Preparation is half the fun for Feast of San Giuseppe

By Debra Samuels, Globe Correspondent March 31, 2010
GLOUCESTER — In the garage-cum-kitchen of Nina and Franco Groppo’s home here, more than 20 friends and extended family are preparing for the Feast of San Giuseppe. That means pasta making — lots of it — along with plenty of fun. Flour sifting through the air around him, Pasquale Vitale throws his head back and calls out: “Comu semu tutti muti?’’ (Let me hear your voices.) The pasta makers respond: “Viva San Giuseppe Viva!’’

This Sicilian cheer, honoring St. Joseph, the patron saint of families, is repeated many times for several days in this makeshift work space. The feast, a gesture of gratitude for the bounty of life, is held a week later on March 19. Many people who hail from the tiny village of Trappeto, hometown of the Groppos, attend, but you don’t have to be Italian to participate. Neighbors Marilyn Swift, Catherine Gunn, and Bev Gardner have been helping for years. “Bring a friend. Tell them to bring a friend. Everyone is welcome,’’ says Nina Groppo. “See how many people St. Joseph brings into my life?’’ She is the heart of this celebration.

The Groppos have been doing this for 14 years. In the house, a three-tiered altar with a statue of St. Joseph at the top adorns their den. Flowers and religious figurines, framed by swags of mauve-colored satin and lace, attend the saint.
The garage kitchen is filled with tables, where pasta makers will eventually roll out 100 pounds of dough and turn it into thick strands of a fettuccine-like tagliarini. Grace Sciortino assists son Sal, 13, as he feeds dough though a pasta machine. “More flour,’’ instructs Nina Groppo. Her husband and Vitale set the cut pasta to dry on door-size plywood planks. As one board fills, they set another on wooden blocks. Within an hour, they stack six boards like an urban parking lot. The pasta will dry all week.

Ninfa Briguglio tends a pot of milk simmering on the stove. “I’m making ricotta,’’ she says. “It couldn’t be easier: Heat milk, cream, salt, and vinegar — you get ricotta.’’ Forty minutes later she scoops the creamy warm curds and whey into plastic bowls to reward everyone for the day’s work.

The next week, on the eve of the feast, folks gather again to prepare focaccia sandwiches with fillings that include cheese, anchovies, tomatoes, salted Alaskan salmon, and basil. The workers pare artichokes for fritters and fill more than 100 bags with bread, an orange, and a lemon. The orange promises sweetness, the lemon recalls the bitterness of the past, and the bread represents nourishment. They also make conza, the traditional sauce/soup of beans, cauliflower, and fennel. Conza will be tossed with all that pasta made the week before. Four pounds each of chickpeas, lentils, white and red beans, black-eyed peas, and favas are cooked separately before being mixed together Friday morning. That same day, the workers cut cauliflower into florets along with fragrant wild fennel, sent from Franco Groppo’s cousin in California. As they chop, the intense aroma of anise deepens.

At dusk on the eve of the feast, votive candles are twinkling as dozens arrive at the Groppos’ for a Mass led by Father Antonio Nardoianni of St. Leonard’s Parish in the North End. Several breads in the shape of animals and Christian symbols are on the altar. They were made by Dominic D’Amico and his daughter, Maria Cracchiolo of Caffe Sicilia in Gloucester. After the service and a light supper of focaccia sandwiches, Groppo’s home cured olives, fresh fruit, and pastry, everyone leaves with a bag of bread and fruit.

On feast day, more than 100 celebrants glide through the Groppos’ home. The conza simmers from early morning in an 80-quart pot. In the backyard, Joseph Briguglio stands over a huge vat of bubbling oil and deep-fried artichoke fritters. He reminds everyone this is his feast day: “No one can be mean to me today!’’ His wife, Ninfa, dips the chokes in a yeasty batter, depositing them into the oil one by one. Once they are fried, he sets them down and everyone nearby grabs one. Enzo Barna is making panelle, deep-fried chickpea squares. In the kitchen, tables are groaning with huge aluminum pans of sweet and sour fish, baked stuffed jumbo shrimp, the eggplant relish caponata, orange and fennel salad, marinated octopus salad, and Italian cookies and desserts wrapped in cellophane.

