Mangia Bene! We ate our way through Boston's famous Italian North End on Michele Topor's Boston Food Tour in Boston, Massachusetts. During the 3-hour "original, award winning North End Market Tour" we learned about the history of the area that measures a mere 0.36 square miles (0.93 km), about the culture, and most importantly on a food tour, we tasted our way through the neighborhood and picked up a few great culinary tips and recipes, too!
Boston's North End is the oldest neighborhood in the country and is the home of the oldest church in Boston, the Old North Church (officially know as Christ Church) built in 1723 where Sexton Robert Newman climbed the church's steeple and held two lanterns aloft as a signal from Paul Revere on April 18, 1775 that the British were approaching.
First settled by the English, the neighborhood changed as new waves of immigrants arrived including the Irish, Russian Orthodox, Spanish and Portuguese, and lastly by the Italians who have had the most lasting influence creating an area renowned for its restaurants, pastry shops, bakeries, greengrocers, and specialty shops. Today the area is a blend of college students, young professionals, and old timer residents.
Our first stop on the walking tour was to an authentic salumeria and pasta shop, with diverse types of hanging salamis and cheeses tempting us as we walked into the old-world Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop. Mama Mia! What incredible delights we tasted here including samples of prosciutto affumicato (a type of smoked ham that is also known as speck), bresaola (air-dried cured Italian beef), various cheeses, anchovies, olives, and more.
Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop
Our tour guide Beth explained about the differences between filtered olive oil and unfiltered olive oil, and had our group taste several types of both from the various regions of Italy. Filtered olive oil has all olive pulp removed and is clear, whereas unfiltered olive oil has some olive pulp left in and is cloudy.
Edward and Tour Guide Beth Tasting Oils
While filtered olive oil can last up to 2 years from harvest date if kept in a dark place like a cupboard, unfiltered olive oil is fresh for only up to 1-year from harvest date. In our house, EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) is a daily staple, so although not a concern for us, the information is good to share with family and friends who do not use EVOO with the same passion as we do. Another interesting note is that while Americans and other countries have adopted dipping bread in olive oil, this did not originate in Italy.
Cheese and Salami - YUM!!
We also learned about the special characteristics and qualities of Balsamic vinegar and what to look for, about D.O.P. products which designate the region of origin the way that a D.O.G. certification on an Italian wine label ensures a region's authenticity (i.e. Chianti region).
During our stop we had the good fortune of watching General Manager Joe Locilento making fresh mozzarella in the shop, and had the opportunity to taste a sample of the still warm cheese. Delicious!
AnnaMaria Locilento, Debra, and General Manager Joe Locilento
Making Fresh Mozzarella
Another tasty stop was to an authentic pasticceria (pastry shop) where we learned about and sampled various types of dolci including Italy's most famous pastry, the cannoli, which has its origin in Sicily and is a crisp fried-dough tube that is traditionally filled with fresh sweetened ricotta cheese, and may also be filled with non-traditional fillings of vanilla or chocolate cream or other types of fillings. Whenever possible, purchase cannoli that are filled to order for the crispest shells.
Have a Cannoli
Other regional specialties we learned about included the northern Italian dessert, Tiramisu, and about the traditional Neapolitan sfogliatelle or "clamshell" which is flaky pastry filled with sweetened cheese, semolina flour, and citrus fruit, and is one of our favorite, peeling and eating each layer of pastry until we reach its delicious center. We also learned about many other pastries, cookies, cakes, as well as the special desserts served for holidays along with a little history behind the origin of them.
Sfogliatelle - Debra's favorite!
The enoteca (wine shop) is an important part of Italian culture and commitment to good food and wine, and during this stop we learned about aperitivi (i.e. vermouth, Aperol, Campari, etc.), wines, and digestivi (i.e. Sambuca or grappa) to end the meal. Of course, we sampled here as well, and enjoyed chilled Limoncello (a lemon liqueur) which tasted like liquid summer in a glass. Beth shared a tasty cocktail recipe for an aperitiv of Aperol, prosecco, and seltzer, perfect for a light and refreshing start to your meal.
Enoteca (wine shop)
We also stopped at an old-time coffee shop that opened in 1932 where they sell over 35 varieties of coffees in addition to a diverse selection of teas, spices, nuts, candies, and specialty food and cook wear items. Samples were included here as well.
Nicky and Angelo of Polcaris
Other interesting stops included a visit to a panetteria (bread bakery) where old-world artisan breads tempted our eyes and our palates with delicious and to a greengrocer (produce shop) where we enjoyed more samples, and learned how to tell the difference between male and female eggplants! Why is this important? Female eggplants have more seeds and may be slightly bitterer than their male counterparts so depending on your recipe, this may influence which type you select. So how do you tell them apart? Check the bottom of the eggplant; males have a round mark whereas females have a slightly wider and elongated mark.
We thoroughly enjoyed Michele Topor's Boston North End Tour with our tour guide Beth leading us through the charming back streets, learning about the history of the area, the Mediterranean diet, picking up new recipes and restaurant recommendations, stopping at interesting shops, and of course, the delectable tastings along the way.
Owner Michele Topor graciously provides a delicious recipe from the tour, perfect for summer, to tempt your palate into coming to Boston and experiencing her Boston North End tour.
Greengrocer - Fresh figs and fennel
Fichi D'Estate Con Mascarpone (Figs with Mascarpone Cheese)
Michele writes that this dessert can be made in less than 5 minutes and is a perfect ending to a summer meal.
Fresh Black or White Figs
1 Teaspoon Honey per 2 Figs
Fresh Mint Leaves
Method: Beat the mascarpone with some heavy cream and possibly some sugar to taste. The mixture should be a little less firm but not runny. Place the cheese in a mound in the middle of a serving platter.
Cut the figs lengthwise into halves or quarters depending on their size. Arrange them in a pinwheel fashion outside of the cheese and along the rim of the serving platter. Heat the honey (microwave) to make it easy to pour and drizzle the honey over the figs.
Sprinkle with minced fresh mint leaves and garnish the platter with mint sprig tips. Serve each person one or two figs with a dollop of mascarpone cheese on the cheese. Buon Appetito!
Interested in taking Michele Topor's Boston Food Tour? Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as it is a 3-hour walking tour and some of the streets in this historic area have cobblestones, bring a pen and a pad to jot down impromptu recipes learned along the way, bring a tote bag for any purchases you might like to make, and bring an appetite to enjoy the wonderful samples! Mangia Bene! (Italian for "Eat Well!")
Michele Topor's Boston Food Tours: Standard Weekly Schedule: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:00 am (tour runs until 1:00 pm), and 2:00 pm (tour runs until 5:00 pm), Fridays at 10:00 am (tour runs until 1:00 pm), and 3:00 pm (tour runs until 6:00 pm). They often add additional tours when the regularly scheduled tours are sold out. Pricing: $54.00 + 5% tax per person. Exact meeting location details are provided immediately upon ticket purchase. Tours limited to 13 people.
In addition to the Boston North End Tour, Michele Topor also does a Boston Chinatown Tour.
Please visit the website www.BostonFoodTours.com/North-End or call for more information.
Michele Topor's Boston Food Tours
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