Most of the immigrants went to the cities. New York, Buffalo, Rochester and other cities in the State of New York received large contingents. It must be remembered that immigrants almost always came to join others who had preceded them – a husband, or a father, or an uncle or a friend. In western New York most of the first immigrants from Sicily went to Buffalo, so that from 1900 on, the thousands who followed them to this part of the state also landed in Buffalo. There they joined their friends and relatives who in many cases had purchased the tickets for their steerage passage to America. After they arrived, guided and assisted by relatives, they ventured out of the city of Buffalo, joined work gangs all over western New York to pick peas, beans and other crops and to work in the numerous canneries located in the small towns and villages. In their westward migration they first went to work on the farms in Brant, Angola and Farnham and also in the canneries at Farnham, Silver Creek, Irving and other places. Some of the men found work on the railroad. They moved from place to place and lived in freight cars. In this manner some of them reached as far as Westfield and settled there. The canneries there and the rich farm lands provided work for the whole family.

Source: CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY WESTFIELD, NY: August 1960.

Buffalo, New York

Approximately 1908

Canal Street was the name of a thoroughfare as well as a district in Buffalo in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally called Rock Street, Canal Street ran parallel to and just to the west of the famed Erie Canal at its terminus in Buffalo. The area had been the site of the original Village of Buffalo, near a Seneca Indian village on Buffalo Creek. The city eventually expanded outward from the waterfront location.

The Canal, completed in 1825, opened up the western United States to travelers and trade from the east coast. With it came a tremendous increase in Great Lakes freighter traffic at Buffalo Harbor and, with that, an influx of canal and freighter crewmen, who were often paid when they reached Buffalo and spent their pay freely in the bars and brothels that sprang up in the district, that was known at different times as “Canal Street”, “Five Points”, “the Flats” and “the Hooks”.

In the early 20th century, the district became the home of the Italian immigrants, mostly Sicilian. Canal Street’s name was changed to Dante Place and the neighborhood became known as “Little Italy.” Most of the bars and brothels gave way to three-and four-story brick tenements, each housing multiple families.

Alter the first wave of immigrants came, a larger wave from Abruzzi province in central Italy, from Calabria in the boot and more Sicilians from the Mediterranean island, arrived on the waterfront. The Italians extended their area up to Niagara Street and Front Park and down to Eagle and Chicago Street. Their traditional neighborhood had been the West Side, but they moved out past the city limits as early as 1900 and today are still scattered throughout the area. 

No fewer than five distincts emerged in Buffalo:

Newcomers from Sicily settled in a neighborhood called, The Hooks, close to Canal Street on the crowded Lower West Side.

Calabrians regrouped in South Buffalo.

The Campanese, who came from Naples, lived closer to downtown.

The Abruzzi, lived on East Delavan and immigrants from central southern Italy, the Campobassese, settled in the Lovejoy-William area.

Syracuse, New York

The “Bambinos” of Little Italy – Syracuse, New York in 1899

Little Italy in Syracuse, New York, is an area on the north side of the city where the early Italian immigrants settled. The neighborhood has been called Little Italy for years, but it was not until 2003 that the city officially designated it as such. The area is populated with Italian restaurants, some along North Salina Street, Little Italy’s main street.

St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church at 130 North State Street, c.1910

Italian immigrants first came to the area around Syracuse, New York in 1883 after providing labor for the construction of the West Shore Railroad. At first, they were quite transient and came and went, but eventually settled down on the Northside. By 1899, the Italian immigrants were living on the Northside of the city in the area centered around Pearl Street. The Italians all but supplanted the Germans in that area of the city and had their own business district along North State and North Salina Streets.

Early residents in the neighborhood worked for Learbury Suits, Nettleton Shoes and other Northside factories. The Columbus Baking Company has been a mainstay on Pearl Street for over a century. The bakery is family-owned and specializes in four types of bread. Thano’s Import Market, located on North Salina Street for over 90 years, sells Italian delicacies, such as aged provolone cheese, olives and homemade pasta.  

Syracuse Northside Produce Market, c.1900

By 1900, farmers gathered at the Northside Produce Market  and supplied fresh fruit and vegetables to local residents. Lombardi’s Fruits & Imports,created during this time, is another fixture on the Northside and carries hundreds of items imported directly from Italy.

Bronx, New York

Arthur Avenue pushcarts in 1940.

Arthur Avenue – what some call the “real Little Italy” is in the Bronx. Located in the Belmont section of the Bronx, Arthur Avenue was named after President Chester A. Arthur in the 19th century. Italians temporarily settled here to help build the Bronx Zoo, but with the creation of the Third Avenue elevated train, which ran between the Bronx and downtown Manhattan, their presence in the neighborhood remained and grew, with the population reached close to 100,000 Italian residents by the early 1900s.

The Bronx Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the world. In 1898, the City of New York allotted 250 acres of Bronx Park to the New York Zoological Society to build a park aimed at preserving native animals and promoting zoology. The Bronx Zoo opened in 1899 and remains one of the largest wildlife conservation parks in the United States, housing 4,000 animals representing more than 650 species. The Rockefeller Fountain, was built by Italian sculptor Biagio Catella in 1872, donated to the Zoological Society by William Rockefeller in 1903, and moved to its present spot in the zoo in 1910.

