Chiapparelli's House Salad

Chiapparelli’s House Salad [Little Italy, Baltimore]

Surprise! One of my favorite comfort foods is a salad! Chiapparelli’s is an Italian restaurant located in the heart of Baltimore’s Little Italy. While some diners might consider Chiapparelli’s outdated in comparison to more modern Italian cuisine, it’s the same reason why many of us (my family included) keep coming back again and again – it always remains comfortingly the same.

My favorite dish at Chiapparelli’s, other than the pasta, is its famous garlicky, cheese house salad that’s served on an enormous dinner plate. Honestly folks, this “side” salad that comes with every entree is big enough to be an entree itself! And back in the day, my Big Nona used to be friends with the owner/cook, so we were lucky enough to snag the recipe to what we thought must be a “top secret” dressing (it’s surprisingly very simple).

It may not be for everyone – there’s only so much garlic and cheese one can eat – but Chiapparelli’s is a must for dinner if you’re in the Baltimore area, followed by an Italian chocolate-dipped cream puff for dessert at Vaccaro’s.

237 S. High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

222 Albemarle Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Chiapparelli's House Salad

Chiapparelli’s House Salad

2 heads Iceberg lettuce
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 can black olives, sliced
Pepperoncinis, sliced
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup EVOO
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Chop the lettuce, red onion, hard boiled eggs, black olives and pepperoncinis in a large bowl. Emulsify the white vinegar, EVOO, garlic, oregano and sugar into a dressing. Pour over the salad and toss with the grated cheese.


Hearty Bolognese

I made this bolognese back in October when the weather started to have a fall chill. Bolognese is a meat-based sauce originating in Bologna, Italy. Authentic bolognese also has very little tomato base.

I can’t take any credit for this recipe as it comes from the kitchen of a good friend from college’s mom. I cut this recipe in half to serve four, and still have leftovers! My friend’s mom makes the whole recipe and freezes it. Then again, my friend could also probably eat it for an entire week.

It’s best if simmered for several hours, adding the cream at the very end before serving.

Hearty Bolognese

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 oz. pancetta, cut into ¼ inch diced
5 thin slices prosciutto, minced
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled and minced
2 ribs celery minced
8 oz. lean ground beef
8 oz. ground veal
8 oz. lean ground pork
2 cups dry white wine
2 cans (35 oz. each) plum tomatoes, chopped and undrained
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1 cup heavy or whipping cream

Melt butter in large heavy pot over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the prosciutto and cook one minute more. Stir in the onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Sauté, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the beef, veal and pork. Cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, just until the meat begins to lose its pink color. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until the liquid is almost completely reduced.

Add the coarsely chopped tomatoes and add their liquid to the sauce. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered on low heat, stirring for at least 1 1/2 hours. Just before serving, stir in the cream. Makes enough for 2 lbs. pasta.

Roasted Artichoke Salad

Antipasto: Roasted Artichoke Salad

You know what’s good? Leftover brasato al barolo ragu sauce. I’d venture to say the meat only became more tender when reheated in the oven over gnocchi, and the flavor of the barolo wine has completely fused with the tomato sauce.

You know what’s also good? Roasted artichoke salad. I have mentioned my obsession with Ina Garten before. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch the episode at the gym while I was on the elliptical when she makes this antipasto and baked shrimp scampi. Since I’ve already raved about the baked shrimp scampi, it was only a matter of time until I made her artichoke salad.

I’ve made a few changes from her original recipe and have cut the recipe in half. Served atop a bed of arugula and baby spinach with fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, this makes a great antipasto that is served at room temperature and generously serves six. The flavors of the roasted artichokes and red pepper are a tasty balance to the zing from the basil-white wine vinegar vinaigrette. If you have a larger crowd or would like to make this into a full side salad, I recommend doubling the recipe below.

Roasted Artichoke Salad

Roasted Artichoke Salad

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Ina Garten

2 boxes (9 oz. each) frozen artichokes hearts, defrosted
1 large red pepper, cored and halved
Salt and pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1/2 cup fresh chopped basil leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a baking pan, spread artichokes and red pepper face down. Drizzle EVOO generously over the artichokes and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

To make the vinaigrette, place the minced shallot, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process for five seconds. Add the basil leaves and process into a green puree. With the processor running, slowly pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube until the ingredients are finely pureed. Set aside.

Place the roasted red pepper in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 20 minutes to allow it to sweat. This will help the skin to peel away from the pepper.

