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The Upper Midwest

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.

Detroit

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The growth of the automobile industry resulted in the increase of the Italian population in Detroit during the 20th Century. By 1925 the number of Italians in the city had increased to 42,000. The historical center of Detroit’s Italian-American community was in an area along Gratiot Avenue, east of Downtown Detroit. There were larger numbers of southern Italians than those from the north. However, Armando Delicato, author of Italians in Detroit, wrote that “Unlike many other American cities, no region of Italy was totally dominant in this area”.

The Roma Cafe In downtown Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, is the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit, dating back to 1890. The restaurant offers a classic Italian-American menu with hearty pastas, seafood, steak and vegetable options.

The Marazza family operated a boarding house with a warm meal included for Eastern Market vendors and farmers. Mrs. Marazza’s reputation as a fine cook spread quickly throughout the Eastern Market area.  At the urging of her diners, she opened her restaurant in February of 1890, called the Roma Café.

In 1918, the business was sold to John Battaglia and Morris Sossi.  During their partnership, an addition was put on the building and the same building is still standing there today. The following year, John Battaglia died and Morris Sossi bought out his widow to become the sole owner of Roma Café.

Morris Sossi’s nephew, Hector Sossi, began working as a busboy for his uncle in 1940. Hector Sossi carried on the family tradition and bought out Morris in 1965 to become the next  owner of the Roma Café. Mr. Sossi remains the owner with a third generation family member at the helm.  His daughter, Janet Sossi Belcoure, currently manages this historic Italian eatery.

A specialty of the house, the tomato meat sauce is excellent — a little sweet, but without any acidity. And its recipe is a closely guarded secret. The recipe below is a classic version of this favorite Italian American dish.

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Cheese Ravioli with Old-Fashioned Meat Sauce

Ingredients

Meat Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 16-ounce can tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Ravioli

  • 3/4 pound purchased fresh cheese ravioli
  • Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Directions
Heat the olive oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add ground beef and garlic and sauté until meat is no longer pink, breaking it up with a fork, about 5 minutes.

Puree tomatoes with juices in a processor. Add to the saucepan. Add canned tomato puree, herbs and dried crushed red pepper. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook ravioli in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to the bite. Drain well. Arrange ravioli on a large platter or in a large pasta bowl. Add just enough sauce to coat the ravioli;. Serve, passing cheese separately.

 

Milwaukee

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Italians first came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, large numbers of Italian immigrants came from Sicily and southern Italy. Brady Street, the historic Third Ward, is considered the heart of Italian immigration in the city, where as many as 20 Italian grocery stores once existed on the street.

Most  of the Italian immigrants found jobs working along the railroad, in factory positions and doing general municipal work for the city. Thanks to the city’s close proximity to Chicago and Lake Michigan, Milwaukee’s economy grew and decent paying jobs were available to the immigrants. The city also has an Italian newspaper called The Italian Times printed by the Italian Community Center (ICC).

Every year the largest Italian American festival in the United States, Festa Italiana, takes place in Milwaukee. Italian Americans still number at around 16,992 in the city, but in Milwaukee County they number at 38,286. Festa Italiana is held annually at the Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the largest Italian-American festival in America and features Italian music, food and entertainment. Sponsored by the Italian Community Center, the festival is also known for its large fireworks show and a cannoli eating contest.

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Capellini alla Caprese

by Milwaukee Italian chef/owner, Gino Fazzari

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces capellini or angel hair pasta
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, small dice
  • 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon onion, small dice
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, small dice
  • ½ tablespoon Italian parsley, rough chop
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of red pepper
  • 2 ounces Roma tomatoes, small dice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces chardonnay
  • 4 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 ounce Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Put a large pot with plenty of water on the stove to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add 2 tablespoons of salt.

In a medium sauté pan, heat extra virgin olive oil 2 minutes over medium heat. Add prosciutto, onion, bay leaf, red pepper flakes and parsley. Sauté until onion is translucent and prosciutto softens but is not crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute.

Deglaze the pan with the chardonnay and cook out the alcohol for about 1 minute. Add tomato, heavy cream and basil and cook for 2-3 minutes.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the sauce. Lower heat to low, add half of the Parmigiano cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Serve immediately garnished with remaining Parmigiano cheese.

