Grosseto is considered to be the most beautiful of all the Tuscan provinces. Located at the southern tip of Tuscany, the province is often referred to as the heart of Tuscany and its beauty is well known throughout Italy. The area is home to picturesque towns, natural parks, beaches and excellent, award-winning wines.
“Le Biancane” is a Nature Park with in the Colline Metallifere located in the province. The Park represents one of the many sites where geothermal activity has modified the landscape. Here energy lies in the earth and vapour emissions rise from the ground. Because of these geological and climatic characteristics, an atypical flora has developed in this area. The name biancane comes from the white color of the rocks that characterizes the entire landscape. The hydrogen sulphide emissions, in fact, erupt from geysers in the ground and turn the limestone into gypsum. The steam that comes out of the rocks is responsible for the characteristic smell of rotten eggs.
The province is also rich with culinary traditions, such the Slow Food Movement and, although it is prevalent all over the world today, the movement was actually born in Italy. Slow Food began with the founding of its forerunner organization, Arcigola, in 1986 to resist the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. At its heart is the aim to promote local foods and traditional cuisine and food production.
The Slow Food Movement was not, and still is not, only about food, but about life choices. Since its inception, the group has been embracing the values and the lifestyle many Italians associate with their grandparents and their way of life, which is the ultimate goal of “promoting the idea of food as a source of pleasure, culture, history, identity and of a true lifestyle, as well as a way of eating, which is respectful of the land and of local traditions”. (http://www.slowfood.com)
Italian Slow Food Recipes
- 25 g (1 oz) fresh yeast
- Pinch of sugar
- 310 ml (1 1/4 cups) of water
- 500 g (1 lb, 2 oz) bread flour
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of salt
Put the yeast into a bowl with a pinch of sugar. Stir in the water* and leave it to ferment.
Put the flour in a large, wide bowl, or onto a flat surface where you can work with it. Add the yeast, a pinch of salt, and the oil, and mix in to incorporate them well.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, compact elastic ball. Add a little more flour or water if necessary.
Put the dough into a lightly floured bowl, cover with a cloth, and leave it to rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until it has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Put some oil onto a wide baking pan and spread out the dough with your fingers.
Bake for 20 minutes and while the flatbread is still warm, brush over it with as much olive oil as you prefer and a bit of kosher salt.
Tip* The water must be tepid. To make schiacciata successfully, you should never use extreme temperatures.
- Onion (1)
- Celery (about 2 stalks)
- Carrots (about 2)
- Parsley (one bunch)
- Zucchini (2 medium)
- Potatoes (2 medium)
- Beets (one bunch)
- Kale (about 1 pound/ 400 g)
- Head cabbage (1 ½ pounds/ 700 g)
- Cannellini beans (about 1 pound/ 400 g)
- Tomato puree (a glass)
- Wild herbs: such as borage leaves, nettles and plantain (few leaves)
- Aromatic herbs (a bunch): fennel, thyme, marjoram, oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
Boil the beans in abundant water until tender. Drain them (keeping the water), blend half the beans in a food processor and keep 1/2 of the beans whole.
Chop the vegetables into small chunks.
Sauté the onions, celery, parsley and carrots in a pot with extra virgin olive oil.
Add the herbs whole and remove after a few minutes.
Add the potatoes and the rest of the vegetables and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the tomato puree, salt and pepper.
Add the reserved bean liquid and the purèed beans and let the soup cook at a low temperature for an 2 hours. Add the whole beans and heat. Serve or cool and refrigerate.
Wild Boar Stew (Cinghiale in Umido)
- 2 ¼ pounds/1 kg wild boar
- ½ pound/200 g onions
- ¼ pound/100 g celery
- Bay leaves, rosemary, juniper berry
- A half glass of wine
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, pepper, chili
- Meat stock
- 2/3 pound/ 300 g of peeled tomatoes
Soak the wild boar overnight in water and vinegar with the juniper, bay leaves, celery and rosemary.
Finely chop the onion and celery and sauté in a pan with extra virgin olive oil.
Drain the wild boar and add to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.
Add salt, pepper and chili and sprinkle with wine and let evaporate.
Add the tomato, cover with the meat stock and cook for about one hour and a half.
Wild Boar Sauce Over Pappardelle Pasta
Once the meat is cooked, chop it fine and return it to the sauce. The sauce is traditionally served over wide egg-based pasta, such as Pappardelle.
Arista: Roast Pork
- 2-3 lb lean pork loin
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.
Mix the rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper together and rub the pork loin with this mixture. Make short incisions in six places in the meat (use a knife) and stuff a little of the mixture into each opening.
Tie the meat tightly using kitchen twine.
Put the pork loin into a baking pan with some extra virgin olive oil.
Place in the oven and cook for about 1 1/2 hours turning the meat every so often.
Cut the roast into thin slices and serve it with its pan sauce.
Frittelle di Riso
- 2-1/2 cups short grain rice
- 6 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- Peel of one lemon (wide strips)
- 1 ounce liqueur (sherry, brandy, or amaretto)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon baking flour
- Pinch of salt
- 6 eggs, separated
- Olive oil for frying
Bring the rice, sugar, lemon peel and milk to a slow boil. The rice is cooked when all the milk is absorbed.
Place the rice in large bowl, add the liqueur, egg yolks, flour, baking powder and salt.
Mix well and let cool. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.
Whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the rice mixture.
In a heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil for frying. Drop teaspoons of dough into the hot oil.
Fry quickly and remove when they are golden. Do not brown. Drain on paper towels and serve sprinkled with granulated sugar.
They are best hot, but can also be served cold or reheated.
Asti is a province in the Piedmont region of northern Italy and is an important area for the production of fine wines. Perhaps the wine most famously associated with Asti worldwide is the sparkling Asti (DOCG). The name is usually shortened to “Asti” in order to avoid associations with the many wines of dubious quality, which are labelled “Spumante”.
Asti is typically sweet and low in alcohol (often below 8%) and is made solely from the moscato bianco, a white muscat grape. A premium version known as Moscato d’Asti (DOCG) is sold outside Italy. Moscato d’Asti is a “Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita”, a sparkling white wine produced mainly in the province of Asti, is considered a dessert wine. Grown on Asti hilltops, Moscato d’Asti is made by small producers in small batches. Moscato is so named because of its earthy musk aroma. The petite berry grape ripens early and produces a wide range of wine styles: light and dry, slightly sweet and honey-like.
While technically a white grape, there are strains of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains vines that produce berries that are pink or reddish-brown. When the differing grape color is stable, the wines are typically classified as separate grape varieties: Muscat Rouge à Petit Grains for red skin color and Muscat Rose à Petit Grains for pink skin color.
