As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide.
Bloomfield is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh that is referred to as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy. In the decades following 1868, Bloomfield was settled by German Catholic immigrants. Beginning around 1900, they were joined by Italians from five towns in the Abruzzi region. Descendants from both groups, with the Italians outnumbering the Germans, still give the neighborhood its character today.
The residents are diverse, as the neighborhood has a combination of working class Italian-Americans, various other European populations, African-Americans and a substantial population of college students. It is a decidedly urban neighborhood, with narrow streets and alleys packed with row houses. Liberty Avenue is the neighborhood’s main business thoroughfare.
Ciao Pittsburgh is western Pennsylvania’s longest-running online magazine covering all things Italian. They write about Italian cuisine, culture and traditions that have been passed from generation to generation. The magazine advocates for Italian-Americans and provides readers a platform to connect and unite with other Italian-Americans. Each month, they highlight the people, places, traditions and events among the Italian community with in-depth features and articles. Visit the magazine site. Here is a local recipe from a recent edition.
Nicky D Cooks: Pesci Pizzaiola
Copyright 2011 Check out Nancy’s blog.
“White Fish in herbed tomato sauce – a simple peasant dish that goes perfectly over rice pilaf, couscous or lightly dressed orzo in olive oil.”
- 1 ½ lbs cod fillets or white fish fillets
- 1 -2 cans small tomato sauce
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup (about) olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- Coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Place the sliced onions on the bottom of the pan, then put fish on top of the onions. Pour a thin coat of the tomato sauce over the fish. Sprinkle oregano, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and cheese over the fish. Cover and bake fish in the oven about ½ hr (approximately) or until the fish is done. The fish will become white and flaky – this is when it is done.
Marion County West Virginia
Italian heritage is especially strong in Mountaineer Country, where at least 11% of the population of the Mountaineer Country has Italian ancestry. Many Italians originally immigrated to West Virginia in the early twentieth century to work in the coal mines throughout the state. Specialty glass factories in this region were largely an Italian immigrant industry with factories in Fairmont, Mannington and Clarksburg. Italian stonemasons were also common in the early communities.
Today Fairmont, Clarksburg and Morgantown form a tri-city area with a strong Italian American network, where community members maintain strong family ties which often include distant relatives, godparents and family friends. Families keep in contact by gathering at significant life events, such as weddings, anniversaries and funerals.
Local organizations, like the Sons of Italy in Morgantown, provide an important meeting place for the Italian American community. These organizations promote various cultural programs. The Sons of Italy, for example, organizes an Italian language course at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Morgantown. Morgantown is also home to the recently formed Committee for the Preservation of Italian History and Culture. This group raises money for local cultural events and sponsors historical programs of special interest to the Italian community.
One important event of the year in the region is the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival in Clarksburg. Held in September each year, this event features traditional and contemporary Italian music and dance, bocce tournaments, homemade wine contests and plenty of Italian food. The event is a focal point statewide for the Italian American community.
Writer, filmmaker, Robert Tinnell, grew up in the small town of Rivesville, (Marion County) West Virginia, in an extended, Italian-American family. His comic strips are based on his experiences. Robert Tinnell’s Feast of the Seven Fishes has taken on a life of its own. It began as his family’s story of Christmas Eve and became a ‘graphic novel’ or strip, telling an engaging story. Check out Robert’s blog.
Here’s a recipe for one of Robert’s favorite Feast of the Seven Fishes dishes as described on his blog.
You Will Need: 2-4 pounds of calamari (squid), bread crumbs, salt, pepper, fresh grated Parmesan and/or romano cheese, eggs, garlic, basil, water, milk and additional chopped up portions of various seafood. He recommends serving them in Tomato Sauce.
How You Do It:
Remove the tentacles from the calamari, leaving only the body cavity.
Prepare a homemade tomato sauce and allow it to simmer while preparing the stuffing.
The Stuffing – In a large bowl, combine two 15 oz. cans of bread crumbs (or four cups fresh bread crumbs), one head of minced garlic, cup of milk and an egg. Add cheese to preference and chopped seafood. Mix by hand until you get a thick moist mixture; add more milk if necessary.
Now, take the stuffing and fill each calamari tube (tight but not too tight) and place in an olive oiled casserole dish. Lay the stuffed calamari in rows.
Drizzle the stuffed calamari with olive oil and cheese, then pour your sauce over top the entire dish.
Cover with foil and place in an oven that’s been pre-heated to 450 degrees F for about an hour.
Brier Hill is a neighborhood in Youngstown, Ohio, that was once viewed as the city’s “Little Italy” district. The neighborhood, which was the site of the city’s first Italian settlement, stretches along the western edge of Youngstown’s lower north side and encircles St. Anthony’s Church, an Italian-American Roman Catholic parish. Each year, at the end of August, the Brier Hill Fest attracts thousands of visitors from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
The neighborhood was the birthplace of “Brier Hill pizza”, a home-style recipe with origins in the Basilicata region of Italy. Brier Hill pizza is prepared with a generous amount of thick “Sunday sauce”, bell peppers and romano cheese, as opposed to the more typical mozzarella topping. It is one of several dishes the Youngstown area prides itself upon, in much the same way New Yorkers value their distinctive thin-crusted New York-style pizza.
