The province and metropolitan city of Messina are located in the northeast corner of Sicily on the Strait of Messina and sits on two different seas. It is also the 3rd largest city on the island of Sicily and the 13th largest city in Italy. Messina was originally founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC. In 1908, a devastating earthquake hit Messina, along with a tsunami, which destroyed much of the historical architecture of the city. One of the major landmarks lost to the earthquake was the 12th century Cathedral of the City, which was rebuilt in 1919. The city was also victim to significant damage from bombing raids during the Second World War.
Among the top attractions of Messina are the Cathedral of Messina, the Orologio Astronomico (the Bell Tower with an Astronomical Clock) and the Annunziata dei Catalani Church. The cathedral has largely been rebuilt following the earthquake damage and the bomb damage but some of the original building still remains, including a 15th century Gothic doorway and some 14th century mosaics. The attractive Bell Tower is home to one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks and its motorized figures emerge every day at noon to depict scenes of local history. Also, in the Piazza Duomo is the 16th century Fontaine de Orione.
The province’s main resources are its seaports (commercial and military shipyards), cruise tourism, commerce and agriculture (wine production and cultivating lemons, oranges, mandarin oranges and olives).
Just off the coast are the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and they are a popular tourist destination in the summer, attracting up to 200,000 visitors annually. There are beaches and coves with black sand, pumice stone and tiny pebbles, steaming craters, bubbling mud baths, sulfur springs, strange-shaped grottoes, crystal-clear turquoise waters, craggy cliffs, and archaeological sites on the coastline and the adjacent islands.
Fish: fried, baked or grilled, is the province’s most popular food. The preparation can vary, but what matters most is its freshness. Swordfish from the Messina Strait is cooked in multiple ways. Crustaceans and mussels make a popular soup and are often used as a topping for rice and spaghetti.
Vegetables and fruits are important components of Messinese cooking. Caponata, eggplant with cheese and potato fries are three of the best known local vegetable dishes.
Dairy products include canestrato cheese in sweet or spicy versions, sheep pecorino cheese and provola cheese, all made according to ancient traditions.
Olive oil, honey, hazelnuts and pistachios are all part of the cuisine.
Local pastries are well-known classics: cannoli, cassate, almond paste, martorana fruit and pignolata.
The D.O.C. wines of Etna, the Malvasia di Lipari and citrus liqueurs are all produced here.
Sciusceddu ( Meatball and Egg Soup)
“Sciusceddu” is a dish that comes from the city of Messina in Sicily, where it is traditionally served at Easter. There are two theories for where the name “sciusceddu” comes from. One suggests that it derives from the Latin word “juscelleum,” meaning soup, and the other is from the Sicilian verb “sciusciare,” meaning to blow.
4 cups meat broth
7 oz veal or beef meat, chopped
2 oz breadcrumbs
3 ½ oz caciocavallo cheese, grated
3 eggs, divided
3 ½ oz ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper
Combine the minced meat, one egg, breadcrumbs, half of the grated Caciocavallo cheese (or Parmesan), chopped parsley and a little water; then form meatballs about the size of a small egg.
In another bowl, beat the remaining 2 eggs with the ricotta cheese, the remaining Caciocavallo cheese and a dash of salt and pepper.
Bring the broth to the boil in a saucepan and drop the meatballs into the broth.
Cook for about twenty minutes, then add the egg/ricotta mixture, stirring vigorously for a few moments. Remove from the heat and serve the “sciusceddu” piping hot.
Pesce Spada alla Messinese (Swordfish Messina style)
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 lb (600 gr) swordfish cut into palm-sized pieces slices
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
20 capers (if salted, rinse well first)
10 black olives, chopped
4 anchovy fillets
1 cup white wine
2 cups tomato passata (sauce)
15 oz can chopped tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
A pinch of crushed dried chili pepper
Brush the swordfish slices with olive oil and set aside.
In a skillet heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the spring onions, garlic, capers, olives, chili pepper and anchovy fillets and cook until the anchovies melt into the oil and the onion is soft.
Put the slices of swordfish in the skillet and add the white wine. Burn off the alcohol and then add the tomatoes. Mix well, cover and cook for 30 minutes on very low heat.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with parsley.
Pidoni, a popular dish from Messina. are pieces of pizza-like dough, stuffed with curly endive, mozzarella and anchovy, similar to a calzone but fried.
