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.
Saint Helena, North Carolina
Saint Helena began as one of six immigrant colonies established by Wilmington developer, Hugh Mac Rae. He attracted Italian farmers to Saint Helena with promises of 10 acres and a three-room home for $240, payable over three years.
St. Helena was named for an Italian queen, Elena, the wife of King Victor Emmanuel III and the daughter of King Nicholas I of Montenegro. In the Spring of 1906, eight immigrants from, Rovig, Veneto in Northern Italy, arrived. Within the year, they were followed by about 75 more adventurous individuals.
The first group of immigrants cleared the wooded land for vineyards. Most of the immigrants had lived in the Italian wine country and were experienced vineyard dressers. One of their first tasks was to plant fields of grapevines. They also planted crops, such as peas and strawberries. The Italian ladies made plans to open a bakery.
By 1909, about 150 immigrants lived in St. Helena. The surnames included Bertazza, Yarbo, Trevisano, Laghetto, Berto, Borin, Ferro, Marcomin, Rossi, Fornasiero, Codo, Tasmassia, Rossi, Malosti, Tamburin, Santato, Ghirardello, Liago, Bouincontri, Canbouncci, Lorenzini, Garrello, Antonio, Martinelli, Canavesio, Perino, Ronchetto, and Bartolera. From this group, fifteen musicians emerged who served as the Italian Brass Band that welcomed all newcomers to the Mac Rae settlements.
Most of the settlers were Roman Catholics and their first mass at St. Helena was held in a shed near the depot by the Rev. Joseph A. Gallagher in 1906. The newcomers, assisted by 2 or 3 carpenters from Wilmington, built the Church of St. Joseph. The church was held in great affection and served numerous waves of immigrants in St. Helena until it burned in 1934. Another Church of St. Joseph was constructed on Highway 17 in 1954 and it still exists today.
Prohibition put an end to their wine making venture. However, another great success story originated in St. Helena. James Pecora, a native of Calabria, Italy, brought the superior Calabria variety of broccoli and other vegetables to North Carolina to create a successful produce business.
Italian Cabbage with Tomatoes and Pecorino Romano Cheese
This robust side dish is served as an accompaniment to meats.
- 1 pound savoy cabbage
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, halved and cut into very thin rings
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 6 canned Italian plum tomatoes or more to taste
- 1/2 cup tomato liquid from the can, or chicken stock or beef stock
- 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Pecorino Romano for serving
Remove the core of the cabbage and cut the remaining cabbage into 1/4-inch strips. You should have about 4 firmly packed cups of cabbage strips.
Place the olive oil in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over high heat. Add the onion and sauté until they start to soften and brown. Add the cabbage and garlic, stirring to blend well.
Crush the tomatoes with your hands over the cabbage and add them to the pan. Add the tomato liquid (or stock), vinegar and thyme.
Season well with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until the cabbage is softened.
Stir the butter into the cabbage. Serve with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Charleston, South Carolina
Giovanni Baptista Sanguinetti was a native of Genoa, Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1879. He entered the country through New York and settled in Charleston, SC. Sanguinetti, like most Italian immigrants during this period, was young. He was 25-years old. In order for Sanguinetti to fit into the Charleston community, he “Americanized” his name. Giovanni Sanguinetti became John Sanguinett. This change was reflected in the city directory and on his death certificate. Sanguinetti, a sailor by trade, worked for the Clyde Steamship Line as a longshoreman. Italian immigrants were very commonly employed as longshoremen because they were willing to work for lower wages and this created a great conflict with the locals.
Many employers exploited this conflict so that they could take advantage of the Italians’ working for a lower wage. Immigrants in Charleston faced difficulties in finding housing. They were relegated to live in specific areas of downtown Charleston. They, along with other immigrants, were expected to live east of King Street and north of Broad Street. This area encompasses the current historical district, including the “market.” Giovanni lived his entire life in this area and spent most of his working life on the wharf loading and unloading ships.
In Italy and the Northern US cities, Italian workers were recruited for Southern states by padroni. The padroni were Italians who were paid to recruit Italian workers. Many Italians were recruited to be tenant farmers and work the fields or work in the Southern mills.
Italians were not desirable as immigrants in South Carolina. Ben Tillman, one of South Carolina’s most fervent politicians and later Governor, spoke very strongly against recruiting Italians to his state. Tillman preferred to recruit immigrants from Northern Europe. As a result, South Carolina created its own Bureau of Immigration in 1881.
Vegetarian Lasagna with Artichoke Sauce
Nancy Noble’s vegetarian lasagna with artichoke sauce won the 2011 Lasagna Contest sponsored by the local chapter of the Sons of Italy. From the Post and Courier.
For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 4 to 6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 4 (28-ounce) cans crushed Italian tomatoes
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 (6-ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts
- 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Heat olive oil in large pot. Saute onions with garlic, basil, oregano, parsley and pepper flakes for 5 minutes. Add black pepper.
Add tomatoes and tomato paste and season with salt.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Drain artichokes, reserving marinade and set aside. Add the artichoke marinade to sauce. Simmer another 30 minutes.
