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Piccoli Dolci brings Italian treats to The Heartland [replay]

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

MARIA CARLASSARE: I'm passionate about the idea that food should not just nurture our body, but should connect us with the land where the ingredients are from. The food should respect and value the needs of the farmers that are growing those ingredients. The food should also highlight the creativity and the skills of the cooks that are transforming these ingredients. In this little country, we have so many examples of everything that actually makes sense about food.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, Maria Carlassare of Piccoli Dolci sharing her passion for regional Italian cuisine and she's sharing a recipe. That's just ahead. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: I'll never forget the day, back in 2009 when my friend and neighbor, Anne, brought me a gift. It was a Cellophane bag with an attractive paper label with the words, Piccoli Dolci spelled out in stylish, artsy letters. The bag was filled with adorable, round shortbread cookies about a half inch thick, dotted with currants or small raisins. Anne tells me they're made here in town, it's a new business, she wanted me to try them. The cookies were perfect. Buttery, fresh, with a soft crunch and excellent flavor. Over the years, I'd run across these lovely bags of cookies at Bloomingfoods and then I started seeing Piccoli Dolci at the winter farmers' market when was still held at Harmony School.

KAYTE YOUNG: I knew that the owner baked at the Bloomington Cooking School's commercial kitchen for years, and I was thrilled to see that her business had survived the Covid shutdowns when I saw her baking at One World Kitchen Share after the cooking school closed its doors in 2020. In October, we finally made it happen. I met Maria Carlassare, the owner of Piccoli Dolci out at One World Kitchen Share, where she had recently moved in to a more fixed kitchen space. Instead of renting space by the hour, she had an arrangement for an established kitchen set up. We met at the kitchen so she could share a recipe with us. Keep in mind, this is a large warehouse space with a lot going on and it can get pretty loud at times. So, bear with us.

MARIA CARLASSARE: My name is Maria Carlassare. I come from Italy and I live in Bloomington where I started an Italian food business in 2011 and it's a business that specializes in Italian authentic, traditional recipes and foods. In particular, we like and we are trying to bring to Bloomington as many examples as we can of the vast diversity of regional recipes in Italy. So, we do the classic, but we also do very specific recipes that represent specific areas in Italy and they're kind of, unique. We are a small business. We do everything from scratch and at the moment, we don't have a store. We sell at the Woolery Farmers' Market and we wholesale in various locally owned coffee shops and Bloomingfoods. We also do home deliveries on Saturday morning. You pre-order, pre-pay and you can get an Italian, authentic lunch on Saturday.

MARIA CARLASSARE: In fact, the name of the business is Piccoli Dolci. So, Piccoli Dolci means little sweets. Piccoli is little, Dolci is sweets. When I started in 2011, it was actually just me doing basically six kinds of Italian cookies, from different regions in Italy. So, it was Cantucci, Krumiri. So, Cantucci from Toscana, Krumiri from the northwest, Zaeti from Venice, and then some classic and Novellini and another couple of cookies. So, this is how I started. Then, over time I grew. And I have to say, when Covid hit and we went into lockdown, I had to think something different, and in order to survive, I started actually cooking some traditional Italian lunch items and in particular, lasagna, different kinds of gnocchi and other baked pasta from different regions. And we were home delivering during lockdown and then we started actually growing a larger repertoire of savory things. So now, Piccoli Dolci is not just sweets, but it's Italian specialties in general and that's basically what we do now.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, you're going to share a recipe with us today. What are we going to make today?

MARIA CARLASSARE: So, today, we're making a classic crema pasticcera, pastry cream. And actually, I brought here a book that was self published in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi. It's the book that is still a bestseller in the book stores in Italy and it collects more than 750 recipes from all over Italy. This person, Pellegrino Artusi, was not a chef, he was a businessman, but clearly was passionate about food and with his helper, Marietta, he tested all the recipes and wrote a book that actually nobody wanted to publish at the beginning. It's a classic of the Italian repertoire and it's called La Scienza in Cucina E L'arte Di Mangiar Bene. That means the science of cooking, the art of eating well. This is a

practical manual for families. So this is not written for professionals, it's written for every one of us that want to cook something beautiful in their kitchen.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Actually, recipe number 655, is the recipe of pastry cream. It's so similar to the one that I use that I wanted to actually show you that. This is a very classic recipe. Of course, there are many variations now of pastry cream. This is just the beginning of what a pastry cream recipe could be, but there's room for creativity and many other variations. But today, we're going to do the super classic. The professional books were too difficult and nobody could understand anything about what the real chefs would write, and so he personally took the challenge of writing something that everybody could understand. Italy was unified in 1861. This is 1890, roughly. So, this is an important book because it unifies the food culture a little. It plasters all together from south to north. I have here a map because I want to show you.