While Asti province became famous around the world thanks to Martini and Rossi and Gancia and Riccadonnafor for their commercial Spumante wines, it is now becoming famous internationally for its classic red wines, such as Barbera d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Bonarda and Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. These wines and many other local wines can be sampled during the week-long Douja d’Or wine exhibition which is held at the same time as the Palio and Sagre races.
Asti is also famous for its Asti’s Festival of Festivals, held in September, a week before the Palio race. During the festival, most of the towns in Asti’s province meet in a great square called “Campo del Palio”. Here, they offer local cuisine for which they are known and on the Sunday of the Sagre race all the towns involved stage a parade with floats with everyone in costume all along the Asti roads.
Asti province becomes a gourmet delight from October to December when the white truffle or “tartufo bianco” is in season. Some of the best truffles are found around Asti’s hills and every weekend there is a local truffle festival.
Among local vegetables, the cardo gobbo (artichoke)and the “square pepper” (bell pepper) of Asti stand out, and both are regarded as essential ingredients for bagna cauda (a garlic and anchovy dip).
The area around Asti is also renowned for its cheeses, such as robiola of Roccaverano and robiola di Cocconato.
Typical provincial dishes include agnolotti, potato gnocchi, ciotola di trifulau (cheese fondue with polenta and a sprinkling of truffles) and boiled meats.
Local desserts include amaretti (almond cookies), canestrelli (semolina biscuits), finocchini of Refrancore (fennel cookies) and hazelnut cakes.
Pearl Barley Soup with Moscato d’Asti
Chef Norbert Niederkofler of St. Hubertus, Italy
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 oz. smoked cooked ham, cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes
2 small carrots, finely chopped
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
1 medium leek, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
1 medium parsnip, finely chopped
1⁄2 small celery root, finely chopped
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups chicken stock
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Moscato d’Asti, for serving
Finely chopped chives, to garnish
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the ham and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 6 minutes.
Stir in the carrots, onions, leek, parsnip and celery root and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 8 minutes. Add the barley and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the stock and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley is half-cooked, about 35 minutes.
Add the potatoes to the soup and cook until tender, about 25 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the cream and ladle the soup into serving bowls. Add a splash of moscato to each bowl and sprinkle with chives before serving.
Braised Leg of Lamb with Polenta
Chef Norbert Niederkofler of St. Hubertus, Italy
12 oz. lamb bones
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1⁄2 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon whole juniper berries
2 bay leaves
For the Braise and Polenta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (4-lb.) bone-in leg of lamb
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1⁄2 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
10 sprigs rosemary
1 bunch thyme
3 cups coarse-ground polenta
1 cup (4 oz.) grated robiola cheese
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Make the lamb stock:
Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the lamb bones on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the bones to a large saucepan along with half each of the celery, carrots, and onion; the juniper berries; bay leaves and 12 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook until the bones have released their flavor, about 3 hours. Pour the lamb stock through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard the solids.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. In a roasting pan over two burners, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper, add to the pan, and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a platter and add the remaining celery, carrots and onion to the pan along with the rosemary and thyme. Cook the vegetables, stirring, until browned and soft, about 6 minutes. Return the lamb to the pan along with the lamb stock and bring to a boil. Cover the roasting pan with foil and place the lamb in the oven. Braise the lamb until very tender, about 3 hours.
In a large saucepan, bring 8 cups water to a boil. While whisking, slowly pour the polenta and the 2 tablespoons salt into the water and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring steadily, until the polenta is tender and smooth, about 1 hour. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter. Season with pepper and keep warm until ready to serve.
Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and pour the pan juices through a fine sieve into a bowl. Skim and discard the fat and pour the juices into a small saucepan. Bring the juices to a boil and cook until the sauce reduces to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Heat the broiler. Transfer the lamb to a foil-lined baking sheet and broil, turning, until browned and crisp on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a large dish and serve with the polenta and sauce.
Potato and Scallion Fritters
Chef Norbert Niederkofler of St. Hubertus, Italy
2 1⁄2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (9 oz.) rye flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large russet potato, peeled and boiled until tender
3/4 cup ricotta
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the rye and all-purpose flours with the butter, 1 teaspoon salt, the egg, and 3/4 cup lukewarm water. Knead on medium speed until the dough comes together and is smooth, about 6 minutes. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Halve the dough and shape each half into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Grate the cooked potato on the large holes of a box grater and reserve 1 cup; use any remaining potato for another recipe. Place the potato in a medium bowl, mix with the ricotta and scallions, and season with salt and pepper.
On a floured work surface, roll each dough disk into a 1⁄8-inch-thick circle. Drop 1-tablespoon-sized dollops of the ricotta-potato filling evenly spaced over 1 dough circle. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the dough with water around each dollop of filling. Drape the second dough circle over the first and gently press the dough between the mounds of filling to adhere. Position a 3-inch-round fluted cutter over 1 mound of filling and stamp out the round. Repeat, stamping out all the rounds.
Pour enough oil into a 6-quart saucepan to come 2 inches up the side, attach a deep-fry thermometer, and heat to 350°F. Working in batches, add the rounds to the oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift the fritters from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season the fritters with salt and serve while hot.
Skillet Cake with Berry Compote
Chef Norbert Niederkofler of St. Hubertus, Italy
1 1⁄2 cups fresh or frozen lingonberries or cranberries
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white wine
2 teaspoons. fresh lemon juice
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
1 cup (4 oz.) “00” pasta flour
4 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
2 tablespoons. unsalted butter
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Toasted, flaked almonds, to garnish
1 sprig mint, to garnish
In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup lingonberries, 3 tablespoons sugar, the white wine, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt over medium and cook, stirring, until the berries burst and the sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Purée the sauce in a blender, scrape into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Stir in the remaining 1⁄2 cup lingonberries and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk the milk, flour, egg yolks and vanilla seeds until just combined. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy, pour in the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and whisk until soft peaks form. Scrape the egg whites into the batter and fold until combined.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the butter over medium and cook until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Pour the batter into the skillet and cook, undisturbed, until set on the bottom, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the pancake and cook until set, about 5 minutes. Slide the pancake onto a cutting board and tear into large pieces. Transfer the pieces to a serving plate and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle with almonds, garnish with the mint and serve warm with the lingonberry compote spooned over the top.
Hanukkah (also Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights. The word Hanukkah means rededication (hanu kan). Today, the celebration honors the hard-fought victory for freedom. It is an eight-day holiday. The first night usually includes a big family dinner and after dinner the family gathers to light the menorah candles. Blessings and songs are part of the ceremony.
Given its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah has taken on holiday importance in the United States and in many other countries where Christmas has been commercialized. It is traditional to exchange gifts with friends and relatives on each night of Hanukkah. With over thirty-thousand Jews calling Italy home, it isn’t surprising that Hanukkah is celebrated just as passionately as Christmas.
No festivities are complete without delicious treats and the Jewish communities celebrate with a fried feast. Fried Chicken, fried eggplant, latkes (potato pancakes) and sweet fried dough fritters are all part of an Italian Hanukkah meal.
