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Southern Italian Food  This thread currently has 2,054 views. Print Print Thread
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san j
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 1:43am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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JJR recently posted re: Kentucky Fried Chicken - his Avoid craving on Super Bowl Sunday.

Here comes mine, featuring mostly tomatoes, but a few other Avoids.


I was born and raised in New York, with a grandmother who thought "One Clove Garlic" = a head of garlic cloves and whose regular matriarchal family feasts featured Chicken Cacciatore and a vinaigrette that could be smelled across the street.
Another NY expat (ancestry: Sicilian) and I were just reminiscing about Southern ("Neapolitan") Italian food, because that was the standard Italian fare in our hometown, as its Italian immigrants brought that cuisine to our shores there. We live in San Francisco, where the standard Italian fare is decidedly Northern-Italy influenced, with a certain California angle tweaking it away from what you get in Europe, too.
New York was crazy for Neapolitan Italian food - marinaras, scampi, manicotti, "real" (ultra-thin crust - no "toppings") pizza - and when you're in California for more than a quarter century, it's exclusively the stuff of dreams.

We regularly used to go to a place called Grotta Azzurra on Mulberry street (Little Italy, Manhattan). It was down a flight of stairs to its entrance, and you walked pretty much right into the no-frills dining room, with its large mural portraying the eponymous Blue Grotto (in Capri). That staircase was very steep - uncomfortably steep for children, but you had to stand in line to get in, perhaps for an hour (No Reservations), salivating all the while for what was to come.

To this day, I like to look at pictures of Lobster Fra Diavolo. Grotta Azzura's was superb, and you'd wear a bib when you ate it in the noisy downstairs eatery Sinatra loved. They made a wicked Linguine with Clams (red or white sauce) and those New Yorky dishes "Shrimp Scampi", (grilled prawns and linguine in a garlic butter sauce with parsley) and baked clams. For me, it was all about shellfish, but they had a full seafood menu and plenty of veal and other meat and pasta offerings. The place is still thriving ("since 1908").
You can visit it at bluegrotta.com. I like the slide show (food photos) you see when you click on "gallery". It now includes breakfast foods (don't know if it served breakfast back in the day), but that veal parmigiana looks heavenly. The photos are good - you can almost taste the mushrooms, the lasagna, the calamari.

This friend and I can talk pizza and NY Italian food for, literally, hours. A "real" Italian restaurant, featuring authentic southern Italian/ Naples-style cuisine would, if excellent, score bigtime in San Francisco, ostensibly so culinarily sophisticated a town but where NY expats (and we are many) languish for it. This is a trendy town, where dining rooms are hyper-"designed", and the whole industry can feel very precious. We New Yorkers can take our chow, like Lady and the Tramp, in a back alley behind a kitchen, for all we care - it only adds to the romance. Add Grandma from the old country speaking no English, hand-pounding something (tenderizing meat, crushing tomatoes, peppers, or spices), some laughter, music and color, and in no time the place is on the map.

I could tell you about Italian eateries in Manhattan that grew into restaurants from macaroni factories, butcher shops and bocce courts. If New York business forced their expansion into large, busy Reservation-Only attractions, how do you think what we call a "Real" Italian restaurant would go over in Asian-and-Latin-heavy San Francisco's restaurant scene?

So I'm not supposed to eat tomatoes. But a quarter century is a long time. Someone read this and gimme a place to go once in a blue moon, please.
- - - - - - - - -

If your replies are pro-S. Italian food, great. Stay me with meatballs, comfort me with gnocchi, for I am sick of love.
No judgments, please; I'm a B, and for me, visualization and storytelling, which know no avoids, deliver tremendous satisfaction.  


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Possum
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 1:52am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Ee Dan
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Oh my gosh - that must be hard not being able to have tomatoes?! Loved the imagery you conveyed above!!
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san j
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:33pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Thanks, Possum.

San Francisco at least has Cioppino, a seafood stew, like Bouillabaisse. You get the tomato/fish stock thing and can make it garlicky and peppery if you like...


