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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Birmingham

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As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide.

The South

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Birmingham

Italians arriving in New Orleans often went to work first on Louisiana citrus farms or one of the state’s sugar cane plantations. But word got around that Birmingham offered a chance to earn wages in one of its factories. Attracted by the promise of better pay, many Italian immigrants left Louisiana for Birmingham. They were joined by fellow Italian immigrants who came directly from Sicily or other parts of Italy, or who may have spent some time in a northern city before deciding to head south to seek better paying jobs.

By 1910, Birmingham’s Italian population numbered almost 2,000 and was spread out over several neighborhoods. There was Little Italy in Ensley, a working class neighborhood associated with Tennessee Coal and Iron. There was the Italian community of Thomas, where Republic Steel was located. To the west lay another Little Italy, in West Blocton, where Italian immigrants mined coal and the town is known to this day for its Italian Catholic cemetery. Each community was anchored by a Catholic parish, supplying social and spiritual support and operating schools for Italian speaking children. Corner grocery stores, some of which grew into major supermarket chains, supplemented their owners’ income. Fig trees, small family gardens and even livestock kept Italian food traditions alive.

La Storia: Birmingham’s Italian Community exhibition at Vulcan Park and Museum

Vulcan is the world’s largest cast iron statue and is considered one of the most memorable works of civic art in the United States. Both the Vulcan statue and the pedestal it stands upon, display the Italian heritage that is prevalent throughout Vulcan Park and the Birmingham community. Designed by Italian artist, Giuseppe Moretti, and cast from local iron in 1904, Vulcan has overlooked Alabama’s largest city from atop Red Mountain since the 1930s. Vulcan Park and Museum features spectacular views of Birmingham, an interactive history museum and Birmingham’s Italian immigrant story.

Italian Americans had a huge impact on not only Vulcan Park and the Museum, but also on the city itself. La Storia tells the story of Italian immigration to the city of Birmingham from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century.  While the exhibit showcases prosperity for Italian immigrants, it also documents the hardships these immigrant families endured as a community and how they relied on faith and family to hold them together.

Cassoeula

part55

A traditional dish that is popular in Northern Italy—particularly in Lombardy. Alabama Italian chef/owner, Marco Morosini shares his expertise in cooking this comforting recipe. B-Metro Magazine December 2013

Ingredients

  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 Spare ribs
  • 8 Italian sausages
  • 8 pieces pork rind (optional)
  • 1 large head Savoy cabbage, shredded
  • Salt

Directions

Place the extra virgin olive oil, carrots, celery and onion in a large pan over low to medium heat. Brown for approximately five minutes. Add and brown the spare ribs. Add the pork rind. After five more minutes add the sausages. Cook for approximately 10 minutes. Add the Savoy cabbage. Stir until all are well mixed. Sprinkle with salt and continue cooking for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Serve over polenta. Serves eight.

part56

Mississippi Delta

Few people associate the South with Italian immigration to America, assuming immigrants settled only in the urban Northeast. Yet, many communities throughout the United States have a significant proportion of Italian Americans. Immigrants gravitated to places where they could find work, whether it be in the garment industry, coal mines, farms, fisheries, canning factories or lumber mills. In the peak immigration years (1880–1910), the American South attracted its share of Italian immigrants.

The first immigrants to the Delta in the 1880s, were hired to repair levees or as farm laborers on the plantations. Some of these families became peddlers selling goods to farmers. In 1895, some Italians crossed the Mississippi River to work in the Arkansas Delta. They were mostly from central Italy and experienced in farm work.

The late 19th century saw the arrival of larger numbers of Italian immigrants, who left Italy seeking economic opportunities. Some Italians from Sicily settled as families along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Gulfport, preserving close ties with those from their homeland. They worked in the fishing and canning industries. Others were merchants, operating grocery stores, liquor stores and tobacco shops. The seafood (and small shipyard) industry of Biloxi was mainly owned by the family of Andrew H. Longino – Governor of Mississippi from 1900 to 1904, who was the first governor of a southern US State to be of Italian heritage.

