ingredient Italian Cookbook, my second cookbook is Pasta in a Pinch and my third cookbook, to be released later this year is entitled 30-Minute Italian. Do you see a theme here? I love creating and recreating recipes that are easy, ideal for week-nights and that don’t keep the home cook tied to the kitchen for hours on end. With that said, sometimes an occasion calls for something a little fancier, and requires a little more work. Que in the meat stuffed shells. Now, we all know and many of us make the ricotta stuffed shells, and those are good, but meat ones? Meat ones are, well, honestly, so much better! I recently led a Zoom cooking class where we prepared these and folks could not believe how great they were. Sure, they take a bit of effort, and you also need to prepare a homemade tomato sauce beforehand, but they’re the perfect week-end meal, when you have a bit more time and want to prepare something special.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
Yields about 3 cups of sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
Salt to taste – about 1 teaspoon
1 28 oz can of crushed peeled tomatoes
1 cup water
Filling for the shells
1 12-oz box large stuffing shells
2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 – 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1½ lb ground meat (you can use beef, beef + veal, or all turkey)
Salt - to taste
Ground black pepper – to taste (optional)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for top
½ - ¾ cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 cup prepared tomato sauce, divided (see recipe above)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2. In a large sauté pan set to medium – low heat, add the oil and butter and heat for a minute. Add the onion, garlic and parsley and sauté for 2 – 3 minutes until onion is softened and slightly translucent.
3. Add the ground meat, season with salt and pepper, and using a wooden spoon, break it down to a crumble and cook the meat for 15 minutes, continuing to stir to assure nothing is sticking to the pan. If the meat is drying up too quickly, reduce the heat.
4. Close the heat and add the grated cheese and breadcrumbs and mix well.
5. Add about 1 cup of the prepared sauce and stir into the meat gently. Mixture should be moist, but neither overly wet, nor dry. If it’s too wet, add an additional tablespoon or so of breadcrumbs. If mixture is too dry, add a few additional tablespoons of the prepared tomato sauce.
6. Meanwhile, add the shells to the boiling water and cook according to instructions for pre-baking, generally about 9 – 10 minutes. Drain the shells completely.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a Pyrex dish or other baking pan with about 1 cup of the prepared tomato sauce. Spreading it on the pan evenly. Stuff each shell with a generous amount of the meat filling and add it to the pan. Continue until all the shells are stuffed, lining the shell tightly next to each other. Add the remaining sauce on top of the shells and using the back of a spoon or small spatula, spread the sauce. Sprinkle additional cheese on top of the shells and bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Serve hot.
Summer is around the corner, which means it’s gelato season! Not that gelato has to have a season, but I’m one that tends to not eat much of it in the winter months, and enjoy it fully in the summer. Winter is for coffee, cappuccino and lattes with homemade baked treats, and summer is for gelato, granita and sorbetto.
Que in the affogato!
How can something that’s just a few ingredients be so good and addictive? The word affogato means drowned in Italian, and this sweet ending refers to vanilla gelato being drowned in a bit of freshly brewed espresso. The ingredients are few, but the end result is pure heaven. While served all over Italy, southern Italians seem to have a particular love for this dessert, so it’s often served in my native region of Calabria. It’s the perfect combination of hot and cold, all in one. The gelato flavor used is typically vanilla, or crema, which is cream flavor. But that’s not to say you couldn’t substitute another flavor, such as hazelnut or rum raisin, a few of my personal favorites. A few dry almond biscotti would be the perfect accompaniment to this dessert. Serve on the side or dipped in the serving glass. Once you pour the hot espresso on the gelato, it immediately starts to melt, resulting in a creamy, smooth decadent treat. Perfect to end any meal!
Affogato al Caffe
1 cup freshly brewed hot espresso
1 tablespoon sugar
2 pints vanilla gelato
1 ounce dark chocolate, finely minced
Freshly whipped cream, optional
I have a dear friend who lives in Italy. She’s a great cook and baker and every time I talk to her it appears she’s in the kitchen, behind the stove cooking or baking something for her family’s next meal! The kitchen is where she loves to be and when I visit her in person, she’s usually wearing an apron and flip flops, that’s her summer uniform it seems! I love visiting her because when I do, she’s always offering me a sweet treat which she just baked. As a gracious visitor, I always bring her something usually food based such as cheeses, a basket of fresh figs or peaches, or wine, all things I know she’ll use for her family.
A number of years ago, I was invited to her home for an outdoor breakfast in her yard. She has a beautiful yard and it’s the place she hosts all her guests during the summer months. Her fruit-filled trees make it that much more appealing. If you didn’t have enough to eat (which is never the case with her), just get up and grab some figs or grapes from her yard!
During breakfast she had a beautiful spread of food, but what appealed most to me were her ricotta pancakes. Pancakes aren’t really a thing in Italy, rarely eaten or enjoyed so I asked her where she had learned to make them. “On the internet!” she replied, of course. She said she took a basic pancake recipe and, you know, threw some ricotta she had on hand in the batter! Of course, she did! She’s great at “throwing” recipes together just like that, that result in amazing final products! She served them with homemade cherry jam for the adults and Nutella for the kids. I told her that she needed some real Vermont maple syrup to go with them, so now, I always bring her some real syrup from Vermont from I visit her from the States.
Here’s her recipe, or at least what she was willing to tell me is her recipe! Her favorite reply when I ask her for specific amounts of ingredients in her recipes is “Quanto Basta!” Quanto basta in Italian means, “until it’s enough” so when asked how much of this or that is added, many Italians will tell you, quanto basta, until it’s enough! Of course, the tricky part is knowing when it’s enough! How much flour, you ask? “Quanto basta!” How much ricotta? “Quanto basta!” It’s actually a cooking philosophy that I adore, let the ingredients and dishes tell you when it’s enough. And amazingly, everything always comes out perfectly.
These pancakes are great topped with real maple syrup, whipped cream and some fruit. A spear of high-quality jam also works wonderfully.
Yields 6 pancakes
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs
¾ cups milk ( I use skim)
zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon butter, divided (for the pan)
1/2 cup blueberries
1. In a medium bowl, add the ricotta, eggs, milk and zest and mix gently with a hand whisk. Use a fork to break down any lumps of the ricotta.
2. Sift the flour over the batter, add the baking powder and sugar and mix to combine. Batter will be fairly thick, thicker than usual pancake batter do to the addition of the ricotta.
3. Heat a griddle or large frying pan and melt about half the butter. Pour about two 1/3 cup servings of batter into the pan to form 2 pancakes at a time, depending on the size of the pan, you may be able to fit 3 pancakes. Drop several blueberries on top of the batter. Cook until bubbles form on the edges, about 45 – 50 seconds for the first 2 pancakes, 35 – 40 seconds afterwards. Flip the pancakes and cook the other side for about 30 seconds, until golden.
4. Continue with the rest of the batter, melting off additional butter as needed.
5. Serve with maple syrup, blueberries, strawberries, jam, whipped cream or as desired.
Hi there, thanks for visiting my blog! Here you will find recipes, short stories, tales, rants and whatever else is on my mind with regards to food, Italy, travel and along those lines. Drop me a line, I'd love to hear from you!