Italian Hanukkah Specialties
Melanzane alla Giudia (Jewish-Style Eggplant)
4 to 6 servings
- 2 pounds eggplant
- ½ cup olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- Chopped fresh parsley
Cut the eggplant into quarters lengthwise. Cut out the seeds and much of the flesh, leaving about ½-inch along the skin. Cut the eggplant into bite sized pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook the garlic for a few minutes until lightly browned.
Add the eggplant and stir to coat in oil. Cook, partially covered and stirring often, until tender and cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve.
Fried Cheese with Tomato Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 large or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- Freshly ground pepper
Heat oil in a skillet. Add onion and saute over high heat until transparent, 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, add sugar and saute until tomatoes are very soft, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cool. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese, finely diced
- 6 eggs, divided
- 1 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs, divided
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cloves garlic, minced and divided in half
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons dry vermouth or brandy
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 sprigs parsley, stems removed
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup flour
- Oil for frying
Melt mozzarella in a double boiler set over, but not touching, simmering water. Pour the cheese into the large mixing bowl of an electric mixer and beat in 2 eggs.
Add 1/4 cup bread crumbs, oregano, one clove of the garlic and salt. Mix well.
Press cheese mixture into 8-inch square glass dish. Cover and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
Lightly beat remaining 4 eggs in bowl. Blend in vermouth. Set aside.
In a processor or blender, process remaining bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil and remaining garlic. Set aside.
Cut cheese mixture into 1 1/2-inch squares (about 15 pieces). Dip each into flour, then egg mixture and finally into bread crumb mixture to coat evenly.
Place on paper towels and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees F in heavy skillet or deep fryer. Fry cheese pieces, a few at a time, until evenly golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute.
Drain on paper towels. Serve at once with the tomato sauce.
Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style
This is an adaptation of “Pollo Fritto per Chanuka”, a recipe from Edda Servi Machlin’s, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, (Dodd, Mead & Co.) This is a traditional Hanukkah dish in Italy.
- 2 pounds chicken cutlets, pounded thin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
- A few grinds of black pepper
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- Olive oil for frying
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges or tomato sauce for serving
Combine the salt, nutmeg, garlic salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle the chicken cutlets evenly on both sides with the mixture.
Place the cutlets in a shallow bowl or container. Mix the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small measuring cup and pour over the cutlets, lifting them to make sure that the liquid reaches all surfaces.
Cover and let the chicken marinate for an hour or place in the refrigerator for up to several hours. Move the cutlets around once in a while to insure evenness of seasoning.
Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large pan. Place the flour and beaten eggs in separate pie plates or shallow bowls.
Coat the cutlets in flour and then in the beaten egg. Fry in the hot oil over moderately high heat for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown.
Drain on paper towels to remove any excess oil.
Serve immediately or place in a preheated 400-degree F oven with the door slightly open (broiler-style) for up to 10 minutes, in order to keep warm and crisp. Serve with lemon wedges or tomato sauce.
- Olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 4 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
- 1 1/2 cups polenta or yellow cornmeal
- Freshly ground pepper
- Marinated grape tomatoes, optional
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a boil. Add polenta slowly, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until polenta comes away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
While still hot, spread polenta about 1-inch thick onto an oiled baking pan. Cool, cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, several hours or overnight.
Cut polenta into 2 inch squares and transfer to a large platter.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a nonstick skillet and brown polenta, turning occasionally, until crispy on both sides, about 8 minutes.
Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining polenta, adding additional oil as needed. Serve immediately or reheat just before serving. Garnish with marinated grape tomatoes, if desired.
Sweet Rice Frittelle
- 1/3 cup medium-grain rice
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons grated orange zest
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- Oil for frying
- Granulated sugar for garnish
Mix rice and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the pan. As rice begins to cook, add 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and zest.
Cover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the rice has absorbed almost all the liquid and is reduced to a soft pudding, 20 minutes. Stir in butter and set aside to cool.
When the rice mixture cools, add egg yolks one at a time, then the vanilla and then the flour, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition.
Heat oil in large saucepan to 360 to 375 degrees F.
Beat egg whites with dash of salt until soft peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over them and continue beating until stiff.
Gently fold beaten egg whites into the rice mixture. (May be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to fry.)
Working in batches, drop batter by tablespoons into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until frittelle are crisp and brown, about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll in sugar while hot.
Molise is a region of Southern Italy. Until 1963, it formed part of the region of Abruzzi. The split, which did not become effective until 1970, makes Molise the newest region in Italy. The region covers 4,438 square kilometres/1,714 sq mi making it the second smallest region in Italy with a population of about 300,000. The region is split into two provinces, named after their respective capitals, Isernia and Campobasso. Campobasso also serves as the regional capital.
Molise is also one of Italy’s less developed and poorest areas. In Molise, one can see two different centuries existing side by side when, on one side of the street grandmothers all in black are purchasing produce in the market and on the other side of the street there are young girls dressed in Benetton carrying mobile phones. Outside the cities are underdeveloped villages that seem to have been forgotten in time, while in the big cities progress is pushing ahead. However, one does not travel to Molise to explore the big cities but to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, the unspoiled beaches and the archaeological excavations.
More than 40% of Molise is covered by mountains. In the Matese area, located on the border of Campania, you will find magnificent mountain ranges. The region is also home to eagles, bears and wolves in the deep forests and it is one of the best locations to harvest mushrooms.
Though there is a large Fiat plant in Termoli, the industrial sector is dominated by the construction industry. With small and medium-sized farms spread widely throughout the region, food processing is another important industry. Pasta, meat, milk products, oil and wine are the traditional regional products. In the service sector the most important industries are distribution, hotels, catering, transport, communications, banking and insurance.
After the earthquake of 2002, some of the communities in Molise adopted a policy which contributed state money to individuals willing to make their homes more resistant to seismic activity. Larino, near Termoli, was a particular beneficiary of this policy and the town, already one of the most beautiful in the province, was transformed. The policy included returning the houses to their historical colors and, based on careful research, the structures were painted in a range of soft pastel tones. As a result, Larino has become an important center for tourism and scores of expatriates from all over the world are returning to live in the revived center. Larino is also famous for the Festa di San Pardo (Larino’s patron saint) and you will witness more than one hundred cattle drawn carts completely covered in flowers made by local families during the three days of festivities.
International tourism is becoming more prevalent as a result of the international flights from other European countries, Great Britain and North America which enter Pescara, not far to the north in Abruzzo. The tourists are attracted by large expanses of natural beaches, a relative lack of congestion and a gentle pace of life.
