Six rarely ordered items to try at an Italian restaurant

In the first article of this series, we talked about Chinese cuisine. In this one, we’ll talk about perhaps the most popular cuisine on earth: Italian.

Unless you grew up in an Italian or Sicilian household a typical American’s experience of those cuisines rarely goes past things like pizza, lasagna, spaghetti, ravioli, calzone or bruschetta. Even with dessert, not much is known beyond the big “four” of tiramisu, cannoli, biscotti, and gelato. But there are hundreds of dishes that most Americans haven’t tried and if we go regional,

Think about this: if Americans have made those things a part of their lives and in some cases are very passionate about it, what else in Italian and Sicilian cuisine are they missing out on? If those things are so delicious and mouth-watering and only known through popularity, you would do yourself a disservice to not investigate to discover dishes that are just as delicious if not more so.

Italian and Sicilian food has an astounding regional variety and even among nationals, there is an unawareness of dishes. For example, while we in Massachusetts consider cherrystones, coffee milk, and linguica as common as water, there are swaths of America that haven’t a clue what they are.

Having grown up in a Sicilian household I’ve eaten a large number of dishes that my Portuguese, French-Canadian, African-American, Hispanic friends in the community thought were exotic or even downright strange. This is the case for all ethnicities when it comes to their food – what is ubiquitous, normal and every day for one is brand new for another ethnic group.

I don’t know about you, but as a hardcore foodie, I actually get excited when I have the opportunity to try food I’ve never heard of. I have a bucket list of foods that I have heard of but haven’t tried yet, e.g. durian, balut, shark fin soup, bird’s nest soup, Hákarl, Casu Marzu, et al. and I’d love to check off as many as I can before I die.

Anyhow, blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk food.

Arancini with peas, ground beef, tomato. Photo by Catfisheye.

1. Arancini

For those who are only a little adventurous and need some coaxing to try something beyond the standard Italian dishes Arancini is probably the best to start with. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it to scare anyone away. Arancini is a Sicilian classic that has been mentioned as far back as the 10-the century.

Simply put they are rice balls rolled in bread crumbs with various centers that alternate with mozzarella, sausage or ground beef and tomato sauce, or even peas and tomato sauce. They are then deep-fried until golden brown – crispy on the outside, piping hot on the inside. Serve with some dipping red sauce and you have a great appetizer or starter.

In Italy, they are popular street food and you can find vendors selling large versions place in a protective cardboard or dense paper envelope so you can walk around enjoying the vistas while chomping on one of Italy’s most delicious foods.

2. Cacio e Pepe

If you take a close look at Italian food it is typically a few main ingredients, using the freshest possible ones, and using perfect portions cooked for an exact length of time. Spaghetti Bolognese is as simple as it gets, but guess what? Ask 10 people to cook it and you taste some awful versions and some mind-blowing versions. The difference? The afore-mentioned freshness of ingredients and cooking it just right.

The problem with this is that if you don’t have a lot of experience making the dish, the tiniest mistake will make the difference between bad and great. That’s a dish with core three ingredients.

With Cacio e Pepe this theme is brought to an extreme level. Often, Cacio e Pepe is a benchmark for a chef demonstrating what can be done with a few ingredients. Mess up one step, one ingredient, cook it a few seconds too long or short and it will be forgettable. Do it all right and your face will light up and your belly will sing with joy.

Ready for the ingredients on this one? Un-sauced spaghetti, parmesan, fresh ground black pepper, and butter or extra virgin olive oil. Are you laughing? I hope so because I want you to scoff at the concept of this dish being incredible. I want you to make fun of me as some rube. Then I want you to order it at a restaurant and when you get it at the right place you will think about this article and thing “That Joe was right! He’s still a stupid rube, but he was right!”

Doubt me? Ask yourself how many bad pizzas you’ve had? How many amazing ones? Even with just cheese pizza, the difference between 2 places on the same street can be night and day, right?

3. Osso Buco

If you are a meat lover, especially when it comes to beef and/or steak this is about as umami or savory a dish you will find in any cuisine. Osso Buco is on any serious foodies’ bucket list of “must try” dishes. Osso Buco is cross-cut veal shanks braised in white wine and natural au jus style broth accompanied with cubed potatoes, carrots, celery, parsley, and garlic. You may find some variations that throw in tomatoes and/or onion.

