by Alicia Lieu
I had heard many things about Arthur Avenue but I never took the time to visit because it is all the way in the Bronx. Since Little Italy in Manhattan is basically surrounded by Chinatown and some foodies consider it to be a tourist trap, I finally had the opportunity to head up to the Bronx after being promised my own personal tour of Arthur Avenue.
It couldn’t have been any more perfect. My journey started out at Amsterdam and 183rd, all the way near the George Washington Bridge. I happened to be cat sitting at the time in Washington Heights (the namesake of the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights). The bus went straight into the Bronx and just 25 minutes later, my friend Holly and I were just a short six block walk from Arthur Avenue. As we approached the meeting place, Palombo Cafe, our eyes got caught up in everything on the way-butchers with giant cuts of meat on display, shop windows with shiny kitchen equipment, a market that has an old and artfully painted grand piano in its foyer along with cigar makers hard at work on their craft.
While the true Italian neighborhood has been shrinking over the years, there are still white haired Italian men at the cafe having coffee and speaking Italian. We started our tour off with some tiramisu and espresso at Palombo. Life is short. Eat dessert first. We couldn’t linger too long, though, because most of the shops close between 5 and 6 p.m. The first stop was Borgatti’s. They’ve been making and selling fresh pasta for 100 years! The only fresh “pasta” I’ve had before has been Chinese noodles, which are heavenly.
The ravioli we got from Borgatti’s were just as celestial. We got the fresh spinach and ricotta ravioli home and dropped them into a huge pot of boiling water. 12 minutes later, they had puffed up into enormous pillows of stuffed dough. My goodness, I will never eat Chef Boyardee again. Actually, I’m quite embarrassed that I just publicly admitted to consuming canned ravioli. We stopped into a few more shops. We found an olive bar along with salami, pepperoni and cheeses hanging up in the stores.
We stopped by a bakery and had their Biscotti named Jawbreaker. It was like no Costco Biscotti I had ever had before. It almost had the texture of toffee. Except it was Biscotti. We made our way back to the market and had fresh mozzarella, salami, stuffed sun dried tomatoes and red peppers, and a platter of fresh burrata on toasts with radicchio and balsamic vinegar. Holly popped open her bottle of fig balsamic and it was all amazing. The piano in the foyer was a working piano and told us the story of the time she brought her mother there and she was serenaded by a man playing and singing to her. How sweet! No one was playing that day and when I took a closer look, I saw that the piano was actually missing quite a few keys.
On our way out, we stopped into one of the shops with cute china in the window (along with buckets of Nutella); we were approached by a delightful young salesman and had a nice conversation about his family. His parents immigrated from Italy and his older brothers and sisters speak fluent Italian. Since he is the youngest, 10 years younger than his sister, the family and neighbors spoke more English than Italian, so he didn’t grow up speaking it. Also having parents that emigrated from another country, I could relate. Kathy, a seasoned professional musician who was acting as our tour guide, also handed us some valuable advice as women in music. Holly and I were fed not just by the incredible Italian food (I could actually taste all the homemade love that went into it) but also encouraged as young emerging conductors in the traditionally male dominated field. Armed with tiramisu and espresso, I know I can do anything!
Lea Ringler has done it again. She sent me the most delicious looking Biscotti that I could imagine coming from a non-Italian oven. I only wish I were there with her pulling them out of the oven and smelling them bake up. Be sure to follow the recipe to the end, where she instructs you to enjoy with a hot beverage of your choice. Mine would be espresso!
Recipe by Lea Leong Ringler:
Cherry and Marcona Almond Biscotti
adapted from recipesfordivineliving.blogspot.com‘s Cherry and Almond Biscotti
The Marcona almonds give a richness to the cookie and the sour cherry makes for a good contrast to the sweetness of the cookie dough. I like this recipe because it doesn’t use as much sugar as others I’ve come across, yet is still packed with flavor.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup Marcona almonds, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using and electric mixer (or by hand) mix the sugar, butter, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, and salt. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until flour is incorporated (don’t overdo it!). Stir in cherries and almonds by hand.
Form the dough into a flat log, about 4-inches wide and 13 inches long (flour hands to help with sticky dough). Bake until golden, about 20-25 minutes. Cool for 25 minutes.
Place the log on a cutting board. Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut the log into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange the biscotti cut-side down on the baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, about 10-12 minutes, turning the cookie sheet if needed. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. These can be a bit crumbly, so be careful when transferring to cutting board and baking sheet. Enjoy with a hot beverage of your choice.