Place the artichoke hearts in a bowl and toss enough vinaigrette to moisten. Add the sliced red pepper, chopped red onion, capers, parsley and red pepper flakes. Taste and add more vinaigrette as desired. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend before serving.

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Oh, limoncello. How I have a love/hate relationship with you! When limoncello and I were first introduced at a small hideaway on the streets of Florence, I quickly learned (four “shots” later) that Italians sip limoncello as an after-dinner drink… not take it as a shot as it is presented. Stupid Americans.

When I found this recipe I knew I had to try it. For all of my friends that complain all of my recipes are complicated, this one is for you. There is barely any cooking involved, and only five ingredients, one of which is water!

This is great for entertaining because you can make it a day in advance, refrigerate and serve immediately. All you need are ramekins, custard cups or you can even serve the panna cotta in small champagne glasses.

I also highly suggest making the limoncello glaze to accompany the panna cotta and blueberries. The girls thought the glaze made it extra-limoncello-y… I personally didn’t think it was that strong. Then again, I had already downed three filled-to-the-brim glasses of wine on a nearly empty stomach (I had been preparing myself for this amazing dinner I made!). I’m also thinking this blueberry sauce made by Jessica over at How Sweet It Is could be equally amazing.

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Adapted from Bell’Alimento

1 pint heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Limoncello
.25 oz. (1 packet) Knox gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water

3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Limoncello
1 pint fresh blueberries

In a medium size bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the Knox gelatin on top. Do not stir, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, place whipping cream and sugar over medium heat. Stirring frequently with a spoon or whisk until well combined, cook until it nears boiling. Remove from heat, add Limoncello and stir well to combine.

If you are using custard cups or ramekins, spray lightly with cooking spray as you will be inverting the panna cotta onto plates to serve. If you are using small champagne glasses, you can skip this step!

Slowly pour the cream mixture over the gelatin mixture and stir well until combined. Divide among your custard cups and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours or until firm. Serve with blueberries, limoncello glaze or blueberry sauce, or a combination of your favorite fresh fruits!

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

There’s a book called “Like Water for Chocolate.” The main character, Tita, communicates her love and emotions through the food she cooks, flavoring each dish based on her feelings–hopes, expectations and desires. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized I am, in this sense, Tita.

I’ll be honest with you all. I was supposed to have a date Saturday evening. This was the first time in a very long time I was genuinely excited about a date. Cooking for someone I have found is something I guard as very private. It is my greatest passion and I don’t want to share it with just anyone. I invested a lot of thought into what I was going to cook for my date. I knew we both had a love of Italian food, and wanted to pour all my effort into creating not only a casual and romantic meal, but a new dish that wasn’t defined by any recipe I’ve ever read.

The menu: roasted artichoke salad with arugula, fresh mozzarella and olive oil; gnocchi with brasato al barolo ragu sauce; and limoncello panna cotta with blueberries. Let’s not forget a very expensive bottle of wine to top it off.

Much to my disappointment the date was canceled… at the 11th hour. Approximately 20 hours into cooking. The best thing that came out of this was that while I had already made the tomato base of the ragu sauce, I hadn’t cut the brasato al barolo yet. I feel bad for that poor piece of beef sitting on the cutting board with my santoku knife now…

I’m very fortunate to have a great group of girl friends who canceled their own plans for the evening to come and eat my dinner by candlelight, drink wine and go out to the bar.

I will admit, I truly think this is the best dinner I have ever cooked. I felt pressured my cooking wasn’t going to live up to my guest’s expectations. I certainly had nothing to worry about. I don’t know when I’ll ever cook this again. Recipes can become both good and bad memories, just like a photograph. So enjoy this one for me and only share it with someone special (it does take two days to make after all!). In the meantime, I think my future dates are going to have to settle for Ellio’s Pizza slices out of the box (yes, the pizza you’re served in the school cafeteria) until I’m ready to share.

Note: Today’s recipe is Gnocchi with Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce. I will post the Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries recipe on Tuesday, and the Roasted Artichoke Salad on Wednesday.

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2-12 oz. cans tomato paste + 2 cans water per can of paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Chopped basil

Brasato al Barolo

2-2 1/2 lb. boneless eye-of-round beef roast or other lean cut
2 cups Barolo wine
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 small fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons EVOO
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices prosciutto, chopped
3 plum tomatoes, chopped with their juices

1 package gnocchi
Basil for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese

The tomato sauce for this recipe comes from my Big Nona’s (great-grandmother’s) kitchen. My mom would say it tastes best if you prepare the tomato sauce at least one day in advance, cool completely and refrigerate before serving.

