The Port of Erie, PA

Many of the Italians who came to Erie worked for the railroad. Little Italy’s boundaries at that time were along the New York Central and the Nickel Plate tracks. Others worked in the factories that grew up near the railroads and they built their homes in the same area. They worked many hours and labored hard. Some of the factories they worked in were Erie Forge and Steel, Griffin Manufacturing Company, Superior Bronze and Continental Rubber.

By 1911 there were about 3,000 Italians living in Erie. Little Italy had grown to include nine city blocks, from Huron Street south to West 17th Street and from Chestnut to Poplar. In 1920 the population was estimated at about 8,000 Italians and, from 1920 to 1940, the population expanded and spread southward. Prominent among the family names of the old Italian settlers in Erie were Fatica, Yacobozzi, Palmisano, Scolio and Minadeo.

Much of the social life of Italian-Americans in Erie centered around St. Paul’s Church. It served the immigrants and their children from baptism to death, while meeting their religious needs. The church also functioned as the social center of the Italian community, a function it still maintains. Because of the cultural and language barriers, the immigrants established their own social organizations within their neighborhoods. In 1907 the first social organization was La Nuova Aurora Club. Here the Italians met with their friends, played bocce and morra (a hand game) and drank a few beers. Eventually, these activities expanded into social and civic clubs for Italian-Americans.

After World War II, the first and second generation Italian-Americans returned home after serving their country and gave thought to their future. They went to the nearby colleges and universities to become eligible for professional positions. Others went on to trade schools with the same ambitions for better job opportunities. By 1960 a large Italian settlement was established outside of the city in Millcreek, however, by 1970 many of the second and third generation Italians were gone from Erie’s Little Italy.

This past January the doors were locked and the shelves were bare at Arnone’s Bakery and Italian Deli, an institution in the Little Italy section of Erie since the mid-50’s. 

Pittsburgh

Almost every large city in North America has one. In western Pennsylvania there are enclaves of Italians in every community from New Castle in Lawrence County; Monaca, Aliquippa and Ambridge in Beaver County; Coraopolis, McKees Rocks, Oakland and Morningside in Allegheny County; New Kensington and Vandergrift in Westmorland County; and Canonsburg and Cecil in Washington County. In the Pittsburgh district, the official “Little Italy” is located in Bloomfield !

Bloomfield is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh that is located three miles from the Golden Triangle, which is the city’s center. Pittsburgh architectural historian, Franklin Toker, has said that Bloomfield “is a feast, as rich to the eyes as the homemade tortellini and cannoli in its shop windows are to the stomach”. In the early 1900s, Italian immigrants settled in Bloomfield, drawn to the area by jobs in the steel mills and on the railroads. As the Italian population increased, businesses providing Italian products and services began to line the streets. A church, along with restaurants, bakeries, markets and other shops added to the culture of the neighborhood creating its Italian atmosphere. While the area is more culturally diversified today, it still has a large Italian American population.

Various Italian and Italian American associations help keep the culture alive and the Heinz History Center includes an extensive collection of Italian American artifacts representing Western Pennsylvania’s Italian Americans. Little Italy Days, held each September, adds to the neighborhood’s character, drawing crowds of more than 20,000 with Italian food, merchandise, music, entertainment, games and a Madonna della Civita procession. In October, the Columbus Day Parade is one of the country’s largest.

Red, white and green parking meters attest to the fact that Bloomfield is “Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.” In fact the neighborhood’s Italian roots reach back more than five generations. Its colorful mix of shops and restaurants attracts thousands of visitors from throughout the Pittsburgh region. The business district along Liberty Avenue puts most of life’s necessities and several luxuries within an easy walk for Bloomfield residents.

Strolling down Liberty Avenue and meandering off on side streets, there is a distinctly European ambiance coupled with small-town America friendliness. Groceria Italiana (237 Cedarville St.) opened almost 50 years ago and continues to draw crowds with its 14 varieties of handmade ravioli and rich ricotta-stuffed pastries.

Fresh Tuscan bread at Groceria Italiana.

Donatelli’s Italian Food Center (4711 Liberty Ave.) is another neighborhood favorite founded by Frank Donatelli in 1932 and now run by his son who continues the tradition of passionately providing the freshest Italian prepared foods and imports in town, including bottles of Grandma Donatelli’s sauce.

Meats, cheeses, bread and olives are on display at Donatelli’s Italian Foods in Bloomfield.

Down the road, a second generation of brothers, Alex and John, run their father’s (and uncle’s) Sanchioli Brother’s Bakery (4731 Juniper St.), which provides many of the restaurants in the area with their famous onion bread. Sanchioli’s has been in this location since 1922. “I started bagging bread here when I was little,” says Alex Sanchioli, part owner of the shop for a quarter century, who has seen changes over the years. “ Yet some things remain the same,” he says. “We’ve always gotten the old Italians from the neighborhood. Now, their kids come in.” Sanchioli’s makes bread, buns and pizza shells for most of the eateries in the area. Many of them have been around almost as long as the bakery.

