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.
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
Posted in America, Cheese, History, Italian, Local, North Carolina, Pasta, Pizza, Restaurant
Tagged Argentina, Authentic Italian, Brazil, catupiry, cheese, gnocchi, noqui, noquis, North Hills, Piola, pizza, Raleigh, Triangle, Uruguay
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
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.
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
Posted in Candy, Italian
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
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
Posted in America, Italian, Local, North Carolina
Tagged amaretto, Anthony Scalabrino, Apex, Arlton Cangelosi, Barone Meatball Truck, Ben Tuorto, Benny T's Vesta, Bloody Mary, Charleston Bloody Mary Mix, Charleston Mix, Durham, food truck, hot dry sauce, Italian American, meatball, meatballs, Melina's Fresh Pasta, Mr. A's Beignets, Neal McTighe, Nellino's Sauce Co., North Carolina, Oak City Amaretto, pasta sauce, Raleigh, Raleigh/Durham, ravioli, Ryan Eleuteri, South Carolina, Stephen Dewey
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
Peaches in wine is a simple snack or dessert that we Italians serve during summer when peaches are in season. It’s very easy to do. I take organic peaches, washed and sliced (pits thrown away). I use a food-safe glass container to soak my peaches in wine, but you can use a pitcher or bowl too. You can also slice only one peach if it’s just for you, but we do a bunch and let them soak. I prefer to use Chianti or another red wine, but you can use any wine you’d like. I keep the container in the refrigerator and eat them as a snack until they are gone.
Peaches in Wine
8 small organic peaches or 6 larger organic peaches
1- 1 1/2 bottles Chianti or red wine, enough to cover peaches
food-safe glass storage container or pitcher
Wash and slice peaches, throwing pits away. Put peaches in clean glass jar and cover with wine. Cover container. Refrigerate–usually for a few hours to a day and then enjoy!
–Dina Di Maio