The cuisine of Molise is similar to the cuisine of Abruzzo, though there are a few differences in the dishes and ingredients. The flavors of Molise are dominated by the many herbs that grow there. Some of Molise’s typical foods include spicy salami, locally produced cheeses, lamb or goat, pasta dishes with hearty sauces and regional vegetables. In addition to bruschetta, a typical antipasto will consist of several meat dishes, such as sausage, ham and smoked prosciutto.
Main dishes of the region include:
- Calcioni di ricotta, a specialty of Campobasso, made of fried pasta stuffed with ricotta, provolone, prosciutto and parsley and usually served with fried artichokes, cauliflower, brains, sweetbreads, potato croquette and scamorza cheese
- Cavatiegl e Patane, gnocchi served in a meat sauce of rabbit and pork
- Pasta e fagioli, pasta-and-white-bean soup cooked with pig’s feet and pork rinds
- Polenta d’iragn, a polenta-like dish made of wheat and potatoes, sauced with tomatoes and pecorino
- Risotto alla marinara, a risotto with seafood
- Spaghetti with diavolillo, a chili pepper sauce
- Zuppa di cardi, a soup of cardoons, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil
- Zuppa di ortiche, a soup of nettle stems, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil
Typical vegetable dishes may include:
- Carciofi ripieni, artichokes stuffed with anchovies and capers
- Peeled sweet peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, anchovies, parsley, basil and peperoncino, sautéed in a frying pan and cooked with chopped tomatoes
- Cipollacci con pecorino, fried onions and pecorino cheese
- Frittata con basilico e cipolle, omelette with basil and onions
Fish dishes include red mullet soup and spaghetti with cuttlefish. Trout from the Biferno river is notable for its flavor and is cooked with a simple sauce of aromatic herbs and olive oil. Zuppa di pesce, a fish stew,is a specialty of Termoli.
The cheeses produced in Molise are not very different from those produced in Abruzzo. The more common ones are Burrino and Manteca – soft, buttery cow’s-milk cheeses, Pecorino – sheep’s-milk cheese, served young and soft or aged and hard, Scamorza – a bland cow’s-milk cheese, often served grilled and Caciocavallo – a sheep’s-milk cheese.
Sweets and desserts have an ancient tradition here and are linked to the history of the territory and to religious and family festivities. Most common are:
- Calciumi (also called Caucioni or cauciuni), sweet ravioli filled with chestnuts, almonds, chocolate, vanilla, cooked wine musts and cinnamon and then fried
- Ciambelline, ring-shaped cakes made with olive oil and red wine
- Ferratelle all’anice, anise cakes made in metal molds and stamped with special patterns
- Ricotta pizza, a cake pan filled with a blend of ricotta cheese, sugar, flour, butter, maraschino liqueur and chocolate chips
Traditional Molise Recipes
Polpi in Purgatorio
Spicy Octopus, Molise Style
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 10 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
- 2 teaspoons peperoncini, or more to taste
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds young octopus
Clean the octopus in salted water and rinse well.
Heat half the oil in a medium skillet with a cover over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, parsley and peperoncini and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the octopus to the onion mixture with the remaining oil. Season lightly with salt.
Cover the pan with a lid and cook over very low heat for 2 hours, stirring the octopus from time to time with a wooden spoon. Serve as an appetizer.
Baked Fettuccine with Tomato and Mozzarella
Fettucine con salsa d’aromi
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 8 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1-15 oz can Italian tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 peperoncino or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, more or less to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or other pecorino)
- 1/4 lb scamorza (you can substitute mozzarella)
- 1 lb fettuccine
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté garlic until golden.
Add basil, parsley, mint and peperoncino. Sauté a minute or two more.
Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat (a fast bubble) stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile bring pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta al dente. Do not overcook.
Preheat oven (while pasta cooks) to 425 degrees F.
Drain the pasta very well and mix with the sauce in the pan.
Transfer all to a greased ovenproof dish.
Sprinkle on the cheese and lay the slices of scamorza or mozzarella on top.
Bake for a few minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles. Serve hot.
Molise Style Stuffed Peppers
- 6 medium green bell peppers
- 5 cups day old bread, cut into small cubes
- 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small can anchovies, chopped
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the filling
- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Wash the peppers. Cut a hole around the stem. Remove the stem. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and ribs.
In a bowl, combine the bread, parsley, garlic and anchovies. Mix together. Sprinkle with olive oil and toss to coat; do not saturate the bread with oil. Fill the peppers evenly with the stuffing.
Put 1/2 cup of olive oil in a baking pan. Lay the peppers on their sides in the pan. Bake for 20 minutes, turning occasionally to cook evenly.
Sprinkle each pepper fresh Parmigiano Reggiano at the end of the cooking time and allow it to melt over the pepper.
Calzoni d’Isernia are named after the town of Isernia in Molise
Makes 12 Calzones
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/4-1/2 cup water
- 4 ounces pancetta
- 8 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup mozzarella, grated or diced into small cubes
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of pepper
Oil for frying
Marinara sauce for serving
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole eggs and mix into the flour. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water slowly until all the flour is incorporated. Don’t add too much water or the dough will become sticky. Once the dough is formed, knead for about 5 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut the dough into squares that are 4 inches by 4 inches. You should be able to get about 12 squares.
For the filling:
Cook the pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes until well browned. Cool.
Combine the ricotta, egg yolks, mozzarella, pancetta, parsley, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl.
Place some of the filling in the center of each square of dough. Fold the dough over to form a triangle. Use the tines of a fork to pinch together the seams of the dough. Be careful not to over-stuff the dough or the filling will come out during frying.
Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with about 3 inches of oil. Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Once the oil is hot, drop the calzones in (1 at a time if using a smaller pot, or just a few at a time using a larger pot).
Remove the calzones with a slotted spoon or spider when they have gotten a golden brown color on both sides. Let them drain on a paper towel.
Serve warm with marinara sauce, if desired.
Calciuni del Molise
Adapted from Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, published 1969, Dutton (New York) (Note: this was the first cookbook I owned.)
Makes 15 fritters
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine
- 1/4 pound fresh chestnuts
- 1 1/2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
- 1 1/4 teaspoons semi-sweet chocolate
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Oil for frying
Powdered sugar for garnish
Cinnamon for garnish
Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, water, wine and olive oil. Mix the components slowly until a dough has formed. Once the dough is formed, put it on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Cover the dough and set aside. (You can also do this in an electric mixer.)
Using a paring knife make an X on one side of each chestnut. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chestnuts and let boil for about 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and remove the shell and the skin from the chestnuts.
In a food processor, chop the toasted almonds until finely ground. Add the chestnuts and continue to grind until no large pieces remain.
Put the ground chestnuts and almonds in a bowl. Grind the chocolate in the food processor until no large pieces remain. Add to the chestnuts and almonds.
Add the honey, Amaretto, cinnamon and vanilla to the nut/chocolate mixture. Stir well.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-4 inch circle cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut out circles from the dough. You should be able to get 15 rounds.