KAYTE YOUNG: When she says she has a map, she's not talking about some Google map she pulled up on her phone. It's a big paper wall map, like you might have in your Italian language classroom, and she has it draped over one of the stainless steel work benches in the commissary kitchen.

MARIA CARLASSARE: So, this is Italy. It's a small country. Say that from the Alps, north, to Sicily is probably 650 miles. So, I was checking in Google Map, it's like going from Bloomington to Washington DC. That's the length of the boot. But there are so many different climatic regions that, with the history and different traditions, there are actually so many traditional recipes that use different ingredients in different ways that literally, driving through Italy, every 30 miles there is a different recipe, a different shape, a different touch to any kind of recipe that you can put on the table. So, because we go from the Alps, there's north, so there are Alpine recipes. There's the Pianura Padanas or the Po Valley that is rich in soil where, for example, Parmigiano Reggiano comes from. The center is more marginal areas. There's more sheep milk, for example, than cow milk. So, the Pecorino Romano, for example.

KAYTE YOUNG: Never mind the banging in the background. Megan on the baking team is pounding butter for puff pastry dough. Hopefully, you can still hear what Maria is saying.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Here, in the center, it's a more common cheese and then we go to the south, of course, we have also the coast. All the food that use fish. But in the south, we have all the citrus parts, the nuts, like marzapane, they grow figs there. So, every climatic region gives us a list of ingredients that are used. As a matter of fact, I'm trying to represent this diversity, also because I am passionate about the idea that food should not just nurture our body, but should connect us with the land where the ingredients are from. The food should respect and value the techniques of the farmers that are growing those ingredients. The food should also highlight the creativity and the skills of the cooks that are transforming these ingredients.

MARIA CARLASSARE: In this little country, we have so many examples of everything that actually makes sense about food. Food represents culture, history, climatic areas, and it's all put together in the dish that you're eating at your table. When you connect the food with the land, it immediately appears clear that you are eating marzapane in Sicily and you would eat hazelnut spread in Piemonte where they have hazelnut crops and chocolate, by the way.

KAYTE YOUNG: Most of us in the States don't really know that much about all the different regions of Italy. We just think, Italian food and we don't realize there's all these regions in such a small country.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yes, and that's why I like to show that there's diversity and this diversity makes so much sense. I can't do everything because it's hard to find the certain ingredients, but I do try to use as much as I can, the authentic ingredients. So, for example, for our savory dishes, we only use Parmigiano Reggiano. The real one, not Parmesan. We use Pecorino Romano. We use sweet Gorgonzola that comes from Gorgonzola. It is a town, actually, in Lombardy near Milano. We do have Recla Speck from the Alps. We have Semolina flour from Italy for certain kind of gnocchi. I use some Caciocavallo from south of Italy in the past. So, I'm trying to really get as much as I can from Italy to really represent the kitchen in Italy. You will not have a Fettuccine Alfredo from me because that's a translation of some Italian dish that came to the United States. Delicious, but not the real Italian pasta. It's delicious, but it's not what you will find when you travel to Italy.

KAYTE YOUNG: Could you clarify the distinction between the Parmesan that you just mentioned?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah. So, Parmigiano Reggiano, it's a cheese that is produced according to specific procedures that are actually certified by, I believe, the European Union. So, producers of Parmigiano Reggiano and farmers that provide the milk for the cheese, need to follow a pretty long series of rules. For example, in the diet of the cows, you need to have a pretty high percentage of hay or grass, cannot be only corn and soy bean. So, there are rules at every step of the production and the seal that you see in the outer part of the big wheel, certify that the cheese was produced with that kind of milk according to those specific procedures. I believe the Parmesan in America doesn't have the same strict rules. Honestly, if you try a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of Parmesan, you will immediately notice the difference.

KAYTE YOUNG: But we can get it here, we just have to make sure it says.