Elmwood Park

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Elmwood Park, a village on the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois, has long maintained a large Italian-American population. The population was 24,883 at the 2010 census. One of Elmwood Park’s most notable establishments is Johnnie’s Beef, which is known for its Italian-style beef sandwiches.

In 1977 George Randazzo created the Italian American Boxing Hall of Fame as a way to raise money for local youth programs. After a successful year and a dinner honoring 23 former Italian American boxing champions, Randazzo created the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. The original location was in Elmwood Park, Illinois. The first induction ceremony honored Lou Ambers, Eddie Arcaro, Charley Trippi, Gino Marchetti, Dom DiMaggio, Joe DiMaggio and Vince Lombardi. Since its founding in 1978, over 230 Italian Americans have been inducted into this hall of fame. It is now located in Chicago.

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Johnnie’s Beef Recipe

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Yield: Makes about 10 sandwiches with about 1/4 pounds of meat each.

In Johnnie’s words:

Allow about 2 hours to cook and another 3 hours to firm the meat for slicing in the refrigerator, if you don’t have a meat slicer. You need 90 minutes to cook a 3 pound roast, or about 30 minutes per pound. You can cook this well in advance and refrigerate the meat and juice and heat it up as needed. You can even freeze it. This is a great Sunday dish because the smell of the roasting beef and herbs fills the house. After you cook it, you need another 30 minutes to chill it before slicing.

Ingredients

The beef

1 boneless beef sirloin butt roast, about 3 pounds with most of the fat trimmed off

The rub

  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

The juice

  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 4 cubes of beef bouillon

The sandwich

  • 10 soft, fluffy, high gluten rolls, sliced lengthwise but hinged on one side or Italian bread loaves cut width-wise into 10 portions
  • 3 medium sized green bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, approximately
  • 1 cup hot giardiniera

Directions

About the beef.

Top sirloin, top round or bottom round are preferred in that order for tenderness.

About the garlic. If you wish, omit the garlic powder and stud the roast with fresh garlic.

About the bouillon.

I have encountered lively debate on the makeup of the juice as I developed this recipe. Some insist you must use bouillon to be authentic, while others use beef stock, veal stock, or a soup base, and simmer real onions and garlic in it. The bouillon advocates have won me over on the authenticity argument, although I must confess, soup base is my favorite.

Do this

1) If you wish, you can cut small slits in the surface of the meat every inch or so and stick slivers of fresh garlic into the meat. If you do this, leave the garlic out of the rub. Otherwise, mix the rub in a bowl. Sprinkle it generously on the meat and massage it in. There will be some left over. Do not discard it, we will use it in the juice. Let the meat sit at room temp for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the grill or oven to 400° F. If you are cooking indoors, put a rack just below the center of the oven.

2) Pour the water into a 9 x 13″ baking pan and heat it to a boil on the stovetop. Dissolve the bouillon in the water. It may look thin, but it will cook down and concentrate during the roasting. Pour the remaining rub into the pan. Place a rack on top of the pan. Place the roast on top of the rack above the juice. Roast at 400°F until interior temperature is 140°F for medium rare, about 30 minutes per pound. This may seem long, but you are cooking over water and that slows things down. The temp will rise about 5°F more as it rests. Don’t worry if there are people who won’t eat medium-rare meat. The meat will cook further in step 5, and you can just leave theirs in the juice until it turns to leather if that’s what they want. If you use a rotisserie on your grill, you can cut the cooking time in half because the spear and the forks holding it in place will conduct heat into the interior.

Be aware.

This recipe is designed for a 9 x 13″ baking pan. If you use a larger pan, the water may evaporate and the juice will burn. If you have to use a larger pan, add more water. Regardless of pan size, keep an eye on the pan to make sure it doesn’t dry out during cooking. Add more water if necessary.

3) While the meat is roasting (mmmmm, smells sooooo good), cut the bell peppers in half and remove the stems and seeds. Rinse, and cut into 1/4″ strips. Cook the peppers in a frying pan over a medium high heat with enough olive oil to coat the bottom, about 1 tablespoon. When they are getting limp and the skins begin to brown, about 15 minutes, they are done. Set aside at room temp.