Life was very challenging for the immigrants. They found the adjustment to the South’s climate especially difficult; Italian farmers did not have experience with cotton and sugarcane crops and many immigrants died as a result of  malaria. While some of the settlers remained in the Delta, bought land and became cotton farmers, others moved to Italian communities in northern Missouri, Alabama and Tennessee.

The Italian Americans were often victims of prejudice, economic exploitation and violence. The Delta states were no exception. Mississippi and Louisiana became a worldwide symbol of Anti-Italianism. In the twentieth century, mainly after World War I , the Italians were slowly accepted and integrated into society. The food and restaurant industry was one of the areas where they gained acceptance and economic success.

Italians developed a distinctive cultural life in the Delta, preserving traditional ways from their Italian ancestry and, yet, adapting to the culture of the American South. Families continued to make wine and cook Italian food with recipes long passed down from their grandmothers.

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Italians established restaurants that helped popularize Italian food in the region. Greenwood, in particular, has several restaurants with deep Italian connections. Lusco’s and Giardina’s both trace their ancestry to families from Cefalu in Sicily. Charles and Marie Lusco were first generation Italian immigrants, who established a grocery store in 1921. Local cotton farmers spent time there, playing cards in the back of the store, eating the dishes that Marie prepared and drinking Charles’s homemade wine. Lusco’s emerged from a grocery store into a restaurant because their food became popular. Patrons and customers began requesting the sauces made in the restaurant to take home. As a result, Lusco’s began bottling and marketing the three most requested salad dressings and sauces.

Beef and Spinach Lasagna

part58

Mississippi Farm Families recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 32 oz (4 cups) homemade spaghetti sauce
  • 14 ½ oz can Italian style diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and well-drained
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 10 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large nonstick skillet, brown the ground beef 8 – 10 minutes until no longer pink. Pour off the drippings.

Season with salt. Add tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and red pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, spinach, Parmesan cheese and egg.

Spread 2 cups beef sauce over the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Arrange 5 lasagna noodles in single layer completely covering the bottom. Press noodles into sauce.

Spread entire ricotta cheese mixture on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and top with 2 cups beef sauce.

Arrange remaining noodles in a single layer and press lightly into sauce. Top with remaining beef sauce.

Bake in 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes or until noodles are tender. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Tent lightly with foil. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting into 12 servings.

part51

Galveston

Galveston was called the “Ellis Island of the West” as it was the primary point of entry for European immigrants settling in the western United States. By 1910, there were more than 1,000 Italian immigrants living in Galveston.  The language barrier and discrimination caused the Italian immigrants to stick together. Most of the southern Italians were fishermen, laborers and farmers, while the northern Italians tended to be businessmen. The northern Italians used their business skills to set up small, family owned shops. At the time, half the grocery stores in Galveston were owned by Italian families, who made up only 2 percent of the population. “There was an Italian grocery store on every street corner,” said Anthony Piperi, 89, who remembers those days well. Piperi said those who did well in business formed benevolent societies to help the new immigrants and the less fortunate get a foothold. “Fifty percent of them owned some kind of small business,” Piperi said. “By the second generation, everybody had a lawyer or doctor in the family.”

The reason the Italian community did so well, he said, was that it put a premium on education. Everybody in the second generation tried to get an education, he said, because their parents knew what it was like to try to make it without one. The emphasis on education allowed those children to have great mobility and freedom — a mixed blessing. “The families spread out,” Piperi said. “A brother would get a job in Houston. Somebody else would get a job in New York.” An American Army captain whose father was an immigrant, said one of the many things about the Italian experience in Galveston was how quickly many of the immigrants succeeded in their new American life.

Joe Grasso from Sicily pioneered the shrimp industry along the Texas Gulf Coast. Arriving in Galveston in 1906, he worked as a fisherman and saved his money to buy a boat. For 15 years he sold shrimp as bait to fishermen and, then in the 1920s, he began freezing shrimp to export to Japan, creating a successful business.