MARIA CARLASSARE: You need to check the outer part of your piece and it needs to have the seal and the writing, Parmigiano Reggiano in little dots. If it doesn't have that, it might be something else. But it should be actually written. There's so many cheeses and products in Italy. You have this certification that really guarantee to the customer that it is produced in a certain area of Italy. So, for example, Parmigiano Reggiano, only between Parma and Reggio Emilia. Parmigiano Reggiano, two towns in Emilia-Romagna. So, the milk collected for the cheese needs to come only from those areas close to those towns. You can't do Parmigiano Reggiano in south of Italy, for example.

KAYTE YOUNG: I knew that you did a lot of cooking from different regions of Italy and I just thought that it was mostly baking, mostly sweets.

MARIA CARLASSARE: It's easier with the savory, honestly, but even the sweets have regional recipes. It's harder for me to bring it here to Bloomington because there are so many specific recipes. It's hard to communicate the unique aspect of it if you don't know the tradition that the baked good comes from. When I started with the cookies, I did select different kind of cookies. For example, the Cantucci comes from Tuscany. The Krumiri, which is a cookie from the Piemonte region and there is a story there, there is a chef that invented them. It's just a unique proportion of the same classic ingredients and pastry, so eggs, sugar, butter, but there's a specific shape and a specific texture that makes the cookie unique.

MARIA CARLASSARE: The Zaeti are from the Venetian region and as a matter of fact, Zaeti means yellowish. It's a dialect word. Giallo is yellow in Italian and [FOREIGN DIALOGUE] means colored in yellow. There are a lot of yolks there and there's cornflour, so hands, they look yellowish. But that's another regional recipe that you will not find in Rome or you will not find in south of Italy. So, those are perfect examples of regional sweets.

KAYTE YOUNG: Speaking of regional sweets. After a short break, Maria Carlassare of Piccoli Dolci will walk us through her recipe for Italian pastry cream. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. We're back in the kitchen with Maria Carlassare of Piccoli Dolci, who is about to share a recipe with us.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Here we go. We are doing crema pasticcera, pastry cream, from Pellegrino Artusi, The Art of Eating Well. Recipe number 655. It's a pretty simple recipe. There are only two things people need to be careful of. So, I am measuring half a liter of milk, four yolks, some sugar and corn starch, a pinch of salt and we can choose which aromas, which flavor we want to give to the pastry cream. So, of course, Pellegrino Artusi says, odore di vaniglia, odor of vanilla. We are definitely adding vanilla paste to the milk. We are also adding a little piece of lemon zest and to make it a little bit more interesting, I'm going to use three beans of coffee, medium roast, to the milk. I am going to add one tiny piece of cinnamon stick. Very little because the cinnamon otherwise will be too powerful. Less than an inch long cinnamon stick. We have cloves. I am going to add just one of them in the milk.

KAYTE YOUNG: Very subtle.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yes, and some lemon zest. Maybe two or three pieces. It's only half a liter, so it doesn't need much. Okay. So, we need to bring this milk to sub boil. I am going to put this on the stove and let it warm up and check it every once in a while. While the milk is going, we are separating our eggs. So, we said four yolks. One, two, three.

KAYTE YOUNG: You're so fast.

MARIA CARLASSARE: I've done this many times. And, four. Okay, we are now adding to the yolks, the sugar. I need roughly 80 grams of sugar and as soon as I pour the sugar on top of the yolks, I have to mix immediately otherwise the yolks can become grainy. So, this is a trick that everybody should know. So, we dissolve the sugar in the yolks. The last ingredient that we need is the corn starch. So, today, we're using corn starch, but the truth is that we could use flour, wheat flour or rice flour, this is just to thicken the cream, otherwise it will be like crème anglaise. The corn starch, compared to the wheat flour, is a little bit more gelatinous, but the pastry cream holds a little bit better. So, I use corn starch more than flour because when I have to build a cake, it stays inside the cake.

