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
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
Italians love digestives and liqueurs. They are an acquired taste. So many of them have a licorice-like flavor. They are concoctions of herbs, plants and spices. Anisette is a liqueur made from the anise plant. It tastes like licorice. I’ve written about Strega before.
Frangelico is a hazelnut-flavored liqueur. I like its monk-shaped bottle.
I also like the Galliano bottle shaped like an Italian carabiniere, like my great-grandfather.
Of course, we still have the more familiar bottle, too, with its long, distinctive shape standing heads above the other liquor bottles on our buffet.
What is it used for? As a digestive after a big dinner or holiday dinner. It’s also used as a flavoring in coffee. You can also bake with them like the pane degli angeli cake with Strega recipe.
–Dina Di Maio
Wine is probably the drink most people associate with the Italian culture. While many cooking shows show wine being added to Italian food, e.g. tomato sauce/gravy, neither side of my family added wine to their cooking. My grandmother said Sicilians used Marsala in their cooking, which makes sense because it comes from there. But we didn’t. We drank wine that was made by someone in the family.
What is it used for? Wine is used for drinking and sometimes cooking. We drink wine (mostly red) with our Sunday dinner or a big meal. In summer, we cut up peaches and soak them in red wine for a snack/dessert.
–Dina Di Maio
Posted in Italian
Tagged Italian, wine
Pignoli are pine nuts. These are one of the lesser-known items in the Italian pantry. They come from the cones of a pine tree that grows in the Mediterranean. Most pine nuts available in the United States today come from China. The packaging must say that the pine nuts are from Italy to be Italian pine nuts. Italian pine nuts are depicted below. Chinese pine nuts tend to be shorter and fatter. Does this matter? Yes, it does. Apparently, the way some Chinese pine nuts are processed can cause a bitter taste that can last for weeks. While this news is a bit dated, I still avoid them.
What is it used for? Pignoli are used to make pignoli cookies, or pine nut cookies, a staple at any Italian bakery. (They are also used to make the famous Genovese dish, pesto sauce. However, pesto sauce was not part of our tradition, being Southern Italian.) We sometimes use them in meatballs or braciole. We also use them to decorate strufoli. Or you can just eat them as a snack like any other nuts.
–Dina Di Maio