At the turn of the century, SW Portland had an Italian business district, culture and neighborhood. The district remained intact until 1961, when it was abolished due an urban renewal. The city lost not just a thriving business district but a vibrant community as well. There is a movement within the community to restore “Little Italy”. The dream is to recreate an Italian district, with a mixed-use area that will include retail shops, restaurants, residential housing and a cultural center that will renew a familiar way of life for resident and visiting Italians, while inviting the local Portland community to share in the vitality of the Italian culture.
Much of the history of the Italians in Portland has been recorded by the Oregon Historical Society:
In the late 1800’s Italians emigrated to Portland to build a better life. Their desire was to create new opportunities for themselves and their families. As the Italian population increased, it was a natural course of events that a “Little Italy” in Portland developed. It was between 1900 and 1910, however, that Portland saw the largest growth in the city’s Italian American population.
In 1900, the Italian immigrant population stood at just over 1,000 residents and by 1910, that number had increased to more than 5,000 residents. Italians first settled on the southwest edge of Portland near Marquam Gulch and later in northeast Portland.
The first Italian Boarding House was located on Front Ave. and new immigrants coming into Portland were directed to Garibaldi’s Market to find work on the railroads and in other trades. Italian immigrants worked in a wide array of professions. Many hundreds of Italian immigrants worked in Portland’s extensive railroad yards or served as street graders or built and maintained roads throughout the city. Italian entrepreneurs, like Francesco Arata, established shops and restaurants in Italian neighborhoods on both the west and east sides of the Willamette River. Almost 1,300 Italians lived and worked on the east side of the Willamette River. They rented land and grew vegetables and berries, while other families operated truck farms that sold produce to individuals and businesses across the city.
Portland Italians increased and spread to the East side of the river. With approximately 30,000 Italians in the Portland area, activities were numerous. Social clubs, raising funds for local causes, festivals and many celebrations were all part of the culture. In 1921, money was raised through shares to build the Italian Federation Building. This was a culture center for socials, community events and a place for newcomers to become familiar with Portland. Family was important and church was where families stayed connected. St Michael’s Church, still located on Fourth and SW Mill, was known as the “Italian Church.” The church also included an elementary school. Several Italian newspapers were in print and they were popular, as this was the way many immigrants could stay abreast of current events.
In the 1980’s another flow of Italian immigrants arrived in Portland, bringing new life. Along with long time Italian residents and their children, the new wave of immigrants created a resurgence of Italian vitality! Activities have come alive again, such as the annual “Festa Italiana” that draws over 100,000 people in Pioneer Square. Clubs, restaurants, bocce tournaments, Italian radio and conversations, now thrive. Italian business continues to develop, with the most recent success being the Bologna Sister City alliance. This alliance intends to build economic trade between both countries.
The Portland-Bologna Sister City Association (PBSCA) was founded in 2003 by a group of interested citizens in Portland to establish a formal relationship with Bologna, Italy.
The goal of this group is to bring citizens together out of their love, interest and ties to Italy and to create a formal relationship with Bologna. At first glance there are many things that these two cities have in common, from central urban universities to a genuine concern for sustainability and to a citizenry that holds a vivid love for life, family and food. Bologna is best known for its food – undeniably the richest in the country – and for its politics.
Italian Food of Portland
Portland seems to have an affinity for linking Italian culture, food and history together.
Basta Trattoria (on 21st Street in Portland) holds a quarterly Historical Dinner Series with exploration into “The Advent of Italian-American Cuisine,” specifically focusing on the impact that Italian immigrants have had on American food and vice versa. Portland Monthly food writer and food history enthusiast, Allison Jones, co-hosted a recent historical dinner alongside Basta Chef/Owner Marco Frattaroli.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how food and cooking customs create a window into history and it has been exciting to see that so many others share my curiosity,” says Frattaroli, referring to the popularity of past historical dinners at the restaurant that quickly sold out.
Frattaroli launched the Historical Dinner Series with three dinners in the Fall 2011 as a way to explore Italian cuisine through the lens of history. This year, the restaurant is planning a quarterly series that offers one dinner per season. At each dinner, a guest speaker will share his/her expertise on a relevant subject. Meanwhile, Chef Frattaroli prepares a family-style feast that features dishes from the historic era for guests in Basta’s private dining room.
A Great Find!
This book, buried deep in a box, was shabby and coverless, tucked inside a worn zip-top plastic bag. A closer look revealed black Italian script on thick, fragile paper. It was an 1809 edition of “The Chef From Macerata” (“Il Cuoco Maceratese”) by Antonio Nebbia, among the first cookbooks ever written in Italy. Pellegrino Artusi’s distinguished book on Italian cooking, “The Art of Eating Well,” wouldn’t come along until 1881.
In Stefania Toscano’s rush to leave Italy for Portland two years ago, she hadn’t seen it among her late aunt’s possessions, which she had hastily packed and shipped to Oregon. In many ways, it made sense, because her aunt kept an enormous library with thousands of culinary books in her home in Florence. She was an accomplished, passionate cook who would take an entire day to make her special pizza.