Everyone is waiting for the homemade pasta di San Giuseppe. The water comes to a boil and Salvatore Cracchiolo and Franco Groppo tip in the pasta. When it’s ready, the men begin what looks like a ballet. They fill two giant bowls first with sauce, then pasta, then sauce, then pasta. Carlo Randazzo tosses it together. Vitale’s daughter, Angela, helps serve the crowd, many of whom return for a refill.
Then a shout: “Comu semu tutti muti?’’
And the response: “Viva San Giuseppe Viva!’’

Recipe for Conza

Tofu is all about the texture

Tofu is all about the texture
Each of the three styles of soy bean curd has a purpose

Those large white blocks of tofu can be intimidating. No matter how carefully you prepare them, the dishes never seem as good as they are when you eat out. It’s all a matter of determining which texture you need - firm, soft, or silken - and finding a recipe that suits you.
For vegetarians and vegans, tofu is an important protein. For others - even hearty folks who like their beef - tofu is a healthy alternative to meat. You see it offered instead of beef in casual lunch spots as an add-in to stir-fries. One-half cup of firm tofu is about 95 calories - the same amount of skinless chicken breast is about 110 - but tofu is considerably lower in fat than beef. The white cakes are actually soy bean curd (tofu is the Japanese word for bean curd), which originated in China more than 1,000 years ago; it’s pronounced doufu in Chinese and dubu in Korean.

Tofu has always been popular in Asian restaurants, and every Asian cuisine boasts many tofu-based dishes. In his Chinese restaurant, Rice Valley in Newton, owner Kent Chen has noticed two dishes in particular becoming popular: a deep-fried orange-flavored bean curd, and a lighter steamed bean curd offered with a special soy sauce.

Tofu is made with soy beans, water, and a coagulant. The beans are soaked, crushed, and simmered in water, then the solids are strained and pressed, which creates soy milk. That milk is heated and combined with a natural coagulant, which makes the milk clot and separate like curds and whey. Curds are set in molds and packed in containers with water. Once you open tofu, use it within a few days, changing the water daily.

Each of the three kinds of tofu has a purpose. Firm is for stir fries (it holds its shape in hot oil), soft is for soups and stews (you can cut it up easily), and silken, also for soups and stews, can be eaten without further cooking. Within each of these designations you can find extra firm to almost custard-like. For most recipes, drain or press tofu before cooking to release excess liquid. A quick method is to microwave it for 2 minutes, then drain the liquid on the plate.

One dish that uses firm tofu is a Japanese specialty in which the block is crumbled and mixed with carrot matchsticks, mushrooms, and beaten eggs. Rice Valley’s silken tofu can be made at home if you rig up a steamer. Pour hot chicken stock and soy sauce around the cubes, then top with scallions and a spoonful of hot oil. The tofu absorbs these and turns very flavorful.

When my family lived in Japan some years ago, every neighborhood had a small tofu shop, mostly multigenerational mom-and-pop operations. The smell of cooking soy beans wafted into the street. Fresh and fried tofu cakes were sold at a window, along with tofu mash or lees, a nutritious byproduct of the beans. Japanese housewives simmer this with vegetables or mold it into croquettes. The women could also buy fresh tofu from a bicycle vendor (usually an old man), who tooted a horn to alert residents. In recent years, a mini truck blasts a horn. Most consumers buy high quality tofu in supermarkets.

As you approach the Chang Shing Tofu factory in Cambridge, you get a whiff of that same bean-y smell. Instead of a tiny window, you walk through the loading dock to buy tofu. This operation supplies many area markets and restaurants. Local farmers pick up the mash to feed their lucky pigs; someone can pack up a bag for you.

