I’m Italian. Well, not real Italian, more “American-Italian.” You know, we say “mutzadel” instead of mozzarella. We call the red stuff on Sundays “gravy” instead of pasta sauce. We celebrate the big holidays but don’t speak a lick of the native language.
And to be honest, I love it.
One thing that holds us so close together is our traditions. We might not know how they started, but we hold them dear — and always make an adventure of them.
One of my favorites is our annual preparation for the routine Christmas antipasto course. We venture into New York City to a single street called Arthur Ave in the Bronx. Arthur Ave is everything you wished Little Italy was – cheesemongers, smoked meats, freshly baked bread, and family-style restaurants line both sides. And the best part is that everything is actually authentic.
The Tuesday before the big day Adrienne, my dad, and I trekked into the city to gather our bounty. We spent the better part of the day sampling, comparing, and taste-testing the best of the best. Here’s a quick taste of Christmas 2017 prep with The Masilottis.
Arthur Ave, the Bronx
Making sure to leave early enough to “beat traffic,” we venture in to the Bronx at 8 a.m. Everything we need is within a block or two of Arthur Ave, so we start at the top and work our way down.
Cheese, Cheese, and More Cheese
We kick off the day innocently enough with some cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Our first stop, Calandra’s Cheese, has us sampling more varieties then we can count. Our favorite was a smoked gouda and parmesan combo — salty, spongy, and with enough bite to make everyone happy. We also asked for a rind or two to flavor the Sunday gravy, and received a two-pound bag, no questions asked.
An important thing to keep in mind is that each store does one thing really well. You’d be crazy to buy a pasta or olives from the same place that sells your pepperoni! At Calbira Pork Store we pick up some antipast0 meats: salami, spicy capicola, and maybe some bresaola.
Mozzarella and Prosciutto Rolls
Next up is a huge indoor market with a bunch of different Italian specialty stores. Don’t be distracted by the fresh vegetables, pizzas, or desserts. Head right back to Mike’s. (OK, fine, maybe get a little distracted and grab a few things.)
Our stop at Mike’s Deli is for a very special treat, mozzarella and prosciutto rolls. They hand-make these every morning with fresh-made cheese and super salty prosciutto. Unfortunately we gobbled up ours too quickly to snap a picture. But if you want something a little more substantial, their sandwiches (pictured above) are to die for.
Bread (and Breadsticks)
Remember what I said about getting one thing from each shop? We really take it to heart with our bread. We make a quick stop at both bakeries, right next to each other, Madonia Brothers Bakery and Addeo Bakers. It would be too simple to get everything from one. Instead, still-hot sesame breadsticks from Addeo and baguettes and boules from Madonia.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Italian cookies. I know, blasphemy, right? Hopefully my readers can forgive me… But I learned something new this year. Pignoli cookies are out of this world. Chewy insides with a solid crisp bite from the slivered almond coating gives all other cookies a run for their money. Just make sure to eat them the same day they are baked. Oh, and Morrone Pastry Shop & Cafe makes the best around.
As our day wraps up we lug our plastic bags into the car and drive home. I’m quite stuffed from sampling at every shop and the warm car puts me to sleep almost immediately. But really, I’m just preparing for dinner.
What are traditions for, if not for sharing with loved ones? My parents are kind enough to share this tradition with me, and for that I am forever grateful. What better way to say thanks than to pass it along to my family?