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The Northwest

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.

Idaho

Pocatello, Idaho

Pocatello, Idaho

Italians came to Idaho, mostly during the years 1890 to 1920, to mine, farm, ranch, construct railroads, and start businesses. In 1910, 2,627 Italians in Idaho lived in enclaves in Kellogg and Wallace, Bonners Ferry, Naples, Lava Hot Springs, Roston in Minidoka County and Mullan and east of Priest River. The largest concentration was in Pocatello, where as many as 400 families were supported by railroad jobs.

Portrait of an Italian Immigrant in Idaho:

Giacomo Manfredo was born 18 June 1875 in Casamassima, Bari Province, Italy. He immigrated from Monopoli, Bari province, Italy arriving on the Hamburg at Ellis Island 25 June 1911. (My grandfather also came across the ocean on the S.S. Hamburg but in 1914.)

Giacomo’s daughter, Christina, remembers that he immigrated with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Elio, friends from Bari province. Giacomo worked for the Pennsylvania RR, then, and migrated through Winnipeg, Canada to Las Vegas and, eventually, arrived in Pocatello, Idaho, where he worked freight for the Union Pacific. The Elio’s, also, settled in Pocatello.

Giovanna, Giacomo and friends. Back yard of Fifth Street house about 1950

Giovanna, Giacomo and friends. Backyard of Fifth Street house about 1950.

Mount Carmel Parish had an Italian priest and sermons were delivered in Italian. It was at Mount Carmel where Giacomao met Giovanna Palombo, a young woman from Vicalvi, Italy with a 2-year-old daughter, Filomena. They married in 1917. Giovanna and Giacomo raised Filomena along with two more children, Dominic and Christina (Crissy). A second son, Ralph, born in 1922, died in 1923 due to complications from measles.

Giacomo prided himself as the winemaker for the local Catholic parish. He ordered grapes from California every year, pressed the grapes and made wine in the cellar of their home. He insisted that the children help stomp the grapes and once spent Giovanna’s kitchen money to purchase a pair of rubber boots for the wine production. When told that he needed a license to produce the wine, he dutifully purchased one and proudly directed the local authorities to the certificate several years later. Unfortunately, it was an annual license and the moment was rather tense until the officials decided that if he agreed to purchase a current permit, they would not arrest him for his past crime. The family purchased their first wine-press from Sears in 1944.

Giacomo and Giovanna purchased a substantial brick house at 529 N. 5th street from Charlie Busco, another Italian immigrant and they were very proud of their purchase. They rented out the main floor for several years until the payments became more affordable. Giovanna crocheted lace for St. Anthony’s altar and, at times, cleaned Pullman cars in addition to her full-time housewife duties.

Giacomo had a brother, Giuseppe, who lived with them in Pocatello. He worked with Giacomo for the Union Pacific and lost a leg in a railroad accident. After the accident he moved to Denver where he opened a bar. Giovanna’s brother, Dominic Palombo, lived in Pocatello with them for a while and worked for the railroad until his brother, Angelo, talked him into moving back to Pennsylvania, Unfortunately, he was killed in a steel mill accident there.

Both Giacomo and Giovanna were illiterate. Their daughter, Filomena remembers that Giacomo’s surname was spelled incorrectly on his paycheck. It did not seem to make any difference to him, though, as long as he got the money. Giacomo’s pronunciation was interpreted as Manfredi at Ellis Island and family friends in Pocatello wrote it in this manner. Other spellings, on such documents as their immigration registration forms and paychecks, include Monfreda, Manfredi, Monfredi, Monfredo, Maffreda and Moffreda. One of the railroad paycheck versions was Montfraid. The spelling became consistent only after Filomena entered first grade, when Manfredo became the family name. When Giacomo died in 1959 at the age of 84, his name was legally designated Manfredo.

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Potato Pizza Margherita Style

Ingredients

  • 3 large Idaho russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Black pepper, ground, to taste
  • 2 eggs, large, beaten
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the baking sheet
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic, minced
  • 16 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 3 ripe Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • Fresh basil leaves, sliced
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
  • 1/4 cup Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Oil a 15 x 10-inch cookie sheet.

Cook the unpeeled potatoes in boiling water until they are easily pierced with a knife but not falling apart, no more than 20 minutes. Allow the cooked potatoes to steam dry slightly in a strainer, then peel and press through a ricer or pass through a fine strainer onto a sheet pan to cool completely.

Scrape the potatoes into a bowl and add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in the eggs and make a smooth dough.

Add the minced garlic to a quarter cup of olive oil; set aside.

Slice the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Brush with a little garlic olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the dried oregano. Season with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Side aside.

Cut the woody ends off the asparagus spears. Cut stalks in half. Brush with a little garlic olive oil and season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Lay a piece of parchment paper, the size of the baking sheet, on the counter and dust with flour. Shape the dough into a rectangle and place it on the floured parchment. Dust the top of the dough with a little more all-purpose flour. Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough and roll the dough out evenly, so that the dough is about the size of the cookie sheet.