If you have a hankering for tofu, you needn’t always have fresh on hand. There’s a shelf-stable brand from Mori-nu. Or freeze a block of firm tofu, defrost it in the refrigerator, and squeeze out the water like a sponge. Slice and toss in hot oil with vegetables and a splash of soy, hoisin, or oyster sauce.
Tofu is your canvas. Add seasonings and see what you get.
Tasting notes
Though some tofu manufacturers are not based in this country, all brands are made in plants here.
Chang Shing Tofu Firm
$1.39 for 18 ounces (2 pieces)
The favorite. Made in Cambridge. Comes in regular and large containers. Water clear, taste pure, no bean-y traces. Texture firm to the touch, soft on the tongue. Nice brown crust when fried.
House Organic Tofu Firm
$1.99 for 14 ounces
Creamy white Japanese brand; smooth, appetizing appearance. Firm but not hard; browns when fried and has a clean taste.
Mori-nu Organic Silken Firm
$1.99 for 12.3 ounces
Japanese shelf-stable brand. Called “silken tofu’’ but comes in a variety of textures. When fried, nice crust, but the center breaks apart. Sweet taste, slightly bean-y flavor. Steam or use in soups.
Nasoya Firm Tofu
$1.69 for 14 ounces
Brick-like with a slight bean-y taste. Smooth when cut; forms a good crust when fried.
Pulmuone All Natural Firm
$1.69 for 18 ounces
Favorite Korean brand. Frying produces a light and smooth crust with a fine texture and subtle flavor. Available at Korean grocers or H Mart in Burlington.
Soy Boy Firm
$2.19 for 16 ounces
Yellowish cast to water; rough surface on block. Very firm to the touch, tasteless, and heavy. The least Asian bean curd-like texture. When fried, it’s slightly bitter.
21st Century Tofu
$1.19 for 16 ounces
Made in Jamaica Plain. Smooth texture, taste is a bit chalky. When fried, it’s crispy on the outside, soft inside, and doesn’t crumble. Available at A. Russo and Sons in Watertown or the Harvest Co-op Market in Jamaica Plain.
365 Organic Firm
$1.79 for 14 ounces
Pocked rough surface, firm to the touch, crumbly. Distinctive, buttery taste. When fried, surprisingly mellow.
Vermont Soy Firm Style
$1.98 for 14 ounces
Least favorite. Off-putting dense, crumbly, chalky texture. Texture improves after cooking.

Expert's Guide To The New Asian Megamart

' You’d think I was in Korea’


By Debra Samuels, Globe Correspondent November 11, 2009

BURLINGTON — Standing in front of a tower of Korean grapes, restaurateur Jae Chung surveys the new H Mart. “Wow! Now I won’t have to drive to New Jersey,’’ he says. Opened last month — the first one in New England — this H Mart is the 30th store for the New Jersey-based chain owned by Korean businessmen. It began in 1982 and at this point moves into a region in a big way. The footprint is the size of a football field. The store combines elements of Asian and American supermarkets, department store-type concessions, and a food court anchored by a French Asian bakery. Some customers look like they’re participating in a supermarket sweepstakes race. Carts are piled high with boxes threatening to topple over. All Asian cuisines are represented here but Korean products dominate. Still, the fresh food is abundant: meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and prepared foods.

Since it opened its doors, H Mart has been jammed. (H stands for hanahreum, literally “armful’’; the company says it means “love and care for the customers.’’) The tall, slim Chung, 46, who owns several Jae’s enterprises in Boston and Western Massachusetts, is drawn to the store, to the bins of spicy kimchi, crocks of salted seafood, sacks of grains. Chung is touring the mega-market to explain ingredients and tell us how he’d cook them. One of his chefs, Yeong Sohn, joins us.

We start at one corner of the store, where the banchan (little dishes) and kimchi (fermented vegetables) are located. This is what you would find in a supermarket in Seoul. Chung was born in Seoul and moved to Clarksburg, a tiny town in the Berkshires, when he was 13. “I was the only foreign kid in town,’’ he says. Sometimes it embarrassed him to bring friends home because of all the unusual food smells and herbs his parents were drying that might have seemed weird.

