Cindy Salvato offers tours of Providence's Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill. (Staff photo by David Goldman)

Divine Providence: Explore flavor of Old World Italy
on slopes of Federal Hill
The Boston Herald
January 10, 2007

By Kerry J. Byrne

Walk into the kitchens or butcher shops of Federal Hill in Providence and you'll discover that food in this old-school Italian neighborhood is still made by hand.

Just ask Cindy Salvato. Better yet, she'll show you.

The former Boston pastry chef moved to Rhode Island 17 years ago. She's since become Federal Hill's unofficial culinary ambassador and offers guided behind-the-scenes tours ( of the bustling Old World neighborhood.

In the kitchen of Federal Hill's landmark salumeria, Venda Ravioli, Salvato shows off some of the company's handmade pastas - including sack -shaped "beggars purses" ravioli, tied with strips of scallion.

In another room, Italian-born baker and cheesemaker Cosimo Della Torre turns grainy cheese curd into smooth, milky white mozzarella by steeping it in steaming hot water and pulling it repeatedly by hand over a wooden paddle. Soon, Salvato and her tour are biting into the fresh, handmade mozzarella.

Scialo Bros. Bakery, meanwhile, sells a gorgeous array of Italian breads and sweets - including apple-shaped marzipan candies with whole cloves for stems. Another Scialo (pronounced shallow) specialty is a thin-crusted southern Italian pastry called sfogliatelle, stuffed with a slightly sweet blend of semolina, cream, lemon, eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla. When baked, the pastry resembles a clam with its mouth parted open.

"A lot of customers just call them quahogs," said owner Lois Scialo-Ellis.

Tradition runs throughout Federal Hill. Scialo-Ellis fills the sfogliatelle with the very same sterling-silver spoon her grandfather used when he opened the bakery 91 years ago. And they're cooked in the very same vaulted brick ovens.

Salvato's tour offers plenty of surprises. "There's always an 'Oh, wow!' moment," she said.

On one recent excursion, a woman burst into Antonelli's Poultry, Federal Hill's 148-year-old butcher shop, with a blue duffel bag. She opened it to reveal two chickens. They were making too much noise in her apartment, she said, and now she had to get rid of them.

She'd come to the right place. Antonelli's keeps up to 3,000 live chickens in its back room. They're slaughtered with a quick slice through the neck, drained of blood, steeped in hot water, then plucked.

"A lot of people skip that part of the tour," Salvato said.

Venda Ravioli's Wine Sauce for Beef

    5 to 6 lbs. beef tenderloin
    2 ½ c. beef broth
    1 ½ c. Madeira wine
    1 ½ c. dry red wine
    4 large sprigs of thyme
    4 large sprigs of fresh parsley
    1 bay leaf
    ¼ stick butter, melted
    2 T. all-purpose flour
    Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roast meat until internal temperature reaches 125 degrees, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Combine broth, wine, thyme, parsley and bay leaf in a saucepan. Boil until reduced to 2 cups, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard herbs. Scrape juices and browned bits from roasting pan and pour into sauce. Bring to a boil. Mix butter and flour in a small bowl to blend. Whisk butter and flour into sauce, simmer until smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over sliced beef. Serves 10 to 12.

Venda Ravioli's Leg of Lamb

    5 to 8 lbs. leg of lamb
    4 T. olive oil
    1 large onion, sliced
    1 carrot, diced
    2 stalks celery, diced
    2 t. chopped parsley
    1 c. sweet Marsala wine
    Salt and pepper to taste
    2 c. beef stock
    2 T. butter
    1 T. flour

Brown lamb over medium-high heat with oil in Dutch oven. Add onion, carrot, celery, parsley and brown, adding a little water if necessary. Add wine , salt and pepper until the wine evaporates. Add 1 cup of stock, cover pot and cook slowly for 2 hours, turning often, until meat is fork tender. Remove lamb (internal temperature should read 130 degrees). Blend butter and flour into juices in the pot. Add remaining stock and cook until thickened. Strain gravy and serve with the meat. Serves 10 to 16.

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