The Northern Great Plains
As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout 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 local communities and later for Americans nationwide.
By 1910, 71 percent of North Dakota’s population was born in a foreign country or had one or both parents who had been born in a foreign country. North Dakota was truly a melting pot of nationalities. Although Norwegians and Germans were the largest immigrants groups, as reported in The North Star Dakotan, all of the European and some of the Middle Eastern ethnic groups came to North Dakota. The variety of immigrant groups was phenomenal. North Dakota became a popular destination for immigrant farmers and general laborers and their families.
North Dakota produces two-thirds of the nation’s durum wheat – and that makes a lot of pasta. The largest portion of North Dakota’s durum is sold to mills across the U.S. and around the world. Italy is consistently the largest buyer of U.S. durum wheat, followed by Algeria, Nigeria and Venezuela.
Wheat production in North Dakota started around 1812 near Pembina. Seed was broadcast, cultivated with a hoe and harvested with a sickle, at that time. After threshing, wheat seed was stored in woven baskets or bags and delivered to market in wagons. In the mid-19th century, wheat farming became easier with the invention of the McCormick reaper (1831), the steel plow (1837), the treadmill thresher (1840) and the gravity-feed grain drill and steam powered thresher (1860).
Durum wheat, often referred to as “macaroni wheat”, was first grown commercially in the U.S. in the early 1900s from seed that came from the Mediterranean area and south Russia, known as Red Durum. Production increased rapidly until the U.S. became a durum wheat exporter.
Pasta is made from a mixture of semolina and water. What is semolina? Semolina is coarse-ground flour obtained from the heart (endosperm) of durum wheat. Durum wheat is the hardest wheat of all the wheat classes and it has an amber-colored appearance. Semolina used in the production of pasta is typically enriched with B-vitamins and iron.
Cando Pasta LLC, Abbiamo Pasta Co., Philadelphia Macaroni Company, Dakota Growers Pasta Co Inc and La Rinascente Pasta LLC are just a few of the pasta manufactures located in North Dakota. Annually, North Dakota pasta manufacturing companies use almost 16 million bushels of durum – almost one-fourth of an average North Dakota crop – making it into approximately 600 million pounds of pasta.
The Lost Italian
Tony Nasello is The Lost Italian and has become known throughout the region for his entertaining cooking classes, as well as his passion for food and wine. Tony and his wife, Sarah, write a weekly food and wine column called “Home with the Lost Italian” for The Forum, Fargo’s local newspaper. Here is one of their treasured recipes:
From Tony and Sarah Nasello’s blog: Home of the Lost Italian:
Serves: 4 to 6
- 1 pkg linguini, cooked to al dente
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 5 anchovy fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 6 large ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1/4 cup Kalamata olives
- 2 tablespoons capers
- Salt and pepper to taste
- *Optional: 12 to 18 jumbo shrimp (peeled & de-veined)
Bring a pot of water to boil and salt it generously (at least one tablespoon). Add pasta and cook according to directions on package. Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat with the onion, garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes (also add shrimp now). Use a spoon or spatula to break the anchovies up into little bits. Cook until onions soften and become translucent, about four to five minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
Add white wine, tomatoes, olives and capers. Simmer for about 10 minutes over medium heat. During this time, drain the pasta and set aside until sauce is ready. Do not rinse with water.
If the sauce appears dry, add water to it in small amounts. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, toss to coat and cook together for one more minute. Remove from heat and transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with freshly chopped basil and grated parmesan cheese; serve and enjoy!
Tony’s Tip: The more you break apart the anchovies during the initial cooking phase, the more they will dissolve into the sauce. Anchovies are salty by nature, so be sure to taste the sauce before adding salt.
Although the early pioneer settlement of this region was by white, native-born Americans, many groups of European immigrants have had an influence in the development of the state.
William Bertolero of Lead, SD was born in the city of Borgiallo, province of Torino, Italy, in 1859 and his story is an excellent example of the successful immigrant. Bertolero attended school in his native land and at the age of thirteen years began working on the railroad in the famous tunnel between Como and Switzerland.
Then at the age of fourteen, he went to the island of Sardinia, where he was employed in the silver mines for four years. He, next, worked in the iron mines, silver mines and railroad in France and then in northern Africa. After four years he was recalled to Italy for military service. After his discharge from military service due to an injury, he sailed for America in 1881.
