Friday, April 10, 2015

Italian In Baltimore

My mother made apple strudel. It wasn't delicate pastry. It wasn't beautiful. She didn't make many dishes but my mother made apple strudel for holiday dinners and family events and a couple years ago when she passed away I wanted apple strudel after the service.
I checked the internet and called around and found of all places an Italian bakery, Piedigrotta, that opened long after I lived in the city that reviews declared made a flaky delicious apple strudel.
In heavily accented English and out of practice Italian (Italish? Englian??) we negotiated the platters and arranged for my niece to pick them up. I never went in or met the woman on the phone -- until now.
Hoping the train down for the day my niece Jess picked me up (along with her husband Eric and daughter Juniper) and we went straight to Piedigrotta. Finally. I couldn't believe my eyes.
On the outskirts of Baltimore's campy and cozy Little Italy stood a dream bakery and more. Sure you might see the desserts and gelato first -- that's straight ahead. But turn to your left and be overwhelmed by an enormous array of ready made savories including delicate gnocchi, risottos, vegetables, flatbreads and more to eat at the nearby tables or take home to the family. An enormous selection. We were headed to my brother's where Baltimore favorites pit beef and polish sausage were already on the menu but -- being dedicated food tourists -- we had to try.
"Do you make all of these yourself?' I asked Signora Iannaccone.
"Dis all me" She said smiling. " You no like you come tell me."
I loved it all already. We took home platters (filled to the brim -- I'm sure more than usual for the measly $8 each we paid) of gnocchi, mushroom ravioli, and a stellar pizza rustica -- an Easter holiday savory pie filled with eggs and cheese and cured meats.
La Signora quickly started slicing an egg bread studded with candied lemon and offered us a plate across the counter.
Were we going to have something to eat there, she inquired as she strolled towards the pastry case.
After asking her favorite treat La Signora quickly described nearly every pastry and cookie in the case but she stopped lovingly at a puff pastry creation she called "diplomatica."
"Dis is deh real Italian Napoleon," she declared.
Forks in hand we four settled down to espressos (not the baby) and cakes. It seemed positively unpatriotic not to try the diplomatica with that kind of declaration. And we added a tiramisu cake -- made with soft layers of sponge instead of the usual lady fingers.
La signora's husband, Carminantonio Iannaccone -- by the way, is -- to his own account credited with the invention of tiramisu. The world's supposedly highest selling dessert.
Surpassing it's more familiar cousin, the diplomatica is everything pastry should be -- crisp, flaky, sweet but not cloying with a delicate ricotta pastry cream and tiny slivers of raw sugar adding crunch to spectaularly airy baked layers. After one bite I realize I don't care who invented it, I don't ever want to make it and I don't ever want to live without it.
What is this couple doing on a sleepy side street in Baltimore?

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