At H Mart, Chung is right at home. Banchan, which are seasoned vegetables, tiny fish, seaweed, and wild herbs, are the base of a Korean meal. Chung notes that these prepared dishes will save home cooks hours of work. “This is a real boon for the Korean housewife,’’ he says. “Making these side dishes is labor intensive.’’ His parents made all these things themselves when he was growing up. The case is brimming with 20 kinds of kimchi, which is on the table at most Korean meals. “I like the New York [brand] kimchi. It is all natural with no MSG,’’ says Chung. H Mart carries other MSG-free brands. On weekends at H Mart, women wearing rubber gloves are making fresh kimchi and the lines to buy it are long.

Chung opened his first Jae’s Cafe in the South End in 1990 followed by seven more. The original location is still open, as is another in Brookline. He was one of the first restaurateurs here to make pan-Asian food. Today he lives in North Adams with his wife, Suzanne, and 7-year-old daughter, Hanul, and has restaurants in Pittsfield and North Adams.

At H Mart, Chung sees crocks filled with raw salted seafood in spicy sauces. “I love this stuff,’’ he says, and points to pollock roe, which is thousands of tiny eggs in a natural sack. Serving instructions are simple: “Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil and sprinkle on minced scallions,’’ he says.

The meat case is filled with cuts you don’t see at regular supermarkets: pork belly, sliced beef and pork for stir-fries, chicken feet. Chung picks up a package of something marked “LA beef short ribs’’ (LA is a type of bone-in rib, thinly sliced for table top barbecue). He likes these. “Good marbling,’’ he says. Then a quick recipe: “Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and marinate in a mixture of grated Asian pear, ginger, garlic, sake, soy sauce, and sesame oil for three to four hours. Cook in a frying pan or under the broiler. Serve with red leaf lettuce, red pepper paste, some raw garlic.’’

In the seafood department, most of the fish have heads and tails intact. There are fewer boneless pieces available, but lots of ready-cut sashi mi, split blue crabs, and pre-packed seafood hot pot ingredients ready to mix with water. Lobsters are in tanks, abalone is in the freezer section, and clams and mussels are on ice, ready for customers to scoop their own into a plastic bag.

An entire department is devoted to dried seaweed. In the produce section, there’s everything from lettuce to lotus root. Chung notices chubby white radishes called mu, something like daikon; slender red and green chili peppers; and unusual varieties of mushrooms. A refrigerated case is loaded with a half dozen brands of tofu in textures from silky to firm, as well as custard-like for sundubu chigae (tofu stew). Soy bean sprouts are beside the tofu. Korean Rx for colds: “Combine garlic, beef stock, and [soy] sprouts,’’ says Chung.

The restaurateur spots a mountain of Napa cabbage, the kind used for homemade kimchi. “Thirty years ago in Clarksburg we could only get the round green kind [of cabbage]. My dad made the kimchi and buried it in the backyard - the tradition.’’ In Korea, the cold ground kept the fermenting cabbage at the perfect temperature and provided vegetables when none were in season. Now some families in Korea and here have kimchi refrigerators that control not just the temperature but also the distinctive odor of fermenting vegetables. On the way to housewares, you can see one of these nifty fridges. You’ll also find specially designed plastic ware for kimchi, and the latest in electronic rice cookers, well-designed table top grills, steamers, and tableware, including stonepot bibimbap bowls.

“I’m just so happy to see these Korean items in a store like this. Usually you can only find them in mom-and-pop stores,’’ he says. He thinks H Mart is trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of Asian and non-Asian families, but notices that most of the food and housewares are items from Korea.

We round the corner, passing a store-long aisle of noodles, and turn into an alleyway of rice and grains. Brown, white, short grain, sweet rice, and dozens of others share space with bags of barley, millet, red adzuki beans, black and white soy beans, sorghum, and lentils. “Koreans like white rice, but it has no real nutritional value,’’ says Chung. “When I was in school in Korea, the government introduced all these beans and legumes to cook with rice and improve nutrition. The teacher would check our lunch boxes and you would get hit if your rice didn’t include a healthy mix of beans.’’ Many Koreans make their own rice blends today, but premixed grains are now available for the daily pot.