For the dough:
400 gr (3 cups) Italian 00 or pastry flour
200 gr ( 2 cups) bread flour
300 ml (1 and 1/3 cups) water
2 gr ( 1/2 teaspoon) active dry yeast
40 gr (6 tablespoons) olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the filling:
500 gr (1 lb, about 2 bunches) curly endive which is also named chicory or frisee
600 gr /18 oz diced, canned tomato
400 gr (14 oz) fresh mozzarella
6-8 anchovy fillets
Salt and black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Twenty-four hours before you need it, make the dough. Mix the dough ingredients, oil the dough, cover it and let it rise in a draft-free area.
About half way through the proofing time, knead the dough briefly and cover again.
Make the filling.
Wash the curly endive thoroughly and chop it finely or pulse it in a food processor. Mix the chopped salad with the tomatoes, salt lightly and transfer in a colander for at least one hour.
It’s important to remove as much liquid as possible from the vegetable mixture, so squeeze it in a cotton towel if necessary.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add one tablespoon olive oil and season the filling with a sprinkle of black pepper.
Divide the risen dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball. Place each ball on a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a thin disk of about 20 cm ( 8 inches) in diameter.
Divide the filling among the 16 disks leaving a 2.5cm ( 1 inch) margin around the edge.
Place 1 slice of mozzarella and 1/2 anchovy fillet broken in 2-3 pieces over the filling and fold the disk of dough to form a small calzone.
Preheat the oil in a deep saucepan, until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in about 25 seconds.
Seal the edges of the pidoni with a fork, drop them carefully into the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per batch until golden.
Drain on kitchen towssl and set aside. Continue until all are finished. Serves 6-8
4 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup Pistachio Cream, recipe below
In a small bowl combine 1 cup milk, cornstarch, and sugar. Using a wire whisk, combine the ingredients to form a slurry so that all the cornstarch is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 3 cups milk and the vanilla extract.
Stirring occasionally, heat the mixture to almost a boil; stir in the cornstarch mixture and let simmer from 5 to 12 minutes to thicken, stirring constantly.
Another important tip is to stir slowly, (do not whisk) which will prevent too much air from being incorporated into the custard that will produce ice crystals.
Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, preferably overnight.
Prior to using the custard mixture, pour the chilled custard through a strainer into a mixing bowl to clear out any clumps that may have formed. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Whisk the prepared chilled Pistachio Cream into the strained and chilled custard. The gelato mixture is now ready for the freezing process.
Transfer the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
With Gelato, it is best to not process it until it is hard. Instead, stop the ice cream maker at soft serve consistency, then put it in a container in your freezer until stiff for a delicate flavor and texture that differentiates it from ice cream.
When the gelato is done, either serve (best if eaten and enjoyed immediately, as gelato has a shorter storage life than ice cream) or transfer to freezer containers and freeze until firmer.
Makes approximately 1 quart of pistachio gelato.
1 cup hot water
8 ounces raw unsalted shelled and hulled pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil
In a medium-size saucepan, bring water to a boil.
Place the pistachio nuts, sugar and olive oil in a food processor. Blend/process, adding the hot water (1 tablespoon at a time to control the consistency of the cream) until the pistachios are a smooth, creamy consistency that spreads freely in the blender (It usually takes about 9 tablespoons of hot water).
NOTE: Stop the processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during this process. When done, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in making the gelato.
Makes approximately 1 cup.
Potenza is a province in the Basilicata region of Italy. In 272 B.C. the province was conquered by the Greek army. Later in the 11th century, the area became part of the Duchy of Apulia, which was at the time ruled by the Normans. In the 13th century it became part of the Kingdom of Naples In 1861 the province was unified with the rest of Italy in the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.
The region has suffered from innumerable earthquakes and is still a seismically active area. Although Potenza was mostly rebuilt after having being destroyed by several earthquakes in its history, the city still bears many of the signs that it existed in ancient times. The Cathedral, built in the 12th Century and renovated during the Neoclassical age, houses interesting works of art, while the Torre Guevara is an example of a Medieval castle. The Roman Villa of Mal Vaccaro is characterized by beautiful mosaics and the Edicola of San Gerardo is a temple that was built in the 19th Century to exhibit the saint’s statue. The National Archaeological Museum and the Provincial Archaeological Museum contain numerous finds that document the city’s history, as does the Archivio di Stato, with documents dating back to the 14th Century.
