Of all the Italian goodies offered at Christmas, panettone is perhaps the most familiar. This is the traditional cake of Milan that has become popular during the holidays, primarily due to its shelf life. Panettones are readily available.
But for most Italian holiday treats you need a bakery, like Nona's Sweets (9331 JW Clay Blvd.; 704-717-6144). For 2011, owners Dominica Clementi and her mother Jo-Ann Morlando have a full roster of Italian delicacies. Cakes include panettone, cannoli, decorative Christmas cakes, and cassada cakes. The latter is a Sicilian sponge cake with ricotta cheese filling and topped with chocolate, nuts and candied fruit.
Also from Sicily are the St. Joseph cakes, a pastry item also known as zeppoles or cream puffs, which are traditionally consumed during the feast of St. Joseph in March, but are available now. Other pastries include pasticciotti, another Sicilian filled pastry; cannoli, Napoleons, nut rolls, and baba rums. One of the best offerings from the pastry section is the sfogliatelle, a shell-shaped filled pastry that resembles stacked leaves and is both delicious and messy.
Christmas cookies vary throughout Italy, and most regions have a specialty cookie. Many believe this originated at the local convent. Mother Superiors, traditionally from high-ranking families, shared their family recipes with the nunnery. These cookies were then baked and given as Christmas gifts. For the holidays Nona's has a full line of Italian cookies including pizzelles, Italian sprinkle, rainbow, pignoli, and an almond paste cookie, similar to a Florentine ricciarelli.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-522-8334, extension 136.