An abundant market makes customers hungry. We lunch on reasonably priced dishes in the food court: bibimbap, the classic rice and vegetable pot; sundubu chigae, the soft tofu dish; ja jang noodles, a spicy Korean-Chinese favorite; tteokpokki, rice cakes shaped like small tubes bathed in a fiery sauce; and Korean sushi, called kimbap.

H Mart president William Choi says the decision to open in the suburbs reflects the large Asian population now living outside the city. In fact, most customers are Asian. Those who aren’t, like Joan McDonough and her daughter, Melanie Donlan, both of Watertown, may receive advice from grandmotherly shoppers. “Eat kimchi. It will never make you fat,’’ announces Soon Kim, a handsome and slim 74-year-old from Salem.

Chung likes the notion that Korean food is being brought into the mainstream. “You’d think I was in Korea,’’ he says.
H Mart, 3 Old Concord Road, Burlington, 781-221-4570. For locations of Jae’s restaurants, go to
For more photos go to The Boston Globe's website

Copyright 20092009 The New York Times Company

For boat's chef, some thrills and spills

Keeps crew happy with comfort food
By Debra Samuels, Globe Correspondent

September 23, 2009

GLOUCESTER HARBOR - The schooner Roseway, a 137-foot former fishing boat, lurches through the waves, and doors flap to the rhythm. time,announces Jessica Reale, who quickly secures the kitchen cabinets with bungee cords. The 26-year-old chef works quickly, holding a door closed with an elbow while hooking the cord under the cabinet before another wave knocks her and everything in the cupboard off balance. The next lurch pushes her into the electric stove, which has pot braces for the burners. A huge pot of clam chowder is practically stirring itself.

The hardest part of cooking on a boat is when I am feeling seasick,says Reale. A brownie batter in a large baking pan has pooled at one end.
Reale, an East Bridgewater native, cooks three meals a day for the 10 crew members of the Roseway, which docks in Boston Harbor during the warm months when guests aren't onboard.

The boat is used by the World Ocean School for education programs for schoolchildren. Today, there are 30 passengers - the Roseway is racing other tall ships out of Gloucester - and all will have lunch with the crew.

The chef was up an hour before the crew, preparing homemade blueberry pancakes and coffee. One by one, sleepy crew members climb the ladder from their bunks in the fosle (boatspeak for forecastle) into the cramped galley. Deck hand Margo Vanderberg, 30, grabs coffee and walks the five steps to the other end of the galley, descends into the dining area, piles pancakes on her plate, and tucks in.

We love Jess,says chief mate Andrew Kaiser, 23. Hey Jess, he asks, did you grind the flour for the pancakes?
Reale, who has a head of brown curls and a contagious laugh, is a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef. She had managed and cooked at restaurants in Florida and Maine, but had never been on a sailboat before this job. The galley is her domain and also the universal pass-through to sleeping quarters, dining room, engine room, deck, shower, and the only toilet. Storage in the kitchen is under floor boards and behind stairs; two portholes have ever-changing views.

The boat's food budget is meager. Reale spends $5.50 per person per day. You can do a lot with that if you shop smart,she says. The crew likes meatloaf, soups, and homemade breads. brought my professional books but find myself mostly using the only cookbook in the ship library, The Joy of Cooking,she says.

The Roseway sets sail for St. Croix in November. know staples will be more expensive down there, but I am looking forward to the challenge. Off the Massachusetts coastline, the crew dines on chowder. The chef uses canned clams when fresh ones aren't available. She sets a pot of creamy chowder beside ham and cheese sandwiches on homemade baguettes and adds a platter of oddly shaped brownies (they baked on a sea-induced angle).