In a large pot, coat the entire bottom with EVOO. Add the minced garlic, sliced onion and crushed red pepper. Cook on medium heat for approximately 10-15 minutes until onions are completely softened.

Next, add the can of crushed tomatoes, stirring frequently scraping the bottom of the pot to keep the tomatoes from sticking. Cook for approximately 15 minutes until flavors can combine.

Add tomato paste and two cans of water per can of tomato paste to the tomato base. Add salt, pepper, sugar and basil. Stir and cook until contents reach a near boil. Lower temperature to low heat and cover with a tilted lid, allowing steam to escape. This will help thicken the sauce. Simmer stirring frequently to keep from burning for 90 minutes. Cool completely and refrigerate.

Place the beef roast in a large glass bowl. Add wine, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt. Cover and refrigerate allowing to marinate for a minimum of 6-7 hours.

Remove beef roast from marinade and dry completely, reserving marinade. Heat EVOO and butter in a large skillet on medium heat and add prosciutto. Once prosciutto has started to sizzle, place the beef roast in the pan. Brown and sear on each side for approximately 3 minutes.

Remove beef roast from the pan and place in a crockpot or slow cooker. Pour reserved marinade into the slow cooker, plus chopped plum tomatoes and their juices, and cook for several hours until beef begins to “pull away.” Note: This took approximately 5-6 hours in my slow cooker.

Begin to reheat the tomato sauce on medium heat. Once beef roast is cooked, slice and pull away the roast into shreds. Add the beef roast, carrots and celery to the tomato sauce. Simmer on medium-low heat for 1-1 1/2 hours. The meat will become more tender and fall apart in the sauce.

Bring a pot of water to boil and cook gnocchi as instructed. Pour brasato al barolo ragu sauce over gnocchi, and garnish with fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Arugula Pesto

Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in a region of northern Italy. The name is the contracted past participle of “pesta” meaning “to pound or to crush” in reference to the sauce’s crushed herbs and garlic.

I love pesto. It’s sweet basil and garlic flavor is great on pizza, as a light pasta sauce, spread on crackers, tossed with potatoes, as a sandwich spread or even served alongside chicken or steak.

Earlier this summer when I went to a wine tasting, I had my first experience with arugula pesto. This was a new thought for me. When I think of pesto, I always think of basil. However, fresh basil isn’t always ready in your garden in early spring. You don’t need to limit yourself to using only basil, but can experiment with other herbs from your garden that are ready to harvest sooner like arugula.

Arugula is a spicy leaf herb with a “peppery bite” that is also sometimes referred to as rocket, roquette, rugula and rucola. It’s always been popular in Italian cuisine for flavoring oils, and I developed a love/hate relationship of my own with arugula while in Italy. It was used heavily in salads and on sandwiches (I can’t tell you how happy I was to come home to some romaine or iceburg on my sandwich!).

The daunting task of making pesto is deciding on a recipe. Do I need to blanch the basil or herb I am using? Do I want to use Asiago, Parmesan or Romano cheese? Do I want to use pine nuts or walnuts? Should I toast them? Should I toast the garlic or use it raw? How much olive oil should I add? Should I add sundried tomatoes? Really friends, pesto should not be this complicated or take this much thought!

I decided if I was going to try arugula pesto on my own, it was going to be the simplest recipe ever. And simple this recipe is! It took me a total of 3 to 5 minutes to make, which was perfect while my pasta boiled. If the spicy taste of the arugula is too much for your taste, I recommend adding 1 teaspoon of sugar until it reaches your desired sweetness.

Arugula Pesto

2 cups arugula, stems removed
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon sugar, if desired

In a blender or food processor, blend arugula, garlic and Parmesan cheese until smooth. Slowly add olive oil and pine nuts until you reach desired consistency.

This is served great over warm pasta or as a spread on ciabatta with turkey and provolone.

Champagne Risotto

As promised, I’m back today with the oh so creamy and rich recipe for champagne risotto. I’d also never cooked risotto until taking the French cooking class (although this is purely an Italian recipe at heart). I was always nervous since I heard it was one of those dishes you can’t take your eye off of and constantly have to stir. However, once you get the timing down, it’s actually not as stressful to make as a lot of people make it out to be.