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cajun
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:38pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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San j,
I grew up in Orange county, CA in an Italian neighborhood. Most families had Sicilian ancestry but there were two second generation from Naples and Sorrento. There were two Polish people married to Italians, one English and Costa Rican family, then my Mom(French/Italian/Jewish) and stepdad (grandparents from Luxembourg).
Just reading your post made my mouth water and reminded me of the intoxicating smell that constantly wafed up and down our block(about 16 houses).Almost everyone attended the same parish church, were blue collar workers, had Sunday suppers and played weekly bocce ball on our huge front lawns.
My best friend lived across the street and her Mom had a prized fig tree from which she made the worlds best real Italian fig cookies...some plain, some iced. She taught me how to make real lasagna(she called her sauce "sugo"/not gravy) and when we were sick she gave us pastina with one egg dropped in. When her son in law had a life threatening surgery, she made a St.Josephs Table. All the neighbors brought their Italian specialty foods and the altar took up the whole living room! Her Italian Easter(egg)bread was scrumptious!
Thanks for letting me look back. Best memories!


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san j
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 10:14pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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I was "set off" by an episode of the food TV show, Bobby Flay's Throwdown, when the shoe was on the other foot, and Frank Pellegrino of Rao's challenged Bobby for a "Night of the Seven Fishes" (Italian traditional Christmas feast) competition between their two restaurants in Caesar's Palace in Vegas.
The show is just...fantastic if you're a fan of this food.
If you can watch this program, do it, because it brings it all home; you come this close to tasting it. And they love it, they know how to talk it.  

Cajun: Thanks for your story. Next time I'm in Orange County, I'll be looking (rather: sniffing) for that Sicilian neighborhood!


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Mayflowers
Friday, March 8, 2013, 3:30pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator
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I grew up on southern Italian cooking. Calabria is where my family is from. It's very plain, peasant cooking.  No cream sauces or lasagne.  Mostly fish, poultry and pasta.  Sometimes meatballs and sausage. We didn't even have gnocchi.  My grandmother didn't make it.  She made strufolli at Christmas time.  My mom ate organs.. tripe, brains..

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san j
Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 8:40pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Quoted from 815
I grew up on southern Italian cooking. Calabria is where my family is from. It's very plain, peasant cooking.  No cream sauces or lasagne.  Mostly fish, poultry and pasta.  Sometimes meatballs and sausage. We didn't even have gnocchi.  My grandmother didn't make it.  She made strufolli at Christmas time.  My mom ate organs.. tripe, brains..


Two cookbooks that look mighty interesting, if not downright beautiful, Mayflowers:
My Calabria
Cucina di Calabria



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san j
Sunday, August 10, 2014, 4:52am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Sorry to see Mayflowers gone...  
Strong Italian family tradition. And a pretty fervent BTD'er!

Well - Tonight I found out why - with no Italian blood - my family's culinary heritage, on my mother's side, is Hard Core Southern Italian.
Better than 23-and-me  


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jeanb
Sunday, August 10, 2014, 12:28pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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San J, lovely memories.  My mother's people are called Paprika Deutsch (Germans).  The food is tomato and paprika based, we used to laugh and call it peasant food, but aromatic and colorful peasant food.

I still can cook in that tradition (less the cream). Do you think we automatically take our mother's food traditions because they were generally in charge of the food and cooking and those are the memories implanted!
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san j
Sunday, August 10, 2014, 9:18pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Quoted from jeanb
Do you think we automatically take our mother's food traditions because they were generally in charge of the food and cooking and those are the memories implanted!

Well, in my case, my maternal grandmother adopted a culinary tradition that was not her mother's.
It was a mystery: Why was Nana a positively formidable Italian cook?

On my father's side, the culinary gift was also strong, but the cuisine was aligned with genetic heritage.
My own mother was an extraordinary cook, but she (like most of us today) was entirely eclectic as to repertoire.

Southern Italian cuisine is more than recipes, too.
The Southern Italian table has a certain character, a character we New Yorkers and expat New Yorkers (of the baby-boom-and-older generations) take for granted but which Californians and younger types -even foodies- don't seem to recognize.


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misspudding
Monday, August 11, 2014, 8:50pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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My hubby is 3/4 southern Italian (1/2 Sicilian, 1/4 Calabrian).