MARIA CARLASSARE: So, I have 45 grams of corn starch that I will mix with the yolks, gradually incorporating. I'm forming a thick paste at the moment. We are adding a pinch of salt to it and then we add the vanilla paste here, but actually, if you have a vanilla bean, you could put it with the milk and the flavor will stay in the liquid of the milk. I am going to stir the milk. It's going well, starting to warm up. The vanilla paste is here, of course, the more you put, the better. Tablespoon or a little bit less of that for what we're doing today. Mixing in. Okay. So now we have to wait. The temperature of the milk is not high enough. As a matter of fact, we could pour the yolk mixture in the milk now, but we want also the flavor of the lemon and all the things we put in the milk to actually set longer and so, we need to wait a little bit, probably five minutes. What I can do now is pour some of the milk into this thick paste, just to temper it and that will help me when I have to mix and put everything together.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so the tempering is just so it doesn't cook the egg right away?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah, and it makes it faster and smoother when I actually mix everything together, or it will be too sticky, too dense. It's not strictly necessary, but it's very helpful. Okay, it's thick now. We only have to wait a little bit.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, I'm not familiar with vanilla bean paste.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Well, it's basically, they scrape the inside of the beans, they collect everything and then they put it in a sugary paste. Basically, just cane sugar, a little bit of water and vanilla.

KAYTE YOUNG: But you would use that instead of the liquid extract?

MARIA CARLASSARE: You can use vanilla extract. We really like this better than vanilla extract. It's more powerful in terms of vanilla flavor. So, ours are with the vanilla paste. I use vanilla extract in other recipes where I don't need this much vanilla flavor, but with pastry cream, it is very important. Okay, the milk is almost there. Another real flavor in it could be fresh bay leaves and vanilla. It gives a fresh herby flavor that is super interesting. And I bet you can do it with tea. You can really be creative with the flavor that you're giving to the milk and enhance the pastry cream if you want to make it more your pastry cream and not the classic.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so, you just infuse whatever it is that you want in the milk.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yes, exactly. In the milk. If you want to do a chocolate pastry cream, you add the chocolate when the pastry cream is done, it's still hot and you melt chocolate. And you can add a little bit of butter and a little bit of cream also to it. So, you can actually transform the pastry cream into something else once it's done. So, there's a lot of potential in this simple recipe. You can use pastry cream as is, you can use it as a filling, you can enrich the pastry cream and create another recipe. So, it could be the base for something else. It could go in a cake. It goes in our Cornetto, which are the Italian croissant. It goes in our fruit tarts with fresh fruit. It could go with a chocolate ganache on top. Million ways of enjoying pastry cream.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Here, it's moving so I'm going to go. Before I actually put the yolk mixture in the milk, I remove the pieces. I am adding the yolk mixture with the sugar and the corn starch to the pot with the milk. I'm stirring. It will thicken. It's already thickening at the bottom. So, with the spatula, I scrape the bottom. I keep my bottom clean and with the whisk, I whisk. So, I cut lumps so that in the end it will be smooth. It's already thickening and it's already kind of boiling.

KAYTE YOUNG: And you're keeping it on the heat.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Keeping it on the heat. This is corn starch. It's super fast. If you do it with flour, with wheat flour, you will have to cook it for at least seven, eight minutes to get rid of that flour flavor, but with corn starch, and it's not much corn starch, it is pretty quick. So, I'm turning off now. It's hot. We are going to go on the table. And then, usually, to chill it, we pour it on a tray. It's here. All right. So, this is good warm, but you could also cover it with plastic film and chill it and eat it later when it's cold. You could add some whipped cream to it to make it a little bit lighter in texture.

KAYTE YOUNG: Like, mix it in?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Mix it in, yes. When it's cold, though, not now when it's super hot. And it can go in a cup with maybe a cookie.

KAYTE YOUNG: It really smells great.

MARIA CARLASSARE: And all the little dots are the vanilla beans, the little tiny dots are the real vanilla bean.

KAYTE YOUNG: Let's take a quick break while she gathers a few examples of her Italian cookies for us to use to sample the pastry cream. We'll be back with more from Maria Carlassare of Piccoli Dolci. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young and we're back with Maria Carlassare of Piccoli Dolci, which translates from Italian to, little sweets. Maria has some of her freshly made pastry cream in a small dish with five different Italian cookies arranged around the edge.

MARIA CARLASSARE: So, this is a Krumiri from northwest of Italy. This is a Nocciolini cookie, which is made with hazelnut flour. It's a rich shortbread from a recipe from the north. I am honestly from north of Italy and I know north of Italy better than the south. So, for a number of reasons, there are more recipes from the north, but I keep doing research and I have a lot of books and we also have some recipes from the south. This is the Cantucci with almonds. Cantucci is what, here in the United States, is better known as biscotti. But Cantucci is the name of that kind of biscotti. In fact, biscotti means, cooked twice. 'Bis' is twice and 'cotti' means cooked. And so, in Italy, biscotti is the Italian generic term for cookies. So, all these are biscotti for us. What here in the United States is biscotti is the Cantucci. That's the authentic.