I originally found this recipe in Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book as a side dish to a lemon cream chicken. For the purpose of making it as a side dish to the skirt steak, I chose to eliminate the pancetta and saute only the asparagus. However, I highly suggest re-adding the pancetta if cooking alongside chicken or serving as a main dish on its own. Who doesn’t like a subtle smokey bacon flavor?!

As a side note, the following recipe serves generous portions for two. I suggest doubling the recipe to serve four to six people, and you’ll have some leftovers!

Champagne Risotto (with Asparagus and Pancetta)

Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book

3 cups chicken broth3 tablespoons EVOO
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
Salt and pepper
1 split champagne or sparkling wine
1 lemon, juiced
1/8 pound sliced pancetta, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
3-4 springs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth over low heat. In a medium to large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the champagne and boil to evaporate slightly, about 2 minutes.

Stir a couple of ladlefuls of warm chicken broth into the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates. Add more broth, a few ladlefuls at a time, reserving 1/2 cup. Cook until creamy, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes.

In the non-stick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon EVOO, 1 turn of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and shallot and cook, stirring, for 3 more minutes.

To serve, stir the cheese and thyme into the risotto and spoon generous portions onto plates. Pour the lemon juice over the asparagus and toss; spoon around or stir into risotto.

Chicken Marsala Stuffed Shells

Although yummy, today’s recipe proves that you can make stuffed shells without the ricotta. Who would have known?

Did you know there are people who do not like the taste and/or texture of ricotta cheese? Ricotta cheese is a staple ingredient to a lot of my family recipes, and Italian food in general. The “American” way is to alternatively use cottage cheese for lasagna and baked pastas. I, on the other hand, will eat spoonfuls of ricotta cheese plopped on top of my spaghetti! So began my quest for recipes that used alternative ingredients to ricotta and cottage cheese (I just can’t get past the lumpy texture of that stuff!).

This recipe originally called for bechamel sauce. Bechamel sauce is a white sauce traditionally used in French and Italian cuisine, and has a heavy cream base. Some variations also call for cheese. Knowing the recipe was already going to be rich between the chicken, Marsala wine and melted Parmesan cheese, I opted to use a tomato cream sauce or vodka sauce instead. If you want to save time (the recipe will already take 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours between prep and baking), I recommend using a jar of Bertolli’s Vodka Sauce or Four Cheese Rosa. If you’re up for the task though of making homemade sauce, I highly recommend this tomato-marscapone sauce. So now, on to what you’ll need…

Chicken Marsala Stuffed Shells

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 lb. ground chicken
4 ounces prosciutto, diced
2/3 cup Marsala cooking wine
7 ounces chopped canned tomatoes, and their juices
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 box large pasta shells or 10-12 cannelloni tubes
Shredded Parmesan cheese
1 jar tomato cream or vodka sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, onion and mushrooms, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 8 to 10 minutes.

Dice your prosciutto into 1-inch pieces. Add the ground chicken and prosciutto to the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, for 12 minutes or until browned all over. Stir in the Marsala wine, tomatoes and their can juices, basil, and tomato paste, and cook for 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then simmer on medium heat for about 30 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

When the filling is cooked, it will have absorbed mostly all of the liquid and will have a thickened consistency. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, return to a boil and cook for 10 to 12 minutes until tender, but still firm to bite. Drain and let dry. (You may want to add a few drops of olive oil to keep the shells or cannelloni from sticking)

Using a spoon, fill the shells or cannelloni tubes with the chicken and mushroom mixture. Place in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Pour the tomato cream or vodka sauce over them to cover completely and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted. A side salad makes a delicious dinner!

Update: If you can’t find shells or cannolini tubes, or just don’t have time or want the fuss/mess of filling them), you can make this into a ziti pasta bake by mixing the chicken marsala mixture with a 16 ounce box of cooked ziti, pouring into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish sprayed with cooking spray, and topping with sauce and grated cheese.

“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti”

I’m normally not a fan of memoirs, or most non-fiction. But as some of my closest friends know, about a year ago I was on a crazy dating ride of my own. “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is Giulia’s Melucci’s memoir of her dating escapades and search for Mr. Right with recipes interwoven in the narrative and relationships. One by one, she found boyfriends, fed them well, and established relationships. After all, the saying is the path to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

The highlight of the book is the food. While most of the recipes are Italian, they’re simple to make with ingredients that aren’t hard to find, but take it one step above the norm making you look like a pro in the cucina. Some of the recipes even boast cute, hilarious and unique names such as “First-Date Butterflies” and “Spaghetti and Meatballs for Cooking Sluts and Those Who Love Them.” If you like food, and you like chick-lit, this is the book for you.