Was so thankful when I saw on my son's SWAMI that one of his beneficial foods is tomato. Parmesan is a super food. Lots of meat and fish, too.


Me: Celiac type gut problems; seizure disorder; MTHFR  DS: O negative; "atypical" IBD - SWAMI 44% Explorer
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san j
Monday, August 11, 2014, 9:49pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Quoted from misspudding
My hubby is 3/4 southern Italian (1/2 Sicilian, 1/4 Calabrian).

Was so thankful when I saw on my son's SWAMI that one of his beneficial foods is tomato. Parmesan is a super food. Lots of meat and fish, too.

What are your specialties?



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misspudding
Tuesday, August 12, 2014, 7:59pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Quoted from san j

What are your specialties?



You mean food?

My husband's mom has a meatball and sauce recipe from her mom's side (they were Sicilian, though meatballs are unapologetically an American thing). I do one very minor sub for the breadcrumbs (either almond flour or crushed up GF rice krispies) and it's 100% compliant, mostly bennies.

I'm always surprised how much red meat and wine the Sicilians eat. Sicily and Calabria has the highest rate of MTHFR in the world (something like 30%?), but are least likely to suffer from complications of it (stroke, etc.) on their native diet.


Me: Celiac type gut problems; seizure disorder; MTHFR  DS: O negative; "atypical" IBD - SWAMI 44% Explorer
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misspudding
Tuesday, August 12, 2014, 8:03pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Or wait...maybe I have that statistic wrong. Hmmm...

http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/37/3/761.extract

I thought I read it was the opposite somewhere.


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san j
Tuesday, August 12, 2014, 10:59pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Quoted from misspudding
You mean food?

My husband's mom has a meatball and sauce recipe from her mom's side (they were Sicilian, though meatballs are unapologetically an American thing). I do one very minor sub for the breadcrumbs (either almond flour or crushed up GF rice krispies) and it's 100% compliant, mostly bennies.

Your specialty is your Sicilian mother-in-law's meatballs and sauce - I tend to think Napoli/ Campania re: classic "Sunday Sauce", too. Did she do any interesting local variations or something?
Lots of Seafood and Vegetables down Sicily way...



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misspudding
Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 7:01pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Since they lived in Kansas City by way of NYC, just lots of meat. Beef, pork, turkey...I don't do pork.


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cajun
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 1:05am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly southern Italians. Ahh, their kitchen aromas on Sundays! Everyone trying to sneak a dip in the sauce pot with a chunk of chewy/crusty bread!
Mrs. D made the best bracciole (sp?) in the world, and it wasn't fancy, just delicious! They kept the wine passing all through the meal.
I am picking figs daily right now, my tree is loaded, and I remember Mrs. B's Italian fig cookies, some iced and some not.
Mr. G made awesome osso bucco. He just went to a family reunion in Sicily this year and said family members came from several different countries!
Thanks, San J , now I have a yearning for something yummy with olive oil/garlic!


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san j
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 2:00am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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I'm Italian'd-Out for tonight, cajun.  
Been overdoing it.

This afternoon I switched to KappaMaki (cucumber sushi roll) and plain raw celery instead, and a small glass of Ginger Juice. Talk about DeTox!  


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gulfcoastguy
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 3:47am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Quoted from cajun
I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly southern Italians. Ahh, their kitchen aromas on Sundays! Everyone trying to sneak a dip in the sauce pot with a chunk of chewy/crusty bread!
Mrs. D made the best bracciole (sp?) in the world, and it wasn't fancy, just delicious! They kept the wine passing all through the meal.
I am picking figs daily right now, my tree is loaded, and I remember Mrs. B's Italian fig cookies, some iced and some not.
Mr. G made awesome osso bucco. He just went to a family reunion in Sicily this year and said family members came from several different countries!
Thanks, San J , now I have a yearning for something yummy with olive oil/garlic!


A friend of mine was married for 30 years. Her mother in law was a southern italian and taught her to cook. Her ex sister in law makes "fancy fig newtons" as I call them and sells them at the local farmer's market. She does make one version with spelt flour. I buy one bag a year from her and hope the avoids are minimal, I know better than to ask for the recipe. She also makes biscotti but I know they are complete avoids.
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cajun
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 5:16pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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GCG,

Ha ha, yes, don't even ask for the recipe!!!