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Del’s Liberty Ave Bloomfield-1970

Del’s Bar and Ristorante Del Pizzo (4428 Liberty Ave.) was founded by Grandpa and Grandma Del Pizzo, who came to Bloomfield in 1908 and opened a small grocery store and, a few years later, they changed the business into a small restaurant they called the Meadow Grill. For more than two decades, it was a Pittsburgh landmark. Customers came from all over for the delicious housemade food, including sandwiches, pasta dishes, and Pittsburgh’s first wood-fired oven pizza. When they sold the Meadow Grill in 1949, Dino and Bob, their sons, carried the family tradition and opened Del’s,on Liberty Ave, in the heart of Bloomfield. They continue to supply Bloomfield with Italian American classics, like veal scaloppini and they have also begun a historical renovation. So far, the exterior has been rebuilt to reflect Bloomfield’s architectural history, and they have expanded and remodeled the bar in a style that recaptures the feel of the original Meadow Grill. The restoration project will continue for the next several years.

Newcomers

Since its opening in November, Stagioni has been the talk of the town or in this case, critics and foodies alike. The menu is described as “elegantly conceived” with dishes like beef short ribs braised in Chianti and balsamic vinegar and a vegetarian dish of acorn squash risotto with walnuts, sage and chestnut honey, that was described by the reviewers as “a masterful combination of flavors and textures — sweet, earthy and herbal”.

Domenico Aliberto’s, Café Roma, could easily be the first place you think of for a plate of linguine with New Zealand mussels sauteed in tomatoes, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. Specials often include: gnocchi with fresh tomato and basil; chicken with spicy lemon sauce; rigatoni with artichokes in a light-red sauce and eggplant parmesan. “I cook when you order,” stresses chef/owner Domenico Aliberto. “It’s like buying the groceries and eating in your own house, only I make the pasta fresh,” he says. Even the soups – including Tuscan-style white bean and cream of butternut squash – are made in small quantities intended for one night’s consumption only. The chef’s special, Sicilian lasagna, is made with soft noodles from semolina instead of flour “already al dente because I make them myself,” Aliberto notes.

Lidia’s Pittsburgh opened in March of 2001, only two years after Lidia Bastianich and her son Joseph Bastianich opened the popular Lidia’s Kansas City, their first venture outside of Manhattan. Well known architect, David Rockwell, designed the interior to reflect an open-warehouse atmosphere and the restaurant is located in the heart of the Bloomfield strip district. The menu features a daily pasta tasting with homemade pastas that incorporate seasonal ingredients in addition to hearty Italian favorites, such as a braised Heritage Pork Shank with barley risotto.

Bloomfield’s Little Italy Inspired Cuisine

The Primanti Brothers opened their restaurant in Pittsburgh in the 1920s. Their idea was to create an eating place that offered simple but tasty food. The Primanti Sandwich was the result — it’s a whole meal in each bite. Ham, french fries, tomato, provolone cheese and coleslaw are stuffed between two slices of Italian bread and served on wax paper. 

FYI: The Washington Post did a nuitritional analysis of the sandwich and here it is: 775 calories, 33g fat, 10g saturated fat, 48mg cholesterol, 1729mg sodium, 87g carbohydrates, 6g dietary fiber, 17g sugar, 34g protein.

Primanti Brothers Sandwiches

 8 servings

Ingredients:

For the slaw

  • 1 pound (about half of a medium-size head) green cabbage, shredded or finely chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the twice-fried potatoes

  • 6 to 8 large (4 to 5 pounds) russet potatoes, washed well
  • 8 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • Kosher salt

For the meat and cheese

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds spicy, thinly sliced capicola ham
  • 8 thin slices provolone cheese (about 5 ounces)

For assembly

  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 16 thin slices
  • 16 large slices of soft Italian bread (18 ounces total)

Directions:

For the slaw: Combine the cabbage, sugar, salt and celery seed in a colander set over a medium bowl. Let stand at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours; the cabbage will be wilted (about 4 cups total).

Discard the draining liquid in the bowl; rinse and dry the bowl, then transfer the wilted cabbage to the bowl. Add the oil and vinegar; toss to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the twice-fried potatoes: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a few large baking sheets with several layers of paper towels. Fill a large bowl with cold water.

Cut the (unpeeled) potatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks. Submerge in the cold water. Rinse in subsequent changes of cold water to remove all visible starch, then drain in a colander and spread the potatoes on the paper towels, patting the potatoes dry.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, until the oil temperature reaches 320 degrees F.

