Nov 242014
 
©Cat and apples, by Laura Cornell* for "The Discriminating Diner," by Julia della Croce for Gannett, 1981

©Laura Cornell, 1981* for “The Discriminating Diner,” by Julia della Croce (WRN/Gannett Newspapers)

We’re getting close to Thanksgiving, so I’m sending out this little dessert recipe that will cuddle up to pumpkin pie (why have only one dessert?)—or even replace it. Everyone will love you for adding some Italian panache to the feast. Continue reading here for the recipe…

Baked Apples, Amaretti Filling@, by Julia della Croce | Photo: Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Baked Apples, Amaretti Filling@, by Julia della Croce | Photo: Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

*A Note about the artist: This whimsical watercolor was painted by one of my favorite illustrators, Laura Cornell, for my weekly column in the now defunct “Suburbia Today” Sunday magazine section of the Westchester-Rockland (Gannett) newspapers. Laura, already a successful illustrator, went on to become a published author of children’s books as well, including numerous #1 New York Times bestselling titles she co-authored with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Nov 222014
 

Di Palo’s is one of the seven wonders of New York.—Chef Daniel Boulud

Di Palo Fine Foods on Grand Street, 1974. Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times

Di Palo Fine Foods on Grand Street, 1974. Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times

His paternal and legal name, he will tell you, is Luigi Santomauro but to everyone who knows him on two continents, he is Lou Di Palo, after his maternal grandmother. Concetta Di Palo founded a cheese shop with her husband, Lou’s namesake, 104 years ago. Everyone who has shopped at the legendary store on Mott Street, Di Palo Fine Foods, has heard bits and pieces of the family story over the counter as Lou, Sal, Marie, Connie or any number of their offspring cut cheese and sliced salumi while they waited.

Trade Commissioner Pier Paolo Celeste, left, Lou Di Palo, right.

Italian Trade Commissioner Pier Paolo Celeste, left, master of ceremonies at the book bash for the Di Palo clan. Lou Di Palo (Santomauro), right.

On a recent evening, I eagerly braved the blistering cold to join the Di Palo clan and their multitudinous friends at the Italian Trade Commission for a Italian style bash in celebration of Lou’s committing the family history to paper at last. The legendary Italian food expert and grocer extraordinaire has told his delicious family story in the newly released “Di Palo’s Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy” (Ballantine Books), with an introduction by old family friend and Little Italy compatriot, director Martin Scorsese. While Rachel Wharton, a James Beard award-winning food writer, co-authored the book, Lou is quick to tell you that every single word is his own. 

Concetta Di Palo and her husband, Luigi Santomauro with Lou's father, Savino. Courtesy: Lou (Santomauro) Di Palo

Concetta Di Palo and her husband, Luigi Santomauro with Lou’s father, Savino. Courtesy: Lou Di Palo (Santomauro)

Six publishers offered him a book deal but, he says, he called the terms. “My editor agreed that Rachel’s job was to write the story just the way I told it.” No mistaking the straight talking New York style, the patriarchal voice of the extended Di Palo clan, the enthusiasm for all things food—Italian food, that is. It’s pure Lou. And refreshing it is. His story is the real deal, with reminiscences of his Italian immigrant experience in New York’s Lower East Side and the stories behind the dozen essential foods he has collected in this book.

 

Lou, Vincenza Kelly of the Italian Trade Commission, and me.

Lou, Vincenza Kelly of the Italian Trade Commission, and me.

You’ll no doubt learn more about Italian foods within these pages than you ever knew, whether it’s Parmigiano-Reggiano or anchovies. About parmigiano, there are naturally four seasons of cheese making (Di Palo sells them all). The cheese will taste differently based on the flora or feed and how temperatures of summer, spring, winter or fall affects the cows. On Sicily’s best anchovies:”little jars of anchovies so good—tender and almost sweet, they’re never fishy or smelly—my customers go nuts when they are out of season.”

Mamma Viola Santomauro, the matriarch whose recipes New York City has come to love.

Mamma Viola Santomauro, the matriarch whose delicious Italian recipes have been the basis of Di Palo’s take-out.

Even if most of the 300 cheeses Di Palo procures from small producers in Italy don’t make it into these pages, the book is a primer on other Italian essentials he sells, from salumi to olive oil to coffee. There are some of the family’s recipes, the big crowd pleasers, like Grandmother Concetta Di Palo’s meatballs (the secret to their tenderness is a little ricotta in the mixture), eggplant rollatini and Sal’s tiriamisu. But the best part is the book is the story of this remarkable and generous  family. It’s going to be a cold winter. You might want to warm your heart with this story—it’s still the good old days in Lou Di Palo’s world or, as Lou puts it, “I don’t just sell the food in my store—I live it.

Connie Santomauro, Lou's wife, left; his daughter, Caitlin, right.

Connie Santomauro, Lou’s wife, center; his daughter, Caitlin, right.

Sal (Salvatore) Santomauro, Lou's brother and resident comedian, and his wife. About his job, he says, "I've never worked a day in my life." Guess he likes it there.

Sal (Salvatore) Santomauro, Lou’s brother and resident comedian, and his wife, Maryanne. About his job, he says, “I’ve never worked a day in my life.” Guess he likes it there.

Lou's sister, Marie Santomauro, works the counter every day of the year along with the rest of the family.

Lou’s sister, Marie Santomauro (center), works the counter every day of the year along with the rest of the family.

Lou with his daughter, Allegra, right.

Lou with his daughter, Allegra, right.

Left, Sam, Lou's son and proprietor of Enotca Di Palo next door to the main shop on Grand Street.

Left, Sam, Lou’s son and proprietor of Enoteca Di Palo next door to the main shop on Grand Street.

Caitlin Santomauro, chatting with Di Palo fan, Leonard Lopate.

