Tag Archives: Italian

My Italian Grandmother Wasn’t a “Nonna,” and Yours Probably Wasn’t Either

 

“Nonna” is the Italian word for grandmother (“nonno” for grandfather). It is used whenever Italians speak of a grandmother figure, the woman sporting a bun, apron, perhaps rolling pin or wooden spoon and always in the kitchen cooking. I am Italian on both sides with grandparents from Italy. However, these words “nonna” and “nonno” are foreign to me.

 

                             Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

 

My grandmother was from a town just outside Naples. My grandfather was from a town about 30 minutes away in the mountains. We called grandma “anonn” and grandpa “unonn” pronounced like “ah-nun” and “oo-nun” in Neapolitan dialect. I imagine the words are similar or the same throughout the South of Italy.

 

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect. So the word “nonna” is from standard Italian. (I’ve written an article on Italian dialect here.) It is strange that even though the overwhelming majority of Italian immigrants were from Southern Italy, the words from the Northern Italian dialects are accepted without question.

 

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

 

You will see “nonna” in the media, and indeed, I have reluctantly used it in articles because that is the term used in contemporary media for grandparents. But in my heart and in my home, grandma and grandpa will always be anonn and unonn.

 

I wish my grandparents and great-grandparents were here, but I know they are smiling down on me. I know they are proud that, of all the books I could have written, in my 20+ career with a master’s in creative writing from NYU and a law degree, I chose to write their story, I chose to do the right thing, not the popular thing, not the marketable thing. And so it was, when I was deciding if I wanted to write a cookbook a number of years ago, that I started researching Italian food in more depth. Given my own personal experiences and those of my family along with the research I have done both here and in Italy, I could no longer remain silent to the maligning, so commonplace today that it has become inadvertent in many instances, of millions of people of their generation and their descendants. Since my book was published in March 2018, I see a zeitgeist of exploration of Italian-American history and culture in the popular media.

 

                            Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

And I can still see my anonn, even though she’s been dead over ten years, with her old wooden rolling pin, rolling out dough for struffoli and bows, or sitting at the kitchen table shaking some Brioschi onto a napkin for me to eat while she drank hers in a glass of fizzing water. I see her picking mint in the backyard near the white fence. I see her stirring a pot of tomato gravy on Sunday morning that in my memory’s eye seemed taller than her.

 

I hear her voice, in her optimistic way, saying “you never know.” Meaning, you never know, something good might happen. I miss these Yogi Berra-like idiomatic sayings of hers. From her, I learned to never show up empty-handed to someone’s house, or in her words, “with my hand’s hanging.” She made me laugh when she told nasty people to “go shit in a hat.” Another she always shared with me is “Check your dates.” She meant that, at the grocery store, I should always check the date on the food I buy to make sure it’s the freshest.

 

So as Mother’s Day is around the corner, I impart some of my anonn’s wisdom to you—never go anywhere with your hand’s hanging, you never know what may happen, the creeps can go shit in a hat, and always check your dates.

 

                                     Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

 

Image by Markéta Machová from Pixabay

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

 

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Italian Radish Leaf Salad

During the year, my grandma would buy radishes and add the radish leaves to her salad. Because there weren’t too many radish leaves, we kids would fight over them. That’s why Grandma would buy a lot of radishes during the Christmas holidays and make this radish salad.

Italian Radish Salad

As you can see from the photo, it is very easy to make. Just wash the radish leaves and place them out on a serving platter. Top them with the sliced radishes and maybe sliced olives or a roasted pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

–Dina Di Maio

North Carolina Zabaglione

Zabaglione is an Italian custard made from only eggs, not eggs and milk.* It comes from the Piedmont area of Italy, but I’m claiming it for the Piedmont of North Carolina. Why, you may ask? Well, it is a staple dessert of the Waldensian people from Northwestern Italy who settled the town of Valdese, North Carolina, 125 years ago. In Valdese, it is known as zabaione. I have made it even more North Carolina by using Raleigh, North Carolina’s own Oak City Amaretto, instead of the traditional wine.

North Carolina Zabaglione

1 dozen egg yolks from pasteurized eggs

1/3 cup superfine sugar

3 tablespoons (1 shot) Oak City Amaretto

amaretti cookies

In the top of a double boiler (off the heat) whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Add the amaretto and continue whisking until frothy. Fill the bottom of the double boiler with water and bring to a simmer or slight boil. Put the top pot in the double boiler and whisk vigorously for 3-4 minutes until the mixture looks like a smooth custard. There is a risk that you could get scrambled eggs, so you want to whisk continuously and with a strong arm. Serve immediately or slightly warm in sherbet glasses. Serve with amaretti cookies.

*I have seen some recipes that use milk as well, but most of the traditional and older recipes do not.

–Dina M. Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

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

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Forlini’s

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Forlini’s

Forlini’s has been serving Italian food since 1943. It is on Baxter Street below Canal in Chinatown. What newcomers to New York may not realize is that Little Italy used to be much larger, and there are remnants of it sprinkled throughout Soho, Nolita, Little Italy and Chinatown. (The houses my family moved to from Italy are on the part of Mulberry Street in Chinatown.) The restaurant’s menu says it serves Northern Italian cuisine, but it has a lot of Southern Italian cuisine as well. In addition to being a classic Italian restaurant, it is also a classic New York restaurant and a must for anyone wanting some NY nostalgia.

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Puglia

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Puglia

In 1919, Italian immigrant Gregorio Garofalo opened Puglia, named after the region in Italy where he was from. The restaurant used to serve Italian specialties like capozello (sheep’s head) and tripe, but now its menu includes more standard and popular Italian favorites. Puglia is known for its entertainment. It’s a good stop during the San Gennaro festival too.

San Remo Italian Imports in Totowa, NJ

San Remo Italian Imports in Totowa, New Jersey, is an Italian imports store owned by a friendly man from Italy that sells food and sundries, such as canned and jarred foods, cookies, candies, cakes, olive oil, vinegar, coffee– your essential items from Italy.  There are some kitchen items like bowls, platters and cheese graters.  The store also has some Italian greeting cards, movies, CDs, T-shirts and tchotchke from Italy like Italian horns, keychains, wooden Pinocchios and stickers.  One of the highlights of this store is that they sell Italian magazines, which are hard to find.  They have a good selection of tabloid-type, cooking and news magazines.