According to Tony Trolio, the organizer of the Brier Hill Memorial Tribute Plaque project, most of the Italians that lived in Brier Hill all came from the same area in Italy; Colobraro, Provincia, Matera and Basilicata. “My parents, Antonio and Nicolette Trolio, came to America in 1922,” said Trolio, who added that they lived on Pershing Street, near St. Anthony’s. Sharing that his father, who was a plumber, continued all of the traditional Italian customs, including having a huge garden and making homemade wine and sausage. Trolio added, “My mother, like all the mothers, made pizza.” He added however, that his mother made and sold about 300 pizzas every week. “We bought boxes for her and called it Mama Mia’s Pizza.”
“I wrote two books about Brier Hill and, in fact, I claimed to be the first one to come up with the name Brier Hill Pizza,” said Trolio, adding that he also led the move to have four road signs installed claiming Brier Hill as the first Italian settlement in Youngstown. “This exciting event brings our tribute to our parents and neighborhood full cycle with two books written, four historic road signs installed honoring Youngstown’s first Italian immigrants and, finally, the memorial plaque,” said Trolio. The plaque is installed next to the parish’s cornerstone on the outside of the church where Trolio said he received his first communion, was confirmed, married and from where many of his family members funeral masses were held. (http://www.towncrieronline.com/)
St. Anthony’s Church still sells its Brier Hill pizza by the pie on most Friday mornings. It is a simple recipe consisting of red sauce, red/green peppers and romano cheese. It was a pizza that many early southern Italian immigrants could make from ingredients grown in their own backyards. Many years later, it has become a source of pride for a city that takes food very seriously. There are lots of great places in Youngstown that sell their own version of this style of pizza. However, for the real deal, you need to get a pie at St. Anthony’s church.
Modarelli Baking Company posted a recipe for the Brier Hill sauce on their Facebook page and writes:
“For those of you who aren’t familiar with Brier Hill Pizza… It’s a ‘style’ of pizza that originated in a Youngstown, Ohio neighborhood called Brier Hill just uphill from Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was a neighborhood of Italian immigrants including my grandparents. From this neighborhood emerged a unique style of pizza that is Now called Brierhill. It was made from their gardens with tomatoes, peppers and garlic and had only pecorino romano cheese on top.”
This will make 2 – 12” or 4 – 6” pizzas
- 2 large cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 large can tomato puree
- Dried Basil, .about 1-2 teaspoons
- Dried Oregano, about 1/4 teaspoon
- Dried Parsley, about 1/2 teaspoon
- 4 Bell peppers (2 red & 2 green) chopped 1/2”- 1” chunks
- 2- 4 large cloves garlic
- Olive Oil
- Romano cheese
- …and MY secret ingredient 2-3 in. chunk pepperoni
- Favorite pizza dough crust/shell, see recipe below
Slowly brown garlic in olive oil in a saucepan…when it starts getting soft and slightly yellow-i crush it with the back of a spoon and let it get a darker yellow.
Add peppers and let it cool slightly before putting sauce in or it will ”sizzles” at you.
Add tomatoes, herbs and pepperoni chunk and bring to boil then simmer on low heat for at least 45 min. You can pull out garlic when done.
“Sometimes I add 1 hot pepper sliced in half or put in hot pepper seeds while cooking. Sometimes I will add some onion powder and garlic powder (1 teaspoon each and some seasoned salt ¼ teaspoon).”
Spread sauce/peppers on pizza dough, sprinkle on a generous amount of grated pecorino romano cheese and bake.
- 1-1/2 cup warm water (100* to 105* F)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1-1/4 oz Active Dry Yeast Packet
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Salt
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 4 Cups of bread flour
(BY HAND) Pour the warm water into a mixing bowl, Add the sugar and packet of yeast. Stir the mixture slowly until yeast and sugar are dissolved. Let sit to allow the mixture to “mature” about 10 minutes or so, The mixture will begin to react: clouding and forming a foamy froth on the surface of the mixture.
Add the salt and olive oil and stir again to combine and dissolve the ingredients. Add one cup of flour and whisk in until dissolved. Add the second cup of flour and whisk it in. Add the third cup of flour and combine. The dough mixture should be fairly thick. Add the last cup of floor and with your hands begin to combine and knead the dough.
Remove the dough ball to the tabletop to knead it. You may need to add a dusting of flour from time to time to reduce the stickiness of the dough. Be patient, folding the dough ball in half, then quarters over and over again for about 8 minutes. You’ll know you’ve done well when the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Coat the dough ball with a thin layer of olive oil and place at the bottom of a large mixing bowl which has been coated on the inside with some olive oil and cover with a stretched piece of kitchen film or kitchen towel.
MIXER OR FOOD PROCESSOR: put all dry ingredients in as listed above and run the machine for about a minute on low-speed to mix the ingredients dry. Add the water slowly and mix/knead until a ball is formed (not usually more than a couple of minutes of machine running time).