Caitlin Santomauro, chatting with Di Palo fan, popular NPR radio host, Leonard Lopate.

Great crowd.

Great crowd.

With Denise Purcell, Senior Director and Editor, Specialty Food Media.

Having fun wiith Denise Purcell, Senior Director and Editor, Specialty Food Media; Chris Crocker, right.

With Denise again, and Chris Crocker, Senior V.P., Specialty Food Association.

With Denise again, and Chris Crocker, Senior V.P., Specialty Food Association.

Want some?

Want some?

The chefs made a delicious spread, cooking some of the family recipes in the book.

The chefs for the occasion. What a spread, from porchetta, to panini to Nonna Concetta’s meatballs, and eggplant rotini, just for starters. Di Palo classics. in the book.

The fifth generation, Allegra's sons, learning about the art at papa's knee.

The fifth generation, Allegra’s sons, learning about the art at papa’s knee.

Looking forward to curling up with Di Palo's guide to the Essentials Foods of Italy: 100 Years of Wisdom and Stories from Behind the Counter.

Looking forward to curling up with Di Palo’s guide to the Essentials Foods of Italy: 100 Years of Wisdom and Stories from Behind the Counter.

Di Palo's has taught New Yorkers of every stripe what genuine Italian food is.

Di Palo’s has taught New Yorkers of every stripe what genuine Italian food is.

Photographs of the celebration by Nathan Hoyt/Forktales.

 

Oct 082014
 
There's Good News in the World, Too: Gelato Explosion!

In my recent article for Zester Daily, I wrote about the gelato explosion. One thing is for sure, gelato is on the move from its Italian home base as more and more entrepreneurs set up shop all over the world using Italy’s state-of-the-art equipment, designed for small-batch, artisan production. Following up on my last post about Rimini, here’s the scoop about why I was in that famous beach resort last month. No, it wasn’t to sunbathe or take in the nightclubs. It was to join the World Gelato Tour which, after circling the globe and picking finalists along the way—including [...more...]

Sep 242014
 
Fellini Drawings Disappear

….Not from the Rimini museum where I recently photographed them, but from Facebook. I’ve been trying to post a story I wrote about the drawings from his dreams yesterday, but Facebook has been blocking the link. Could it be because of his surreal images of naked women? To get to the post, click here.

Aug 242014
 
Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Pickle, in Ten Minutes

Pickling hasn’t been this hot in America since covered wagon days when being able to preserve food for the long cold winters meant the difference between life and death (remember “Little House on the Prairie”)? Besides anything else, pickling is downright fun. If you know how to, you’re ahead of the game, but if you don’t, did you know that you can “quick pickle” in the time it takes to boil water and vinegar together? Here’s my latest article in Zester Daily for doing just that with the one crop that everyone always seems to have too much of, zucchini. Why [...more...]

Aug 102014
 
Readers Write: About that Peppery Steak Salad Scented with Olive Oil...

The recipe in my last post for a quick and easy steak and potato dish (read here) seemed to be especially popular, and some of you sent me comments and variations. I’m passing some of them along here. One more thing…do wash it all down with a nice Pugliese red. Salute! Great recipe, Julia–reminds me of Tuscan tagliata di bistecca. And perfect for a no-nonsense meal on a hot summer night. You reminded me that the great teaching chef Bill Briwa from the CIA (you know which one of those I mean) experimented with beef and olive oil and found [...more...]

Aug 022014
 
Steak and Potatoes Take on New Meaning Doused with Bold Olive Oils

After my recent travels to Puglia, Italy’s southernmost region, I’ve had its big, bold olive oils on my mind. The province of Bari, founded well before the 8th century BC when it was absorbed by Magna Graecia, has lived on olive oil for millennia. Today the area still makes most of Italy’s olive oils. Drive past places with names like Cassano delle Murge, Bitetto, Bitonto, Bitritto, and Binetto, and you see nothing but forests of olive trees and billows of sky, interrupted now and then by towns undisturbed by tourism. But where once, production was geared toward quantity to meet Europe’s [...more...]

Jul 242014
 
Going Italian at the Fancy Food Show

Summer Fancy Food Show, New York, 2014. The Italians always come bearing cheeses and prosciutto, impeccably dressed and wearing the latest eyeglass styles. If you want to sample some truffles or condimento, they’d rather huddle together in the back corner of their little booths and sip espresso than give you any. You have to wait until they’re good and ready to sell you something, or for those without importers yet, to promote something. That’s the the idea, isn’t it?—To sell you something? Even my “Press” badge doesn’t budge them. Still, the Italian pavilion is always my first stop. I like [...more...]

Jul 172014
 
Readers Write: Dr. Brownlee and His Pasta Prodigy

Every now and then someone sends me a message that’s a real charmer. Here’s one I received at the end of last summer about a recipe that appears in my very first cookbook, Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking. The writer, Dr. John Brownlee, and so many other readers, have raved about it over three decades, so I’m sharing the message and recipe here.  I am preparing to make lo Stracotto for the second time from your book Pasta Classica, which I purchased in 1988 in New Orleans. It taught me to make pasta, a gift which I have [...more...]

Jul 022014
 
True American Eats for the 4th: Fiery Italian-Fried Chicken Wings

There’s thunder and lightening from where I’m sitting looking out my kitchen window, with no sign of let-up for July 4th. If that means a change of plans for you from an all-American barbecue, consider the Independence Day tradition of the American South: fried chicken. While I grew up in an Italian household, fried chicken was always a special dish and it fit in just fine with potato salad and all the other American trimmings. Whether it’s Kentucky-fried, Georgia-fried, or Italian-fried, it’s as American as grilling on the Fourth of July. Here’s my recipe, sprinkled with some fried chicken history. [...more...]