The rich history of the region can also be seen in its architecture, ranging from the exquisite rock churches of the Byzantine monks to Romanesque architecture. Frescoes, paintings and sculpted objects throughout the region represent a long and beautiful artistic heritage. The historic center of Potenza is located in the upper part of the city and is accessible via escalators. The square of Mario Pagano provides the perfect central point from which to for explore the city. Across the square is the Via Pretoria, the famous street of Potenza, that goes from the east side to the west side of the city. Packed with bars, shops and restaurants, Via Pretoria is a vibrant hub during the day and evening.
Along the Via Pretoria there are many major cultural, architectural and art historical buildings, which include the “Palazzo del Governo”, the recently restored ‘Stabile’ theater and the church of San Francesco of Assisi which was founded in 1274. The church houses the De Grasis sepulchre and a 13th century Madonna in the Byzantine style that is worth visiting. The Romanesque church of San Michele Arcangelo dating back to the 11th century has many beautiful artworks including over 500 ancient frescos, one of which depicts St. Michele slaying the dragon.
The Lake of Pantano di Pignola spreads out into a valley surrounded by mountains. The lake was formed by an artificial dam in an area of meadows and cultivated fields. The nature reserve is home to a variety of wildlife including foxes, weasels, beach martens, hedgehogs and shrews. The habitat also provides the perfect environment for birds and the reserve is home to many beautiful species including Grey Herons, Moorhens, Egrets, Widgeons, Teals and many other species of duck, Great-Crested Grebes, Kingfishers and Lapwings.
Foods and Products of Potenza
The foundation of the local cuisine is pork: locals are expert producers of ham, sausages, capocollo, salami and pancetta. Typical dishes include cotechinata, fried pork, peperonata with pork or sanguinaccio.
Sheep and lamb are also very common and fish dishes include eel, trout and baked codfish. The first course is always a handmade pasta, such as orecchiette, cavatelli, strozzapreti, strascinate or fusilli.
Sheep’s milk cheeses include pecorino burrata, provola, manteca and cacioricotta.
The three most famous wines from the area are the red Aglianico D.O.C., the white and sparkling Moscato and the dessert wine Malvasia.
The pepperoncino pepper, known by locals as, diavlicchio (little devil) is a hot pepper that is a true symbol of the area’s cuisine. It is most often used, added to red sauces.
Some of the regional dishes:
Lucanica is a versatile sausage made with lean pork meat that can be prepared many different ways.
Ciammotta is made with fried potatoes, peppers and eggplant in tomato sauce
Piatto d’Erbe alla Lucana is similar to a vegetable stir-fry. The dish is made up of onions, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, basil and parsley that are cooked together and seasoned with olive oil.
Recipes from Potenza
- 2 bell peppers
- 1 eggplant
- 4 potatoes
- 5 tomatoes, diced
- 2 onions
- 1 garlic clove. chopped
- 10 olives, pitted and chopped
- Salt to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil to taste
Slice the peppers, eggplant, potatoes and onions and sauté them separately.
Mix the vegetables together in one large pot with some of the oil used to sauté them and add the chopped garlic clove, the olives and the diced tomatoes.
Season with salt and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Spezzatino Di Agnello (Stewed Lamb)
- 1 lb of lamb, cut into cubes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A sprig of rosemary
- A slice of bacon or pancetta
- A few leaves of sage, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- White wine
- Extra virgin olive oil
Heat a little olive oil with the chopped bacon, the garlic, the sage leaves and the rosemary in a large skillet with a cover.
Add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Add a little wine to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cook over low heat, covered until the meat is tender.add more wine if needed to keep the meat from sticking to the pan.
- 1 ¾ lbs (800 grams) pizza dough
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 ¼ oz (40 g) raisins
- 2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) Swiss chard, cut into strips
- 1 dried chili pepper
Soften the raisins in warm water, drain and squeeze.
Mix the chard, raisins, chopped chili pepper, salt and pepper with a little olive oil to moisten.
Roll the dough out into a thin round about the size of a pizza. Place the dough on a large greased pizza pan.
Spread the greens over one half of the dough. Moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold the uncovered half of the dough up and over the greens. Seal the edges.
Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F (200 ° C) for 25 minutes.
From Erica De Mane, a chef, food writer and teacher who specializes in southern Italian cooking.
For the filling:
- 1 1/2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium shallots, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- A generous pinch of ground nutmeg
- A splash of brandy or cognac
- Two 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes, chopped, one can drained
- Freshly ground black pepper
- A few basil leaves, lightly chopped
- 3/4 pound homemade or very thin store-bought, sheets of fresh lasagna
- 1 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- A large handful of basil leaves, lightly chopped
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the filling. It should be slightly sweet but with a salty edge from the cheese. Be liberal with the black pepper; it serves to balance out the sweet spices.