Place about 1 tablespoon in the center of each circle. Do not overfill the pastries. Fold one end over and pinch tightly around the edges to close. Seal edges completely so the filling does not come out while frying.
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Fry the fritters, a few at a time, until golden brown on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and place on a paper towels to drain.
Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Lake Bolsena is a crater lake of volcanic origin in central Italy, which began to form 370,000 years. It is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and is the fifth largest lake in Italy with a circumference of over 26 miles (43 km). Lake Bolsena’s bed was formed from a caldera in the extinct Vulsini volcano. A caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. The underlying rock in the area where the lake formed, the caldera, collapsed into a deep bowl. This bowl was gradually filled by rain water and underwater sources.
Roman historical records indicate volcanic activity last occurred there in 104 BC and it has been dormant since then. The two islands, Bisentina and Martana, in the southern part of the lake, were formed by underwater eruptions following the collapse that created the caldera.
The lake is fed primarily by underground springs and rainwater and has a single outlet, the river Marta that flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the vicinity of Tarquinia. The lake has an oval shape, typical of crater lakes. The long axis of the ellipse is aligned in a north-south direction. The entire lake is surrounded by hills and is a good vacation spot. It has beaches, a harbor, restaurants, hotels and a medieval historic center surrounded by walls with a castle at the top. On the lake one can enjoy water sports, from canoeing, water skiing, sailing to surfing. Unlike most lakes, Lake Bolsena displays tidelike movements, called “sessa” with the difference between low and high tides being as much as 50 cm or 20 inches.
Lake Bolsena is north of Rome in the Northern Lazio region, just south of Tuscany. Bolsena, the main town on the lake, is on the northeastern shore. In the 7th century BC, it was the site of a Villanovan settlement whose huts were built on stilts directly over the water, using reed platforms, hay roofs and cobbled floors. About four hundred years later, it was settled by the Etruscans after they fled from the Roman destruction of Velzna in 264 BC. Velzna eventually became Volsinii, a Latin name which has been transformed over the centuries into Bolsena.
The Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara sits at the top of the hill, overlooking the medieval quarter of the town. The castle was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. It has been completely renovated and, since 1991, has housed the Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena (Lake Bolsena Territorial Museum). Each of its three floors is dedicated to various aspects of Bolsena’s history, ranging from its prehistoric volcanic origins to its Etruscan-Roman period. The Church of St. Christine is the town’s other major site. It is a Romanesque church built in 1078 in a typical basilica style over the catacombs where St. Christine, a young woman martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, was buried.
The territory of Lake Bolsena brings with it a whole host of ancient traditions that are also reflected in the local cuisine, with flavors and products typical of their ancient recipes and cooking methods. It is also famous for its clear lake waters and the nickname “the lake with a drink. Long ago, lake water was used in cooking. Fishermen prepared the Sbroscia in a clay pot using freshly caught fish; it was one of the few means of survival, when they had little more than what the lake could offer. It was prepared within the small hut on the shore that was used as a refuge and as a warehouse for their supplies.
Acquacotta is the name of a typical local soup prepared with chicory, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, hot pepper, dried cod, dry bread and olive oil. Other soups of the local cuisine are made with mushrooms, legumes, chestnuts, lake fish (sbroscia) and lamb. First courses often include rice and lentils, pasta and potatoes, rice and chicory, peas with quadrucci (small squares of hand-made egg pasta) and “minestrone alla Viterbese”.
Pasta dishes include maccheroni, ceciliani, lombrichelli (made with only flour and water), potato gnocchi, fettuccine, pappardelle, gavinelle or polenta. These dishes are often served with a classic ragout – meat sauces prepared with hare, wild boar, mushrooms, spare ribs and pork sausages or, in summer, with fresh garden vegetables, such as: zucchini, eggplant, turnip greens or sweet peppers.
For main courses, rabbit alla cacciatora, stewed chicken with tomatoes, wild boar with tomato sauce, stewed hare, baked lamb, tripe with tomato sauce, fried coratella (veal intestines), roasted pork or pignattaccia (a stew made with meat and vegetables) are most common. Main fish dishes, prepared with lake fish, include: fried perch fillets, stewed eels, fried lattarini, stewed or fried pike and baked or grilled whitefish.
Typical desserts include: sweet ravioli made with ricotta, ciambellone (simple white cakes), tarts made with ricotta or jam, crunchy biscuits and cookies made with hazelnuts and sweetened fritters made with rice.
Chickpea and Chestnut Soup
This ancient soup recipe of chickpeas and chestnuts is one of the typical dishes of the area.
- 1.5 cups dried chickpeas
- 1 oz pancetta
- 10 ½ oz chestnuts, chopped
- 4 peeled tomatoes
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic,
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
Cover the chickpeas with water in a bowl and soak for about 24 hours; drain and pour into a pot with water to cover. Cook until the chickpeas are softened, about an hour; add the salt. Drain the chickpeas; set aside a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and puree half the chickpeas.
Chop together the garlic, rosemary and pancetta. Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in the pot used to cook the chickpeas and cook the pancetta mixture for a few minutes.
Add the pureed chickpeas, the whole chickpeas, the cooking water and the chopped chestnuts. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes and the bay leaf.
Mix add the broth, stirring well; let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
The Sbroscia of Lake Bolsena
Sbroscia is a stew of fresh fish from the lake. There are many species of fish that inhabit the lake: whitefish , eel , pike , tench , trout, perch and silversides are a few examples. Any combination of fish may be used in the recipe.
- Olive oil
- 1 tench (minnow family)
- 1 pike
- 1 eel
- 4 perch
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 large potatoes, diced
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- Stale bread ( 3-4 slices per serving dish)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- Small bunch mint, chopped
- Crushed red pepper flakes
Cut the fish into serving pieces.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch Oven or large soup pot. Add the garlic, mint and onion and cook until the onion softens.
Add the potatoes and tomatoes and saute for a few minutes. Add all the fish, 6 cups of water and salt to taste, cover the pan, and cook for 30-35 minutes.
Place 3 to 4 slices of bread in each serving bowl and pour in the stew. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
The whitefish sauce is served with fettuccine or spaghetti.
- 1 whitefish, filled
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup white wine
- 3-4 peeled and chopped tomatoes
- Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- Chopped parsley for garnish
- Cooked pasta
Saute the onion and garlic in a large skillet. Add the whitefish fillets and saute until cooked through. Break up the fish into smaller pieces.
Add the wine and cook until it evaporates. Add the fresh tomatoes and cook until no longer raw. Season with salt and the crushed red pepper.
Mix in the cooked pasta and garnish with chopped parsley.
Risotto with Perch Fillets
This risotto uses the freshwater perch in the starring role.