Cut artichoke heart pieces in half and add to the sauce. Simmer another 15 minutes.
Stir in grated cheese and adjust seasonings.
For the lasagna:
- 1 pound ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 recipe of artichoke sauce
- 2 boxes of no-cook lasagna noodles
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil two 9 x 13 inch baking dishes.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the ricotta cheese and eggs until smooth and creamy. Reserve a few handfuls of the mozzarella to sprinkle on top of the dish. Add the remaining mozzarella to the ricotta mixture along with the parsley, salt and pepper.
In a 9 x 13-inch pan, spread a thin layer of sauce. Cover with a layer of the lasagna noodles. Spread a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture. Continue layering until pan is full.
Repeat with a second 9 x 13-inch pan. Top both with sauce and sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top.
Bake about 30 minutes, making sure not to let the cheese brown. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Beginning in the early twentieth century, millions of immigrants entered the United States from Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and the Middle East and some of these new arrivals found their way to Georgia. In many cases, the immigrants moved into neighborhoods where friends and relatives from their home country had already settled, and established themselves as members of the community. For example, Jewish Russian immigrants became prominent citizens of Columbus, Italian immigrants pursued opportunities in Elberton’s granite industry and Lebanese immigrants contributed to the growth of Valdosta.
Elbert County sits on a subterranean bed of granite in the Piedmont geologic province. It was identified at the turn of the twentieth century as the Lexington-Oglesby Blue Granite Belt that measures about fifteen miles wide and twenty-five miles long and stretches into nearby counties. In the county’s early history, the granite was seen more as a nuisance rather than as an industry, especially for residents primarily engaged in agricultural activities. Early uses of granite included grave markers and foundation and chimney stone.
After the Civil War (1861-65), however, new possibilities for Elberton’s granite began to emerge. In 1882, Elberton’s first quarry was opened to get construction stone for use by one of the local railroads. By 1885 a second quarry was also opened. During the 1890s, Elberton’s potential as a producer of granite solidified as more quarries in the city and county were opened. On July 6, 1889, the Elberton Star, the local newspaper, christened the town the “Granite City.”
In 1898 Arthur Beter, an Italian sculptor, executed the first statue carved out of Elberton granite. A small building constructed to house the statue during its completion became the town’s first granite shed.
During the immigration period from Italy, skilled laborers came to Elbert County to pursue a livelihood in the granite business. Among the many new arrivals were Charles C. Comolli, founder and owner of the Georgia Granite Corporation and Richard Cecchini, a highly skilled stone sculpturer. The industry flourished with the creation of new sheds and the opening of additional quarries in the years following.
A little bit of Georgia folklore:
Labor-Inducing Eggplant Parmigiana
Nearly 300 baby pictures decorate Scalini’s old-fashioned Italian restaurant. All of the babies pictured on the Italian restaurant wall were born after their mothers ate the Scalini’s eggplant parmigiana. The breaded eggplant smothered in cheese and thick marinara sauce is “guaranteed” to induce labor, the restaurant claims. The eggplant legend began not long after the restaurant opened 23 years ago.
“Two or three years after we began, a few people had just mentioned to us they came in when they were pregnant, and ate this eggplant and had a baby a short time after that,” said John Bogino, who runs the restaurant with his son, Bobby Bogino. “One person told another, and it just grew by itself by leaps and bounds.”
To date, more than 300 of the pregnant women customers who ordered the eggplant have given birth within 48 hours, and the restaurant dubs them the “eggplant babies.” If it doesn’t work in two days, the moms-to-be get a gift certificate for another meal.
- 3 medium-sized eggplants
- 1 cup flour
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 4 cups fine Italian bread crumbs (seasoned)
- Olive oil
- 8 cups marinara sauce (recipe below)
- 1/2 cup Romano cheese (grated)
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
- 1 1/2 pounds mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
Scalini’s Marinara Sauce
- 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 cups tomatoes (fresh or canned), chopped
- 1 cup onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh sweet basil, chopped
- Pinch thyme
- Pinch rosemary
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch thick slices. You may choose to peel the eggplant before you slice it. Place the eggplant slices on a layer of paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt, then cover with another layer of paper towels and hold it down with something heavy to drain the excess moisture. Let them sit for about an hour.
Working with one slice of eggplant at a time, dust with flour, dip in beaten eggs, then coat well with breadcrumbs. Saute in preheated olive oil on both sides until golden brown.
In a baking dish, alternate layers of marinara sauce, eggplant slices, ricotta, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, until you fill the baking dish, about 1/8 inch from the top. Cover with shredded mozzarella cheese, and bake for 25 minutes in a 375 degree F oven. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Scalini’s Marinara Sauce Directions
Lightly saute the onions in olive oil in large pot for a few minutes.
Add garlic and saute another minute. Add tomatoes and bring sauce to a boil, then turn heat to low. Add remaining ingredients, stir, cover and let simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.