The Galveston Shrimp Company was founded in 1978 by Rosario Cassarino, an immigrant from the Italian island of Sicily. For twenty years he and his wife, Giovanna, unloaded  fish and shrimp boats at the historic Pier 19 and sold the catch of the day to Galveston locals and the visiting tourists. In 1994 their son, Nello, took over the daily  operation and moved the company to a larger facility that was more accessible to highway transportation. The company began to shift its focus from a retail operation to a wholesale seafood company that now supplies  retailers and distributors around the nation.

Texas Cioppino

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Chef Maurizio Ferrarese from Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook

Cioppino is an Italian-American seafood stew that originated in San Francisco. This Gulf version using brown shrimp, redfish and blue crab make it a Texas-Italian Cioppino.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds uncooked heads-on shrimp
  • One 4 pound whole redfish
  • 8 live crabs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, minced
  • Small can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 3 bay leaves

Directions

Shell the shrimp and filet the fish. Make a stock with the fish bones and head and the shrimp shells and heads. When the stock boils, add the crabs and cook until done, about ten minutes. Remove the crabs and allow to cool. Reserve the crab bodies and claws and return the rest of the crab including the innards to the stockpot. Simmer the stock for a total of 30 minutes adding water as needed, then turn off the heat. You should have 8 cups of stock.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the green onion, garlic and jalapeño; saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes, wine and bay leaf.

Strain the stock and pour the strained liquid into the soup pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

Cut the fish into 2 inch chunks. Add the shrimp, reserved crab and fish to the soup. Simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through. Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and some hot pepper sauce, if desired.

Serve with crusty bread and nutcrackers for the crab claws.

part59

New Orleans

Italians flocked to New Orleans in the late 1800s because of the growing business of importing Mediterranean citrus into the port city. Many of these immigrants worked on the docks in the fruit district and, eventually, these workers opened grocery stores and restaurants around the city. Italians made up about 90 percent of the immigrants in New Orleans at the time and dominated the grocery industry. Italian contributions to the cuisine include “red gravy”, a red sauce thickened with roux that is used in everything from Creole Daube to grillades, stuffed artichokes and peppers. Today, the Italian influence in shaping Creole cuisine is unmistakable – Southern Italian and Sicilian ingredients fundamentally transformed the cuisine.

Joseph Maselli was a catalyst for countless American Italian activities in Louisiana, founding the first state-wide organization of American Italians that later became the Italian American Federation of the Southeast, an umbrella organization with over 9,000 members from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Ten years later, he founded the Italian American Renaissance Foundation Museum and Research Library, the first of its kind in the South, which contains more than 400 oral tape histories, vertical files on 25,000 individuals and 5,500 American Italian books. Today, it has been renamed the American Italian Cultural Center. To honor Louisiana Italian Americans who have excelled in athletics, he founded the Louisiana Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Maselli focused his energy on civic endeavors and, in particular, on preserving the Italian culture and heritage and fighting against prejudice on behalf of all nationalities. Mr. Maselli was the publisher of the Italian American Digest which he founded to preserve immigrant values of family tradition, hard work and education.

Parmesan Crusted Breast of Chicken

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Vincent’s Italian Cuisine/New Orleans

Vincent’s Italian Cuisine was founded in 1989 by native New Orleanian, Vincent Catalanotto. From a large, close Sicilian family, Vincent grew up eating wonderful food prepared by his parents who were both great cooks. The “little Italian place on the side street” quickly became Metairie’s hidden jewel. Vincent developed a menu that showcased the finest and freshest ingredients available. In fact, there are no walk-in coolers or freezers at Vincent’s – produce, seafood, meats and cheeses are delivered fresh daily. It wasn’t long before Vincent had more customers than chairs. A second location was added in 1997 on St. Charles Avenue near the Riverbend.

CREAMED SPINACH

  • 2 boxes (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, squeezed dry
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Sambuca Liqueur
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese

Mix ingredients together and set aside.

CHICKEN

  • 6 Chicken Breast Halves – boneless, skinless, pounded thin
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Vegetable Oil

Dredge chicken in flour, dip in beaten eggs, then in parmesan cheese, pressing cheese into chicken until well coated.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan; add chicken and sauté until golden brown.

While cooking chicken, heat creamed spinach in a small saucepan or in the microwave.

Spread approximately 3 tablespoons of heated spinach on each dinner plate, then top with a cooked chicken breast.

