Leave the gun, take the cannoli!
Many Italian-Americans grow up thinking the specialties prepared by their grandmothers are authentically Italian. Though certainly rooted in recipes from the “old country,” many were changed as immigrants adapted to their new home in America and to the ingredients they could find.
“It is the memories and experiences the Italian immigrants brought with them, coupled with the products they found, that developed into today’s Italian-American cuisine,” says renowned Italian chef and author, Lidia Bastianich.
Much of mainstream America was introduced to this immigrant culture through movies like “The Godfather.” This week’s menu highlights some of the most beloved dishes made famous by the movie.
This winery is an example of new vibrant winemaking in Sicily. It was founded in 2007 with the intent to showcase Sicily’s unique native varietals. This wine, with 70% Nerello Mascalese and 30% Nero d’Avola is bright ruby red with floral and spice notes. The medium-bodied palate shows candied fruit and tart berry flavors and makes the perfect complement to our menu this week – both in its taste profile as well as its Sicilian origins (like the Godfather!)
I was born a Russo, granddaughter of Gennaro and Amelia. They immigrated from southern Italy in the early 1900s to settle in Brooklyn, NY. The richest pockets of Italian Americans can be found in New York City and clustered in Long Island, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and in and around Philadelphia. 80% of Italian Americans are of southern Italian and Sicilian decent – making for a mangling of the language in an instantly identifiable way. Final syllables are deleted, consonants are swapped, vowels are mutated creating an almost unrecognizable new language. For example, mozzarella becomes “mutzadell,” prosciutto becomes “pruh-zhoot,” and ricotta becomes “ree-goat.”
Many Italian Americans (me included) grew up thinking the specialties prepared by their grandmothers were authentically Italian. Though certainly rooted in recipes from “the old country,” many were changed as immigrants adapted to their new home in America and to the ingredients they could find.
“It is the memories and experiences the Italian immigrants brought with them, coupled with the products they found that developed into today’s Italian American cuisine,” says renowned Italian chef and author, Lidia Bastianich.
Much of mainstream America was introduced to the Italian American immigrants’ cuisine through movies and TV. The release of “The Godfather” in 1972 was an insider’s look at the mafia and Italian American organized crime. The biggest scenes are played out across dining tables, in restaurants, kitchens and bars – the backdrop for many a family drama. It is as much a celebration of eating, drinking and how food and wine are integral to all our every day lives, as it is a story of the Corleone family throughout generations of crime, drama and murder.
One of the most famous scenes of Godfather I was Clemenza making dinner for the famiglia. “Hey, come over here, kid – learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday.” He then proceeds to reveal the secrets of his renowned tomato sauce or Sunday gravy…”little bit o’wine. An’a little bit o’sugar, and that’s my trick.”
My Nanny Russo passed down her recipe for meatballs and sausages that are fried and added to the sauce increasing the depth and complexity of flavors. It was a rite of passage for her Polish daughter-in-law and then for me to learn and successfully replicate this cherished recipe, which I share with you this week.
Antipasta salad doesn’t have a fixed recipe in NY. It can be found in almost every pizzeria to white tablecloth Italian restaurant. It seem to be a delicious combination of Italian delicacies including cold cuts, cheeses and marinated vegetables – tossed with a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and dried herbs (fresh herbs were usually hard to find in the New World.)
The garlic bread served here in the US is unrecognizable in Italy. It stems from bruschetta or fettunta, our Tuscan garlic bread simply rubbed with fresh garlic and EVOO. Here it is usually prepared on French or Italian bread with melted butter, garlic salt and parmesan cheese and toasted.
Cannoli are synonymous with Sicily and are the protagonists of one of most famous scenes in The Godfather. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli,” condenses much about the values expressed in the movie. Family comes before all, business is business, but food is important too. Cannoli originated in the Sicilian city of Palermo and became a symbol of fertility. Italian American bakeries are primarily judged on their cannoli – the epitome of delicious Italian pastries. Ours are dipped in chocolate and pistachios, another well-known Sicilian ingredient.
Enjoy our rendition of Italian American cuisine and maybe re-watch The Godfather along with your dinner to enrich the experience.