Fry the potatoes in 4 batches; each batch will take 2 to 4 minutes. Stir occasionally as they cook, until the fries are soft and cooked through but still pale. Allow enough time for the oil to return to 320 degrees F. between batches; use an instant-read thermometer to monitor the oil. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the potatoes to the lined baking sheets.

Increase the heat to high (or as needed) so that the temperature of the oil reaches 375 degrees. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Refresh the paper towels on the baking sheets as needed.

Cook the fries a second time, working in 4 batches; each batch will take 2 to 3 miinutes, until the fries are crisp and golden brown. Transfer to the lined baking sheets. Immediately season lightly with salt, then place in the oven to keep the fries warm.

For the meat and cheese: Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Have ready a large baking sheet.

Separate the ham slices and add to the skillet, turning them as needed until the slices are warmed through. Transfer the slices to the baking sheet, creating 8 equal portions. Top each with a slice of provolone cheese. Place in the oven (along with the fries) just until the cheese has melted.

For assembly: Place the portions of cheese-topped ham on 8 bread slices. Top with a large handful of the warm fries, then pile about 1/2 cup of the slaw on each portion. Garnish with 2 tomato slices for each portion; use the remaining 8 pieces of bread to finish each sandwich. Serve warm.

Fettuccine with Mafalda Sauce

Serves: 6

This dish is served at Del’s Bar & Ristorante DelPizzo, on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh. This tomato and cream sauce is served on a variety of pasta shapes.

 Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 3 cups Marinara sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • ½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

 Directions:

To make the marinara sauce, see post https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Bring the marinara to a simmer in a large skillet. Stir in the heavy cream, bring back to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the fettuccine to the boiling water. When the pasta is al dente and the sauce is ready, drain the pasta and place it directly into the sauce. Add the shredded basil, then toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Remove from heat, stir in the grated cheese and serve immediately.

Braised Short Ribs

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs short ribs of beef, trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups finely chopped red onions
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 1 cup Chianti red wine
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups chopped plum tomatoes 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Over medium-high temperature, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven.

Season the ribs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Brown half the ribs in the heated pan, about 8 minutes, until browned; remove from pan.

Repeat with the remaining oil and ribs.

Add the finely chopped onion to the pan and saute until lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Add the minced garlic and saute for 1 minute.

Add the browned ribs back into the pan, then add the broth, wine, vinegar, brown sugar and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.

Cover pan, transfer to the oven and bake at 300°F for 90 minutes or until tender.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then transfer pan to refrigerator and let chill for 8 hours or overnight.

After chilling, skim the solidified fat from the surface of the broth mixture and discard fat.

Over medium heat on the stove, cook the ribs in the Dutch oven for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and serve with potato gnocchi.

Seafood Risotto

For the seafood

  • 2 lbs calamari cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 12 large sea scallop, cut in half
  • 12 shrimp, cut in half
  • 3 chopped plum tomatoes

For the risotto

  • 1 small sweet onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 oz carnaroli rice
  • 1/4 cup half & half
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • chopped parsley
  • 1/2 gallon of vegetable stock or chicken stock or clam juice

Directions:

Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan and add the onions.

Cook, stirring continuously, on medium until they become translucent.

Add the rice and keep stirring on low until the rice is toasted and also becomes translucent.

Heat the stock in a saucepan and keep it simmering while you prepare the risotto.

Add stock to the rice, 8 liquid ounces at a time (depending on the rice, the process should be repeated as the rice absorbs the liquid, 4 to 5 times). total time about 18 minutes.

When the rice reaches the al dente stage, add 4 oz of stock, the seafood, chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes  more or until seafood is cooked.

Remove from heat, add butter, half & half, cheese and parsley.

Place in serving dishes and drizzle with a good extra virgin olive oil

Number of servings: 6

Italian Cream Puffs

 Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour

Filling

  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta (drained)
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • Chopped candied orange peel
  • Chopped chocolate pieces or mini chips

Pastry:

Bring water to a boil. Add the oil and salt. Add the flour all at once and stir until it forms a ball. Remove from the heat.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each egg is incorporated before adding the next.

Drop dough by teaspoon or tablespoon (depending on desired size) onto a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 450 degrees F. for 15 minutes.

Lower heat to 350 degrees F. and cook until golden-brown. Remove from the oven and cut a slit into the side of each puff to release steam.

Filling:

Drain the ricotta in a fine strainer overnight in the refrigerator. Beat the ricotta with the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and rum until creamy. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more. Add the chopped candied orange peel and chocolate pieces just beforw assembly.

Assembly:

When the puffs are completely cool, fill with cream and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

 

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