Finish the dish with lemon butter sauce (as follows).

LEMON BUTTER SAUCE

  • Juice of 2 small or 1 Large Lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup dry White Wine
  • 1 stick butter, cut up
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Green Onions (tops only)

Mix lemon juice, wine and Worcestershire in a small saucepan and cook until reduced.

Add butter and green onions, stirring until butter is melted.

Drizzle over chicken and serve.

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An industrial scene in Ensley, Alabama (February, 1937)

Yes! Birmingham, Alabama

Labor shortages drew Italian immigrants to Birmingham’s coal and steel industries. These new Americans quickly became farmers, grocers and merchants, and the next generation became doctors, bankers and lawyers. Their collective history helped shape the culture of the growing city, which was enriched by their contributions to religion, sports, art, commerce and politics. Italian immigration into the Birmingham area was widespread during the late 19th and early 20th century as rural depression in southern Italy coincided with the availability of trans-Atlantic passage for immigrant laborers and industrial expansion in Alabama. Though many had arrived in the city’s early days, the heaviest waves of Italian immigration occurred after 1890, coinciding with major migrations of rural whites into the district. By 1910 the Italian community was the city’s largest single ethnic group, surpassing German and Irish populations which dominated the earliest influx.

One Immigrant’s Story

Recalling his decision to immigrate to the United States in 1906, Giuseppe Emilio Rocconi reflects, “Sometimes I feel that I went against my destiny.”  Like the millions of immigrants that left behind their native countries, families and way of life to find better opportunities in the New World, Rocconi felt that his immigration to the United States altered what he imagined to be the natural course of his life. Thirty-four years later, Rocconi began to write, The Story of My Life  (1958), the autobiographical narrative in which he describes his early life in Italy, his immigration to the United States and his work as a sharecropper and later a landowning farmer in the Mississippi Delta. Perhaps in writing his own story, Rocconi overlooked the fact that while America changed his destiny, his presence in America altered the country as well.

Immigrants like Rocconi, who were in search of the American way of life, did not necessarily find it in the South because they had settled in a place where they were not initially granted access to white privilege and where conditions required for fully achieving the American Dream did not exist. Thus, Rocconi depicts a close-knit Italian community that maintains traditions, remains  isolated, homogenous and resists assimilation. Rocconi shows Italians relying on other Italians (rather than the larger community) for advice, job opportunities and support during difficult times. Despite this resistance, the Italian community, he describes, strives for financial progress and success. While Rocconi wanted to cling to Italian traditions and culture, he also wanted to achieve financial stability, to own property and to not be employed by anyone. 

To tackle the labor shortage in the Mississippi Delta, representatives of the Sunnyside Plantation Company, negotiated “with an Italian immigrant agency in New York and with Italian diplomats.”  for Italians to work for the Sunnyside Company. Ronconi settled with twenty-five other Italian families at Red Leaf Plantation, while another one hundred and fifty Italian families settled at nearby Sunnyside Plantation. According to Rocconi, the Italians settled in this area because “the land was our main occupation as it had also been that of our forefathers in Italy, and here too, where we had transferred, there was no other alternative but the land.”

The Italians at Red Leaf and Sunnyside depended on one another for financial and moral  support. Without any other trade experience and no knowledge of other opportunities in the United States, they found themselves bound to the land. In a sense, they were financially enslaved to the company because they could see no other way out of their debts, which compounded in a vicious cycle. Rocconi relied on the help of his brother, other Italians and his wife, who he says he shared “a life full of disturbances, of misery, work and pain”  in order to survive while living and working in deplorable conditions at Red Leaf Plantation.

During the flood in 1912, almost all of the Italian families at Red Leaf Plantation dispersed and moved to cities, such as Chicago and Memphis. When Rocconi found himself virtually alone on the plantation, he and his brother, Pietro, “decided also to leave.”  From there, he moved to Ensley, Alabama, joining another group of Italian immigrants in that area. He “liked that place [because] it promised me a little of my country. Those rolling fields, the pure healthy air; it had really captivated me.”  When Rocconi describes Ensley as “my country,” one must wonder if he is referring to America or to Italy. Did it remind him of what he had left behind in Italy? Or, was it more like what he had expected his experience as a farmer in America to have been like? Either way, Rocconi seems to be most comfortable in this area because he was not bound by a plantation company‟s harsh treatment. Source:  Bethany Santucci, great-granddaughter of Giuseppe Emilio Rocconi, theme paper (B.A. Millsaps College, 2006, May, 2011).