The key here is the temperature and time the dish spends braising. When done right the meat can be attacked using a fork, no knife is needed. Because it is cooked with bone in the shank the richness that comes from that bone and the marrow raises Ossobuco to another level. A life-changing level. I kid, I kid. Ok, I’m not kidding.

4. Caponata

Meat not your thing or looking to take a break and get some vegetables? another Sicilian classic, Caponata, will right up your alley. Like red sauce, you will find minor variations from town to town, even household to household with each claiming their version to be the best.

Caponata is a slightly sweet, slightly sour eggplant based salad. Married with the fried or grilled eggplant are olives, tomato, onion, capers, celery, raisins, basil and pine nuts. A kiss of honey, perhaps some red pepper flakes and you have a bowl of happy. You can find variations on some menus that have anchovies to add an element of richness. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, just be aware of that.

This insalata is one of that I love so much that I make it at home. Of all the dishes on this list, this is one that you allows some leeway – you can make some minor mistakes and it will still come out good. Give it a go and let us know how you make out in the comments.

5. Gnocchi

Gnocci or “knots on wood” is one that sort of snuck on the list. I have come across a few people, even stubborn ones who prefer that hot dog, pizza, hamburger life, that have heard of gnocchi. Although, trying it is another thing.

Gnocchi is another dish I make at home, both potato and semolina/pasta versions. In essence, they are small love lumps or tiny dumplings made from the aforementioned pasta or potato but can be also made with egg, cheese, cornmeal or even breadcrumbs.

It is incredibly versatile because the gnocchi itself is there to supply texture to the dish and to sponge up the sauce you accompany it with. For that reason substitute soups that call for pasta with gnocchi. The sauce can be simple alfredo, a red sauce, a bolognese, some freshly grated parmesan, or even used to make cacio e pepe.

They are so popular that you can find variants in French, Croatian, Austrian, Polish, Brazilian, Argentinian, even Portuguese cuisines. For the curious, in Portugal they are called nhoque.

6. Saltimbocca

Last but not least is one that even those who are about the hot dog, hamburger, steak and potatoes life may have heard of or tried because it is, in essence, steak. Saltimbocca means “jumps in the mouth” because it is so incredibly life-altering delicious that you will go into auto-pilot when eating it. Have you ever gone out with friends who talk a lot and food comes to the table that is so delicious that suddenly everyone is quiet? Yes, that’s saltimbocca.

Ready for some taste buds to fire up? Saltimbocca is pan-fried, thinly sliced veal lined or wrapped with prosciutto and sage; marinated in dry white wine, olive oil or saltwater. Veal on its own is delicious, prosciutto on its own is delicious, whine on its own is delicious, so hey why not put them all together?

It is not uncommon to come across versions that utilize steak or chicken instead and if you are squeamish about using veal because you can look for this version or even ask a waiter if you can substitute it.

So, head out into the world foodie explorers and the next time you eat at an Italian restaurant and want to try something new or are feeling adventurous try one of these dishes.

If you end up finding something you really like, then let us know in the comments. If you don’t like it at all and you are now mad at me, let me have it in the comments. Let us know where you had and what you took issue with or really enjoyed about the dish.

Shared Living: Opening Your Home & Your Heart to Someone With Developmental Disabilities

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A Shared Living Provider is someone who opens their home and provides daily support and companionship to an adult with a developmental disability. Share your home and make a difference.
A Provider is a teacher, mentor and friend, helping the person to live a meaningful life at home and in the community.

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CPR & First Aid certification are required, and will be provided. Applicants must complete a CORI.

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Note: this is not for employment with HMEA but an independent subcontractor position supported by HMEA.

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Considering a new career? The Advantage School of Real Estate is offering Fall classes starting September 14th

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Tuition is only $299 with LIVE Instructors. The format will be 2 weekend/4 day course offerings. Learn from two of the areas premier experts, Michael Amaral and Brian Cormier who have a combined 31 years in local real estate. The local market is still red hot and primed for additional growth, why not take advantage?