Reed College confirmed the rarity of the find and after searching a database of more than 42,000 libraries in the world, found only three identical copies with only one in the United States. Toscano said. “You have a piece of history in your hands.” The next step, of course, was to digest the content. As much is it is a collection of recipes from two centuries ago, this cookbook could be a history lesson, reflecting culinary influences in central Italy during the late 18th century, when this revised edition was first printed. The University of Oregon’s Nicola Camerlenghi, an Italian-born assistant professor of art history, was called in for an analysis. She commented that the mere fact that recipes were even written down and published reflected the region’s growing economic prosperity and the emergence of an upper-middle class, who were employing cooks who needed information.
The recipes don’t have ingredient lists, but they call for specific measurements. “There is an order, steps 1, 2, 3 and 4,” Camerlenghi says. “It’s something Nebbia accepts from the French and brings (to Italy) as an innovation.” The author, also, introduces French-style sauces and he recommends using butter, even in pasta. As important as what is in the book is what’s not. You see no mention of tomatoes or potatoes. It took years after the tomato’s arrival in Europe from the New World for it to be considered edible.
You see recipes for first courses of pasta, gnocchi (made without potatoes) and rice, and in particular, the technique of soaking rice in cold water before sautéing it — a groundbreaking contribution to the refinement of risotto Milanese, Toscano says. There is celery and spinach soup and squash parmigiana.
Some of the flavors are surprisingly familiar, Toscano says. Others dishes have just disappeared, such as a pan sauté of tuna, boiled celery, a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a slurry of flour and water. The combination sounds humble today, but celery was considered an aphrodisiac, says Toscano, who liked the dish so much she made it for a private dinner. Ultimately, this “grandfather of all Italian cookbooks,” as Toscano refers to it, has given her much to savor. (source: Oregon Live)
Recipe From Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana in Portland
It’s not the awards or the notoriety that fuels the fire for Chef/Restaurateur Cathy Whims. It’s the quest to offer historically-based, authentic dishes that celebrate a sense of place and a local producer’s passion that keep this beloved Portland culinary treasure at the stove. She and her partner, David West, opened Nostrana in 2005 and quickly earned The Oregonian’s coveted designation as Best Restaurant of the Year. Nostrana is an Italian road-house in Southeast Portland serving classical and inventive seasonal dishes reflective of Cathy’s close, personal relationships with Northwest farmers
- 0.2 ounces malt
- 13.6 ounces water, 65ºF
- 2 ounces fresh yeast starter
- 20 ounces Shepherd’s Grain enriched unbleached high gluten strength flour
- 0.4 ounces salt
- 2 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes, drained
- 2 fresh mozzarella, cow milk or buffalo, sliced
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small bunch basil, cleaned and dried
For the Pizza Dough:
Dissolve the malt in water with a whisk. In standing mixer with dough hook attachment, add the starter, flour and salt. Mix on low speed for approximately 4 minutes, or until everything is combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on high speed for approximately 2 to 4 minutes. Dough should be smooth on the surface, but not shiny. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, divide the dough into 4 pieces and round into 8-ounce balls. Let them rest at room temperature for 2 hours. Then use or refrigerate for later use.
For the Topping:
Preheat oven with a pizza stone to 550ºF. Crush the tomatoes by hand to release the inside juices. Purée in a food processor and season with salt. Drain the mozzarella balls, pat dry with a towel and slice into 1/2-inch slices. Spread the tomato purée over the pizza up to 2 inches from the edges. Put the mozzarella slices on the pizza. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake on pizza stone until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with basil leaves.
The food cart Lardo in Portland, Oregon serves this roasted pork with hazelnut gremolata and lemon-caper aïoli on ciabatta buns.
FOR THE PORK:
- 1/2 cup lightly packed rosemary leaves
- 1/2 cup lightly packed sage leaves
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 2 ½ tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon crushed red chile flakes
- 14 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 (6–7-lb.) skin-on pork shoulder, butterflied
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 8 ciabatta buns, split
FOR THE GREMOLATA AND AÏOLI:
- 1 1/3 cups olive oil
- 1 cup lightly packed parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
- 5 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
- 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
- Zest and juice of 2 lemons
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 egg yolks
Make the pork:
Heat oven to 325°F. Combine rosemary, sage, 1/4 cup oil, fennel seeds, pepper, chile flakes and garlic in a food processor. Process until a smooth paste forms. Unfold pork shoulder, skin-side down, on a cutting board, season with salt and spread evenly with herb paste; roll up shoulder, tie with kitchen twine at 1″ intervals along length of shoulder and rub with remaining oil. Transfer to a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, season with salt and cover with foil; bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the pork reads 150°F, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Uncover and heat broiler to high; broil pork until skin is browned and crisp and internal temperature reads 165°F, about 15 minutes more. Let rest for at least 30 minutes.