In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and the nutmeg, and sauté until the shallots are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the splash of brandy or cognac, letting it boil away. Add the tomatoes, and season with salt and black pepper. Let the sauce bubble, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. It will have thickened slightly but still have a fresh taste and bright color. Add the basil.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Set up a large pot of pasta-cooking water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Boil the lasagna sheets, a few at a time, until just tender. Scoop them from the water with a large strainer spoon and into a colander. Run cold water over them to stop the cooking and lay them out on kitchen towels.
Lightly oil an approximately 9-by-12-inch baking dish (you’ll want it 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep). Put down a layer of tomato sauce and then a layer of pasta. Add a layer of the ricotta mix and then sprinkle on some almonds, some parmigiano cheese and then some of the basil.
Put down another layer of pasta and cover it with tomato sauce. Make another pasta layer and repeat the ricotta, almond, parmigiano and basil pattern. Repeat this pattern (you’ll probably get four layers of pasta), finishing with a layer of pasta, a layer of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano cheese.
Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake, uncovered, until bubbling and crisp around the edges, about 30 minutes. Let sit about 5 minutes before serving.
This time of year I have many visitors and they often include my grandchildren. It is easy enough to plan meals that appeal to the grown-ups but not always so easy to prepare foods the children like to eat. Of course pizza is the number one favorite.
Here are some recipes that I have found that the young ones like and ask for again and again. These are delicious recipes with fats kept low and healthy ingredients added where they will be accepted.
Cheese Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
- 2 cups blueberries
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup low fat cottage cheese
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, plus extra if needed
In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, lemon juice and honey and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and syrupy, about 5 to 6 minutes; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, granulated sugar and a pinch of salt.
In a second bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, milk and eggs. Add the cottage cheese mixture to the flour mixture and mix until fully incorporated.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. In batches, drop large spoonfuls (about 1/4 cup each) of the batter into the skillet and cook until bubbles begin to appear in the center.
Turn the pancakes and cook 1 minute more; repeat with the remaining batter and add additional oil if needed.
Serve with the blueberry sauce.
Cinnamon French Toast
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 slices hearty sandwich bread
- Vegetable oil
- 1 cup vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup real maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine sauce ingredients and refrigerate until serving time.
Beat eggs, yogurt and cinnamon in a wide shallow dish until blended.
Cut each slice of bread into 3 sections. Soak the bread pieces in the egg mixture, turning once.
Coat a large nonstick skillet or griddle with vegetable oil; heat over medium heat until hot.
Place as many bread pieces as will fit in the skillet or on the griddle and cook over medium to medium-low heat until golden brown and no visible liquid remains, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Repeat with any remaining bread pieces. Serve toast with dipping sauce.
Spinach Mac & Cheese
Serve with fresh fruit.
Makes 8 servings.
- 8 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups low fat milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 8 oz. shredded cheddar
- 3 oz. Velveeta Light cheese, cut into thin strips
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 3 tablespoons Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Boil macaroni two minutes less than the package directions.
While pasta cooks, whisk together flour and 1/2 cup milk in a small bowl. Pour remaining 1 1/2 cups milk into a large saucepan and heat over low. Once milk is slightly warmed, turn heat to medium-low and add flour and milk mixture, stirring constantly until thick. Reduce heat slightly and add butter, cheeses and salt. Cook until smooth, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach.
Drain macaroni, then combine with the cheese mixture, stirring thoroughly.
Divide macaroni mixture among eight small ovenproof dishes. Place baking dishes on a baking sheet.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs lightly and evenly on the top and bake 25 to 30 minutes.
Ham and Cheese Calzones
Serve with vegetable sticks.
- 1 pound package refrigerated pizza dough (for 1 crust)
- 1/4 cup mild mustard
- 8 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
- 8 ounces sliced deli ham
Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Line a baking sheet with foil; lightly grease the foil.
On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat the dough into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle. Cut dough in half crosswise and lengthwise to make 4 rectangles.
Spread mustard over each rectangle. Divide half of the cheese among the rectangles, placing cheese on one half of each rectangle.
Top with ham and then the remaining cheese. Brush the edges of the dough with water.
For each calzone, fold dough over filling to the opposite edge, stretching slightly if necessary. Seal edges with the tines of a fork.
Place calzones on the prepared baking sheet. Prick tops to allow steam to escape. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
- 1/2 pound chicken breast tenders (fingers), about 8
- 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
- 3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Olive oil cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat a 9”x13” glass baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Place chicken fingers in a shallow dish and pour the egg substitute over them. Rotate and coat all the fingers.
Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish and dredge fingers in the crumbs.
Place coated chicken in the prepared baking dish in a single layer. Drizzle fingers with the olive oil.
Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees F. Turn fingers over and bake 15 minutes more.
Serve with the ranch dip, if desired.
Healthy Ranch Dip
- 1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
- 1/4 cup olive oil mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Dash of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
Whisk together all the ingredients and chill.
Spaghetti with Basil Pesto
This dish is second to pizza in our house.
- 2 cups of basil leaves packed tightly in a measuring cup
- 2 peeled garlic cloves, cut in pieces
- 1/4 cup pignoli or walnuts
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup of very good extra virgin olive oil
Place the garlic, nuts, salt and pepper in the processor and pulse a few times. Add the basil leaves and with the processor running, add the olive oil slowly.
Process until the mixture becomes a paste. Pour the sauce into a pasta serving bowl and set aside.
Cook 1 lb. of spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Just before you drain the pasta, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside.
Add the drained pasta to the serving bowl with the pesto and add 2 tablespoons of butter, the pasta water and 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
Garnish with freshly grated black pepper. Serve.
- 1 pound of your favorite pizza dough
- 1 pound sliced mozzarella cheese
- Pizza sauce, recipe below
- Dried oregano and fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Spread the dough to the edges of an oiled pizza pan.
Layer the sliced cheese on top of the dough.
Spread some pizza sauce on top.
Sprinkle with oregano.
Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes until lightly brown and crispy. Garnish with fresh basil.
5 Minute Pizza Sauce
- One 28 oz. container diced Italian tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil
- Dash of red pepper flakes
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the garlic. As soon as the garlic begins to sizzle, but before it takes on color, add the tomatoes. Turn the heat to high, and as soon as the sauce begins to bubble, turn the heat back down to medium low.
Season with salt and pepper. Add the red pepper flakes and the basil. Cook for another minute of two and remove from the heat.
Caring about our communities, the environment and our planet shouldn’t be a one day thing. Working to decrease our impact on the planet should be a continuous process. However, Earth Day is also the perfect time to make a personal pledge to start a new good habit.
Here are a few ways to make a difference:
Turn out the lights when you leave a room. It does make a difference.
Taking a shower uses less water than filling a bathtub and a water-conserving shower head is even better.
To decrease waste, purchase durable, long-lasting products that can be reused, refilled or recharged. If you do use disposables, choose those made with recycled/recyclable materials.
Adjusting your thermostat down just 2 degrees in the winter and up 2 degrees in the summer could save energy consumption.
Buy groceries such as grains, beans, cereals, pasta and snacks from bulk bins when available to avoid excess trash. Plus, being able to buy just the amount you need means no wasted food.
Use reusable cloth bags when shopping to avoid using paper or plastic bags.
Compost your food waste to reduce trash that goes to a landfill. Add the compost to your garden for nutrient-rich soil.
Plant a tree. A single tree can absorb up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.
These are just a few suggestions to incorporate an Earth Day mentality into your daily routine.
The more unprocessed foods you eat — especially plant-based foods — the healthier you and our planet are going to be. While a meat-centered diet deepens our ecological footprint and contributes to pollution, a plant-centered diet requires fewer resources and supports long-term health. But you don’t have to go completely veggie to reap the benefits; try gradually adding a few meatless dishes to your weekly menu. Try some of these delicious, earth friendly recipes.
Spinach can be used in place of broccoli.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- Flour, for rolling dough
- 2 (1 pound each) fresh or frozen pizza dough balls, thawed if frozen
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups shredded (6 ounces) mozzarella cheese
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- Homemade marinara sauce, recipe below
In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onion; cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add broccoli, garlic and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Make the calzones:
Divide each ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, stretch each piece out, first to a 3-by-4-inch oval, then stretch again, this time to a 6-by-8-inch oval. (Let dough rest a few minutes if too elastic to work with.)
Stir cheeses into cooled broccoli mixture; season generously with salt and pepper.
To assemble the calzones:
Spread a rounded 1/2 cup broccoli mixture over half of each piece of dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border; fold over to form a half-moon. Press edges to seal. With a paring knife, cut 2 slits in the top of each calzone.
Using a wide metal spatula with a thin blade, transfer calzones to 2 baking sheets lined with parchment; reshape if needed.
Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Serve with heated marinara sauce.
