Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Real Little Italy

Meat hanging from the ceiling of one store

The cigar rollers in the Arthur Avenue Market

Yesterday I visited Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, also referred to as the real Little Italy. No store owners trying to shoo us into their restaurants, no vendors selling obscene NY t-shirts. Apparently when the South Bronx was in the toilet Arthur Avenue was safe because of the mafia. Go figure.

We first visited the Arthur Avenue retail market which is this huge indoor market with various vendors. It's a scaled-down version of the St. Lawrence market in Toronto, except that everything here was Italian. Some of my classmates (we were there for a trip on Robert Moses' creations, but stopped at Arthur Ave for lunch) went to the deli counter and indulged in meatball heros and the salami that they claimed satisfies everyone. Others bought cigars from the cigar rollers at the entrance (the tobacco, they tell us, is from the Dominican Republic). Us girls went to the pizza stand and had some of the best sicilian pizza out there. The dough was soft yet crispy, mine was topped with a layer of fresh (and delicious) mozzarella, and the sauce had a nice sweetness to it.

Afterwards, we decided to take a stroll down Arthur Avenue. We passed by Dominick's, a family-style Italian restaurant where there's no menu... they just serve you what they feel like making that day. We passed by Mario's, where Elizabeth Taylor used to dine. We entered a pork store that smelled too intense, but I took a snapshot of the ceiling that was covered in hanging cured meat. We went to a cheese shop where they molded the semi-hard cheeses into the shapes of elephants. I wanted to buy a pound of their mozzarella but alas we still had hours to go before it could be refrigerated. Then we entered Gino's pastry shop on 187th near Arthur Ave and I bought a half dozen connoli - filled while you wait style. I have since brought them back to share with friends and all are now riled up and ready to to go to the Bronx for some more.

Of course, Arthur Avenue is not that unlike everywhere else in the city. Just as Williamsburg was complaining of losing its charm with the opening of a Subway (the restaurant franchise, not the train), we spotted both a Subway and a chinese takeout restaurant on Arthur Ave. And the MSG-tainted food actually overpowered the smell of the pungent pork products.

So I leave you with a recipe for Tiramisu since not everyone has a deep fryer with which to fry connoli. And because Kayla wanted me to include a Valentines-y dessert. Shout out!

just to warn you, marscapone is mad expensive... so if you can't cook i'd suggest you try first with a cheaper dish; this takes about 8 hours to create (including nonactive cook time) and serves 8 (from the Barefoot Contessa)

6 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup good dark rum, divided
1 1/2 cups brewed espresso, divided
16 to 17 ounces mascarpone cheese
30 Italian ladyfingers, or savoiardi
Bittersweet chocolate, shaved or grated
Confectioners' sugar, optional

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed for about 5 minutes, or until very thick and light yellow. Lower the speed to medium and add 1/4 cup rum, 1/4 cup espresso, and the mascarpone. Whisk until smooth.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup rum and 1 1/4 cups espresso in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 side of each ladyfinger in the espresso/rum mixture and line the bottom of a 9 by 12 by 2-inch dish. Pour half the espresso cream mixture evenly on top. Dip 1 side of the remaining ladyfingers in the espresso/rum mixture and place them in a second layer in the dish. Pour the rest of the espresso cream over the top. Smooth the top and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, sprinkle the top with shaved chocolate and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Notes: To make espresso for this recipe in your electric drip coffee maker, use enough water for 4 cups of coffee plus 1/3 cup of ground espresso.

You can find savoiardi and mascarpone in an Italian specialty store.