Postcard view of the Birmingham Terminal Station

The Birmingham Terminal Station was the primary passenger station for Birmingham from 1909 until rail travel sharply declined in the 1950s

Most of Birmingham’s Italians came from a small number of villages in Sicily. The town of Bisacquino alone accounted for about a third of those arriving. Cefalu, Sutera, Campofranco, Grotte and Palermo were also well-represented. Prior to 1898 most of those arriving came through the Port of New Orleans, followed after that by New York as the primary port of entry. By the mid-1920s changes to the immigration policy, including a literacy test and the establishment of national quotas sharply reduced Italian immigration.

Many of those arriving without family already in place began their stay in Birmingham at Egidio Sabatini’s boarding house near the new Terminal Station. Many of the workers were Italian and appreciated his Italian cooking. After settling in, it was easy for the immigrants to find work in the labor-starved iron and steel industries. Families settled themselves around the various industrial plants surrounding the city proper and the Italian neighborhoods grew. By the late 1910’s several families had started operating small grocery stores or fruit markets, typically in the underserved African-American neighborhoods. By the mid-1930’s there were over 300 Italian-owned groceries in the Birmingham area. Notable establishments included the Cantanzano Brothers’ grocery, the Grand Fish and Oyster Company, the Giardina Macaroni Company, the Italian-American Importing Company, Spina Importing, Simonetti Brothers and the Rouss-Maenza Wholesale Company. Meanwhile a small colony of Italian farmers began growing fruits and vegetables in the area now occupied by the Birmingham International Airport. Domenico Lusco had a thriving farm near West End and organized the Farmer’s Truck Growers Association.

Besides learning the English language and American customs in cooking and cleaning, immigrant women at the Ensley House learned how to sew American-style clothes for their families. (Courtesy Archives of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.)

Between 1901 and 1929 thirteen separate mutual aid societies were established to provide basic insurance against illness, injury or burial costs. The first of these was the Liberty Mutual Aid Society. Many of these clubs organized dances and other social events for the Italian community. One, the Societa Italiana Umberto Di Savoia Principe Di Piemonte (USPP) helped to get Columbus Day declared a state holiday in 1911. G. A. Firpo, vice-consul to the Italian Embassy in New Orleans established an office in Birmingham.

In 1912 an experienced social worker, Dorothy L. Crim, accepted a salary of fifty dollars per month to found a settlement house similar to Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago. Despite a host of obstacles to reform, the Ensley Community House, which opened the next year, served its community for fifty-six years. Located in the heart of the city’s Italian District, it sought to alleviate the problems many immigrant workers faced—especially the sense of alienation and isolation from mainstream American culture. Crim felt her greatest satisfaction came, when the families she helped in turn served others.

The Italian community supported two baseball leagues and several musical groups which performed at weddings and feasts. Notable Italian bandleaders included Philip Memoli, Bill Nappi and Saverio Costa.

The first Saint Mark Catholic Church was built in 1905 in East Thomas near the Ensley area. Reverend John B. Canepa was the first pastor. The founding parishioners were Italian immigrants, many who labored in steel mills, stoked furnaces and mined coal and ore. Some were small farmers or merchants, who sold produce and groceries along the city streets. As parishioners moved away from the area, the congregation declined, and Saint Mark closed in 1997. The original building still remains and can be seen at 1010 16th Avenue West in East Thomas. Upon the closing of Saint Mark, the remaining parishioners were promised that a new Saint Mark would be built in Birmingham. Much of the interior was removed with plans to install it in the future church.

A new Saint Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church was built and much of the interior came from the old Saint Mark church. Father Patrick Cullen was appointed pastor on December 8, 2000 and he continued the construction to its completion, celebrating Saint Mark’s first Mass on August 10, 2003.