Hours later, the Roseway, which finishes in fourth place in the race, returns to Gloucester.
On a typical day, Reale would prepare dinner now. She bought chicken earlier in the week and cooked it to make fajitas with corn tortillas and her own guacamole.

Tonight, Reale catches a break. All the crews have been invited to a potluck dinner.
Fajitas are on tomorrow's menu. Hopefully, so are calmer seas.

To learn more about the Roseway, go to

To hear Jess talk about her role as a chef and meet her mates watch the video taken by Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki

The flavors of Sicily, topped with tradition

Concetta checks the pizza sponge as Angela makes the sauce.

Twice a month, Concetta Cucinotta and Angela Molinario spend the day making pizza for their family in the kitchen of Cucinotta’s home in Dedham.

By Debra Samuels

Globe Correspondent / August 12, 2009

DEDHAM - The old yellow plastic tub, covered with a soft, well-worn blanket, sits on Concetta Cucinotta’s kitchen table. You can almost see the blanket moving. Under it, a mound of yeasty, bubbly dough is spilling, like molten lava, over the sides of the tub. Lively Italian folk music is coming from a CD player and Cucinotta periodically breaks into song.

It’s pizza day for Cucinotta and her sister, Angela Molinario, a ritual that takes place twice a month. The sisters spend the day shopping, cooking, and feeding their families - along with anyone else who shows up. The crowd is rarely fewer than 15.

Cucinotta, in a flowered apron, starts to tame the dough. With a flick of her wrist, she scatters flour onto a big board and kneads the mass into submission. When you start with 10 pounds of flour, this is no simple feat. She makes quick work of forming six pieces for bread, six for pizza, and at least one mound for the Sicilian calzone called scaciadda (ska-cha-da).

The sisters immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s from the village of Saponara near Messina, Sicily. Their mother, Maria Gangemi, always made pizza for the family; the daughters have continued the tradition for the last nine years. Molinario is a seamstress in Lexington; Cucinotta, now retired, worked on the housekeeping staff of Children’s Hospital Boston.

Today, they’re making sauce and toppings that include sausage, onions, peppers, and pepperoni. Molinario sautes two huge onions in olive oil. When they begin to brown and release their aroma,
she lifts them out of the skillet and stirs tomato paste and two large cans of ground tomatoes into the pan. “That’s the secret,’’ says Molinario. The tomato mixture sizzles and splatters and absorbs the onion flavors left behind. Eventually she returns the cooked onions to the skillet with dried oregano and basil, black pepper, and water.

An ornery stove that’s seen better days doesn’t always deliver consistently high heat, so the sisters jack up the temperature to 550. Somehow it turns out crusty masterpieces with an occasional burnt loaf.

Cucinotta hands off pieces of the dough to her sister, who lays one on a worn rimmed baking sheet. She presses and stretches the dough to fit the rectangular tray. Molinario grates bricks of mozzarella and lays the toppings within easy reach. “They are like a machine, these two,’’ says Enza Hart, Cucinotta’s daughter. Each pizza is spread with sauce and scattered with toppings.
One is cheese only, another pepperoni, and so on. The diminutive duo - both sisters are under 5 feet - make the pies they know their family likes.

Still singing, Cucinotta lets the loaves rise on a floured bed sheet spread on the table, covering them again with the blanket. Her calzone goes into a rectangular baking dish. She rolls a piece of dough and sets half of it in the dish; the rest hangs over the edge. She heaps on onions, potatoes, sausages, and escarole, then folds the soft dough over the top, crimping the edges shut.

Cucinotta’s husband, Giovanni, comes in through the side door. He’s been shopping in the North End and sets down his haul of groceries. Giovanni gets the first hot slice. He pours himself some potent homemade wine. Giovanni points out a photograph of himself, standing in a hard hat on an empty, soon-to-open Zakim Bridge. His daughter explains: “My dad was a construction laborer for 30 years, and he worked on the bridge. His grandkids call it Nonno’s bridge.’’
Those kids are trickling in, along with some nieces. Aunt Angela gives 13-year-old Jennifer Hart a little knot of fried dough dipped in sugar. The phone starts ringing. “Is it ready yet?’’ ask the callers.