MARIA CARLASSARE: From Tuscany, we have Lingue Di Gatto, cat tongues, for the shape like a little tongue.

KAYTE YOUNG: Those look so good to me. I love that kind of cookie.

MARIA CARLASSARE: These are excellent, they're so simple. They're like vanilla crunchy little bites and excellent with ice cream and coffee and tea and by themselves, also. This is a Sfogliatine cookie. It's a puff pastry cookie glazed on top with a thin layer of sugar and then decorated with stripes over apricot preserve. So, this is crunchy and flaky. So, here, we have the same four classic ingredients, eggs, butter, sugar, and flour, combined in different ways with different processes that create five cookies that are totally different. Sometimes customers ask me, "Oh, what's the flavor of this?" Well, the ingredients, more or less, except adding some nuts or cocoa powder, but the ingredients in pastry very often are always the same, but the way you work them, you transform them, is what makes the cookie or the cake special.

KAYTE YOUNG: And all those textures are totally different.

MARIA CARLASSARE: These are different shapes, different textures, but the ingredients are always the same.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah. And is this the one you were saying has the story behind it with the shape?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah, the Krumiri as a cookie was born in 1878, actually when the first king of Italy died. So, this shape, legend says, was to recall the shape mustache of the king and it's the creation of a pastry chef that actually worked and lived in the same region where the king was. So, history says it was to honor first king of Italy. [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]

KAYTE YOUNG: I was hoping you were going to say it was to mock the king, but you're saying it's to honor. [LAUGHS]


KAYTE YOUNG: Who knows.


KAYTE YOUNG: Okay. Well, that's great. Let's give it a try.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Try this crunchy one, maybe.

KAYTE YOUNG: That one is so beautiful. I don't even want to eat it. It's so light.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yes. [LAUGHS] And this one, too, actually. They're all pretty light.

KAYTE YOUNG: The cookie is so perfect. [LAUGHS] Yeah, it's like puff pastry with a special glaze on it and the glaze is almost, I don't want to say meringue but it's has kind of a...

MARIA CARLASSARE: It's crunchy. It goes in the oven for quite a bit of time. It's so thin that it creates this crunchy sugar layer. There's no sugar in the puff pastry.

KAYTE YOUNG: It's like a shell.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah. Exactly. There's no sugar in the puff pastry. So, the only sugar is this glaze, which is also one of the characteristic of all the cookies that we do. They are sweet, but they are not overwhelmingly sweet and that is so important.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, I agree.

MARIA CARLASSARE: To really bring up the real flavors, sometimes too much sugar tends to cover everything and we don't want to do that.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, because you're highlighting the textures and the flavors.


KAYTE YOUNG: Over just the sweetness. Plus, it allows for you to dip it into something like this or with some coffee.

MARIA CARLASSARE: And it allows you to eat more than one [LAUGHS] without feeling too guilty, I guess. We roll the puff pastry at two millimeter. So, it's two millimeter thick plus, maybe half millimeter of glaze, and then we pipe thin lines of apricot preserve on top and that is how it goes in the oven and becomes almost one inch thick because it puffs up. I cut the cookie before it goes into the oven. So, I have little strips that are going in the oven. There are two and something millimeters thick, basically. I like simplicity and in pastry, sometimes with very few ingredients, you can do exceptional things.

KAYTE YOUNG: Next it was the Lingue Di Gato or cat's tongue. Of course I love the name, too. That's pretty great. Mm.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Again, it's kind of crunchy, vanilla-ish. Next, you should try this one that has the hazelnut flour in it.

KAYTE YOUNG: This one is really vanilla.


KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, it's so hard to describe these textures because it does have a thin little crunch on the outside.

MARIA CARLASSARE: It's a spongy crunchy inside and then the thin outer layer.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah. Oh, that's beautiful.

MARIA CARLASSARE: I think pastry cream doesn't have butter in it, but it goes really well with buttery things. So, for example, a croissant with pastry cream, a Cornetto with pastry cream, is the perfect match. Or a rich shortbread with hazelnut and a simple, light pastry cream, again, a match that is hard to beat.