- 7 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 cups risotto rice
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
- 4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable stock)
- 3 perch fillets (per person) – about 18 total
- Flour or bread crumbs for coating
In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon butter until it melts. Add the chopped onion and cook until it is tender. When the onion becomes transparent, add the rice to the pot and mix it well. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then, add the wine to the pot. Mix the rice until the liquid evaporates, then add the broth, a small amount at a time, stirring it constantly to allow even absorption of the liquid. When the rice is just about tender, add the salt, pepper and cheese and allow to melt.
Meanwhile, to cook the fish – batter the fillets in the flour or bread crumbs and then cook the perch in batches in a hot skillet using some of the remaining butter. Turn the fillets over once and cook until each side is golden brown. Repeat with remaining fillets and butter.
Spoon the rice onto a serving dish and top with the fish fillets. Just a note to add an additional Italian twist to this risotto: heat some butter in a pan and add a handful of sage leaves. Let the butter melt and become infused with the herbs. When the risotto is ready to be served pou,r the butter sauce over the fish.
Sweet Rice Fritters (Frittelle di Riso)
Makes about 40
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) short grain rice (arborio)
- 2 cups (500 ml) milk
- Zest of 1 lemon or orange (or a mixture of both)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons Italian dessert wine: Vin Santo
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) flour
- 2 large eggs
- Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying
Cook the rice in the milk, watching very carefully that it doesn’t burn or overflow – don’t take your eyes off it! You will need to stir it quite often to make sure it doesn’t stick and burn on the bottom. When the milk has been mostly absorbed and the rice is very soft, take the pan off the heat and add the citrus zest and sugar.
Set aside. Once completely cool, add the wine, eggs, baking powder, salt and flour. Combine thoroughly then cover and let the mixture rest for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator before using. The mixture may look quite runny, like a pancake batter.
Drop tablespoons of batter into hot oil, and fry, turning to cover all sides evenly until a deep brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain before rolling in powdered sugar. These are best eaten the day they are made.
A large and growing number of Italian American authors have had success in getting their works published in America. Some of the authors who have written about the Italian American experience are Pietro Di Donato, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dana Gioia (Executive Director of the National Endowment for the Arts), John Fusco (author of Paradise Salvage) and Daniela Gioseffi (winner of the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry and The American Book Award).
Poets Sandra (Mortola) Gilbert and Kim Addonizio and Helen Barolini, editor of The Dream Book, a collection of Italian American women’s writings were award winners from Italian Americana (a semi-annual historical and cultural journal devoted to the Italian experience in America). These women have authored many books depicting Italian American women in a new light. Helen Barolini’s work was the first anthology to pay special attention to the interaction of Italian American women with American social activism. Common themes included conflicts between the Italian American and the mainstream American culture and traditional immigrant parents with their American-assimilated children.
Mary Jo Bona (Professor of Italian American Studies & English at Stony Brook University is the author of Claiming A Tradition: Italian American Women Writers, was interested in showing how authors portrayed the many configurations of family relationships: from the early immigrant narratives of the journey to America, through novels that depicted intergenerational conflicts to contemporary works about the struggle of Italian American women to live in nontraditional gender roles.
A growing number of books about the Italian American experience are published each year. Well known authors, such as Don DeLillo, Giannina Braschi, Gilbert Sorrentino, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gay Talese, John Fante, Tina DeRosa, Daniela Gioseffi, Kim Addonizio and Dana Gioia, have broken into mainstream American literature and publishing. Dana Gioia was Poetry Editor of Italian Americana from 1993 to 2003. He initiated an educational series in which featured poets talked about their work. Poet, Michael Palma, continues Dana Gioia’s work, today.
Italian Americans have written not only about the Italian American experience but, also, about the human experience. Mario Puzo’s first novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, was an inspirational account of the immigrant experience, which was widely reviewed as being well written, moving and poetic. The Right Thing to Do, by Josephine Gattuso Hendin, is an elevating novel about an Italian American family and their experiences in a new culture. Contemporary best-selling fiction writers include David Baldacci, Kate DiCamillo, Adriana Trigiani and Lisa Scottoline.
Helen Barolini’s fiction and nonfiction work has created a bridge between the United States, her home, and Italy, her ancestral land. Awarded a writing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for her first novel, Umbertina, Barolini is also the author of twelve books and many short stories and essays that have been cited in annual editions of Best American Essays. She has received the American Book Award; has been a Resident Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Lake Como; a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome; an invited writer at Yaddo and the MacDowell colony and a writer in residence at the Mark Twain Quarry Center of Elmira College. Three of her books have appeared in translation in Italy, where she has lectured as an invited American author.
Helen’s maternal grandfather, Angelo Cardamone and his wife, Nicoletta, immigrated from Calabria, Italy to Utica, NY in 1880. Helen Barolini was born and raised in Syracuse, NY and attended local schools. She attended Wells College, graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University and received a Master’s degree from Columbia University. She was an exchange student at the University of London, where she studied contemporary English literature and then traveled in Europe, writing “Letters from Abroad” for the Syracuse Herald Journal.
Given the intercultural themes of her work linking her American birth and education with her ancestral Italy, Helen Barolini’s writings have been the subject of many student theses both here and abroad. Crossing the Alps, a novel, is Barolini’s newest work. It is a coming of age novel set in post World War II Italy. The Italian edition received praise for its authentic background.
John Ciardi, poet and scholar, did the only English translation of Dante’s, Divine Comedy, that reproduced the Italian poet’s complex rhyme scheme. Ciardi was also a poet in his own right, who authored 60 books, taught at Harvard and Rutgers, hosted a weekly radio commentary on National Public Radio in the 1980’s and was the only American poet to have his own television program (“Accent,” CBS, 1961).
Ciardi was born in Boston’s Little Italy to immigrant parents from Naples, Italy. After the death of his father from an automobile accident in 1919, he was raised by his mother and his three older sisters, all of whom scrimped and saved until they had enough money to send him to college. In 1921, two years after his father’s death, the family moved to Medford, Massachusetts, where the Ciardi peddled vegetables to the neighbors and attended public school. Ciardi began his higher educational studies at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, but transferred to Tufts University in Boston, where he studied under the poet John Holmes. He received his degree in 1938 and won a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he obtained his master’s degree the next year and won the first of many awards for his poetry: the prestigious, Hopwood Award in poetry.
Ciardi published his first book of poems, Homeward to America, in 1940, before the war and his next book, Other Skies, focusing on his wartime experiences, was published in 1947. His third book, Live Another Day, came out in 1949. In 1950, Ciardi edited a poetry collection, Mid-Century American Poets, which identified the best poets of his generation.
In 1953, Ciardi joined the English Department at Rutgers University, in order to begin a writing program, but after eight successful years there, he resigned his professorship in 1961 in favor of several other more lucrative careers and to “devote himself full time to literary pursuits”. (When he left Rutgers, he famously quipped that teaching was “planned poverty.”) He was popular enough and interesting enough to warrant a pair of appearances in the early 1960s on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was the poetry editor of Saturday Review from 1956 to 1972 and wrote the 1959 poetry textbook, How Does A Poem Mean. Ciardi was a “fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a member and former president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He died on Easter Sunday in 1986 of a heart attack.