Did you know that to become a licensed Massachusetts salesperson, you must complete forty (40) hours of education at a Board approved real estate school such as Advantage School of Real Estate? This educational course consists of various subject matters to provide you with the knowledge to schedule your state examination. This information is crucial to successfully obtain your license.

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Session #3

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Spotlight on Adriana’s Mexican Restaurant – fried snapper, Mexican steak and taco bowl

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VIDEO: Restaurante Algarve – Portuguese boiled lunch/dinner

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New Bedford Southcoast Open Air Market combines farm-fresh local produce and meats, handmade goods, handcrafted foods, and live music, July 20

The Southcoast Open Air Market’s goal is to provide a gathering point for our town and surrounding communities, centered around everything fresh, local, and handmade. We feature a rotating selection of handmade goods, handcrafted foods, fresh produce and meats, and live and local music. Come check us out on July 20th at the Custom House Square from 10:00am-3:00pm!

See a photo gallery that shows the amazing variety of produce, artisans, and more.

Custom House Square

21 Barkers Lane,
New Bedford, Massachusetts

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VIDEO: Linguiça rolls at The Donut Factory in New Bedford

Grab a Linguiça roll and a small iced or hot coffee for $4.99 at The Donut Factory at 102 Rockdale Ave. in New Bedford.

Foodie’s Guide to Regional Gastronomy: Kale Soup or Caldo Verde or Caldo Gallego or Minestra Maritata

Series Introduction (Move down if you’re familiar with the thread or don’t care)

In this series, we hope to highlight and showcase in as interesting a way as possible, the stories behind our favorite, mouth-watering local dishes. While we’ll focus on greater New Bedford and the South Coast, we will occasionally “travel” to places like Plymouth, Providence or even Boston. I will attempt to keep it light-hearted, fun and easy to read. While I can’t promise to keep you compelled and pull you along with prose – that would take a professional writer – I will promise to be liberal with the drool-inducing images of these dishes.

As always, feedback is encouraged. Anecdotes are wanted. Discussion is paramount. Please join in!


Oh, the ways we love you kale soup. You warm our bones on a cold day, bring us back to our childhood and fond memories with our avós, and feed our souls. I don’t know about you but just seeing or hearing the words evokes the aroma!

My landlady is from the “old country” and when I come home and walk into my apartment and get whiff of kale soup that was evidently simmering on her stove for hours it shifts my assemblage point. It pushes the worries and stresses of the day away from my mind, the tension in my shoulders loosen, and I get happy.

Of course, I’m hoping that she will hear me come home and soon I will hear a knock on the door and she’ll offer me a generous bowl of soup. One thing you can rely on with those from the “old country” is that when it comes to homecooked food they are always generous, so that knock always comes – but just in case she doesn’t hear me I’ll be extra heavy with my footfalls, maybe “accidentally” bump my elbow into the stairwell’s wall.

While I didn’t grow up with the aroma of kale soup cooking in the house, I had many friends that were Portuguese and the idea of their generosity came from the fact that those Portuguese friends consistently brought me batches of it when their avó or mãe made some. Why didn’t the avô or papai ever make some?

While considered to be Portugal’s national dish, Kale Soup, Caldo Verde (meaning “green broth”) or Portuguese Sausage Kale Soup for you non-Portagees, there is little history about its origins. When this is the case for something historical – whether an invention, discovery or creation of a dish – it typically means the origins are from another nation and that would ruin any claims. For example, ask someone where Baklava or Falafel came from and a half dozen nations will raise their hands, all claiming to be the originator and all claiming to make the best, most delectable version.

First of the problems is that the soup, or at least most of its primary ingredients coming together in one place, are also found in Italy and Spain. I’d imagine that Brazil has a version, but I know very little about Brazilian cuisine. This is because the core of the soup is linked to farmers and the ingredients were readily available or inexpensive. One could say it’s a quintessential “poor man’s soup” comprised of ingredients that cost little but filled the belly for a day’s work and for most of that day. In my book, “poor man’s” anything is a code word for mouth-watering and delicious.

