New York Cravings: Italian food and Bagels

People often ask what I miss most about New York.

There are many layers to that question. I’m going to start with Italian food and bagels and slowly pull it apart like an onion. Hopefully you won’t cry too much though!

Italian Food: home-cooking and special ingredients

My father is Southern Italian, so food has always been a HUGE part of my family’s life. Naturally what I miss most is his cooking. Mainly his beans and greens and infamous eggplant parmigiana.

Beans and greens is a simple, yet delicious, dish consisting of cannellini beans, garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper and (preferably) escarole. In eight years I have never found escarole in a Dubai grocery store, hence haven’t been able to make proper beans and greens; Liccione style. I have found swiss chard at the organic store on occasion and used it instead of escarole. In a pinch, I have also used spinach. Though it becomes more like a soup, it can taste nice when poured on top of penne pasta.

Making eggplant parmigiana in Dubai is pretty simple. Most stores have a large selection of eggplant, tomatoes, parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheeses. The only item I can’t find here is good Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. As a solution (if I’m too lazy to make my own bread crumbs from an Italian loaf) I choose from the brands of bread crumbs I can find and add my own seasoning. I dry my own oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary,  parsley and mix them up in a glass jar. It works well!

Italian Food: Restaurants 

There are also particular ristorantes, bakeries and cheese shops in both the Little Italy in downtown Manhattan, and in The Bronx, that I miss dearly. To make a list of dishes and desserts I crave would take hours but the number one dessert I miss is a delicious cannoli!

In Dubai, I have always had a hard time finding an Italian restaurant I really enjoyed and could recommend to friends. After 6 years of desert life, I stumbled upon Azzurro in the Shangri-La Souk Qaryat Al Beri. Now, I am a tough critic and I absolutely loved it!

As soon as you walk in, Italian classics greet you over the sound system. The color scheme is a soft white with blue overtones on one side and a rustic brick wall with a waterfront view on the other. If it’s not too hot out, you must sit outside on the deck along the water!

My husband and I ordered three dishes to share. We started with calamari. It was lightly battered and fried. It was fresh and not too oily. For mains we had their home-made spinach raviolis with a tomato basil sauce and home-made gnocchi with a pesto sauce. Both pastas were delicately made and served to al dente perfection. The tomato basil sauce was very simple to compliment the rich ravioli. The pesto sauce had a tiny amount of cream in it to combat the often gritty texture of the ground basil and pine nuts.

For dessert, I took a risk and ordered the cannoli! This has never ended well for me in the U.A.E. however this time it wasn’t too bad. Did it compare to those in Naples or Etna’s bakery? No! BUT it was the best I have had here.

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After dinner I asked if I could pay my compliments to the chef. A heavy set Italian man stood before me with a huge grin telling me how flattered he was that I enjoyed his food. I am very happy to say that I can now fully recommend an Italian restaurant to my friends when they ask (which is often!)

Bagels

New York is famous for it’s bagels! One of my favorite bagel shops in Manhattan is Pick-A-Bagel. I have been going there since I was a teen-ager and I always order the same thing! A toasted pumpernickel bagel with veggie tofu cream cheese.

Funny thing, when my husband and I moved into our current apartment in Dubai Marina, a bagel shop opened up right next door. After much debate, we decided to put our high bagel standards aside and as my British friends say, give it a go!

I totally had a “you call this a freakin’ bagel?!”  moment but didn’t say that to the counter staff as it wasn’t their fault. The bagel was dry and tasted stale. The cream cheese wasn’t whipped and instead hard.

I had heard about another bagel spot too. I figured since I tried one I might as well try the other. Same thing. Dry, stale, disappointing. So, I am sorry to say that if you are craving a New York bagel, you need to go to New York to get it! But hey, in case you needed an excuse to go, there you have it!

For the die hard bagel fans, here’s a tip, I sometimes stop at the bagel shop on my way to the airport. I pick up a dozen, seal them tightly in a large ziplock freezer bag and pack them in my suitcase. When I get home I leave half out (which go quickly in my home) and freeze the other six. You need to toast them after thawing, but it’s as good as it gets!

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