Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy www.morewinelesswhines.com
Cooking, Travel

Boston’s North End: Italian American Mecca

Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Panetteria in Boston’s North End “Little Italy

The greatest cities in the United States boast melting pots of cultures, which evolved from wave after wave of immigrants calling US soil their new home.  What do I think is the best part about these melting pots?  The food (and people, too)!   In Boston, there is a concentrated area of Italian Americans that would be called “Little Italy” in other cities, but is known in Boston as the “North End.”  There are tiny little shops, many of which have been passed on from generation to generation, all along the narrow, winding streets of the North End.

I was fortunate to spend the coldest winter day in Boston walking and eating my way through Boston’s Italian American mecca with my husband, his family and close family friends on Michele Topor’s Boston Food Tour.

We started our tour at a Panetteria, or small bread bakery.  There was a tiny little alleyway, which led to a single door, which led down a narrow staircase, to the panetteria counter!  We all purchased a loaf of bread – our bread of choice had prosciutto inside!

Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Panetteria in Boston’s North End “Little Italy

We then made our way to Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, where we sampled olives, balsamic vinegar, saba, olive oils, prosciutto, and cheeses.

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Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Boston's North End    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Boston’s North End

We made our way through the winding streets to an authentic Italian pastry shop, Maria’s Pastry Shop.  It was old school Italian, with the best cannoli I have ever had (and, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, I am not even a big cannoli fan)!  Please note, if you ever want to experience good cannoli, with a crunchy fried dough shell and a sweet cream or ricotta filling, you better go somewhere where they fill the shells to order!  I didn’t photograph them, but Maria makes incredible marzipan, sfogliatelle and lobster tails (the pastries, not the crustaceans).

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

We enjoyed the sights, smells and tastes inside of Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria.  The shop is family owned, as Monica’s son told us during our visit while he pointed to photos of his mother that adorned the walls.  “My mother taught me everything I know about cooking and food.  I started my first food shop/restaurant when I was 16 and just kept working from there to where I am now.”  My husband commented that if he lived in Boston’s North End, he would eat an Italian sub a day, every day, from Monica’s.  There is also a really compact Mercato featuring pizza downstairs, which is also where they make all the bread for the upstairs Mercato (Notice the wall made out of wine corks in the background.  Wouldn’t that be a fun endeavor to take on with friends?  “Ok, team, now this is going to be hard work, but we need to drink a few hundred bottles of wine this year so I can start the wine cork wall.  Ready, set, go!”)

Monica's Mercato and Salumeria, Boston's North End     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria, Boston’s North End

Monica's Mercato and Salumeria, Boston's North End       www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria, Boston’s North End

Monica's Mercato, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato, Boston’s North End

At the fresh produce market, I learned the difference between a male and female eggplant.  (Look for the one with a dot on the bottom, not a wide flat line.  The eggplant with the dot is a male and will have less seeds, thus being better for Italian American dishes such as Eggplant Parmesan).  We also visited a wonderful wine and liquor store, an incredible coffee, spice and herb store and learned so much more. This little post does not even scratch the surface on the shops and restaurants that fill the North End.   I hope that some day you will go to the North End yourself and experience the same lovely food tour my family enjoyed!

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Cooking

Let’s Talk Cookbooks and Soup – Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini

Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini

Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini (Spinach used in this photo)

Two summers ago, three generations of my family embarked on a road trip “out east.”  We stopped at Niagara Falls (New York), Erie (Pennsylvania) to visit family, Boston (Massachusetts), Cape Cod, Bar Harbor (Maine), Acadia National Park (Maine) and Sandusky (Ohio).  Oh, and we all piled into a single vehicle.  Why in the world would sane people subject themselves to that much ‘together’ time?  My grandmother does not like to fly.  We love my grandmother. Therefore, my uncle became the fearless captain and drove us several thousand miles to our destinations and back home.

