oPPoSi Te Pastiche—three-cheese
tortellini, spicy meatballs, wild boar
ragoût, cinnamon custard and grated
parmesan topped with a parmesan/thyme
piecrust—is a favorite at Panzano.
below, CloCKwiSe froM ToP lef T
1) gale gand’s pear streusel coffee cake
2) roasted peaches with cinnamon
3) gale gand makes ciabatta french
toast with cinnamon and almonds.
4) howard velie’s cincinnati chili
own through the ages, the source of cinnamon was a closely guarded secret. Although
it is said to have been brought to Egypt from China, it is native to Bangladesh, Sri
Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India and Myanmar.
Cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is generally used in pastries in the U.S.; in Asia, it’s
primarily added to curries and savory dishes. Tucked into tagines throughout the Mediterranean
basin, any number of lamb, beef, chicken and goat dishes are stewed with cinnamon.
Howard Velie, associate dean—culinary specializations, The Culinary Institute of America,
Hyde Park, New York, says cinnamon has a large presence in the cuisines of Turkey and Iran and
throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe. “Of course, the iconic Greek
dishes, moussaka and pastichio, are both cinnamon-heavy,” he says.
Velie has made an Italian Cinnamon Salami, popular in the Marche region of Italy. To prepare the
classic Persian Jeweled Rice Pilaf, he suggests adding stock to basmati or long-grained rice, then cooking it in the oven. Just before serving, add toppings of saffron, cinnamon, mustard seed or pistachios.
One of his favorite dishes with cinnamon is his Cincinnati Chili, the basis of which probably came
from Eastern European immigrants who settled in Cincinnati. “They made this thick ‘Bolognese’
sauce with ground beef or lamb or chicken, plus cinnamon, tomatoes and onions,” Velie says.
Cinnamon comes from various growing environments, giving it diverse characteristics. Varieties
from Vietnam or Sri Lanka, for example, are more aromatic and spicier than the generic cinnamon
found in grocery stores. As such, those varieties are better suited for savory dishes than for baking, Velie
says. “The generic is OK for a curry or for baking, but if you want to step it up a bit, for a memorable
savory cinnamon dish, I’d get the Vietnamese or Sri Lankan, and point it out on the menu.”
Gale Gand, a Chicago-based pastry chef and co-owner of SpritzBurger, views cinnamon as
a super-versatile spice and an American ingredient, even though it’s not grown in the U.S. She
uses it in her artisanal root beer. “Cinnamon is a key flavoring ingredient, along with ginger and
vanilla,” she says. “I use cinnamon bark, gingerroot, plus real vanilla to give it more depth, and
I use cinnamon stick to add ‘spike’ to the root beer.”