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.
For almost 150 years Reno, Nevada, has had an Italian American presence. After arriving in American ports on the West and East Coasts, the immigrants sought out areas of the United States where the climate would be similar to the one they had left behind in Europe. They also desired to move to locations where either a plentiful number of jobs were available or where the land was cheap enough so that they could earn a living from farming or ranching. Northwestern Nevada satisfied all these demands. The dry, mountainous terrain is similar to that of many of the provinces in northern Italy where most of the local Italian families emigrated from and the area featured cheap and fertile land.
Initially, Italians streamed into the area to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After the completion of the railroad in 1869, Italian immigrants continued to move to the area in significant numbers to work at the local ranches and lumber companies. This trend lasted through the first few decades of the twentieth century.
After arriving in Nevada, Reno’s Italian Americans gradually created distinctive ethnic neighborhoods throughout the valley. Three major Italian areas developed in the region: one in central Sparks along Prater Way, one in north Reno along Washington Street and one along the Truckee River just west of downtown. These districts were conveniently located within easy walking to some of the major employers of local Italian Americans—the Union Pacific freight depot in Sparks and the many Italian-owned shops, restaurants and other small businesses located along Lake Street in downtown Reno.
Each of these neighborhoods featured a particular style of architecture. From the 1910s until the 1940s, Italian immigrants constructed Craftsman-style homes in their Reno neighborhood. These houses distinctively feature shallow sloping roofs, upstairs dormer windows and tapered columns. The immigrants built these wide, low-rising dwellings to take full advantage of the small sizes of their neighborhood lots. While this style of home design is not exclusive to the Italian American community, this particular local immigrant group did make almost exclusive use of this style because of its efficient use of lot space, its simple design and construction and the inexpensive nature of the required building materials.
Today, many Craftsman-style homes remain in all three of the major Italian American neighborhoods and, while not carrying the weight of a full historic district, the city provides guidance and information for homeowners interested in restoring their historic properties. The valuable historic character of this collection of homes and streets, so important to the area’s Italian American community, is now being painstakingly preserved by volunteer residents with the official backing of the City of Reno.
The many small business enterprises run by northern Nevada’s Italian Americans functioned as a major means of achieving financial stability and social mobility among its members. Many local Italians, lacking a formal American education, saw the formation of small shops, restaurants and other enterprises as an accessible path to financial and social success for both themselves and their families. Some of Reno’s most popular businesses, past and present, have been owned and operated by local Italian Americans. The Eldorado Hotel and Casino, the Mizpah Hotel, the Sportsman, First National Bank of Nevada and Pioneer Citizens Bank are a few examples of prominent establishments that were started by local Italians. On a smaller scale, Italian American–owned neighborhood shops such as the Dainty Cake Shop and Pinky’s Market were also staffed mostly by Italian Americans who were either related to or were close friends with the owners. In addition to their influence on Reno’s business community, Italian Americans had an impact on local leisure activities through games and gatherings they did for fun and relaxation. Some of these activities included gardening, wine making, and bocce ball tournaments. (Source: http://www.onlinenevada.org)
Ivano Centemeri, executive chef at Eldorado Hotel Casino’s La Strada restaurant in Reno, has been bringing Italian flavors to area eateries since 1995. Born and raised in Monza, Italy, near Milan, Centemeri came to Reno to share his culture through food. He’s happy that people enjoy learning about his background. Centemeri began his cooking endeavors at just 15 years old. After the required amount of schooling, he enrolled in culinary school to make cooking his career path. In addition to indulging in the cooking process at work and at home, Centemeri works with the owners of Arte Italia to further share his culture with others. The Italian arts and culinary center is devoted to the preservation of historical Italian traditions and heritage. A huge part of any culture is the cuisine, which is why, several times a year, the center hosts chefs from around Italy to demonstrate authentic cooking from their respective regions.
(courtesy of Chef Ivano Centemeri)
Porcini mushrooms have a smooth, meaty texture and woodsy flavor. They are a natural enhancement to a smooth Risotto. Chef Centemeri serves this dish topped with pan seared scallops.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups Carnaroli or Arborio, an Italian rice
- 3 cups prepared chicken stock
- 2.5 oz dried Porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
In a saucepan, simmer the Porcini mushrooms in the chicken stock on low for 15 minutes.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion. Sauté until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Add rice and while stirring, add 1/2 cup broth with the Porcini mushrooms.