In the 1890s, Italian immigrants moved from lower Manhattan to the tenement buildings of the Bronx. They set up shops selling produce, pasta, cheese, salumi, bread, pastries and other products. Many of those establishments are still doing business today. The atmosphere of Italy is preserved on merchant lined Arthur Avenue and in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, established by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1940.

The Arthur Avenue Retail Market brings all the elements of the neighborhood together under one roof. For a meal to remember, head to Dominicks’s. This classic restaurant is loud, has no menu, no dessert and is consistently named the neighborhood’s favorite “red-sauce joint”. Not to worry dessert lovers, the neighborhood has an abundance of sweet treats at shops like Egidio Pastry, where desserts have been served since 1912.

Some Italian American Regional Favorites:

Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 14 large white mushrooms. each about 2 inches wide
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces Italian fennel sausage,casing removed
  • 1 cup finely chopped green peppers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons grated romano cheese
  • 3 large sweet vinegared cherry peppers, chopped

Directions:

Wipe the mushrooms clean and remove the stems. Set aside the 10 best and largest mushroom caps. Finely chop the remaining 4 mushroom caps and all the stems. Transfer them to a small bowl and set them aside.

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and cook it for 4 to 5 minutes or until it is nicely browned. As it cooks, break the sausage apart with a wooden spoon.

Add the green peppers, garlic and chopped mushroom, increase the heat to high and cook the mixture, stirring, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until it is browned and tender and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.

Add the bread crumbs and chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the cheese. Add the pickled peppers and remove the mixture from the heat.

Spread the mixture on a platter, allow it to cool slightly, and then transfer it to the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes or until it has cooled completely.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Stuff each of the reserved mushroom caps with 1 to 1½ tablespoons of the sausage mixture. Set the stuffed mushrooms in a casserole and drizzle them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake them for 15 to 20 minutes or until the mushroom caps are tender. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate, spoon any remaining pan juices over them, and serve.

Escarole Soup

Serves 8–10

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground lean beef
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, plus 1 clove, finely chopped
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced, plus 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 small bunch parsley , minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 large heads escarole, cored and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • Cooked white rice, for serving

Directions:

Mix beef, bread crumbs, parmesan and pecorino cheese,, seasoning, finely chopped garlic and onion, parsley , egg, salt and pepper in a bowl. Form into 30, 1 ½″ meatballs; chill.

Heat oil in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sliced garlic and onions; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add escarole; cook until wilted, about 6 minutes. Add stock; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Add meatballs; cook until meatballs are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice; top with more parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Fillet of Sole Oreganata

There are different kinds of sole, Dover sole, considered the best, is caught in the English channel and surrounding waters, imported, and sold in fish markets in America. It is expensive. The best domestic sole is called gray-sole, which is fairly abundant in the North Atlantic. Also distinctive in flavor is Lemon Sole. Flounder is also an option. 

 Ingredients:

  • 4-fillets of sole or flounder (6 oz each)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup of Chardonnay (or another dry white wine)
  • 1/2-cup of fish stock
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Oreganata Mixture:

  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4-cup of fine breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix oreganata ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In a 350-degree oven, bake fillets in a pan topped with lemon juice, wine, fish stock and salt and pepper for 10 minutes.

Place oreganata mixture over fillets and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown. Arrange fillets on a plate and serve with lemon wedges.

Dolce Torino

Serves: 6

This no-bake recipe comes from an Italian recipe written in 1891. Store-bought savoiardi ladyfinger cookies are dipped in liqueur, layered with chocolate and then refrigerated until firm.

Ingredients:

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk or 2 tablespoons egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters
  • 3½ ounces dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons sweet liqueur, such as Alchermes*
  • 12 savoiardi (crisp ladyfingers)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed pistachios or hazelnuts

Directions:

In a large bowl, using a whisk or electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar and egg yolk until very smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Put the chocolate and cream in a small bowl and melt chocolate, either in a microwave or over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Let chocolate mixture cool to room temperature, then stir it and the vanilla into the butter mixture. Set aside.

Combine 5 tablespoons warm water with the granulated sugar in a shallow bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the liqueur. Dip 4 of the savoiardi, one at a time, into the liquid. Be sure to moisten them well on all sides. Arrange the 4 liqueur-dipped savoiardi in a row, close together, on a serving plate. Spread with one third of the chocolate mixture. Repeat the dipping and layering to make 2 more layers, spreading the last layer of chocolate mixture on top and around the sides of the stacked savoiardi. Sprinkle top layer with pistachio or hazelnuts. Refrigerate for 3 hours, or until firm. Serve cold.

*Alchermes is a Mediterranean red colored liqueur made from brandy flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices. Use a cranberry liqueur as a substitute. Cranberry flavored liqueur popular brands: Godfreys or Boggs.

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