Italy has many regional variations from the “old country” all the way to Italian-American neighborhood: Minestra Maritata or Italian Wedding Soup. The “married: bit is a reference to the mingling together of greens –torzella or kale, escarole, broccoli rabe, endives, chicory or even lettuce – with meat, which can be Italian sausage, guanciale, pork ribs, ham hocks or meatballs. Of course, these are accompanied with pasta (ditali or any of the pastina is best) or potatoes for starch, cannellini (white) or kidney beans, carrots, and red pepper flakes swimming in a rich broth.

Forget the bread to sop up and get hurt, buddy.

Spain has its version in Caldo Gallego. This version is different in that they are heavy on the amount of beans, in this case, white beans. The last difference is a slight one in that is the selection of meat: chorizo as opposed to linguiça or chouriço. Otherwise, caldo gallego is the same as kale soup, and does not have the astounding variety that you’ll find in the Italian version. Don’t believe me about these two “imposters” or “wannabe” kale soups? Only one image in this article is of kale soup and the other two are of Minestra Maritata and Caldo Gallego.

The Portuguese standard has room for variety, at least here on the SouthCoast. The only wiggle room that I have encountered is whether there is pasta or not and the pasta is inevitably elbow macaroni. Now, I haven’t the faintest idea if this ties into differences among the island, e.g. Azores, St. Michael, Madeira, just a variety from household to household, or is specific to the Portugues here in the New World. You would know better than me.

One thing I do know is that there is quite the debate about whether the elbow macaroni belongs and whether linguiça, chourico, ham hock, or even paio should be used for the meat. In fact, I can picture the avós fistfighting about what real kale soup is and what the ingredients are supposed to be. The only thing I can think everyone agrees on is that it must be served with some Portuguese bread, preferably a Papo Secos or pao or as the gringoosh say, a “pop.”

This is apparently a “thing” in greater New Bedford. We all have our favorite restaurant or two, bet if you ever say your restaurant is best or *gasp* authentic be prepared for flushed faces, loud voices and declarations like “That place doesn’t serve genuine Portuguese food, just fake dishes for Americans!” Is there a Portuguese equivalent for gringo? Pronounced “gringoosh” I’d imagine? If so, I’d imagine that is bantered about too.

The reality is that I haven’t come across a bad Portuguese restaurant and maybe I and disqualified to judge because I’m a gringoosh, I don’t know. Does authentic or closest to the “real thing” really matter? What is the real thing? Can anyone say “I have this recipe I found from 1452 that states ‘My name is Manuel Gomes Fernandes Pereira Ferreira Da Silva Silva and I invented kale soup! Here’s the recipe.'”?

Again, does it really matter? Would you turn down anyone’s kale soup, Minestra Maritata or Caldo Gallego. “This aroma has my belly growling, my mouth watering and looks sensational but sir, I am affronted by your use of Italian and Spanish words so I must refuse!!!” said no one ever.

When I hear the words Kale Soup it conjures up childhood memories of curling around a hot bowl on a winter day after snow fights, sledding, and building snowmen. My Portuguese friends will mention the history and family members that trace back to Portugal for generations and the various family members that make a “mean” bowl.

At the end of the day, it’s about what the bowl of soup does for you, what it means, how it makes you feel, the memories involved and how it brings together family and friends and unites people regardless of their gender, nationality, ethnicity, skin color, political affiliation or any other petty nonsense. That’s what food does. I believe it was Samuel Clemens that said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Maybe that’s the key to world peace and the end of all this toxic political disagreement that now characterizes America today? What if we had some 80-year old avó from a tenement in Fall River or New Bedford who has been making kale soup for 65 years, force everyone to sit down a hot, fresh bowl of “happy” from the “old country” before they got to talking?

I bet you it would put a smile on all the gringoosh’s faces and they would all lighten up.


Who makes the best kale soup in your house? Do you know of a restaurant that is as good as your avó makes it? Have a recipe to share?

If you enjoyed this type of article and are foodie who wants more you can read the other ones in the series here.

VIDEO: Homemade waffle cone at The Donut Factory in New Bedford

Here’s a look at the Reeses Pieces and peanut butter cup waffle cone at The Donut Factory at 102 Rockdale Ave. in New Bedford.

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