Everyone who knows the sisters knows it’s pizza day.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Feast day calls for a special sweet

photo by: Debra Samuels Zeppole with vanilla cream and amarena cherries

By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / March 18, 2009
In Italy tomorrow, men named Joseph and women named Josephine will hand out zeppole, a Neopolitan pastry of fried dough filled with cream, to family and friends to mark the feast of San Giuseppe. Closer to home, this patron saint of families is given his due at Italian bakeries in the area.
At Modern Pastry in the North End, baker Dago Ortez has been making zeppole for 19 years. Ortez uses an old-fashioned scale with free weights to measure his ingredients; the dough is fried twice and fillings are made from scratch. "I make these with my heart," says Ortez. Originally from El Salvador, Ortez was taught the art of making zeppole by Giovanni Picariello, whose son John, a sixth-generation baker, now owns the bakery with his sister Rosaria and mother Josephine.
Like many labor-intensive pastries, zeppole are no longer made by the women in the household. "My mother-in-law is from Sicily and she used to make them, but she doesn't do it anymore," says Paul Ursino, owner of Salem Foods, an Italian deli in Waltham. So Italian bakeries have become the surrogate nonne (grandmothers), and their pastry chefs work feverishly during the weeks leading up to the feast, known here as Saint Joseph's Day. Ortez says he can make, and sell out of, 400 zeppole a day; as Saint Joseph's approaches, he sometimes makes up to 1,000 daily.
Zeppole vary from region to region but are basically made of a choux paste (cream puff) dough. At Modern Pastry, Ortez's movements are like a choreographed dance sequence. He brings a huge pot of water and fat to a boil, then pours it into a commercial-size mixer. Then he adds the measured flour in one movement and sets a large paddle to work combining this into a paste. Ortez has ready a 2-quart metal pitcher filled with 160 eggs that he rhythmically cracks - klink, crack, klink, crack, klink, crack - adding three at a time to the paste. Using only his eyes and experience, he knows when to add the next three, and the next three, until the paste is a perfect consistency. There is no rushing this process.
Next he scoops the paste with a rubber spatula into long pastry bags fitted with a star tip and pipes large rings onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Two cauldrons of hot oil are ready. Ortez slips the rings from one sheet into one of the pots. Picariello explains: "We fry the rings in two different vats of oil. One at a low temperature - it helps the zeppole rise. The other, very hot, where they cook, expand in size, and fill the entire surface of the cauldron."
In constant motion, Ortez sways back and forth between the two vats swirling the zeppole until they are perfect. With a wire basket he scoops these amber jewels from the bubbling oil and sets them on a baking sheet. Piled high atop a glass case, they wait to be plucked and filled to order with a vanilla custard made from whole milk on the premises and studded with sweet and sour ruby red amarena cherries, also freshly made, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Other fillings available are ricotta cream or chocolate custard; the zeppole sell for $3 apiece.
Teresa Scialoia is on her way back to Florida and is stocking up on some favorites at the bakery before heading to the airport. "I used to work here so whenever I come back I stop by. Too bad I can't take the zeppole on the plane."
She is joined by her sister-in-law Carolina from Medford and a friend from Saugus named Fran Contino. Both have family members with the name Joseph. "This is the only place I come" for zeppole, says Contino, eyeing the pastries. Carolina will return with her 21-year-old son, Joseph, who will buy a dozen. "It is our tradition," she says.
"People want me to have the zeppole all year round," says Picariello, "but then it wouldn't be special."
Modern Pastry, 257 Hanover St., Boston, 617-523-3783 and 20 Salem St., Medford, 781-396-3618;
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Gifts that keep on giving