Don DeLillo, an important contemporary American novelist, wrote Americana, Great Jones Street, White Noise, Libra and Underworld. DeLillo was born on November 20, 1936 and grew up in a working-class Italian Catholic family from Molise, Italy in an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Reflecting on his childhood, DeLillo described how he was “…always out in the street. As a little boy I whiled away most of my time pretending to be a baseball announcer on the radio. There were eleven of us in a small house, but the close quarters were never a problem. I didn’t know things any other way. We always spoke English and Italian all mixed up together. My grandmother, who lived in America for fifty years, never learned English.”
DeLillo has described his fiction as being concerned with “living in dangerous times”. In a 2005 interview he declared, “Writers must oppose systems. It’s important to write against power, corporations, the state and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments. I think writers, by nature, must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us.” DeLillo is currently at work on a new novel, his sixteenth, where the main character spends a lot of time watching file footage on a widescreen of images of a disaster. He currently lives near New York City in the suburb of Bronxville.
Pietro di Donato
Pietro di Donato, the son of an Italian immigrant and himself a bricklayer, captured the life and death of his father, who was foreman of a construction crew of Italian immigrants, in his first novel, Christ in Concrete (1939). Di Donato was born April 3, 1911 in West Hoboken, New Jersey (now Union City) to Geremio, a bricklayer, and Annunziata Chinquina. Pietro had seven other siblings. His parents had emigrated from the town of Vasto, in the region of Abruzzo in Italy.
On March 30, 1923, Geremio di Donato died when a building collapsed on him, burying him in concrete. Pietro, who was twelve at the time, left school in the seventh grade to become a construction worker in order to help support his family. His father’s death and his life growing up as an immigrant in West Hoboken were the inspiration for his writings. Though he had little formal education, during a strike, he wandered into a library and discovered French and Russian novels, becoming particularly fond of Émile Zola.
In 1958 di Donato wrote his second novel, a sequel to Christ in Concrete called, This Woman. It continued the story of di Donato’s life following his father’s death. In 1960 a third book in the same tradition called, Three Circles of Light, focused on di Donato’s childhood in the years prior to his father’s death. That same year, di Donato published, The Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini, a fictionalized account of Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first United States citizen canonized. The following year di Donato published, The Penitent, an account of contrition and spiritual rebirth of the man who killed the twelve-year-old Maria Goretti. In 1978 his article on the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro (president of the Christian Democratic Party of Italy), titled “Christ in Plastic”, appeared in Penthouse Magazine and won the Overseas Press Club award. Di Donato later adapted the article into a play, entitled Moro. Di Donato died of bone cancer on January 19, 1992 in Stony Brook, Long Island, with his last unfinished novel, Gospels, unpublished.
Barbara Grizzuti-Harrison, one of the most well-known contemporary writers, is the author of Italian Days, considered a masterpiece of travel writing, thanks to her acute powers of observation and broad cultural knowledge. She has also written The Islands of Italy, A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Astonishing World. Barbara Grizzuti was born in Queens, New York City, on September 14, 1934. Her parents were first-generation Americans and her grandparents were immigrants from Calabria in southern Italy. She later described her childhood as deeply troubled and the turmoil of her childhood would have a strong influence on her writing.
When Harrison was 9, she and her mother became Jehovah’s Witnesses. Harrison’s father and brother did not convert and this caused a rift in the household. As a teenager at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, Harrison fell in love with Arnold Horowitz, an English teacher who was among the first to encourage her writing talent. He apparently returned her feelings and although their relationship remained platonic, they continued to see each other and to correspond until Horowitz’s death in the late 1960s. After graduating from high school, Harrison, who had been forbidden to attend a university, went to live and work at the Watchtower headquarters. However, her friendship with Horowitz scandalised her colleagues and she was asked to leave. The relationship was but one symptom of a growing conflict between Harrison’s faith and her artistic sensibilities, which eventually led to a nervous breakdown.
Harrison became involved with the women’s movement and wrote about feminist themes for various publications. Her first book, Unlearning the Lie: Sexism in School, was published in 1969. Harrison was one of the first contributors to Ms. Magazine. Harrison wrote for many of the leading periodicals of her time, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, The Village Voice, The Nation, Ladies’ Home Journal and Mother Jones Magazine. Among the people she interviewed were Red Barber, Mario Cuomo, Jane Fonda, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Francis Ford Coppola, Nadia Comăneci, Alessandra Mussolini and Barbara Bush. Because of her background, Harrison was often asked to write about movements that were perceived to be cults; she described families affected by the Unification Church and the Northeast Kingdom Community Church and reported on the U.S. government’s deadly standoff with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
In 1994 Harrison, who had been a heavy smoker for most of her adult life, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She died on April 24, 2002 in a hospice in Manhattan.
Jerre Mangione (1909-1998) was one of the most celebrated early Italian American writers. His first book, Mount Allegro, (1943) and, later, An Ethnic At Large (1978), explored the evolution of Mangione’s identity from a child of Sicilian immigrants to an American. His last book, La Storia, which he co-authored with Ben Morreale, is a monumental five-century social history of the Italians in America.
Mount Allegro was Mr. Mangione’s first book and its sympathetic portrait of his family and neighbors have made it a classic of ethnic American literature and a must read for anyone interested in the experience of Sicilian immigrants. Mr. Mangione, professor emeritus of American literature at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote 10 more books after Mount Allegro was published in 1943. Most of them dealt in some way with Sicily, Sicilians or the Italian American experience – the experience he lived as a child.
Jerre (Gerlando) Mangione was born in Rochester in 1909, the first of six children born to parents, who emigrated from Sicily at the turn of the century. He grew up in the section of the city now known as Mount Allegro, the fictionalized name he gave the place in his book. His mother, Josephine, had dreams for her children, but they were musical rather than literary. Those dreams were realized through jazz musicians, Chuck and Gap Mangione, the sons of Mr. Mangione’s brother, Frank. But the dreams were nightmares for the young Jerre, who failed at the piano, violin and guitar before his mother finally understood that music was not his forte.
Said to have been a sickly and lonely child, Mr. Mangione spent much of his youth reading – generally on the sly because his mother believed too much reading caused insanity. “The boy would rather read than eat,” she said of him. His favorite book in those years was the dictionary, he once said. He depended on it because his parents, doing their best to preserve their Sicilian heritage, insisted that he and his siblings speak only Italian at home.