My family is mostly French ( with a bit of Italian) but they are like many Italians regarding family recipes/secrets.   My grandmere would always be polite and offer a "version" of her recipes when asked. In other words, she famously and deliberately left out an important ingredient!



 Ao  ISFJ   Taster   Rh+  

"God gave us the gift of life. It is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well." Voltaire
"Whisper words of wisdom. Let it be." Sir Paul McCartney
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jayneeo
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 5:30pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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I saw a bumper sticker (I swear) that said
"I don't use recipes, I'm Calabrian"
Pretty cool, but I don't use them either and Im scots-irish! It's a temperament...
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san j
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 7:42pm Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Re: No Recipes.

What I've noticed over my years in the kitchen is:
Where it comes to the repeated ("Every Sunday") recipes - the sauce Nonna makes every week, the M'Sakhan of Palestine, the Shabbas Matzo Balls and soup of Bubbe - there's a good reason the recipe isn't given out:

It Changes!

These recipes have certain constant base ingredients, but they change depending upon what's on hand.
For instance, with respect to Southern Italian Food:

Sunday Sauce foundations may be:
Canned San Marzano tomatoes, ground meat, olive oil, garlic.

Without these, you simply can't make the sauce and still call it Sunday Sauce.
However, sometimes you use onions, sometimes not. Sometimes you throw in mushrooms, sometimes not. Sometimes you use beef and veal and pork, sometimes not. Sometimes you grate your own breadcrumbs, sometimes not. Sometimes you throw in peperoncini, sometimes not. Sometimes you use fresh basil, sometimes not. Sometimes there's parmesan in the meatballs, sometimes not.
And on and on it goes.
I don't think I've ever made it E-X-A-C-T-L-Y the same, though I've made it countless times.

In a way, Nonna is doing you a favor if she doesn't give you an exact recipe -- so you'll learn how to cook, which includes mastering whatever's ready to hand.

If I were teaching someone to make Sunday Sauce, I'd honestly show all the ingredients I've used and tell them things I've noticed about them...but it would take a very long time...


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cajun
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Jayneeo and San j,

I know about that bumper sticker because my best friend ( we are each others sons Godmothers) told me about it! Her mother came from Campagna outside Rome and her father was from Naples. She said it was so true because her mom died and left very few recipes( her aunts zucchini fritters) written down for her. Her mom would tell her to watch and help, just as my grandmere told me. I remember watching my grandmere make challah or sourdough bread and thinking I hope I could do that. My friend would sit at their kitchen table and "press" the cut ravioli as her job because when she tried to make the pasta like her mom did she couldn't quite get the same "well" going with the flour, etc. Looking back, those women made it all look easy...for them!


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san j
Friday, August 15, 2014, 1:32am Report to Moderator Report to Moderator

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Well, that raises another important point, a reason YouTube is such a boon to aspiring cooks: Watching someone crack eggs into that Flour Well, and letting her correct you a few times, can be critical.

Some people can learn from cookbooks alone, but most cannot.

And those Grandmother recipes usually involve a great deal of:

Kneading, in just the right way,
Folding, in just the right way,
Adding ingredients, at just the right moment(s),
Removing from the fire, at just the right time,
Using both oven and stovetop, for just the right effects,
Combining, in just the right proportions...................

It's as if:
If You Refuse To Apprentice, You Haven't Earned the Recipe.  


PS. cajun: See the thread, "Anyone Eating Fonio?", Reply 6 (my post), the link entitled "One for good measure", if it's zucchini fritters you crave...


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My grandmother not only didn't use recipes, she never used a measuring device other than her hands or eyes. Once the younger uncles robbed a bee tree and got a wash tub full of honey so dark it was almost black. Grandmother looked at it a minute then got out her biscuit bowl. In went a few handfuls of flour, some pecans from the front yard, some butter churned that morning, honey, a little vanilla. Presto chango and we had some spectacular cookies.
We waited too get her  orange coconut cake recipe. The aunts questioned her and wrote down what recipes she could remember but she took the real recipe for that to her grave. They did get her molasses tea cakes recipes. They grew their own sugar can so molasses was their primary sweetener.
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