To freeze: Prepare recipe through step 3. Tightly wrap each calzone in plastic; freeze until firm. Transfer calzones to resealable plastic bags; label and date. Freeze up to 2 months.
To serve: unwrap calzones, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets; bake without thawing until golden, 35 to 40 minute
Homemade Marinara Sauce
Makes about 3 cups.
- 1 28-oz can whole peeled Italian tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1⁄2 small onion, finely chopped
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.
Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.
Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup
- 3 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, (about 12), cored and halved lengthwise
- 1/2 pound carrots, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 10 garlic cloves
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1 large eggplant, (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 can (15.5 ounces) no salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, for serving
- Toasted Italian bread, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. with racks on the top and the bottom.
On one rimmed baking sheet, toss together tomatoes, carrots, garlic, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a single layer, with tomatoes cut sides down.
On another rimmed baking sheet, toss together eggplant, chickpeas, Italian seasoning, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a single layer.
Place both sheets in the oven (tomato mixture on top rack). Roast until tender, tossing mixtures halfway through, about 45 minutes.
Using tongs, peel off and discard tomato skins. Puree tomato mixture (including juices) in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a large pot.
Stir in eggplant mixture; thin with 4 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Serve, sprinkled with basil and garnished with toasted bread, if desired.
Wild Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna
- 3 pounds fresh spinach, stems removed and washed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced, divided
- 1 pound ricotta cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 pounds wild mushrooms, (chanterelles, oyster and shiitake), trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup Madeira wine
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
- 4 1/2 cups milk at room temperature, divided
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 one-pound package lasagna noodles, parboiled
Melt 1 tablespoon oil in large pan over medium heat. Add half the garlic; saute until light golden, about 1 minute. Add half the spinach leaves, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain spinach in a colander. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of oil, remaining garlic and spinach.
When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze to rid it of liquid. Roughly chop spinach; place in a medium bowl with ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix well.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the mushrooms; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute until mushrooms are softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Deglaze the skillet by pouring 1/4 cup Madeira into the hot skillet with the mushrooms and using a wooden spoon to loosen bits cooked onto skillet. Cook mushrooms until liquid has almost evaporated. Transfer cooked mushrooms to a second bowl. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon of butter, the remaining mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and 1/4 cup Madeira. Add to the first batch of cooked mushrooms.
Set aside in a small bowl one-third of the cooked mushrooms to use for the topping. Add ¼ cup of chopped parsley to the remaining cooked mushrooms; stir.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add the flour; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Slowly add 4 cups of milk; cook, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove pan from the heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the nutmeg and 1/2 cup grated cheese. Set aside 1/2 cup sauce in another small bowl.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
To assemble the lasagna:
Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Place a layer of lasagna noodles in the pan; spread 1 cup spinach mixture, 1 cup mushroom mixture and 1/2 cup of sauce on top of the lasagna. Repeat layers several times.
For the last layer, place a layer of lasagna noodles on top; spread 1/2 cup sauce over the lasagna noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese. Bake lasagna until the top is golden brown, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 20 minutes before serving.
Just before serving, heat the remaining reserved one-third mushrooms, reserved ½ cup sauce, remaining half cup of milk and ¼ cup parsley in a skillet over medium heat. Spoon some of the mushroom sauce over each serving of lasagna.
Green Bean, Orange and Feta Salad
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 8 ounces green beans, trimmed and halved
- 2 navel oranges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta (6 ounces)
- 1 head romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved and roughly chopped
- 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or nuts of choice
In a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook green beans until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain green beans and spread on a baking sheet to cool.
Using a sharp knife, slice off both ends of each orange. Cut off the peel following the curve of the fruit. Halve fruit from top to bottom, and thinly slice each half crosswise.
In a bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Add feta, oranges, lettuce, onion, nuts and green beans. Toss to combine.
Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
Makes about 48
- 3 egg whites
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts or other nuts, chopped and toasted
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease large cookie sheet.
In a small bowl, beat together egg whites, oil, coffee and vanilla.
In a large bowl, stir together flour and remaining ingredients until well mixed.
Pour egg mixture onto dry ingredients and stir until combined. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half.
Shape mixture into two 12″ by 1″ logs; place both on the prepared cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Bake 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cool 10 minutes.
Transfer one log to a cutting board. Slice diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick biscotti.
Arrange biscotti, cut side up, on cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining log, using a second cookie sheet, if necessary.
Bake 20 minutes; turning cookies over after 10 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight jar up to 1 month.
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.
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)