He went to Collinsville, Illinois, where he was employed in the coal mines for some time. He worked in various mines in southern Illinois until early 1883. He moved to the Black Hills and arrived in Deadwood in March 1883. Three days later he became an employee of the Homestake Mining Company and remained connected with the company for twenty-six years. Mr. Bertolero married Miss Rosa Caffaro, who was also born in Italy, and together with their two children made their home in Lead, South Dakota, on the western side of the state.
He became the director and vice president of the Miners & Merchants Bank of Lead and gave the greater part of his time to the supervision of his investments and his accumulated fortune. Among his many community associations, Mr. Bertolero wan a member of The Italian Lodge and the Society of Christopher Columbus. For some time he was a volunteer fireman and he was ever willing to do anything within his power to increase the prosperity and prestige of his adopted city.
Source “History of Dakota Territory” by George W. Kingsbury, Vol. IV (1915)
A homemade pasta store in Alcester, SD
The secret to great a great pasta dish is in the pasta, not the sauce. Our pastas are made with old-fashioned brass dies, using tools that are imported from Italy. The brass dies create pastas with rougher surface textures which help hold the sauce to them. We use organic whole grain flour and then add organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices to make artisan pasta that brings a new level of flavor and flair to any pasta dish. (http://www.artisanitalian.com/)
Here is one of their delicious recipes.
Fettuccine with Gorgonzola Cream
- 12 oz fettuccine
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup cream
- 4 ounces Gorgonzola cut into small pieces
- 1 ½ teaspoons Herbes de Provence
- 4 handfuls baby spinach leaves
Bring salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, heat a large sauce pan with the butter and garlic, cook 2 minutes, then whisk in flour, cook 1 minute.
Whisk in stock, then cream, bring to a bubble and stir in Gorgonzola until melted. Stir in Herbes de Provence and cook 3 minutes more.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
In a serving bowl toss the hot pasta with the sauce and fresh spinach (spinach should slightly wilt). Serve immediately.
The first wave of migration and settlement into Montana began when gold was discovered in Bannack (1862) and Alder Gulch (1863), south of Butte. By 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed. From 1882 to 1883, the railroad sent out 2.5 million pieces of literature advertising land for sale. Immigrants from northern Europe were sought as they could adapt to the climate and conditions of Montana, though only a few came. An English colony was established in Helena and the Yellowstone Valley in 1882; a few French came to Missoula County; and a few Dutch families settled in the Gallatin Valley in 1893. The most notable settlement was that of the Finnish lumbermen east of Missoula in 1892, while the Italians and Germans settled in Fergus and Park counties. The smelters and mills of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company drew Scandinavian and Irish workers to the area. The Montana coal mines of Cascade, Carbon and Musselshell counties were worked by the Irish, Poles and Italians.
Bontempo, Martinelli, Castellano, Bertoglio, Ciabattari, Favero, Sconfienza, Ronchetto and Grosso — were just some of the Italian families who settled in the Meaderville section of Butte. The area would later come to be known as Montana’s “Little Italy,” where the majority of its residents could trace their lineage back to Northern and Central Italy. By the late 1920s, the Meaderville neighborhood, took on a life of its own, with its abundance of restaurants, taverns, night clubs and specialty grocery stores.
Pauline (Mencarelli) de Barathy, Tom Holter and Jim Troglia, all of Butte recently shared some of their Meaderville memories in The Montana Standard.
Holter’s grandfather, Mike Ciabatarri, ran M. Ciabatarri & Son Meaderville Grocery and Holter spent his Saturdays delivering groceries for his grandfather. He remembers Sundays, when dinner was served by his Aunt Neda. “She was a helluva cook,” he said.
Troglia’s childhood memories include building go-carts, skating on the neighborhood rink, riding bikes over the many hills behind Meaderville and stealing cigars from Guidi’s Grocery. Guidi’s, Holter noted, was also known throughout Butte for their sausage and salami. “When they died,” he said, “they took that recipe to the grave.”Pauline de Barathy was amazed at all the imported items the store carried, including the different types of cheese. “That was their specialty,” she said.
