In 1882 a group of 11 Italians came to the United States from Roseto, Italy and found work in an area of Pennsylvania that later become known as the town of Roseto. Relatives of these immigrants followed and settled in the same area. By the early 1900s the town was flourishing and a near exact replica of the Roseto, Italy they had left behind. And that was how it remained for years.
By the 1950s the town was bustling with activity. The residents kept to themselves creating an Italian village similar to one in the “Old Country”. However, they didn’t necessarily stick to the “old world” style of cooking and eating. The light flatbread pizza of their homeland was exchanged for heavy bread and cheese. Sausage, meatballs and pasta were a normal dinner, biscotti and other sweets became daily treats and there was always wine.
A physician and University Professor named Stewart Wolf discovered Roseto. Wolf became interested in the townsfolk when he noticed that despite their diets and struggles with obesity, no one really seemed to get sick. He conducted a study of the residents and looked at the incidence of heart disease and heart attack fatalities. He and his team took EKGs of everyone, did blood tests, collected death certificates from decades into the past and conducted exhaustive interviews with the residents.
What he found was astounding. Virtually no one in the town of Rosetto died under the age of 55 from heart disease or heart attack. And the incidences of death from heart disease in men older than 65 was nearly half that of the national averages. In fact, deaths of all causes were 30%-35% lower than expected. There was virtually no alcoholism, no suicide, no drug addiction, no one on welfare and crime was practically nonexistent. There were also no occurrences of peptic ulcers or other stress related problems. The only real consistent cause of death appeared to be old age.
Researchers were baffled. How did this town of sausage eating, wine drinking, overweight and happy Italians manage to escape the ill-health fate of the rest of the country? The researchers came to realize that the people of Roseto were not only very social, but very kind. They stopped in the streets and talked. They had each other over for dinner. Three generations of family lived under the same roof. They laughed a lot. Everyone knew and respected each other, especially their elders. Thus, the town of Roseto illustrated the importance of feeling good about life.
Italian American Lasagna
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups Italian tomatoes, crushed
- 12 whole fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- 5 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano shredded
- 4 oz Italian style dried bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 sprigs Italian parsley finely chopped
For the lasagna
- 1 lb ground beef
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- 12 whole lasagna either oven-ready or parboiled
- 10 oz mozzarella, shredded
- 5 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
For the sauce:
Combine the garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil leaves, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and simmer until the sauce thickens, 20 to 30 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, mix the ricotta, Parmigiano, bread crumbs, salt and parsley for the filling and set aside.
Brown the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Coat a large roasting pan or lasagna pan with olive oil.
Assemble the lasagna as follows (bottom to top): mozzarella, thin layer of sauce, layer of pasta, Parmigiano, ricotta cheese filling, mozzarella, meat, thin layer of sauce and layer of pasta.
Bake for one hour, covered with foil. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Slice into squares and serve.
Newark, New Jersey
In its heyday, Seventh Avenue in Newark was one of the largest “Little Italies” in the U.S. with a population of 30,000, in an area of less than a square mile. The center of life in the neighborhood was St. Lucy’s Church, founded by Italian immigrants in 1891. Throughout the year, St. Lucy’s and other churches sponsored processions in honor of saints that became community events. The most famous procession was the Feast of St. Gerard, but there were also great feasts for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Our Lady of Snow, the Assumption and St. Rocco.
Joe DiMaggio loved the restaurants of Seventh Avenue so much that he would take the New York Yankees to Newark to show them “real Italian food”. Frank Sinatra had bread from Giordano’s Bakery sent to him every week until his death, no matter where in the world he was. New York Yankees catcher, Rick Cerone, also grew up in the First Ward. One of the nation’s largest Italian newspapers, The Italian Tribune, was founded on Seventh Avenue. Seventh Avenue produced stars, such as Joe Pesci and Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons. Congressman Peter Rodino, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, was a native of the First Ward as well.
Seventh Avenue was devastated by urban renewal efforts during the 1950s. Eighth Avenue was obliterated by the city council, scattering the Italian American residents. Most businesses never recovered. The construction of Interstate 280 also served to cut the neighborhood off from the rest of the city. Following these events some of the First Ward’s Italians stayed in the neighborhood, while others migrated to other Newark neighborhoods, such as Broadway, Roseville and the Ironbound section.
The Belmont, founded in the 1920s, moved to its current location on Bloomfield Ave. in 1965. Chef Stretch has passed away, but his Chicken Savoy recipe is still a popular menu item. Celebrity spottings are not uncommon. Clint Eastwood bought the cast of his movie, Jersey Boys there while they were filming in NJ.