Feast of Saint Mark Italian Food Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.

For years, many people in the community had hoped for such a “festa” or feast celebrating Italian culture in the traditional Italian style. After the success of the inaugural event in 2012, there was even greater anticipation of the 2013 festival. It was an event attended by over 3,000 Italian family members! “Everybody loved it last year and so we were determined to make it even bigger and better this year and really give people a taste of Italian culture and really good Italian food,” said Robert Sbrissa, one of the organizers. Plans are for the festa to continue to be an annual event, because these festivals and celebrations are important for preserving the Italian culture for future generations.

According to the organizers, “The food experience for the 2013 Feast was a real treat. We offered wonderful Italian favorites. We also worked hard to bring the highest quality and freshest menu items possible, just like Mama. We featured delicious samplings by some of our favorite local Italian restaurants as well as a freshly-grilled Italian sausage station complete with roasted peppers and onions.” These were some of the restaurants that helped make the event special: Tellini’s Italiano, Pelotoni’s Italian Restaurant, Tony’s Spaghetti House and Mr P’s Butcher Shop & Deli. Several of Birmingham’s noted Italian chefs prepared the food for the festa. 

Chef Bernard

One of the biggest surprises was the contribution by Bernard Tamburello. Chef Bernard’s culinary magic and passion for his Italian culture brought authentic cuisine to the Feast of Saint Mark Italian Food Festival. He prepared main course items on site, including Chicken Marsala, Eggplant Parmigiana and Rigatoni Marinara.

Chef Bernard Tamburello blends his love of cooking with his Italian ancestry and culinary skills. In 1992, Tamburello, an award-winning restaurateur, had humble beginnings with Gus’s Hotdogs in downtown Birmingham. Later, Tamburello branched out and opened Bernie’s Grill in Chelsea in 2002, followed by Bernie’s on Main in Columbiana. In 2005, Tamburello launched La Dolce Vita [LDV] in Hoover. LDV allowed Chef Bernard to express his passion for Italian food and culture. He transformed the 1400 foot rental space with Italian accents of brick and slate and a full bar. The traditional recipes and Italian ambience, combined with Tamburello’s expertise, established the chef’s fame and faithful following.

In 2008 Tamburello launched the menu for his Tuscan steakhouse, Bellini’s Ristorante & Bar. Bellini’s had an authentic Italian atmosphere complete with a tiled floor, Tuscan brick walls, granite and polished wood. Tamburello has garnered numerous awards for his skills: Birmingham’s Top Restaurant in 2009 and Birmingham’s Top Wine list in 2009 and 2010. He has been featured in Birmingham Magazine and B Metro over 9 times, appeared on Fox 6 and ABC cooking segments and even prepared breakfast for Nick Saban and his wife Terry in their Tuscaloosa kitchen.

Birmingham’s Italian Food

Tomato Basil Soup

from Joe’s Italian Pizza, Pasta & Caffe

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 4 cups ground tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions:

Melt the butter with the oil over low heat in a heavy bottom pot. Add the onion; wilt over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic during the last 2 minutes, stirring.

Add the tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover; cook over medium-low heat for 60 minutes. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Add basil.

Stir in the cream or half & half, simmer for another 30 minutes.

Garnish with fresh basil before serving.

Note: When tomatoes are in-season use fresh tomatoes, blanch for 8 minutes and process with food processor. In the winter, use a San Marzano-type canned tomato, drain half of the liquid and process in food processor.

Carciofi farciti di carne (Meat-stuffed artichokes)

Sicilian style cooking. Mary Jo Gagliano of La Tavolo, which is Italian for table, draws from her 40 years of experience creating delicious dishes for her family and friends, as well as inspiration and recipes from her family’s Italian heritage.

 Ingredients:

  • 6 medium to large artichokes, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 oz. ground lamb or veal
  • 3 slices Italian bread, crust removed
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, divided
  • 1 large egg slightly beaten
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Marinara sauce, preferably Pomi Marinara

 Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a baking dish large enough to hold artichokes upright.

Trim crust from bread and pour 1/4 cup milk over the bread. Let it soak.

