For an Italian dish to fly under the radar is rare in a city that has an insatiable appetite for red sauce restaurants, pizza joints, and trattorias of every stripe. That’s the start of the mystique around sanguinaccio, a seasonal dish that can be either “the sexiest sausage in the world” or a chocolate pudding (spoiler: the chocolate pudding is more popular). Its open secret, however, is evident to anyone who knows Italian, or anything Latinate; sangue is the mother tongue for these dishes’ chief ingredient: blood.
“Traveling butchers would come,” Lidia Bastianich recalls of her Italian childhood. “They’d take this long knife and directly pierce the pig’s heart. My grandmother was ready with a pail to catch the blood. The chops and jowls and belly would turn into bacon or prosciutto or whatever, but the most perishable part was eaten right away. That’s the blood.”
Sanguinaccio has a lonely and somewhat ostracized existence, used as a gimmick in Dexter-inspired or Hannibal Lecter-inspired meals and called everything from “challenging” to “macabre” — even though many claim it is “bloody delicious.” But this week is the best time in New York City to indulge in this treat, not just because it’s a Lenten and Easter tradition that’ll end its season after this Sunday, April 4.
Pig’s blood, once banned, is now legal thanks to the revival of snout-to-tail butchery. Still, there is widespread belief that pig’s blood is illegal or unhealthy, and so beef blood is often substituted “with slightly less lusty results,” writes Mimi Sheraton in the sanguinaccio listing of her book 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die. She also dubs it “the perfect dessert not just for connoisseurs but also for anemics.”
For New Yorkers with bloodlust in their veins, here are some spots to sample around the city, including bloodless options for the non-carnivorous among us and the generally faint of heart.
Delillo Pastry Shop
This is probably the purest sanguinaccio in the city: just beef blood, sugar, and chocolate. The mix is never frozen and sells at $15 per pound for the pudding or $3.50 for a single sanguinaccio-filled tartlet. “Literally the mix is a gallon of blood, 10 to 12 pounds of sugar, and at least four pounds of tempered dark chocolate,” says owner Salvatore Florio. “It’s rich, rich, rich.” 610 East 187th Street, between Arthur and Hughes Avenues, Little Italy in the Bronx
A bloodless variety accented by cinnamon, lemon, and a bit of orange peel is served at this year-old Long Island bakery. Five-ounce cups sell for $6 and are often used as a dipping sauce for chiacchiere, a thin fried dough covered in powdered sugar. 36-27 31st Street, between 36th and 37th Avenues, Long Island City
Although it’s been part of the menu since 1978, this is now bloodless, mixed with a Sicilian recipe of pumpkin, almonds, dark chocolate, and a little bit of milk. The dessert is never frozen, and the bakery figures it sells around 100 pints ($8 each) between Carnival and Easter, according to owner Emanuele Alaimo. “The new generation, as soon as they hear the word [blood] they back off, even if we tell them it’s bloodless. As soon as you mention blood — even no blood — as soon as they hear that trigger word they back off right away,” Alaimo says. “It’s a shame because it’s really delicious. What can ya do, y’know? I leave it up to the people.” 7001 18th Avenue, at 70th Street, Bensonhurst
Egidio Pastry Shop
Billed as the oldest pastry shop in the Bronx’s Little Italy, this 109-year-old institution uses old-school pig blood and charges roughly $15 per pound, depending on the price of the blood. “We’ve sold it since 1912, and I took over 35 years ago with all the recipes, including sanguinaccio,” says owner Carmela Lucciola. 622 East 187th Street, between Hughes and Belmont Avenues, Little Italy in the Bronx
Gino’s Pastry Shop
Run by the namesake’s son, Jerome Raguso, Gino’s still uses the same recipe brought over from Italy in 1957 but has switched to beef blood. The pudding, which has been shipped frozen to as far as Florida, sells for $10 a pound but also comes in four-inch pudding-filled pastries for $4 each or in a 10-inch torte for $30. 580 East 187th Street, between Hoffman and Arthur Avenues, Little Italy in the Bronx
Morrone Pastry Shop & Cafe
Morrone’s founder, Ermanno Morrone, has been making sanguinaccio for 15 years for the “old-school Italians who buy it.” The beef blood version here includes plenty of diced fruits and mixed nuts. It’s sold as pudding for $6.50 per pound or in small pies for $3.50 each. “If you didn’t know what it was, you’d think it was a rich chocolate pudding, almost a custard,” Morrone says. “We sell the sanguinaccio in a pastry or loose in a cup and you eat it with a spoon. It’s lick-the-bowl good.” 2349 Arthur Avenue, near East 186th Street, Little Italy in the Bronx
Ornella Trattoria Italiana
It’s tough to honor sanguinaccio when your restaurant is known for vegetarian fare and the blood pudding gets paired with, say, chestnut ravioli. So now, despite having it on the menu for $12, owner Giuseppe Viterale doesn’t promote it as he once did. “I’ve had so many complaints in the past, and I had to give free food because some vegan ate it and then got upset so asks for a free dinner. I’m sick and tired of that,” Viterale says. “So it’s only for me, some of my friends, and if you enjoy it and I know that, I give it for free, my friend.” 2917 23rd Avenue, between 29th and 31st streets, Astoria
Savarese Italian Pastry Shoppe
This thick sanguinaccio ($8 a pint) is packed with ingredients, including a surprise appearance of vanilla. The version here uses beef blood with a mix of sugar, milk, chocolate, starch, cinnamon, a little vanilla, pine nuts, and diced fruit. Owner Mario Giura says that in the 60s and 70s the 60-year-old bakery would sell 15 to 20 gallons of sanguinaccio, but today, he’ll sell two or three gallons at most. “Believe it or not, sometimes I don’t even want to do it no more, not because I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to make it and throw it away,” Giura says. “But we make it and we try to keep it alive.” 5922 New Utrecht Avenue, at 60th Street, Borough Park