Remove the top parchment paper and flip the dough onto the oiled cookie sheet. Remove the parchment paper. Push the crust into the edges of the pan.

Brush the dough generously with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon dried oregano.

Par-bake the crust in the preheated oven for 9-10 minutes until the crust begins to turn a light, golden brown.

Remove the pizza from the oven and top the crust evenly with alternating slices of mozzarella cheese, Roma tomato slices and halved asparagus spears, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges.

Drizzle the top of the pizza with 2 tablespoons of the garlic olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon of dried oregano and the freshly grated Grana Padano cheese.

Bake the pizza until the crust is golden brown on the bottom, about 10 more minutes. Allow the pizza to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Top the pizza with the fresh basil and cut into squares.

Washington

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The first Italian immigrants reached Seattle a hundred years ago, exactly four centuries after Columbus discovered the Americas and Amerigo Vespucci gave them his name. Most Italians, settled into cities on the eastern seaboard and only a small fraction of the Italian immigrants made it to Washington in 1900. However, Seattle in the decade following the Klondike rush enjoyed the greatest growth in its history, tripling its population from 80,000 to 240,000 between 1900-1910.  Italians, along with other immigrants and native-born Americans, shaped much of the Seattle we know today. They built buildings, constructed water mains and sewer lines.  They made Elliott Bay uniform by placing dirt from the nearby hills which transformed Seattle into a world-class waterfront.

Italian immigrants working on the railroad.

Italian immigrants working on the railroad.

Most of Seattle’s Italians were unskilled laborers and some were illiterate. Yet nearly all of them were able to become successful and a remarkable number would become very well-to-do. Rocco Alia, for example, was a construction laborer who started his own underground and roadway construction company.  His son, Orly went to work for his father as a waterboy and recalls that the laborers’ clothes were always soaked with sweat.  Orly, as soon as he could, also started his own company and so did his son Richard, now head of R. L. Alia Co. This pattern of sons following in their father’s’ footsteps even to the fourth generation would become a tradition among Seattle’s Italian families.

By 1915, 20 per cent of Seattle’s Italian community members were in business or in one of the professions.  They included Doctors Xavier De Donato and A. J. Ghiglione (who founded a macaroni factory); Joe Desimone, who owned the Pike Place Market; Frank Buty, a real estate executive, Attilio Sbedico, professor of literature at the University of Washington and Nicola Paolella, publisher of the Gazetta Italiani. Paoella also produced and announced an Italian language radio show for 26 years and was the recipient of the Order of Merit, Italy’s highest civilian decoration.

The most eminent scholar in the Northwest was Henry Suzzallo, whose family came from Ragusa.  In 1915, he was appointed to the presidency of the University of Washington.  He held the position until 1926. He achieved even more prominence by becoming chairman of the board of trustees and president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning.  He stayed there until he died in 1933.

Original Pike Place Market

Original Pike Place Market

Angelo Merlino, while still working in the mines, imported cheese, pasta and olive oil in bulk.  He quit mining and opened a store in 1900 that was so successful that he was soon importing Italian food by the shipload.  Today Merlino and Sons is one of Seattle’s biggest distributors of Italian foods.

Gradually, Seattleites developed a taste for Italian foods and other Italian food businesses, such as, Oberto’s and Gavosto’s Torino sausages, DeLaurenti’s, Magnano’s and Borracchini’s food stores became household words.

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Linguine with Shrimp in Pink Sauce

Recipe courtesy of DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine Shop

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves – thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup carrots – chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery – chopped
  • 1 cup sweet onion – chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme – minced
  • 28 oz can DOP San Marzano tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 lb. Italian dried Linguine
  • 1 lb. shrimp – peeled, deveined and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chilies
  • 3/4 cup fish stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Italian parsley – chopped for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Saute the onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium low heat, covered for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, being careful to keep the onions from burning. Add carrots, celery, thyme and cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes. Crush tomatoes by hand, add to the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the sauce to a blender or processor and puree (this turns it pinkish). Return the sauce to the pan and set aside.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons salt. Add linguine and cook al dente.

While the pasta cooks, season shrimp with salt & pepper. In a separate sauce pan, saute shrimp in 1 tablespoon olive oil and red pepper flakes until almost done, approximately 3 minutes – shrimp should still be a bit opaque in the middle. Transfer shrimp to a plate and set aside. Add stock and wine to the pan and reduce by 1/3, approximately 5 minutes. Ladle red sauce into stock & wine mixture and heat through.

When cooked, add the drained pasta to the sauce and mix. Add shrimp and heat through. Plate pasta, garnish with Italian parsley and serve immediately.

Oregon

Oregon Vineyards

Oregon Vineyards

In and around cities like Portland, immigrants found work as laborers, shopkeepers and farmers. The Italian population of Portland surged from 1,000 in 1900 to 5,000 by 1910. They first settled south of town near Marquam’s Gulch, a district shared with Russian Jews. Later, Italians moved to Ladd’s Addition, Brooklyn and Parkrose.