At each destination, we would stop and wander around the local shops.  While we were in Boston, I picked up a cookbook.  The North End Italian Cookbook is written by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane and features the kind of slow-cooked Italian food that has comforted Italian Americans for decades.  I have made several of her recipes, including Sunday Gravy, that have won over the taste buds of my friends and family.  One recipe that has gone on repeat for me is a humble chicken soup with little meatballs or ‘polpettini’, shreds of chicken and fresh greens.

Make this soup over two days.  The broth is best made on day 1 (usually Saturday for me) and the soup will quickly come together on day 2 (Sunday).  The secret here is the broth.  If you are feeling impatient, don’t make this recipe.  You will ruin a very good thing.  Take your time with the broth!

Making the broth for Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini

Making the broth for Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini

Vegetables, Aromatics and Sea Salt for Broth

Vegetables, Aromatics and Sea Salt for Broth

Straining the broth for Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini

Straining the broth for Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini

Making the little meatballs or 'polpettini'

Making the little meatballs or ‘polpettini’

Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini
Recipe adapted from The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane

1 whole chicken (Organic & Free Range)
2 celery stalks, with leaves, halved
2 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 fresh parsley sprigs
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
20 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
sea salt
1 bunch Escarole or 8-12 oz baby spinach*
1/2 c. water
1 lb. ground beef
2 T freshly grated Romano Cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 lb. small shaped pasta (optional)

Day 1: The Broth

Remove giblets or giblet package from cavity of chicken.  Cut off any excess fat around cavity.  Place the whole chicken in a large soup pot.  Add water to pot, filling until chicken is covered by 2-3″.  Place over a burner on low-medium heat.   Let the broth slowly come to a simmer.  Skim the surface of the water often with a large spoon and discard.  Once water stays fairly clean, add celery, carrots, parsley, tomatoes, peppercorns, bay leaf and about 1.5 tsp. sea salt.   Return to a just barely bubbling simmer.  Cover pot tightly and simmer slowly over low heat, about 2.5 hours.

Using a wire ‘spider,’ scoop out vegetables that have started to float and any accumulated bits at the top of the pot.  Discard.  Using a ladle, scoop broth out of pot and pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.  Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice to start immediately cooling the broth.  Repeat with several bowls.  When you get to the bottom inch or two of broth around the chicken, you may elect to stop scooping stock.  Carefully remove the chicken with the wire ‘spider’ scoop and transfer to a large plate or pan.  The chicken will be falling apart.  Pick the meat from the chicken.  Reserve 2 cups chicken meat for the soup, risotto, etc.

Once stock has cooled a bit and ice begins to melt, place broth in covered containers in the refrigerator.  Let sit in refrigerator several hours to overnight.   When ready to use, skim away fat that has solidified at the top of the broth containers.  Freeze any broth you do not use for soup for a later use.

Day 2: The Soup

Pour 12-14 cups broth into a large dutch oven or soup pot.  Bring to a slow simmer.  Meanwhile, combine escarole (or spinach) in a large skillet with 1/2 c. water.  Stir until wilted, about 5 minutes.  Drain in a colander, squeezing out excess water.  Once soup is simmering, stir in wilted greens.

Gently combine the ground beef, Romano cheese, parsley, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until combined.  Form into small 1/2″ balls, the size of marbles.  Drop into simmering soup, being careful to space them so they do not stick.  You may need to add them in two batches.  Let simmer 15 minutes, stirring occassionally. Stir in 2 cups reserved shredded chicken (white and/or dark meat).  Simmer an additional 15 minutes.  While simmering, season to taste with sea salt. *  Serve soup topped with freshly grated Romano cheese and a sliced baguette.

* Note:  use whichever greens look better at the store or farmer’s market.  The escarole looked terrible this weekend, so I used spinach instead.

**Optional:  Bring a medium size stockpot filled with 6-8 c. water and 2 tsp. sea salt to a boil.  Add 1/2 lb small pasta and cook until al dente.  Add to soup just before serving.

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