Make the gremolata:
Combine 1/3 cup olive oil, parsley, hazelnuts, 1 tablespoon capers, hazelnut oil, shallot and zest and juice of 1 lemon in a food processor. Process until a combined, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
For the aïoli:
Whisk remaining capers, 2 tablespoons lemon juice (reserve remaining juice and zest for another use), egg yolks and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl until smooth. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in remaining 1 cup oil until sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Spread aïoli on tops of ciabatta buns and gremolata on bottoms of buns. Thinly slice pork shoulder and divide among buns.
Spaghetti with Red Onion and Bacon
Traditional pasta gets an upgrade from Jenn Louis, chef-owner of Lincoln Restaurant in Portland with the addition of smoky, salty bacon and zesty red onion.
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 1/4 pounds bacon, chopped
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 can (28-ounce) whole peeled tomatoes, puréed and strained
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook bacon until tender, about 5 minutes. Add red onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until sauce is slightly reduced, about 8 minutes.
Strain spaghetti, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water. Add spaghetti and pasta water to sauce and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano.
Ricotta Gnudi with Lamb Bolognese
Recipe from Chef Rick Gencarelli of Grassa in Portland.
Makes 8 servings
Gnudi are essentially cheese ravioli filling, with just enough flour added to hold the mixture together and allow it to be boiled. They’re easier to make than gnocchi, freeze just as well and manage to be both rich and cloud-like at the same time. Be sure to use high-quality whole-milk ricotta and don’t skimp on the freshly ground pepper, which adds complexity.
- 2 large eggs
- 2 pounds (32 ounces) fresh whole-milk ricotta
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- Semolina flour, for dusting
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup fennel, chopped
- 1/4 cup carrot, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound pancetta, minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 bunch fresh mint, chopped
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
To make the gnudi:
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper. Mix until the ingredients are mostly combined. Add the all-purpose flour gradually, while folding the mixture, until a soft dough forms. Add more flour as needed, if it feels too sticky to roll into a rope.
Dust a rimmed baking sheet with semolina flour. Portion the dough into four separate pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, gently roll one of the pieces into a rope 1/2-inch thick. With a bench scraper or knife, cut the rope into 1-inch pieces.
Place the gnudi on the prepared baking sheet so that they are not touching. If not serving right away, freeze the gnudi until firm, then pack into airtight bags or containers.
To make the lamb bolognese:
Heat olive oil in a 6- to 8-quart saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onions, fennel and carrot and saute until the vegetables are translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the lamb, pork and pancetta and increase heat to high. Brown the meat, breaking it up with a spoon. Add the tomatoes, white wine and milk. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 1 hour.
Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add chopped mint.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnudi and cook until they float to the surface, plus 1 to 2 minutes more (taste one; it should be cooked through, not gummy). Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the bolognese sauce. Serve garnished with a generous shower of grated cheese.
Butterscotch Breadcrumb Cake
This cake recipe comes from Matthew Busetto at Portland’s Firehouse Restaurant. Breadcrumb cakes are traditional in European cuisine (as well as a great way to use the restaurant’s leftover Pugliese loaves). The dessert has a rich-yet-not-too-sweet flavor from the butterscotch, as well as a slightly nubby texture — both of which are perfectly matched by some whipped cream, crunchy topping and another puddle of butterscotch sauce.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup cream
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 2 to 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Granulated sugar for dusting the pan
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup butterscotch sauce (reserve the rest for serving)
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs, fairly fine (panko will work in a pinch)
- Unsweetened whipped cream, reserved butterscotch sauce and chopped nuts or toffee bits (for topping)
To make the butterscotch sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk until well blended. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and add the smaller amount of vanilla, taste and add more as needed. Set aside.
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter an 8-inch square pan or six 6- to 8-ounce ramekins and dust lightly with sugar. Set aside.
Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks and set aside.
Whip the egg yolks with the 1 cup of butterscotch sauce, salt and orange zest, until pale and almost doubled in size. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture in thirds, until just combined, then gently fold in the breadcrumbs.
Bake until the cake seems set and a tester comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes for ramekins and 25 to 30 minutes for a full cake. Cool slightly in the pan, then turn out.
Serve topped with whipped cream, reserved butterscotch sauce and any other crunchy toppings you desire.
- California’s Other Little Italies (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- San Francisco’s Italian Community (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- San Diego’s Italian Community (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Milwaukee’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Italians In Texas (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/06/14/little-italy-new-orleans-style/Birmingham, Alabama’s “Little Italy” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- West Virginia’s Little Italy Communities (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Baltimore’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Western Pennsylvania’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Philadelphia’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Chicago’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Cleveland’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- New England’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Italian American Neighborhoods – Boston (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Ybor City – Florida’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Little Italy – Manhattan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The “Little Italies” of Michigan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Hill” St. Louis’ Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
August 23, 2013 at 10:05 am
Wow really interesting. You’re a bonafide historian!
August 23, 2013 at 10:07 am
who loves to cook! Thank you so much for your comments.
August 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Thanks! I just learned a bunch about my own city. Great recipes like usual.
August 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm
Thank you so much Pam for reading the post and your great comments.
August 25, 2013 at 8:45 am
My, but what a terrific bit of research! I had no idea of the Italian influence in Portland. Well done!
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