KAYTE YOUNG: I decided to just try to taste the pastry cream by itself because I'm getting distracted by the cookie. [LAUGHS]


KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, the pastry cream is so good, though. It's just got so much.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Such a complex flavor with those coffee beans and the vanilla and the lemon and a touch of clove and cinnamon.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah. And it is just like it's pudding. You could just eat it in a dish.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah, absolutely.

KAYTE YOUNG: Warm, like you said.


KAYTE YOUNG: Okay, so you're saying I should try this one because it has nuts?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah, this is a rich shortbread with hazelnut flour and almond flour.

KAYTE YOUNG: Also very light and not sweet, but those nutty flavors.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah, the nuts are the dominant part of this cookie.

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh gosh, those are so good. These are perfect. [LAUGHS]

MARIA CARLASSARE: This cookie has vanilla extract in, the Cantucci, and a touch of nutmeg that makes it really good.


MARIA CARLASSARE: Again, those details are very important in a simple cookie. They make the difference.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah. I really love pecans, but tasting that reminds me of how incredible hazelnuts are. They're so good. Oh, thank you. What a treat. Mm.


KAYTE YOUNG: So, when I think of pastry cream, I think of fruit tarts.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah. So, our fresh fruit tarts, we make them mostly in the summer when the strawberries-- so, the crust is a classic Italian shortbread, it's called [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]. It's a shortbread with a lot of yolks in it and less eggs. So, the egg white part of egg is not in that recipe and that's why it's so good, so flavorful. So, that's the crust, the shell of our tarts. Then, there is a layer of vanilla pastry cream. Only vanilla, keep it simple.

KAYTE YOUNG: You don't get too fancy.

MARIA CARLASSARE: I don't add the coffee and the other spices. I do that usually when I'm serving just a little cup of pastry cream with maybe a simple cookie. And then, there's just fresh fruit on top. Again, it's a super simple layering of ingredients, but the combination is perfect, fresh, light, creamy.

KAYTE YOUNG: And then, do you put a glaze or anything over the fruit?

MARIA CARLASSARE: I don't because we do them for farmers' market and we sell them immediately. The glaze would be to preserve the fruit longer, like for the following day.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, to make sure it still looks glossy and all that.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Exactly, but the glaze is also adding sweet stuff. So, we don't want that. We are trying to keep it as a tart, it's sweet, but we don't want to have it too sweet.

KAYTE YOUNG: After the tasting session, we sat down in the conference room at One World to talk a bit more about Maria's background and the history and future of Piccoli Dolci. Maria is from northern Italy, Padua, about twenty minutes from Venice. I asked her to share the story of how she got into cooking and baking.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Right. That's kind of a story. I don't have a culinary background. My education is actually in agricultural science. And so, after my bachelor degree in Padua, I actually did grad school at Penn State University. I did a Master of Science and I was working on a very applied research about grazing management and then I did a Doctorate degree in Italy when we went back. I kept going back and forth. When I chose agricultural science for my education and when I chose to actually work in the food business, the reason was the same. So, I'm passionate about food. I like to eat. I like interesting food. First, I wanted to know how food is produced and I was interested in sustainable agriculture and that's why I ended up collecting grass in a field for my research.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Life is complicated, but the end of the story is that, at a certain point, I was actually unemployed in Italy and I decided to take a basic pastry class, that was part of a program founded by the European Union at that time to actually educate people on artisinal skills and cooking was one of them. So, we were actually paid something like, three euros per hour to learn, and it was the first time that I saw a big mixer, a commercial kitchen, and then I did my internship in Florence in a Chocolatería and then I went back to my hometown and I worked for an ice cream place, and I was actually decorating their ice cream cakes. It was a lot of fun. And then, in between kids, I worked with a friend on some catering and then we flew to Bloomington in 2009. My husband is working at the university and so, that's why we came here. Here, I first tried to find a job in some restaurant or bakery here but it didn't work out immediately, so I decided to do an experiment and start a tiny nano-business doing just six kinds of cookies from Italy and that's how everything started.

KAYTE YOUNG: And when you started, it was in the Bloomington Cooking School, right?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Right. I have to thank Jan Bulla Baker from the Bloomington Cooking School. She trusted me. I met her, I explained my idea about the six different cookies from different regions. She has Italian origins and she liked the idea and she gave me this opportunity and she agreed on giving me some space in her kitchen. So, that was the beginning. I did not want to own a business. I was just trying to show what I could do and I ended up actually having Piccoli Dolci. This is year number 11 and it's growing.