When liquid in rice mixture has reduced, add an additional 1/2 cup stock with the Porcini mushrooms, always stirring.
As liquid reduces continue to add stock with Porcini mushrooms 1/2 cup at a time, continually stirring until stock and mushrooms are used, about 20 minutes.
Mixture will be creamy and rice slightly al dente. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Fold in 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
The Roosevelt Dam, the US’s first project under the Federal Reclamation Act, is the tallest masonry dam in the world and is located on the Salt River in Arizona. “I want to recollect the men who built the dam, who made the road to the Roosevelt Dam from Phoenix.” President Theodore Roosevelt spoke these words during his March 18, 1911 dedication at the new dam named after him. It was indeed a diverse community of men, some with families, the President chose to acknowledge that day. One of the unique traits of the American West was just how quickly immigrants from around the world came together to create a new society. The people who hired on to build the dam reflect this trait.
The Roosevelt Dam was designed as a masonry dam that required each block of stone to be precisely cut and shaped. Stonemasons from around the world were sought out and hired for the demanding job. The dam was faced from boulders cut or blasted from the surrounding sandstone cliffs and then bonded with mortar and concrete. The first stone, weighing six tons, was set September 20, 1906 by stonemasons, many of whom were Italian immigrants.
Between the boulders, laborers placed large stones weighing up to ten tons each, carried by the cable ways at night to free the units for mortar hauling during the day. Each stone was lowered into waiting mortar and fitted into place. Workers filled the gaps with small rocks and the vertical spaces with mortar. Although construction was hampered by floods throughout the building process, the Roosevelt Dam was completed by February 1911. Four years later, the reservoir was full and water was released over the spillways.
The Roosevelt Dam was located in a very remote canyon 40 miles from the railroad at Globe and about 60 miles from Phoenix, inflating the cost of freighting supplies and adding to the difficulty of construction. Construction of a road from Mesa, called the Apache Trail, took three years to build. Houses for workers and a few stores were built on a hillside within walking distance of the dam site. The town and the campsite were provided with water, sewer lines, an ice plant, telephones and electricity. Roosevelt had utilities other towns in Arizona wished for but it also went without something every other boom town had. The government forbade the sale of alcohol.
When construction workers first came in 1903, the project was called Tonto Dam or Tonto Basin Dam, after the valley that holds the lake. The dam was built where the river was narrowed to 200 feet as it entered a rugged canyon just below a point called “The Crossing.” Exactly when the town came to be named Roosevelt is not clear. There is evidence that it was first called Newtown. But the Post Office was established January 22, 1904 as “Roosevelt,” and probably by then everyone knew it would be called Theodore Roosevelt Dam, after the president who supported its construction. (Source: Arizona State History)
The Theodore Roosevelt Dam created Roosevelt Lake and it is the largest of four lakes created as part of the project. This lake has some of the best fishing waters in the country. The game fish include large mouth bass, small mouth bass, crappie, carp, channel catfish, flat head catfish, bluegill, buffalo fish and an occasional rainbow trout.
- 4 medium leeks
- 1 cup fish stock or clam juice
- 1/2 cup basil pesto
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 bass fillets, 6 ounces each
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the leeks:
Cut off the root ends. Slice off the white part of the leeks just before the stem turns green. Split the leeks in half lengthwise. Cut into ½ inch-wide strips. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the leeks for 1 to 2 minutes, or until soft. Drain well. Reserve.
For the pesto broth:
Bring the fish stock or clam juice to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer and add the pesto. Stir well, and keep warm while the fish is cooking.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Season the bass fillets with salt and pepper. Heat a large, ovenproof saute pan and add the olive oil. When hot, carefully add the fillets to the hot saute pan. Sear until golden brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Carefully turn over the fillets and place the pan in the oven. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
Place 4 equal mounds of leeks in the center of 4 large bowls. Place the fish on top of the leeks. Place the tomatoes around the fish in the bowl. Finish by ladling the pesto broth around the fish. Serve immediately. (Source: The Arizona Republic)
Although the railroad represented the city’s major industry, other enterprises played an important role in the early development of Albuquerque. Italian immigrants built many of the city’s premier buildings. In 1886 Gaetano Palladino and Michael Berardinelli built the first county courthouse. They also built the ornate, brownstone Nicholas T. Armijo Building. Luigi Puccini, cousin of the famed composer, is responsible for the Puccini building, now home to both the El Rey Theater and Puccini’s Golden West Saloon. Oreste Bachechi built both the Savoy Hotel in 1905 and in 1927 the KiMo Theater.
