Leslie Burnside of Theresa and Johnny’s in San Rafael Is Crazy for Ferrara’s Sfogliatelle

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The sfogliatella at Ferrara. Photo: Melissa Hom

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Sylvia Park, owner of Pearl's Deluxe Burgers in San Francisco, spoke of her obsession with the French toast at Theresa & Johnny's Comfort Food in San Rafael, California. Now we want to know what food makes Theresa & Johnny's chef-owner Leslie Burnside salivate. Leslie, what's your pick?

Who: Leslie Burnside, chef-owner of Theresa & Johnny's Comfort Food in San Rafael, California
What: Sfogliatella
Where: Ferrara, New York City
When: February, 2011

"The sfogliatelle from Ferrara's in New York City. They are a textural party in my mouth. Crispy, creamy, moist, powdery joy and not too sweet. All I need is one of them and a double espresso."

We asked Ferrara co-owner and executive baker Ernest Lepore what makes the pastry so delicious:

"Our recipe is approximately 120 years old. Sfogliatella is southern Italian pastry from near Naples. It’s made with sfoglia, which translates to leaves. That’s what all those layers are meant to be. It’s a very popular pastry in the south of Italy. There’s 35 to 40 layers. So we make this dough, called the paste, and we take this paste and we roll it out very thin; we roll it back and forth and get it to the consistency of almost phyllo dough. Traditionally what we do is now we have this long, long piece of dough, and if you stretch from end to end it’s 125 feet long. We put a coat of shortening and then back-roll it onto itself, and it makes a coin or a spiral. Originally lard was used, but for dietary purposes we switched to shortening. Now we have this huge spiral, we have this coin shape. And then we stretch it from both sides so it looks like an anaconda and then we slice it like coin, and that is known as a sfogliatella top.

The filling is made with semolina flour, citron, ricotta, salt and pepper, and some people like a little lemon or orange oil. We boil the semolina and then we mix in the ricotta and citron. So now we have this filling. Now we have this round about four inches in diameter and we put the filling in the center, and we close it and it looks like a giant clam. And from there you can freeze them and bake them or you can bake them immediately. The sfogliatella top is the same shape we use for the lobster-tail pastry. You fill it with a dough called choux and then it expands. Sfogliatella is prized because it takes nearly three days to make."