KAYTE YOUNG: Wow. It's funny to hear you say that you weren't trying to start a business because, to me, from the beginning it just seemed so professional. Your logo is beautiful and the packaging and just seeing them on the shelf in Bloomingfoods was just like, oh, wow, we've got a business here. These homemade cookies, this is amazing.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Well, the logo, I do have a friend that worked on the logo with me and he's a pretty good designer. I like to draw, to play with paper and so I was trying to use my creativity also with the logo. But I did have a lot of help from [UNSURE OF NAME].

KAYTE YOUNG: So, did it really take off right away? Did you feel like the response was stronger than you expected?

MARIA CARLASSARE: The response was good, but I feel like I'm working for a very specific niche of people in Bloomington and I know that a lot of people are more used to the American Italian food. So, the idea of having specific cookies from different regions or specific kinds of lasagna or gnocchi, it's difficult. It doesn't come natural. And so, I keep working for a niche that sustains me. I mean, I'm serving such a small percentage of people in Bloomington, but they are persons interested in the cultural aspect, also. The recipe, not just the food, per se. If you're looking for food that tells a story, we have it and we can explain it. At farmers' market, very often, I spend a lot of time just telling the story, the ingredients of what we have on display.

MARIA CARLASSARE: It's a little bit difficult at first. It's a little bit unknown. It's hard if you haven't been to Italy, of course, you don't there are a million regions and a million recipes and a million shapes of pasta and a million kinds of gnocchi. How can you know? But that's what we want to tell to people and it makes the food so meaningful also from the psychological point of view. Food is not just a source of nutrients.

KAYTE YOUNG: I feel like there's an aesthetic value as well because all of your pastries, of what I've mostly seen, they're just all very beautiful and distinct. You were showing the different shapes, the different textures.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah. We do want to highlight the artisanal part of making food, of transforming these ingredients. It's so important. It is a show of the creativity of the cook.

KAYTE YOUNG: Piccoli Dolci had been focused on sweets and bakery items, selling wholesale to Bloomingfoods and face to face at farmers' markets, but during the pandemic shutdowns, she started offering savory dishes, Italian lunches, available to pre-order for a Saturday delivery.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Our customers were excited to try the new recipes. I hope it was a good moment of the week to receive a new recipe artisanally made from scratch, small batches with unique ingredients. So, it was a moment of fun and at that time, we know nobody could go to restaurants. So, it was a good way to reach people through food.

KAYTE YOUNG: What kinds of dishes did you make?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Well, every weekend, and we are doing this now also, we have at least one kind of lasagna, one kind of gnocchi and maybe something else. The menu rotates every week. I can make some examples. Lasagne alla parmigiana, this is more a southern Italian dish where the eggplants are usually either fried, we roast them, to keep them a little bit lighter. The lasagna is with layers of eggplants, mozzarella cheese, Fior di Latte, and then we top it with a tomato, fresh basil, pesto sauce. So, this is kind of a summer dish of southern Italian origin. If we want to go to the north we have, for example, the Pizzoccheri. Pizzoccheri is a buckwheat pasta from a Valtellina region in the Alps and guess what, they do grow buckwheat there, [LAUGHS] so they cook with buckwheat.

MARIA CARLASSARE: So, it's a short pasta. It's a little bit larger than Tagliatelle. It's definitely shorter, like three inches. We cook this pasta and then you bake it, put in the oven layered with Fontina cheese. Fontina is another important cheese of north of Italy, delicious, that melts through the layers of the pasta and the greens. It's a baked pasta. In the winter, it's with cabbage, kale, spinach. We do have a summer version of it with other vegetables. It's a dish made with the ingredients originally grown in that land and transformed by the cooks of that land according to the tradition using a cheese from that region.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so, you've continued doing that?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yes, and we continue doing research on that. I was recently going through a book of gnocchi. Gnocchi is not just potato gnocchi. There are so many different kinds of gnocchi. Our most popular ones so far are the carrot gnocchi, for example, or the spinach gnocchi that are made with ricotta cheese and the carrot or spinach, and Parmigiano Reggiano and a few eggs to keep them together, but they are not the classic potato gnocchi. In the winter we are probably going to do some squash gnocchi and probably mash them with some porcini mushroom. There's a lot of research that we keep doing and we try to select what is feasible here in Bloomington and what we think is really interesting and we'll keep doing that.