Trim artichokes one quarter from the top, discarding tops. Cut off stems and reserve. Remove outer leaves until they become lighter in color; reserve outer leaves. Insert knife into center and remove hairy choke, taking care not to pierce bottom of the artichoke (a grapefruit spoon works well).

Fill a large saute pan or Dutch Oven with water; bring to a boil. Add artichokes, outer leaves, stems and wine. Return to a boil, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Drain well.

In a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of milk, soaked bread, egg, meat, salt and pepper. Mix, making sure bread is crumbled.

Place the leaves on a chopping surface, flesh-side up. Use a sharp serrated knife or grapefruit spoon to remove flesh from the leaves. Discard the leaves. Finely chop stems and crush slightly. Combine the flesh, stems and cheese in a small bowl and mix.

Stuff bread and meat mixture between each layer of artichoke leaves and into center. Spread flesh and cheese mixture over artichoke tops, drizzle with oil and place in baking dish.

Bake until golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Spread warm marinara sauce on a serving platter, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Swirl oil and sauce together.

Arrange artichokes in platter and serve warm. Pass the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Eggplant Parmesan

from Bernie’s on Main

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (about 2 large) eggplants
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 lbs of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1 cup grated high quality Parmesan cheese
  • 1 packed cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange one layer in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle evenly with salt. Repeat with remaining eggplant, salting, until all eggplant is in the colander. Weigh down the slices with a couple of plates and let drain for 2 hours. The purpose of this step is to have the eggplant release some of its moisture before cooking.

While the eggplant is draining, prepare tomato sauce. Combine tomatoes, garlic and 1/3 cup olive oil in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper to tasted and set aside.

 When eggplant has drained, press down on it to remove excess water, wipe off the excess salt and lay the slices out on paper towels to remove all the moisture. In a wide, shallow bowl, combine flour and breadcrumbs.

Mix well. Pour beaten eggs into another wide shallow bowl. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat and pour in a a half inch of olive oil.

When oil is shimmering, dredge the eggplant slices first in the flour mixture, then in the beaten egg. Working in batches, slide coated eggplant into hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In the bottom of a 10×15 inch glass baking dish, spread 1 cup of tomato sauce. Top with one third of the eggplant slices. Top eggplant with half of the mozzarella slices. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the Parmesan and half of the basil leaves.

Make a second layer of eggplant slices, topped by 1 cup of sauce, remaining mozzarella, half the remaining Parmesan and all of the remaining basil. Add remaining eggplant and top with the remaining tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese.

Bake until cheese has melted and the top is slightly brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: Serves 8.

Veal Scaloppine with Lemon

4 servings

 Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound veal Scaloppine, cut from the top round, and flattened
  • Flour, spread on a plate
  • Salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped very fine
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced very thin

 Directions:

Put the oil and 2 tablespoons of butter into a skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter foam begins to subside, dredge the scaloppine in flour and cook them. Remove scaloppine from pan.

Off the heat, add the lemon juice to the skillet, using a wooden spoon to scrape loose the browning residues on the bottom and sides. Swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter, put in any juices the scaloppine may have shed in the plate and add the chopped parsley, stirring to distribute it evenly.

Turn on the heat to medium and return the scaloppine to the pan. Turn them quickly and briefly, just long enough to warm them and coat them with sauce. Turn out the entire contents of the pan onto a warm platter, garnish the platter with lemon slices and serve at once.

Classic Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake

12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup amaretto
  • 1 ½ teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. (150 degrees C.). Set rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 9 ½ inch springform pan and tap out excess flour.

Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula. Stir the sugar and flour together thoroughly in the ricotta. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the vanilla, orange and lemon zest and Amaretto. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 100 minutes until it’s a light golden color. Make sure the center is fairly firm and that the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. The cheesecake will sink slightly as it cools. Cover and chill overnight.

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup limoncello
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Make glaze by combining sugar and cornstarch, blending in lemoncello and lemon juice until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Cook 3 minutes. Thin with a little water, if too thick.

Chill until cool but not set. Spread top of cheesecake with lemon glaze. Chill overnight. Garnish with lemon slices just before serving.

 



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