Though he was prolific, Mr. Mangione found that getting words down on paper was painful. He said he often found himself doing other chores to avoid his daily 9:30 a.m to 1 p.m. date with the typewriter. “In an effort to avoid writing, one can accomplish almost anything,” he said in an interview. Mr. Mangione, who once said he considered himself an observer of life, rather than a participant, enjoyed consistent success as a novelist and social historian. He won several national fellowships to pursue his writing. The New York Times and other national publications regularly gave his books glowing reviews and his book about the Federal Writers Project was nominated for a National Book Award. Mangione died on August 16, 1998 in Haverford, PA.
Gay Talese (b.1932) is known for his daring pursuit of “unreportable” stories, for his exhaustive research, and for his formally elegant style. He is a prolific writer and one of the founders of the 1960’s style of writing called, “New Journalism,” which incorporates fictional elements (dialogue, scene description and shifting points of view) into news writing. Talese was a reporter for The New York Times between 1956 and 1965, writing about sports and politics. Among his many best-sellers is The Kingdom and the Power, the story of crime boss Joe Bonanno and his son, Bill; Thy Neighbor’s Wife, which examines America’s changing sexual mores and Unto the Sons, an autobiographical book about his Italian heritage.
Gay Talese was born into an Italian-American family in Ocean City, New Jersey, located just south of Atlantic City. His father, Joseph Talese, was a tailor who had immigrated to the United States in 1922 from Maida, a town in the province of Catanzaro in southern Italy. His mother, the former Catherine DePaolo, was a buyer for a Brooklyn department store.
Talese was rejected by dozens of colleges in New Jersey and nearby states but, eventually, he was accepted at the University of Alabama. His selection of a major was, as he described it, “I chose journalism as my college major because that is what I knew,” he recalls, “but I really became a student of history”. It was here that he would begin to employ literary devices more well known in fiction, like establishing the “scene” with minute details in his writing. In his junior year he became the sports editor for the campus newspaper, Crimson-White, and started a column, he dubbed “Sports Gay-zing”.
He later wrote,”Sports is about people who lose and lose and lose. They lose games and then they lose their jobs. It can be very intriguing.” Of the various sports, boxing held the most appeal for Talese, largely because it was about individuals engaged in contests and those individuals were predominately non-whites. He wrote 38 articles about Floyd Patterson alone. Talese’s celebrated Esquire piece about Joe DiMaggio, “The Silent Season of a Hero” – in part a meditation on the transient nature of fame – appeared in 1966. The Library of America selected Talese’s 1970 account of the Charles Manson murders, “Charlie Manson’s Home on the Range”, for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime. In 2011 he received the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Journalism.
Frances Winwar (1900-1985) a novelist, biographer and translator, was born Francesca Vinciguerra in Taormina, Sicily, the daughter of Domenico Vinciguerra, a singer, and Giovanna Sciglio. Her family arrived in the United States in 1907 and she grew up in New York City. She attended local public schools and studied at Hunter College and Columbia University but never earned a degree. Quickly mastering English and French while retaining complete fluency in Italian, she showed an early taste for literature and began to publish poetry. A literary essay on Giovanni Verga that she published in Freeman in 1923, brought her a job with the New York World as a staff book reviewer. She stayed with the World for two years and was a frequent contributor to such periodicals as the New York Times, the New Republic and the Saturday Review of Literature for years afterward.
Winwar married four times. Sometime shortly after 1920 she was briefly married to the writer, Victor J. Jerome. In 1925 she married Bernard D. N. Grebanier, a professor of English literature at Brooklyn College, with whom she had one son. That marriage ended in divorce and in 1943 Winwar married mystery writer, Richard Wilson Webb. After a third divorce, she married Dr. Francis Lazenby, a classics scholar and librarian of the University of Notre Dame.
Winwar was best known for a series of romanticized biographies of nineteenth-century English literary figures and their followers, beginning with Poor Splendid Wings: The Rossettis and Their Circle (1933), an account that included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Charles Algernon Swinburne and William Morris. Two years later she published The Romantic Rebels, another composite biography, in which she sensitively, though not always accurately, portrayed John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Farewell the Banner (1938) relates the complex relationships of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy. The fourth of her group biographies was Oscar Wilde and the Yellow ‘Nineties, describing the scandal surrounding its leader.
In The Life of the Heart (1945) she focused on a single writer rather than a group or a movement, but her novelized biography of George Sand included vivid portraits of Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert and Louis Napoléon, as well. Other fictionalized biographies, such as American Giant: Walt Whitman and His Times (1941) and Haunted Palace (1959), a life of Edgar Allan Poe, met with popular success, even when the critics were less than enthusiastic, as did her juvenile histories, Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo (1953) and Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada (1954). Listed as “romantic novels,” these novel-biographies were sometimes criticized as falling short of rigid historical completeness, but all were thoroughly researched and offered vivid portraits of their subjects.
She was an outspoken opponent of Italian Fascism, the only Italian American besides Pietro di Donato to speak at the Second American Writers Congress in 1937, where her paper “Literature under Fascism” vehemently condemned Fascist repression and its effects on literature in the country of her birth. She died on July 24, 1985, at her home in New York City.
All the authors in this post have Italian roots from southern Italy. Here are a few traditional Italian American recipes in their honor.
Seafood Marinara With Linguine
- 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 12 oz tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 14.5 oz can low sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 tablespoons fresh basil chopped or 2 teaspoons dried basil leaves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 oz shrimp fresh or frozen, peeled and deveined
- 8 oz scallops fresh or frozen
- 1 lb linguine cooked, drained and kept warm
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook for 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, chicken broth, tomato paste, wine, basil, oregano and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer for 10 minutes.
Heat remaining oil in small skillet over high heat. Add shrimp and scallops; cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until shrimp turn pink and scallops are opaque.
Add to sauce. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve over pasta.
Sausage and Mushroom Calzone
- 2 cups homemade of store bought pizza sauce
- 12 oz sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 cup mushrooms sliced
- 1 lb pizza dough
- 1 -1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese grated
Cook sausage and mushrooms in a large skillet until no longer pink; drain off fat in the pan. Stir in one cup of pizza sauce.
Roll dough on lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. Place on greased cookie sheet or pizza pan. Spoon sausage mixture over half the dough to within 1/2 inch of edge.
Sprinkle with mozzarella.
Moisten edges of dough with water. Fold dough in half over filling. Seal by pressing with the tines of a fork. Cut slits in the top of the dough.
Brush with water and sprinkle with Parmesan.
Bake at 375°F. for 25 minutes or until golden. Heat remaining pizza sauce and serve with the calzone.
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer
Heat 1 1/2 inches oil in a large wide heavy saucepan until it registers 370°F.
Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl.
Whisk together ricotta, eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla in another bowl, then whisk in flour mixture.
Working in batches, gently drop level tablespoons of batter into the hot oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes per batch.
Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Dust generously with confectioners sugar.
- The Changing Face of Italian-American Food and Wine (acevola.blogspot.com)
- Dive Into Dante (bonesparkblog.wordpress.com)