Some South American Italian in the Triangle at Piola

When Italians settled in the United States about 100 years ago, some also settled in South America, especially Argentina. However, a critical difference is that the majority of Italian immigrants to the United States were from Southern Italy and the majority to South America were from Northern Italy. So the Italian food in both areas reflects that. I write about Italian food in South America and around the globe in my new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com.

Authentic Italian

One of the things I write about in the book is catupiry cheese, a soft cheese that tastes like a cross between ricotta and velvety burrata. Catupiry cheese was created in 1911 by a Brazilian Italian named Mario Silvestrini. For the most part, it is used in the same way we use cream cheese. However, it is different from cream cheese. It is also used on pizza and you can try it in the Triangle at Piola in North Hills in Raleigh. Piola is an Italian pizza chain from Treviso (near Venice in Northeastern Italy) with locations in Italy, South America and Raleigh.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

Another interesting South American Italian tradition that I mention in my book is eating ñoqui/ñoquis, or gnocchi, on the 29th of the month. Piola highlights this tradition. While Southern Italians eat gnocchi as well, it is associated more with Northern Italian cuisine, and that is probably why it is more popular in South American countries with Italian populations, like Argentina and Uruguay.

Gnocchi Legnano from Piola

–Dina Di Maio

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South Jersey–Italian Since the Civil War and Host to America’s Longest Running Italian Festival

South Jersey looks a lot like rural North Carolina farm country. I know it’s not, though, because instead of shack-like stores on the side of the two-lane roads selling barbecue, they sell ravioli. Instead of large crosses and “Thank you, Jesus” signs, there are monuments to Padre Pio. It is otherworldly to me, a parallel universe where the Italians took over the Heartland of America. I mean, what says it more than the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a John Deere?

Hammonton, New Jersey, was settled by Italian immigrants during the American Civil War. The community was started by one Sicilian immigrant who encouraged others to come. They did, establishing farms, and their descendants now grow Jersey’s famed tomatoes, blueberries and peaches. Each July, Hammonton also hosts the longest running Italian festival in the U.S., the Our Lady of Mount Carmel festival that celebrates the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16. In its 143rd year, the festival runs from July 9-16. There’s plenty of Italian food, and this is probably the one place in America where you can get broccoli rabe added to your sandwich.

The highlight for me is the procession of the statues in front of Saint Joseph’s Church.

If you donate a dollar, you get a prayer card of the saint that is passing by.

If you travel to the area, don’t forget to visit Penza’s Pies for blueberry pie or Bagliani’s Italian Market for Italian products.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People

The Italian Pantry: Candied Fruit

Candied citron can be found in the grocery store or an Italian grocery store at Easter time. Sometimes, you can find it during the Christmas holiday too. Italians also use candied orange peel in their baked goods.

Chopped citron

What is it used for? Candied citron and/or candied fruit is used in baked goods. We use it in the Neapolitan pastiera, or wheat pie for Easter. It is also used in the sfogliatelle filling and the filling for St. Joseph’s Day zeppole and sfinge/sfinci. It’s an ingredient in the sanguinaccio, or chocolate pig’s blood pudding.

–Dina Di Maio

Dina’s 10 Favorite Things About Summer in NYC

Rounding out my year of NYC, here’s my list of favorite things in NYC in the summer. Oh, yes, this is the time of year when New Yorkers head for the beach and leave town while the tourists come in droves. But, like every season in New York, there are so many great things to do that I could never understand why anyone would want to leave. Sure, walking around is like being in a sauna, but it’s also a season for…

  1. Ice cream! Ice cream is great any time of the year but its peak is summer. And New York has a wide variety of ice cream styles to choose from–gelato, paletas, ice cream, frozen fruit, snow cream, shaved ice…the list is endless.