One of my favorite recipes from Melucci is the Simple Tomato Sauce and Pasta for Two. I make this all the time when I’m in the mood for a quick and easy homemade sauce. If you make it with crushed canned tomatoes, you’ll definitely have leftovers, which can also be frozen!

Simple Tomato Sauce and Pasta for Two

Adapted from “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” by Giulia Melucci

1 cup whole plum tomatoes (or 1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, I prefer Red Pack brand)
1 tablespoon EVOO
1 clove garlic, minced (I confess, I use 3!), or 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
Basil leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb. penne, or pasta of your choice
Freshly grated parmigiano, pecorino, or any grating cheese to sprinkle on top

Run the tomatoes through a food mill or puree them with an immersion blender, chop them, or just break them up with your hands (or just used pre-crushed tomatoes!). Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic (or onions) along with the red pepper flakes and 1 whole basil leaf. Lower heat (you do not want your base to brown) and saute until the garlic is lightly golden (or the onions are translucent), 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and raise the heat back to medium; when the sauce begins to simmer, add the sugar, wine and salt. After about 5 minutes, check to see if it needs more salt; if it tastes acidic, add another pinch or two of sugar. Reduce the heat to low and taste after about 15 minutes. When all the flavors are nicely blended, it’s done.

Place a large, covered pot filled with water over high heat. When the water has reached a rigorous boil, add a generous dose of salt. Add the pasta and let the water return to a boil. Cook until the pasta is firm to the bite. When it is done, drain and divide. Add a ladle-full of the sauce and a few torn basil leaves.

Mangione Family

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”

As a third generation Italian-American, cannoli have always been the ending highlight to every Thanksgiving, Christmas, graduation, wedding, anniversary, or any other celebrated holiday or family get-together. Cannoli are Sicilian pastry desserts that were historically prepared during Carnevale season. Cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta cheese (and in less traditional, but more modern American versions, marscapone). They range in size from “cannulicchi,” no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically found just south of Palermo, Sicily.

When my Nona passed away suddenly in January, we were surprised to be greeted by her doctor at the funeral home. He, too, had been caught off guard by her sudden passing, and had shared the news with his family, including his teenage son. In his house, she was known at “the cannoli lady.” Every Christmas, we discovered, Nona had also made her doctor’s family a wax paper-lined tin of homemade cannoli that she delivered to his office. His son was worried: “Who would make them cannoli now that ‘the cannoli lady’ had passed?”

Like many families, recipes had been passed down from generation to generation to my Nona through watchful eyes and practice… not written down, and surely not following any conventional measuring system. My mom worried herself as she had not had the chance to learn how to make cannoli from her mother and my Nona.

Mangione Family

My Nona and her mother (right) in the early 1950s during one of many family dinners.

It was then much to our surprise that two weeks later we stumbled upon an old wooden recipe box. In between recipes clipped from magazines, tattered and faded from 20 plus years of life, we found a yellowed 3×5 index card with the scribblings of my Nona’s (and Big Nona’s) cannoli filling. Like many versions with which Americans are most familiar, Nona’s recipe tends to involve variations on the original concept (my only explanation for the vanilla pudding). This is possibly due to adaptations made by Italians who moved to the United States in the 1900s and discovered limited availability of certain ingredients, especially later during the Great Depression, like my Big Nona and Nona.

Nona’s Cannoli Filling

Makes two dozen large cannoli shells

Note: Cannoli shells can be found at any local Italian grocery or bakery. Hey, if it was good enough for my Nona, it’s good enough for me!

3 lbs. ricotta cheese
3/4 box (or approximately 12 oz.) confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 box vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bag mini chocolate chips

Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels, and spread ricotta cheese, covering with saran wrap. Refrigerate for one day to allow excess moisture to escape ricotta cheese. Change paper towels once, gently rolling ricotta cheese to new paper towels.

Once excess moisture has been removed from ricotta cheese,  mix all ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Refrigerate until used to fill cannoli shells. Do not fill cannoli shells until ready to serve, or pastry dough will become soggy. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar on top.