Villabate Alba’s Famous Cannoli

Day Six 12 Tastes of Brooklyn 
Villabate Alba's pastry displays knock you over when you walk in the store. That's the cannoli, top left.

Villabate Alba’s pastry displays knock you over when you walk in the store. The cannoli are top left.

dec11CANNOLI WERE TRADITIONALLY MADE IN SICILY for Carnevale, or Mardi Gras, a final luxurious burst of richness before Lent. But really, aren’t they perfect for any feast? I have to agree with Mediterranean cooking scholar Clifford A. Wright: “A freshly made cannoli is an extraordinary taste of celestial paradise, a perfect conclusion to a feast.”

Villabate Alba, a family-owned Sicilian pastry shop established three generations ago in Bensonhurst, is the place to experience that paradise—and other seasonal delicacies, too. As the Michelin Guide would say, “Worth a special journey” if you don’t happen to live in the neighborhood. (They also ship.) The cannoli have perfectly crisp shells and are filled with ricotta flown in from Palermo. Candied orange rind at one end and a cherry at the other perfect the package.

Marzipan fruits, good any time of year.

Marzipan fruits, good any time of year.

Villabate (named after the village in northern Sicily where the shop’s founders, Angelo Alaimo and his son Emanuele, used to bake bread) is bustling every time you go in. But at this time of year, lines form. You’ll find tables stacked high with panettone boxes and lots of special cookies and sweets traditionally made around Christmas.

Villabate-cookies

Christmas cookie plates, ready to go.

They bake mostaccioli cookies, popular all over southern Italy—and Brooklyn—for the holidays. Apparently these used to be made with grape must (we’re talking back in days of the Roman Empire). They’re redolent of the spices of the Silk Road (think Italian gingerbread), filled with figs and topped with chocolate.

A pyramid of honey-soaked biscuit.

A pyramid of honey-soaked biscuit.

Rococò are crisp wreath-shaped cookies made with ginger and cloves, infused with almonds and studded with whole almonds. Honey balls stacked in a pyramid… The temptations are many. But be careful. You could go into a sugar coma just looking.

Villabate Alba Pasticceria & Bakery
7001 18th Avenue, Bensonhurst

718-331-8430

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Goudy Oldstyle, by Frederick W. Goudy, Linotype, 1915.

Not Just Any Festive Ham

Day One  12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Brooklyn Cured's Mangalitsa ham sits around in brown sugar and bourbon for a week before being smoked. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Cured)

Brooklyn Cured’s Mangalitsa ham sits around in brown sugar and bourbon for a week before
being smoked. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Cured)

dec6CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS BY THE FIRE, SECRET GIFT GIVING IN THE NIGHT, candy canes, giving to those in greatest need—these are all customs that can be traced to dear St Nick. So what better day than St. Nicholas Day to begin planning Christmas dinner? We have our eye on a traditional ham for our table this year. We knew we could find an excellent hickory-smoked one ($3.69/lb for a 10- or 20-lb ham) at Eagle Provisions, a Polish market in Sunset Park that’s been around since 1935 and is now run by the Zawisny family.

But this year our heads have been turned by Brooklyn Cured’s Smoked Mangalitsa Ham. You may know Brooklyn Cured’s sausages and paté from various markets, restaurants and small grocers around town. Founder Scott Bridi grew up in an Italian-American family in Bensonhurst. He ran the charcuterie program at Gramercy Tavern for two years before going on to Marlow and Daughters butcher shop and then starting his own company. His boneless smoked ham starts out as a Mangalitsa pig, a rare woolly Hungarian breed that almost disappeared and is much prized by chefs. The ones Bridi uses are raised on Mosefund Farm in Branchville, NJ. “They have an unparalleled richness and red-meat qualities that are beyond crave-worthy!” he says. Bridi cures the ham for a full week in brown sugar and bourbon. Then it’s gently smoked with applewood, while being coated with a maple-bourbon glaze. (To reheat, take ham out of refrigerator for half an hour, then put in a 275º oven for 30 to 40 minutes.)

Hungry yet? The Mangalitsa hams are $14/lb; sizes range from 3 to 7 pounds. To order, stop by the markets Brooklyn Cured is at, or e-mail scott@brooklyncured.com. (Be sure to include your name, contact information, size of ham, and the market where you’d like to pick up).

The order deadline for Christmas is Dec. 16. Pickup is on Sundays at the Park Slope Community Market on 5th Ave and 4th Street from 10 am to 4 pm and New Amsterdam Market from 11 am to 4 pm. Give as much notice as you can; a week is preferable, although it is possible if you order on a Wednesday, there will be a ham ready for Sunday pick up.

Eagle-Provisions-1183

Eagle Provisions, a great source for ham and kielbasa, may be even better known for its selection of beers—2,000+ including many Brooklyn, New York and international craft ales.

There even may be a few mighty Mangalitsas available on a first-come, first-serve basis on Dec. 23 at Park Slope and New Amsterdam Markets, but really, would you want to risk it?

Brooklyn Cured
917-282-2221
scott@brooklyncured.com

Eagle Provisions
628 5th Avenue, Sunset Park
718-499-0026

Photograph (right) by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Avant Garde, by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnese, ITC, 1970.

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