    ice cream

  2. A short subway ride to the beach…. I know there are some New Yorkers who don’t want to set foot in Coney Island or Brighton Beach. I don’t know why! They are close by and in my opinion, a fun day at the beach. You can walk the boardwalk from one to the other. It feels like a vacation from the city, and the best part is it’s so darn close! 
  3. Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks–The best fireworks show ever! Best seen from the roof of an apartment building like at mine!
  4. The Giglio festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in July–this is one of the best Italian festivals in the United States. It was first celebrated in Williamsburg in 1903 by the immigrants from Nola, Italy, in honor of their patron saint, San Paolino. The highlight of the Giglio festival is the lift of the 4-ton tower by a group dedicated to keeping the tradition alive. 
  5. Manhattanhenge–On two days a year, you can see the sun set on a street that runs east-west. 
  6. Outdoor movies–nothing like seeing movies on the big screen with the Big Apple (or New Jersey) in the background! 
  7. NYC Restaurant Week–Time to visit all those restaurants you didn’t get to in January!
  8. Being outside at one of the parks like Central Park, the High Line or Governors Island.
  9. Taking a sightseeing cruise around the island or a trip on the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
  10. The Hoboken Italian Festival–This festival is at the tail end of summer and a fun day trip from the city.

The Italian Pantry: Ricotta and Mozzarella

Ricotta and mozzarella are staples not in the Italian pantry but in the Italian refrigerator! But they are essential items, so I had to acknowledge them. These days, it is very hard to find quality ricotta and mozzarella. What you find in the average grocery store just doesn’t cut it. Ricotta should be thicker and creamy. It should be made from whole milk and not have gums. Mozzarella should be made from whole milk too. Ricotta that is done the old-fashioned way comes in these tins, like the one pictured below. If you can’t get it from an Italian grocer, then I would opt for one that doesn’t have gums.

What is it used for? What isn’t it used for? The obvious answer is lasagna, maybe. Ricotta is also served with pasta like fusilli or rigatoni. We also use ricotta in the stuffing for ravioli, manicotti and stuffed shells. We use it as part of the filling for calzones or in the Neapolitan savory pie, pizza chiena. It is also used in desserts like in the cannoli filling, in the filling for St. Joseph’s Day sfinci/sfinge, in the Neapolitan pastiera, or in ricotta cheesecake. Mozzarella is also used to make baked macaroni like ziti or lasagna. It’s an ingredient in the pizza chiena. Sometimes we eat mozzarella fresh with some tomato and basil. Or have it in the summer tomato salad. Or just eat it on its own, or as part of an antipasto platter.

–Dina Di Maio

7 Italian American-Owned Food Businesses in the Carolinas

Here is a list of some of my favorite local food products and food trucks in North Carolina and South Carolina owned by Italian Americans.

Nellino’s Sauce Co.–A pasta sauce company started in Raleigh, North Carolina, by Italian-American Neal McTighe based on his mother’s and great-grandmother’s recipes for classic sauces like marinara or tomato and basil made with good ingredients.

 

Melina’s Fresh Pasta–Italian-American owner Carmella makes classic fresh pastas like spaghetti and linguine as well as many creative ravioli like roasted red pepper & feta or goat cheese & honey. There’s even the pimento cheese ravioli. She also teaches pasta making classes in Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

Barone Meatball Company–Serving up classic Italian meatballs as well as fun creations like buffalo chicken meatballs and vegetarian ricotta balls. Owned by Italian-American Stephen Dewey, based in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

Oak City Amaretto–An Italian-American amaretto made by Italian-American Anthony Scalabrino from a recipe inspired by his grandmother’s homemade amaretto, made in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

Benny T’s Vesta–The first dry hot sauce available in five grades of heat made from a variety of fresh chile peppers grown in North Carolina, created by Italian-American chile enthusiast Ben Tuorto.

 

Charleston Bloody Mary Mix–A bloody Mary mix made by Italian-American Ryan Eleuteri that has all good ingredients and no horseradish–its distinctive flavor comes from a habanero mash, made in Charleston, South Carolina, found throughout the East Coast and Midwest.

 

Mr. A’s Beignets–A food truck serving delicious beignets and coffee with chicory New Orleans style in Apex, North Carolina, owned by Italian-American Arlton Cangelosi.

 

All photos in this article were used with permission of their respective owners.

–Dina Di Maio

The Italian Pantry: Orange Blossom Water

Orange blossom water is a flavoring added to baked goods. You can find orange blossom water or aroma fior d’arancio at an Italian specialty grocery or at a Middle Eastern or Lebanese market.


What is it used for? Italians use this in baked goods. For example, in the Neapolitan pastiera or in the Easter rice pie. It’s also used as a flavoring in fillings for pastries like sfogliatelle.

–Dina Di Maio