Bachechi initiated the process of Italians settling in Albuquerque. Born in Bagni de Lucca, Italy in 1860, he came to Albuquerque in 1885. He opened a small tent saloon near the railroad to cater to the needs of travelers and railroad employees and later expanded this business into a prosperous wholesale liquor dealership. News of his economic success influenced other Italians to try their fortune in Albuquerque. Additionally, Bachechi lent some Italian immigrants money for their passage and helped them find work when they arrived.
In 1925, Oreste decided to achieve his true dream – building his own theater. Envisioning a unique southwestern style, he soon hired an architect to design it, winding up with the Pueblo Deco style. This architectural style fused the spirit of Native American culture with Art Deco. The KiMo Theater was opened on September 19, 1927 and the first movie shown in the KiMo was Painting the Town Red. The first talking movie was Melody of Broadway. Frances Farney played the Wurlitzer organ during each performance.
The KiMo was also an important employer for young people just getting started in the entertainment business. Vivian Vance, who gained fame as Lucille Ball’s sidekick in the I Love Lucy series, started working at the KiMo. The theater also hosted such Hollywood stars as Sally Rand, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix and Ginger Rogers. A year after the realization of his dream, Oreste Bachechi died, leaving the management of the KiMo to his sons, who combined vaudeville and out-of town road shows with movies. Extra revenue came in from the luncheonette and curio shop on either side of the entrance. (Source: History of Albuquerque)
The New Mexico Italian Film & Culture Festival (formerly the NM Italian Film Festival) has become an Albuquerque tradition and is held in February each year. Eleven films were screened this past February (three in Santa Fe and eight in Albuquerque., The festival also features music, art, Italian food and a silent auction. Extending over 11 days, the festival, a benefit for the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital, starts at the Jean Cocteau Cinema with a wine and food reception and a screening. All films are in Italian with English subtitles and include a great mix of genres, from comedy to drama to romance. The mission of the New Mexico Italian Film & Culture Festival is to promote and raise awareness of Italian culture in New Mexico while contributing to a valuable state institution that benefits all New Mexican children. (Source http://www.italianfilmfest.org/home.php)
La Lama Mountain Ovens is a high-altitude bakery located in New Mexico with an Italian emphasis. Old family recipes and old-world techniques are being recorded and tested and then preserved on their website along with modern translations.
As a family project, their primary mission is to record, test and preserve the best of the Italian-American old family recipes and translate them to fit today’s families. They have also developed an appreciation for the differences that their 8,000 foot altitude makes to the cooking and baking, process – and intend to share tips and techniques useful to anyone trying to prepare food above 2,000 feet.
Baked Ziti with Four Cheeses
by CeCe Dove, La Lama Mountain Ovens
- 1 lb. ziti pasta
- 3/4 lb. whole milk ricotta
- 1/4 lb. Italian Fontina cheese, coarsely grated
- 1/4 lb. whole milk Mozzarella, coarsely grated
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 quart tomato sauce
- 2 cups Bechamel sauce
- 2 cups cold whole milk
- 1/4 lb. butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the Bechamel Sauce
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan – add flour and stir to blend; cook the butter/flour mixture 2 minutes. Add the cold milk all at once and whisk to blend. Add salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until thickened.
Butter a glass casserole dish, approximately 13 x 9, and set aside.
For the Ziti
Cook the ziti to the al dente stage in a large quantity of boiling salted water.
While the pasta is cooking, warm the tomato sauce and put it into a bowl large enough to hold all ingredients.
When the pasta is cooked, drain well, add to the bowl with the tomato sauce. Add the Bechamel sauce and then add the ricotta, fontina and mozzarella cheeses. Mix vigorously until well combined.
Pour into the buttered casserole, top with the Parmesan cheese and bake 30-35 minutes until bubbly.
Let sit five minutes before serving. (Source:http://www.parshift.com/ovens/home.htm)
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