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Big doings in Andersonville this weekend, what with the Wikstrom's moving sale and the soft opening of Pasticcerria Natalina, a very promising Sicilian sweet shop. Proprietress Natalie Zarzour learned her trade from her maternal grandparents, who hailed from Palermo, and with the help of relatives in the old country she steeped herself in the island's elaborate pastry culture, which developed over centuries of conquest by and commerce with the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Spanish.
"You get a lot of exotic ingredients; pistachios, rosewater, and citrus fruits, and a lot of those really earthy, exotic flavors together with classical French techniques, and that's really what makes Sicilian pastry so magical," she says. Zarzour wants her dolci to stand out from Italian-American versions, which by neccessity substituted for hard-to find ingredients. She's sourcing a lot of them with the help of her family back on the island.
By 4:30 Saturday afternoon she'd sold out of most of the day's product, but I got ahold of some ethereal anise-flavored pizzelles and a container of honeydew gelatin dusted with crushed pistachios. Sunday, much earlier in the day, I scored a dense, moist, pine nut coffee cake, a bag of glazed lemon cookies, and rosewater-scented rice pudding.
Zarzour and her husband, Nick, are still working out some oven issues, so they haven't been able to put out some of the more complicated creations they're planning, but I'm looking forward to the hand-molded and -painted marzipan made with imported bitter almond paste, as well as the from-scratch cannoli with Sicilian sheep's milk ricotta and cassata, a legendarily labor-intensive liqueur-soaked cake filled with ricotta crema, enrobed in marzipan, and studded with candied fruit.
Pasticceria Natalina's at 5406 N. Clark (773-989-0662); it's open Tuesday-Friday, 7 AM-6 PM: Saturday-Sunday, 8 AM-5 PM; and closed on Monday.