I adore Boston, Massachusetts. There’s just something about the city that draws me in. I love the fusion of the modern city with the rich historical past. In one day you can stroll through the Public Garden and see the sites along the Freedom Trail, window shop on Newbury Street, and then head to the South End for dinner and drinks at one of the new trendy restaurants.
My favorite part of Boston, though, is the North End. The Freedom Trail goes right through the North End of the city, with landmarks such as Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church (“One if by land, two if by sea…”) along the way. The historical sites are not my reason for loving the North End, though. The North End also happens to be the Italian section of the city – full of restaurants, pastry shops, and markets.
Hanover Street is the most well known (and the most touristy) street in the North End, lined with small restaurants and shops. While I do enjoy eating at Giacomo’s and stopping in at Mike’s or Modern for dessert, venturing off of Hanover Street is where the fun begins. Only a few blocks away, you will find gems like Maria’s Pastry (my personal favorite for cannoli), Salumeria Italiana (a grocery where you will find fantastic Balsamic vinegar), and Polcari’s Coffee (with fresh roasted coffee and a wide assortment of whole spices).
Since I do not have the opportunity to visit Boston as often as I’d like, I have learned to prepare some of my favorite Italian dishes to remind me of the wonderful food in the North End. The first time I visited the city, I picked up a copy of The North End Italian Cookbook, my go-to source for Italian recipes. I have also taken a market tour of the North End and visited the city numerous times (including last weekend!).
My Italian Birthday Dinner Party for the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24
So, as soon as it occurred to me that this month’s Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 would be taking place on my birthday (October 24th), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share my love of Boston’s Italian North End with some of my friends and family! Fortunately, Foodbuzz and Visa agreed and accepted my proposal!
I started preparing for my dinner party as soon as I got home from Boston last weekend, pouring over my cookbook and travel photos to choose the menu! I spent the whole day on Friday cooking and cleaning for the party. Most of Friday afternoon was spent preparing the homemade cannoli shells (keep reading for the recipe!).
I was up bright and early on Saturday morning to get started on the fresh pasta (using a shiny new Imperia pasta machine given to me by my hubby for my birthday). Around lunchtime, my mom joined me in the kitchen, playing sous chef and helping me pull the whole thing off. She also provided the mold for the fresh ravioli!
All of the food served at my dinner party was prepared from scratch in my kitchen (with the exception of the birthday cake, which my hubby purchased for me. I drew the line at baking my own cake!)…
- Baked Stuffed Mushrooms with Ricotta – a tasty appetizer from The North End Italian Cookbook, served as my guests arrived and I put the finishing touches on the rest of the dinner!
- Fresh Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette – made with the Rubio Aged Balsamico from Salumeria Italiana.
- My Mom’s Fresh Italian Bread – I was amazed as I watched her prepare it with no recipe (and no, she’s not Italian!).
- Roasted Broccoli – one of my favorites, no recipe needed.
- Butternut Squash Ravioli with Mascarpone and Sage – a dish inspired by my favorite dishes at Giacomo’s Ristorante.
- Chicken Cutlets Parmigiana – one of my favorite recipes from The North End Italian Cookbook!
- Fettucine with Bolognese Sauce – new recipes that I tried from The North End Italian Cookbook.. Both were a hit!
- Chocolate Chip Cannoli - my absolute favorite Italian dessert. I’ve been looking forward to making cannoli ever since I first visited Boston!
- Chocolate Walnut Biscotti – another favorite sweet treat from The North End Italian Cookbook, perfect served with the House Blend from Polcari’s Coffee.
While many of my guests felt bad that I prepared my own birthday dinner, I can think of nowhere I’d rather be than in my kitchen. I love to cook and bake, and sharing some of my favorite dishes with my friends and family was a perfect way to celebrate. We all had a wonderful evening, and I assure you, no one left hungry!
Homemade Chocolate Chip Cannoli
As I mentioned above, one of my favorite places to visit in the North End is Maria’s Pastry because I love the cannoli. I have wanted to make homemade cannoli for a very (very) long time since it is hard to find where I live. Here is my recipe for cannoli shells with ricotta filling and chocolate chips, adapted from The North End Italian Cookbook. This recipe will make about 25 small cannoli (I made a double batch for the party). Buon Appetito!
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- 1/4 cup port wine
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- Canola oil
Making the dough for the cannoli shells is much like preparing a pie crust. Whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Make a well in the center, and add the beaten egg and butter. Use your finger tips to blend the flour mixture with the egg and butter, until all flour is moistened and the mixture is crumbly. Gradually add the port wine, a little bit at a time, just until a dough forms and sticks together. Form the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 – 30 minutes.
Once the dough has rested, divide it into quarters. Roll one quarter of the dough on a floured surface until it is paper thin. Use a round cookie cutter (or biscuit cutter) to cut circles of dough. My cookie cutter was about 3 inches in diameter, but the size can be varied depending on the size of the cannoli forms you will be using. Repeat the process with the remaining quarters of the dough, until all of the dough has been cut into circles.
Heat the canola oil in a deep, heavy pot until it reaches 350°. There are lots of techniques for determining when the oil is hot enough to fry, but I prefer to use an oil/candy thermometer just to be sure! Meanwhile, wrap the cannoli forms with the dough circles, sealing the edges with egg yolk and pressing with your fingertips. It is important to seal the edges well, or the cannoli will open up when frying (this happened to a few of mine the first time around!).
Once the oil is hot, fry a few shells at a time, being careful not to crowd them in the pot. Use tongs to turn the cannoli so that they cook evenly. They will need to cook in the oil for about 2 minutes, until they are golden but not burnt. Use the tongs to transfer the shells to paper towels to cool. After cooling for a minute, hold the shell lightly with a clean kitchen towel and use your other hand to gently slide the cannoli form out of the shell. Be careful, the form will still be hot! Allow the shell to cool completely, and then store in an airtight container. The shells can be made up to one week ahead of time.
- 2 pounds ricotta cheese
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Pinch cinnamon
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Mini chocolate chips
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Cover and chill overnight. Pour off any excess moisture that may collect in the bowl before filling the cannoli.
Do not fill the cannoli ahead of time or the shells will get soggy. When you are ready to serve the cannoli, prepare a pastry bag with the ricotta filling. Carefully pipe the filling into the ricotta shells and dip each end of the shell in the mini chocolate chips. Serve immediately.