Stretch’s Chicken Savoy
Serves 3 or 4
This is a restaurant recipe and you must keep the chicken pieces well-separated in the pan. If the pan is crowded, the chicken will not brown because too much liquid will accumulate. In a restaurant kitchen, the oven goes to 700 degrees F or more, which means the juices evaporate before they have a chance to accumulate. For years the recipe was a family secret and Stretch’s daughter Annette, pulled the old, “If I tell you, then we’d have to kill you” line when Saveur Magazine came calling for the recipe.
- 2 1/2- to 3-pound chicken, cut into 6 pieces (two drumsticks, two thighs, two breasts with wings)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 6 to 8 teaspoons grated Locatelli or other Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar (preferably 7% acidity)
In a 10 1/2-inch cast iron skillet or other heavy, oven-proof pan, arrange the chicken pieces so that they do not touch each other, skin side down.
Sprinkle the chicken with garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and grated cheese, in that order.
Place chicken in a preheated 500-degree F oven for 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and pour on all the vinegar at once. It should sizzle.
Return the chicken to the oven for another minute or so.
Arrange chicken on a platter and pour the vinegar sauce over the chicken. Serve immediately.
The “Little Italy” of Baltimore is located close to the Inner Harbor area and Fells Point, newly renovated and very popular for its great restaurants. This neighborhood has been occupied by Italians since the 1890’s and still retains a large Italian community. During the warm months, the neighborhood is home to bocce games and open-air film festivals. “Little Italy” is the end point for the nation’s oldest Columbus Day parade, celebrated since 1890 and hosted by the Italian American community. In June, Baltimore’s “Little Italy” celebrates the Feast of Saint Anthony and the Feast of Saint Gabriel in August.
In 1953, Giovanna Aquia, along with her father Pasquale, her mother Rosa and her little brother Salvatore (Sammy) embarked on a journey that would forever change their lives. The family boarded the famous Italian luxury liner the “Andrea Doria” and made their way to America from Cefalu, Sicily. They entered the U.S. via NYC and arrived to their final destination in Baltimore on June 23, 1953. Giovanna likes to say, “At a time when no one liked to move around, our family traveled 3500 miles and we haven’t moved 200 feet since.”
Giovanna goes on to say that ” family life always revolved around the dinner table. It was there that a great appreciation of simple Sicilian cuisine became rooted in them. Their house was always open to friends and family. On Sundays and holidays, Nonna Rosa, would cook up a feast. We all just sat together, enjoyed each other and talked and laughed while we were feeding their faces. Our family is the only family with 4 generations still living in Little Italy.”
It was the desire to share their Sicilian heritage and Sicilian cuisine that prompted the family to buy an older neighborhood diner and create a warm, comfortable family ristoranté in “Little Italy”, called Café Gia Ristoranté. “We strived very hard to recreate a Sicilian bistro, a place where one feels like they are in Sicily while dining,” she said. “Our walls are embraced with hand painted colorful murals, our tables are also topped off with great hand painted murals. The exterior echoes an old Sicilian bistro and we have created a little bit of Italy with fresh, delicious Italian food and friendly, family service.”
Insalata di Mare Calda
Chef Gia Daniella
“Growing up, Christmas Eve was a big deal at my house,” says Chef Gia Daniella, the owner of Cafe Gia Ristorante in Little Italy. That night, her family hosted the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a grand seafood meal with Italian roots. “We always entertained and had a spread of seafood and side dishes — all Italian and Italian-American,” she recalls. “My mother is from Italy — Sicily,” she explains. “The Seven Seafoods is actually a regional tradition in the south.” The mixed seafood salad was always one of Gia’s favorite Christmas Eve dishes. The recipe below is served warm but is equally appealing when chilled, she says. And best enjoyed when surrounded by loved ones.
For the salad:
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 lemons
- 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, cleaned and deveined
- 1 pound calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
- 1 pound clams, cleaned
- 1 pound mussels, cleaned and debearded
- 1 ½ cups celery, finely chopped
- 4 cups arugula
- Chopped roasted red peppers for garnish
For the dressing:
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- ½ cup capers
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, combine 3 cups of water, bay leaves and crushed garlic.
Slice the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the pot, then place the lemon rind in the pot.
Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low.
Add the shrimp to the pot for two minutes, then remove with a strainer and set aside in a bowl.