A number of restaurants flourished in Meaderville, including the Aro Cafe and the Rocky Mountain Cafe and de Barathy recalled how residents could smell the wonderful aromas drifting from the restaurants. “Your mouth would just water,” she said. “You wanted to taste it so bad.” Holter, on the other hand, remembers the Meaderville Bakery. “Best there ever was,” he said.
All three people talked about the neighborhood gardens. Whose house had the best garden was the number one concern and who could make the best wine or grappa ran a close second. Wine was a staple in Italian households and every fall the train would bring in an abundance of grapes and cherries for wine making.
Italian traditions were passed down through the generations, and for many, so was the language. Although de Barathy’s mother was born in Butte, it was not until she started school that she learned English. “That was not unusual,” she explained.
Even though, Meaderville has succumbed to “progress”, traditions continue. Every Christmas, Holter serves up a big Italian dinner, which includes “piatto forte,” a dessert recipe handed down by his mother. On New Year’s Eve, it’s “bagna cauda” at the Troglia home, a spicy dish with anchovies and garlic that originated in northern Italy.
What de Barathy cherished most about her neighborhood was that it was so close-knit. It was nearly a nightly occurrence to find people outside, visiting with their neighbors. “It was their chit-chat time” and “I miss that,” de Barathy, said.
Grandma’s Oxtail Ravioli
Mario Batali, the famed chef, spent his childhood watching his grandmother make oxtail ravioli and other Italian specialties passed down in the family. The Batali family’s roots are almost entirely in the West. Mario’s great-great-grandfather left Italy for Butte, Montana in 1899 to work in the coal mines and eventually moved further west.
For the Ravioli:
- 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 Large Red Onions (sliced)
- 1 pound Sweet Italian Sausage (crumbled)
- 1 Bunch Red Swiss Chard (cut into 1/2″ ribbons)
- 1 cup Fresh Ricotta
- 1/2 teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper (to taste)
- Fresh Pasta Sheets
For the Oxtail Ragu:
- 5 pounds Oxtail (cut into 2″ thick pieces)
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Flour (for dredging)
- 2 Medium Onions (sliced 1/4″ thick)
- 4 cups Red Wine
- 2 cups Brown Chicken Stock
- 2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Fresh Thyme Leaves
- Pecorino Romano for Grating
For the Ravioli:
In a 12- to 14-inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly till softened. Add sausage and cook until pink is gone, about 8 minutes. Add chard and stir to mix with sausage and then cover and cook 15 minutes till chard gives up its water. Remove lid and cook until dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.
Add sausage and onion mixture to the ricotta, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Mix well.
Divide the pasta dough into 4 equal portions and roll each out to the thinnest setting on a pasta machine. Lay 1 sheet of pasta on a work surface and use a pastry cutter to make 12 2½- by 1-inch rectangles. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the filling on one rectangle and cover with another rectangle. Press firmly around the edges to seal, brush with a little water if necessary. Continue with the remaining pasta and filling. These can be set aside on a baking tray, the layers separated by dish towels and refrigerated, for up to 6 hours.
For the Oxtail Ragu:
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Trim the excess fat from the oxtails and season liberally with salt and pepper.
In a 6 to 8 quart, heavy-bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until it is just smoking. Quickly dredge the oxtails in the flour and sear them on all sides until browned, turning with long-handled tongs. This should take 8 – 10 minutes. Removed the browned oxtails to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the same pan and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook them until lightly browned, 5 – 7 minutes. Add the wine, stock, tomato sauce and thyme and bring the mixture to a boil. Return the oxtails to the pot, submerging them in the liquid and return the pot to a boil. Cover the casserole and cook in the oven for 1 – 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the oxtails with long-handled tongs. When they are cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bones and shred into small pieces with a fork. Discard the bones.
With a small ladle, skim the fat from the surface of the sauce. Return the shredded meat to the casserole. Place the casserole over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to reduce to a very thick ragú. Season with salt and pepper.
To The Prepare Dish:
Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Meanwhile, In a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan, heat about 3 cups of the ragú. Gently drop the ravioli into the boiling water and cook at a gentle simmer for 3 minutes. Drain. Add the ravioli to the sauté pan with the ragu. Toss very gently over medium heat to coat the ravioli with the ragú, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide among six heated bowls and grate Pecorino over each bowl. Serve immediately.
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