Gifts that keep on giving
In the right hands, cookware makes for happy returns

By Debra Samuels, Globe Correspondent December 22, 2008

If you're still looking for a holiday gift, think outside the mall. In fact, think outside all your usual places. The Institute of Contemporary Art's museum shop offers many ultra-hip selections (including an index of chopping boards so you don't mix chicken with veggies). Or head to the North End to Salem Street True Value Hardware, where ravioli molds are nestled beside pizzelle makers. If the person on your list is practical, you might find something at BMS Paper Co. in Jamaica Plain. It's not just paper, but all manner of objects for the sweet and savory professional or home kitchen.
The ICA's gift shop is just a few steps down from the glassed-in lobby. Artful displays range from a funky Banana Bunker ($4.95) to store in your briefcase or knapsack, to the graceful Asian-inspired porcelain teapot ($165). Hard plastic Solo drinking cups ($1.99) are playfully arranged and based on the undulating soft Solo cup landscape in an exhibit by artist Tara Donovan. Retail operations manager Victor Oliveira draws inspiration for his products from ICA shows. U+, the high end of the Umbra kitchen line, is a favorite throughout the store. The company's elegant salad set, called Ensalada ($99), includes a thick glass bowl (red or white) with a pair of magnetic stainless servers that fit together like a puzzle. Chilewich's op-arty white vinyl dots come as placemats ($6.95) or table runners ($24.95).
The Knot Wine Rack ($138) is beautiful even when empty. That pesky business of keeping poultry away from other kitchen tasks is solved with the Index Chopping Board System ($75), which integrates four colored boards in a sleek storage unit. Off kilter and in neon, Hula Vodka and Tumbler Glasses (four for $29.95 and $39.95) may tickle a friend with a sense of humor.
Ken Rothman's family has owned the North End shop Salem Street True Value Hardware for 44 years. In the window, a kaleidoscope of enamelware colanders ($16.99 to 29.99) is your first clue that there's more here than plungers. Mindful of his location, Rothman stocks a selection of hand-cranked pasta makers ($69.99), wood gnocchi boards ($6.99), ravioli stamps ($7.99), and pizzelle makers ($69.99).
Bialetti stovetop espresso makers range from one cup ($21.99) to the larger Mukka Express ($89.99). You'll also find espresso cups and saucers, available in singletons or sets of four ($4.99 to $8.99). (When you're done, walk a few paces to Polcari's at 105 Salem St. for a pound of beans to go with the new coffee maker.) True Value also carries Terra Allegra, an earthy 5 1/2-quart clay baker ($89.99) with a deep red glaze for beans, soups, and cassoulets. Use this pot directly on the burner with a heat diffuser under it, in the oven, in the microwave, or on an outdoor grill. Gloveables ($14.99), those fun rubber gloves, are for friends who want to be fashionable at the sink; glass storage containers and spice jars are for filling before you give away; and a selec tion of cast iron, the longest-lasting and most practical cookware, is for giving away and buying for yourself too.
Don't be misled by the name BMS Paper Co. Paper products are only part of what's in this cavernous treasure chest of a store. The place also sells restaurant and baking supplies, industrial-size jars, canned and frozen foods, and spices. Owner Bob Harrington says people come into his Jamaica Plain store and "wander around for hours." To that end, they might find a 100-quart stock pot ($149) a more practical 8-quart size ($25), and every capacity in between. Whatever you see comes in incremental sizes. Ladles, for instance, go from 1 ounce ($2.29) to 32 ounces ($7.99); mixing bowls start at 3/4 quart ($1) and go up to 16 quarts ($12.75). Whisks, slotted spoons, tongs, and spatulas hang together in a collage. There's a whole section devoted to old-fashioned diner supplies like thick white American-made dishes and mugs. You can even buy those stainless steel cake stands with plexiglass tops that house mile-high frosted confections ($25.99 for a top and stand). Long-handled wood pizza paddles range from $18 to $30.
It's a good bet people will be cooking more at home next year. Your gifts may play starring roles in the months to come.
BMS Paper Co., 3390 Washington St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-1122.
Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-478-3163,
Salem Street True Value Hardware, 89 Salem St., North End, Boston, 617-523-4759.