KAYTE YOUNG: Piccoli Dolci has never had a shop or a store front, but this year, for November and December, they're setting up a pop-up shop. It's in Williamsburg Center on Pete Ellis drive close to Needmore Coffee.

MARIA CARLASSARE: We will have our holiday treats. We will have some special panettone Christmas cake that we are bringing from south of Italy. It's a small, artisinal production from a friend from Calabria with their regional lemons and figs and Cioccolato di Modica. So, it's an exceptional product we want to offer in addition to all our holiday cookies and Kringles and specialties. Honestly, I don't know the hours yet, but definitely during the weekend we'll be open for customers actually to find us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Can you describe what a panettone cake is like?

MARIA CARLASSARE: Oh, panettone is like a big, briochey, buttery bread, let's call it. Panettone means, big bread, but it's very light and buttery and you can have either chocolate in it or the traditional version is with raisins and candied fruit. We actually will have a pistachio version because the region they come from has also pistachios. So, it will be covered with pistachios. So, there are many kinds of panettone. It's a cake that, in Italy, we eat all December until the end of all the Christmas, end of the year celebrations and it could go really well with pastry cream, honestly, that we made.

KAYTE YOUNG: It also seems like it keeps pretty well.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Yeah, it takes 48, 52 hours to finish a panettone. It's a very long process with multiple proofing periods and if it is kept in a closed bag, it can last for months.

KAYTE YOUNG: And what are some of the other holiday treats that you make?

MARIA CARLASSARE: We have an assortment of holiday cookies that are a little bit richer than the cookies that we try before. So, they're like a vanilla sable, chocolate sable, we have a special kind of truffle we have in mind. Then, we do our Christmas Kringles. Of course, you can order some cakes. We have meringues that we're doing. We have some special tarts that we do during the holiday season. They don't have a name, honestly, but they have special fillings and usually two different layers per tart and those are things that we do only during the holidays as kind of a special treat. I like to share my passion of food with my customers and that's a source of energy for me when I see that someone else is passionate about food, it's a joy.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Maria Carlassare of Piccoli Dolci, sharing her passion for Italian food with the people of Bloomington since 2011.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

MARIA CARLASSARE: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

KAYTE YOUNG: Find more including her recipe for Italian pastry cream on our website, That's it for our show this week. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Whaley, reporters at Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from artists at Universal Production music. Our executive producer is John Bailey.

Maria Carlassare standing in a commercial kitchen holding a book

Maria Carlassare's pastry cream (which she uses in baked treats for Piccoli Dolci) is very close to the crema pasticcera recipe in this classic Italian cookbook. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“I’m passionate about the idea that food should not just nurture our body, but should connect us with the land where the ingredients are from. Food should respect and value the techniques of the farmers that are growing those ingredients and the food should also highlight the creativity and the skills of the cooks that are transforming these ingredients. In this little country, we have so many examples of everything that actually makes sense about food.”

This week on the show, I’m talking with Maria Carlassare. She’s the owner of Piccoli Dolci, which translates from Italian to “little sweets.” It’s a small business in Bloomington Indiana offering Italian cookies, pastries and now, savory lunches. 

A grapic with a bowl of pudding and small cookies, labeledI’ve been wanting to sit down with Maria for years, to talk about her baking business and to hear about the unique cuisines from the different regions of Italy. I knew she had a lot of knowledge to share. 

In October, we finally made it happen. I spoke with Maria in her production kitchen at One World KitchenShare.

Image of a recipe from an historic Italian cookbook
This recipe for pastry cream comes from Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, by Pellegrino Artusi, originally self published in 1891 in Italy (La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangier bene). 

Maria walks us through a recipe for Italian Pastry Cream from an historic Italian cookbook, and she talks about the regional differences in Italian food.

After testing out a holiday pop-up shop last year, they have now opened the Piccoli Dolci Market Cafe at the Williamsburg Court on Pete Ellis Drive on the east side of Bloomington. They serve breakfast, lunch and beverages for carry-out or eat-in.

For the holidays, they will be selling their Italian baked treats and special Panettone cakes (or bread) imported from a friend’s bakery in Calabria, in Southern Italy.

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