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Italian immigrants worked in a wide array of professions. Many hundreds of Italian immigrants worked in Portland’s extensive railroad yards or served as street graders and built and maintained roads throughout the city.  Italian entrepreneurs, like Francesco Arata, established shops and restaurants in Italian neighborhoods on both the west and east sides of the Willamette River.  Almost 1,300 Italians lived and worked on the east side.  They rented land and grew vegetables and berries and some families operated truck farms that sold produce to individuals and businesses across the city. The Italian Ranchers and Gardeners Association organized and established the first retail produce market on the west side but frequent flooding forced organizers to move it to the east side in 1906.  The new market covered a complete block and growers brought their produce there to sell before loading the remainder on trucks to be sold throughout the city.

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Grapes first came to the Oregon in the mid 19th century, along with the influx of French, German and Italian immigrants, bringing with them their tastes and cultures of wine. Early planting in Washington County included Zinfandel, Muscatel, Riesling, Burgundian varietals (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay and their derivatives) and Hambourg (Black Muscat).

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Ponzi children planting vines.

Family, business and Italian heritage are not separate subjects for Michel Ponzi. Born into a first-generation American-Italian family, where his old-world, European roots were at the forefront of his upbringing. Michel grew up in a household where the Italian immigrant work ethic met the American possibility. His grandparents sacrificed their own familiar life and culture in Italy in hope of a brighter future in America. Their American born children practiced the importance of hard work and following a dream. Michel’s parents, Dick and Nancy Ponzi, followed their dreams that led them and their young family to Oregon.

Michel was only six years old when his parents pursued an idea that had yet to be proven – to grow pinot noir grapes in Oregon and make world-class wines. In the late 60’s, early 70’s, Oregon was timber country filled with lumberjacks, hunters and farmers, with plenty of property available for purchase. Through trial and error, like a handful of other wine enthusiasts, his family started a winery.  As a boy, he planted vines on the rugged property and worked throughout his childhood, pruning them and picking grapes at harvest. Later, he became a row boss, tractor driver and, also,  worked the bottling line, in packaging and in product delivery.  With a business degree in hand, he continued his lifelong career of developing the family business into a prosperous entity, side-by-side with his mother and father, Dick and Nancy Ponzi, founders of Ponzi Vineyards.

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Ponzi Italian varietals

In 1999, the Ponzi Family recognized that the rapidly increasing enthusiasm for wine touring was not supported sufficiently by fine dining facilities located in the local wine country. They constructed and continue to operate a culinary center in the tiny town of Dundee. The Dundee Bistro and the Ponzi Wine Bar, showcasing the region’s finest wines are the result of their endeavor. Reception to the facility has been overwhelming, garnering excellent reviews and recommendations in the national media.

The Ponzis wanted to create a casual, friendly atmosphere that welcomed tourists, families, local residents and wine makers still in their overalls and field boots. On a given day it’s possible to order handmade pizza, fish and chips, a salad of mixed organic greens with seared foie gras, Kumamoto oysters fresh from the Pacific 60 miles away, roasted butternut squash soup with chanterelles, loin of venison or local, natural pork smoked all day over local walnut to tender perfection. A meal can end with simple house blackberry sorbet or flaming Oregon cherries jubilee, either one accompanied with piping hot Italian espresso.

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Pork Tenderloin in Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce

Courtesy of Christopher Flanagan, Executive Chef, The Dundee Bistro

Ingredients

2 pork tenderloins (approx. 2 lbs)

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup Pinot Noir
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons star anise pods, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Salt and pepper

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Pinot Noir
  • 1/2 cup Port
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate concentrate
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 star anise pods, whole
  • 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2/3 cups toasted walnuts, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Garnish: Pomegranate seeds, fresh mint sprigs

Directions

Marinade: Combine marinade ingredients in a sealable plastic bag with the pork tenderloins. Refrigerate for 2–3 hours. Remove tenderloins and pat dry; reserve marinade.

Sauce: Sauté shallots in olive oil for 2–3 minutes. Add Pinot Noir and Port. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half. Add pomegranate concentrate, orange juice, chicken stock, star anise and reserved marinade. Continue to simmer until reduced by half again, or until the sauce thickens enough to coat back of wooden spoon. Cautiously add vinegar, honey and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat, strain and add walnuts and butter. Keep warm.

Tenderloins: Brown by grilling (5–6 minutes/side) or sauté in olive oil 4–6 minutes/side without overcooking. Hold tenderloins at least 5 minutes in a tinfoil tent. Slice into 1/3-inch slices.

To serve: spoon a pool of sauce on individual plates.  Arrange sliced pork on top, then additional sauce.

Garnish: with pomegranate seeds and mint sprigs.

Recommended accompaniments: a simply prepared rice pilaf, barley, oven-roasted potatoes or pasta dressed with butter, olive oil and salt.

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