4) Remove the roast and the juice pan. Let the meat sit for about 30 minutes for the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat fibers, and then place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Let it cool for about a few hours, long enough for the meat to firm up. This will make slicing easier. Slice the meat against the grain as thin as humanly possible, preferably with a meat slicer. My wife remembers that her family would cook the roast and take it to the butcher to slice on his machine. That’s a good strategy if you don’t have a meat slicer. This, of course, is against health codes today. If you don’t have a slicer, use a thin blade and draw it along the red part of the meat. If you try to cut down through the crust you will be cutting it too thick.

5) Taste the juice. If you want you can thin it with more water, or make it richer by cooking it down on top of the stove. In Chicago beef stands it is rich, but not too concentrated. Then turn the heat to a gentle simmer. Soak the meat in the juice for about 1 minute at a low simmer. That’s all. That warms the meat and makes it very wet. You can’t leave the meat in the juice for more than 10 minutes or else it starts to curl up, squeezes out its natural moisture, and toughens. If you go to a beef stand and the meat is really curly, they have committed a mortal sin. At Mr. Beef, for example, I watched them take a handful of cooked beef and dump it into the juice every time they took out enough for a sandwich. This also enriches the juice with meat protein and seasoning from the crust.

6) To assemble the sandwich, start by spooning some juice directly onto the bun. Get it wet. Then lay on the beef generously. Spoon on more juice (don’t burn your hand). Top it with bell pepper and, if you wish, giardiniera. If you want it “wet”, dip the whole shootin’ match in juice. Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand.

Des Moines

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Anthony “Tony” L.  Sarcone once joked that when he came to Des Moines in 1905, the only English he knew was “522 Elm Street” – his brother’s address. The feeling he experienced being a stranger in a new land led him to a life dedicated to organizing and encouraging the Americanization of the Italian immigrants in Iowa. Tony Sarcone was born in Crucoli, Italy on March 1, 1884.  He worked on the railroad when he first came to Des Moines.  From 1910 – 1914, he managed a shoe store.  He then went to work for the city’s health department, where he served through World War I and until 1928.

Sarcone is best known as the founder of the Sarcone Publishing Company.  He published the weekly Italian language newspaper, Il Risveglio (The Awakening). in 1922.  In 1925, he changed the name of newspaper to the American Citizen.  During the late 1920’s the newspaper gradually converted from Italian to English, reflecting the Italian immigrants’ own language transition.

Though extremely proud of his Italian heritage, Sarcone was also very passionate about the ideals of his adopted country.  He dedicated a significant portion of his newspaper to encouraging his readers to pursue American citizenship.  He published preparatory materials for those studying for their citizenship, provided information on naturalization classes and reported on those who recently became Americans.  Source: The Italians in Iowa · A documentary about the history of Italians in Iowa.

Graziano Brothers makes only about 3,000 pounds of sausage a week and most of it remains in the greater Des Moines area, says Frances Graziano, president of the company. It was her grandfather, Francis, and his brother, Louis, who opened Graziano Brothers in 1912 at the current location on Des Moines’ South Side. For decades, their sausage was made using a meat grinder with a hand crank. Today, the grinding and mixing is done on a larger scale, but it’s nowhere near the point of being mass-produced. Whenever Frances Graziano allows herself to toy with the notion of making more sausage, she comes back to one thing: To sell more, some production would have to be moved off-premise.

The hot sausage recipe dates back to a time when Italian was spoken regularly on the South Side of Des Moines and sausage was made at home. Hot Italian sausages “were usually made in Italian homes during the winter time and hung up to dry. Pieces were cut from the sausages, cooked and eaten,” newspaper writer Kenneth Land observed in 1962 on the occasion of Graziano Brothers’ 50th anniversary. Mike Graziano, the father of Frances, spoke with pride in that newspaper article about pure pork used in the sausage. The same is true today. “We even use real hog casings,” Frances says. “That makes a big difference. We don’t use anything synthetic or fillers.” Source: Des Moines Register.

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Graziano’s on the Grill

In a large skillet, place sausage links and water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove sausage and transfer to prepared grill. Grill 6 inches from the heat source for 10 to 13 minutes, turning occasionally, until no pink color remains. To grill bulk sausage, pat sausage meat as you would a hamburger and grill.

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