Set in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise undisturbed for an hour or so until the dough ball grows at least twice its original size. Punch down lightly and let sit for another hour of rising before spreading in a pizza pan.
The Hill is a neighborhood within St. Louis, Missouri, located south of Forest Park. Its name is due to its proximity to the highest point of the city, formerly named St. Louis Hill. The first Italians to move to St. Louis were Lombard villagers from the region around Milan. Fleeing poverty and overpopulation, they arrived in the 1880s to work in St. Louis’s clay mines and brick factories. At the turn of the century, Sicilians came to work in the same factories and were soon sharing the Hill with their northern cousins.
The first restaurants on the Hill began as taverns catering to workers and evolved over the years into Italian American restaurants. On their menus you’ll find the standards: spaghetti carbonara, cannelloni, scampi, plenty of veal dishes and, usually, ”toasted” ravioli—a definitive St. Louis Italian specialty, said to have been born by accident about fifty years ago at a restaurant on the Hill when a piece of the stuffed pasta fell into a pot of hot fat.
Tony Catarinicchia, who left Palermo more than 25 years ago, says, ”Good Italian food doesn’t need too many ingredients and should never be over sauced,”. Catarinicchia draws crowds of locals to his restaurant with his long list of dishes including fried artichokes, pennette all’arrabbiata and seafood ravioli. His eggplant parmesan is made in the summertime with ingredients picked from the restaurant’s garden.
The Hill is one of St. Louis’s least changed and most stable neighborhoods. Currently, about three-quarters of the residents are Italian-Americans. The neighborhood is home to a large number of locally renowned Italian-American restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, salons and two bocce gardens.
Tony’s Eggplant Parmesan
This southern Italian classic might be named after the cheese that tops it—but some Sicilians think the title comes from palmigiana , meaning ”shutter”, describing the way the eggplant slices are often overlapped.
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 28-oz. can crushed Italian tomatoes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups dried plain bread crumbs, sifted
- 1 large eggplant
- 12 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
- 3/4 cup grated provolone cheese
Preheat oven to 375°f. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow dish. Beat eggs together in another shallow dish. Mix bread crumbs with a generous pinch of salt and pepper in a third shallow dish. Set dishes aside.
Peel and trim eggplant and slice lengthwise into 1/2” pieces. Dredge each slice first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.
Heat remaining ⅛ cup oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Add breaded eggplant slices to the hot oil (working in batches, if needed) and cook until golden on both sides and dark brown on the edges, 2-3 minutes per side.
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a large shallow ovenproof dish. Arrange eggplant in a single layer on top of tomato sauce. Spoon remaining sauce over eggplant. Scatter basil on top of sauce and sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano, then provolone. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes.
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March 23, 2015 at 9:12 am
Adore eggplant parmesan.
March 23, 2015 at 9:18 am
I can’t keep enough of it in my house. It is the first thing my children ask for when they visit.
March 23, 2015 at 11:34 am
Our freezer is full of it!
Heidi Dawn Medina
March 23, 2015 at 9:17 am
Experiencing the pockets of culture in our country is amazing. Last summer I visited San Diego for the first time and we did the fresh air markets, ate at the sidewalk cafes and enjoyed gelato in Little Italy. The most amazing part was we were sitting in the US and only hearing Italian spoken around us and eating real Italian food. It’s a fun way to experience some of what another culture has to offer without leaving the states. Also a great way to practice the language as well. The eggplant parm looks wonderful! One of my favorite dishes.
March 23, 2015 at 9:20 am
Mine too Heidi. Yes San Diego has an amazing Italian population that has stayed in the area. I have been there several times and you are so right in your description. Thank you.
Our Growing Paynes
March 23, 2015 at 9:36 am
calamari is the one seafood my son will eat. I’ll have to find some to try this out. 🙂
March 23, 2015 at 11:18 am
That is something. Usually young folks don’t particularly like this type of seafood. Certainly try and make this treat for him.
Our Growing Paynes
March 26, 2015 at 12:29 pm
I think he likes it because it is fried. 🙂
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way
March 23, 2015 at 2:14 pm
Wonderful stories of our brave countrymen. It certainly took courage. My mamma made a fantastic stuffed calamari and the eggplant Parmesan sounds wonderful!! I have so many ideas of what to cook once we have our next family event. Grazie, Jovina!! Your historical tales are great.
March 23, 2015 at 2:17 pm
Thank you so much Marisa. It is amazing how traditional recipes changed from one side of the country to the other. Eggplant made in NY is totally different in St. Louis and different again in San Francisco. Our mother’s version is what we remember, though.
March 23, 2015 at 4:38 pm
A single layer of eggplant in the parmigiana? NEVER. I just made one two days ago and have at three eggplant layers. I guess the one you’ve quoted is for those watching their weight? Or those who aren’t greedy? Wishful thinking
March 23, 2015 at 5:07 pm
You make it like I do. However, that is what is unique about what happened to traditional dishes after the immigrants moved to different areas of the US. They were influenced by tastes and availability.
March 23, 2015 at 5:20 pm
Lovin that eggplant Parm!!!
March 23, 2015 at 5:23 pm
Me too Mari and anyway you make it.
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