Recipe courtesy of John Bogino, Scalini’s Italian Restaurant, Georgia (scalinis.com).
Julia DeForest Tuttle (1849-1898), Henry Morrison Flagler (1830- 1913), James Deering, (1859-1925) and other American pioneers were busy displaying their understanding of Italian culture as they built railways, planned a city and erected palatial estates in Miami and Southeast Florida. The hotels and the villas built in Miami replicated the symbols of status of the early modern European courts.
The landscape and architecture of Villa Vizcaya were influenced by Veneto and Tuscan Italian Renaissance models and designed in the Mediterranean Revival architectural style with Baroque elements. Paul Chalfin was the design director.
Vizcaya was created as James Deering’s winter home and, today, it is a National Historic Landmark and museum. The planning and construction of Vizcaya lasted over a decade, from 1910 to 1922. Deering modeled his estate after an old Italian country villa. This involved the large-scale purchase of European antiques and the design of buildings and landscapes to accommodate them. Deering began to purchase the land for Vizcaya in 1910 and, that same year, he made his first trip to Italy to acquire antiquities.
Deering purchased an additional 130 acres of land and construction on the site began in the following year. About a thousand individuals were employed at the height of construction in creating Vizcaya, including several hundred construction workers, stonecutters and craftsmen from the northeastern states, Italy and the Bahamas.
James Deering died in September 1925 and the property was passed to his relatives. In 1952 Miami-Dade County acquired the villa and formal Italian gardens, which needed significant restoration, for $1 million. Deering’s heirs donated the villa’s furnishings and antiquities to the County-Museum. Vizcaya began operation in 1953 as the Dade County Art Museum.
The village and remaining property were acquired by the County during the mid-1950s. In 1994 the Vizcaya estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark. In 1998, in conjunction with Vizcaya’s accreditation process by the American Alliance of Museums, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust was formed to be the museum’s governing body.
Linguine Frutti di Mare
Serves 2 as an appetizer
- 5 oz.fresh linguine pasta
- 4 jumbo shrimp
- 12 small scallops
- 6 mussels
- 6 clams
- 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1.5 oz. white wine
- 1 tablespoon. garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon. lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon basil, chopped and a sprig for garnish
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a hot pan. Add garlic, then sauté for about two minutes. Add shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, tomatoes and kosher salt. Add the wine and cover the pan to steam another two minutes.Add tomato sauce to the pan of seafood and stir.
Put the fresh pasta into boiling salted water. When the pasta is al dente, drain, add to the seafood pan and mix well. Add the chopped basil, mix and divide between two pasta serving bowls. Garnish with a sprig of basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
For the Love of Cooking
May 1, 2015 at 12:07 pm
The lasagna sounds amazing!
May 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm
Yes and different.
Amanda | What's Cooking
May 1, 2015 at 2:44 pm
Jovina, I love this series. It’s so informative. It’s also really cool to see some ingredients I traditionally associate with the south in an Italian stew of sorts.
May 1, 2015 at 3:30 pm
Thank you so much Amanda. I, too, love how the Italian cuisine was adapted by regional ingredients. Fascinating.
May 1, 2015 at 5:21 pm
That property Vizcaya looks amazing. The floor is like something out of an Escher illustration.
May 1, 2015 at 5:36 pm
It is – quite a palace.
May 1, 2015 at 7:49 pm
What enjoyable stories and information, Jovina. I agree with ambradambra about that amazing floor! And I love cabbage, so that first recipe sounds particularly good.
May 1, 2015 at 8:47 pm
Great time of year also for young, tender cabbage coming to the market. Thanks so much Anne.
May 2, 2015 at 6:23 am
Fun to read. Loved Vizcaya. I really want to try the cabbage side dish.
May 2, 2015 at 7:18 am
Thanks so much Holly. Let me know how the recipe turns out.
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way
May 2, 2015 at 7:01 am
This is such a great post. I am sharing it with my daughter-in-law our next grandson is due in a few weeks and I know she’ll get a big kick out of the eggplant baby. Usually I’ve read Mexican “hot” food induced the little ones to be born but see, its really Italian food. 🙂 I love the recipes!!
May 2, 2015 at 7:19 am
How how neat! Wishing you a healthy new grand baby. What fun.
Karen Pochala Peck
May 9, 2015 at 2:21 pm
Wow! I would love to know how you researched to gain all of the historical facts combined with the culinary traditions? Simply fascinating! I am a graduate student at Duke University and am thinking about my thesis. I am Italian (Santangelo/DiRenzo/D’Augustino), love history and have a passion for cooking. This subject matter would be incredible to research!
Thank you for including the recipes … very similar to what my grandmother made!
May 9, 2015 at 2:28 pm
Thank you Karen for your comment. I mostly use each state’s public historical records, usually in regard to immigration. I also look for Italian-American groups, like the Sons of Italy or the Italian Cultural Societies in the region and read their stories. I also try to find recipes that our Italian immigrant relatives adapted to the products they could find in the US to create the dishes that they had made in Italy. Good luck with your studies.
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