Add the calamari to the water for 1 ½ minutes. Remove with a strainer and add to the bowl with the shrimp.
Add the clams and mussels to the pot and cook until their shells open, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a strainer and combine with the shrimp and calamari.
Add the chopped celery. Add a dash of salt and pepper to taste and gently fold.
To make the dressing:
In a processor combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and capers and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Gently toss the seafood with the dressing. Add another dash or two of salt and pepper. Garnish with roasted red peppers.
For an attractive presentation, serve over fresh arugula.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the eastern side of Judiciary Square became an enclave of Italian immigrants in Washington; the equivalent of a Little Italy. The Italian neighborhood rested on the eastern edge of the square, stretching eastward to about 2nd Street NW. The heart of the community was Holy Rosary Church, a chapel built at 3rd and F Streets NW. It was a government town without mills, factories or a commercial port and there were fewer opportunities for unskilled laborers without language skills to support themselves. Instead, the area drew smaller numbers of skilled immigrants, such as the construction workers, artists and tradesmen, who labored on the government buildings erected in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The neighborhood grew throughout the 20th century, with an increased surge of Italian immigrants in the 1950s and 60s. However, the construction of Interstate 395 through the city in the 1970s razed about half of the neighborhood and forced its remaining residents to move away. Today, the former Italian enclave is dominated by Federal office buildings and law offices. The Holy Rosary Church remains standing, though, and continues to draw a heavily Italian congregation, along with its “Casa Italia” cultural center next door. Casa Italiana offers classes on cinema, literature, cuisine, wine tasting and majolica, the ancient Italian art of ceramic pottery, Visitors can still hear a Catholic Mass in Italian every Sunday at Holy Rosary.
Campono Meatball Subs
What sets a great meatball sub apart from all the others is the quality of its ingredients. Campono’s popular sandwich is made with ricotta cheese in the meatball mixture and made in-house mozzarella and marinara sauce for the sandwich. The meatballs are neither too firm nor so tender that they fall apart.
FOR THE MEATBALLS
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for your hands
- 1 small onion, cut into small dice
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 slices white/country bread, crusts removed, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 pounds ground veal
- 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork shoulder (butt)
- 8 ounces finely chopped or ground prosciutto
- 1 cup freshly grated pecorino-Romano cheese
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 cups “00” flour, for dusting
FOR THE SAUCE
- 28 ounces canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Kosher or sea salt to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- A few fresh basil leaves
- 6 sub rolls, partially split
- 12 thin slices good-quality mozzarella cheese
- 6 slices deli provolone cheese
For the meatballs:
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion, garlic, dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook just until the onion and garlic have softened but not browned; transfer to a very large mixing bowl.
Combine the bread pieces and milk in a medium bowl; let the mixture sit for a few minutes so the milk is completely absorbed.
Add to the large bowl with the onions, the ground veal, ground beef, ground pork shoulder, prosciutto, pecorino-Romano, ricotta, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and the soaked bread pieces; use clean hands to blend the mixture until well incorporated.
Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the “00” flour in a wide, shallow bowl.
Grease your hands with a little oil. Form the meatball mixture into 65 meatballs of equal size (the size of shell-on walnuts). Coat each one lightly with “00” flour, dividing them between two parchment-paper-lined rimmed baking sheets. Roast on the upper and lower racks for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until the meatballs are browned and cooked through. Discard any remaining flour.
For the sauce:
Use a food mill to puree the tomatoes. Discard the seeds; reserve the drained juices for another use, if desired.
Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic, dried oregano, crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano. Cook just until the garlic starts to brown, then stir in the tomato puree. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes then taste, and season lightly with kosher or sea salt and cracked black pepper. Stir in 6 to 8 basil leaves. Turn off the heat. Transfer 30 of the meatballs to the saucepan, turning them until coated. Cool and freeze the remaining meatballs for another time.
When ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Open the sub rolls, keeping the halves partially attached and laying them on two rimmed baking sheets. Tear out some of the inside bread to create room for the meatballs. Spread a tablespoon or two of the marinara sauce over both halves of each open-faced roll; toast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes; keep the oven on.
Line each sub roll with the mozzarella and provolone slices, overlapping and/or tearing the slices so the inside roll surfaces are covered. Place 5 sauced meatballs at the center of each sub roll; return to the oven just until the cheese melts.
Close each sandwich and cut crosswise in half. Serve hot.
*View Recipes From America’s Italian Communities: Part 1 here .