Almost Italian: A Cookbook & History of Italian Food in Americaby Skip Lombardi, Holly Chase
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What if you could channel an Italian grandmother, your own nonna or that lady across the street who showed you how to make cavatelli? Suppose you could combine her time-tested recipes with the back-stories of your favorite dishes and their originators, the immigrants who created and shared the "abbondanza" of Italian-American cooking? What if you could serve these with sides of luscious contemporary color photography and vintage Polaroids from the family album? Almost Italian: A Cookbook & History of Italian Food in America offers all this—and much more.
Beginning with Italians who arrived in America during the huge waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the authors season their writing with scholarship, insatiable curiosity, and street-smart attitude. As culinary sleuths, Skip and Holly explore the richly diverse foodways of Italians and trace traditions from the Old World to the New. They deconstruct Italian-American dialects, the mystique of Sunday Gravy, and the cult of cucuzza. Their first-hand-experience (wrangling with the daunting scungilli) and research (reading Dante for gastronomic clues) gives Almost Italian the snap and freshness of the first shoots of wild asparagus foraged by Skip Lombardi’s Sicilian-American family.
In America, all immigrants found a gastronomic landscape of both limitation and opportunity. Initially, some of the basic ingredients we now associate with Italian cooking—olive oil, sheep's milk cheeses, and even pasta—were not readily available to the newcomers. But at the same time, the Italians were amazed to discover the affordability of other foods that had been out of reach for them back in Italy--notably, larger quantities of meat and chicken, and, most surprisingly, the dry pasta made from durum wheat. The authors challenge the widespread--but mistaken--idea that pasta was the everyday food of poor Italian peasants.
In sum, both lack—and abundance—inspired an entirely new cuisine, what we have come to know as Italian-American. Through recipes, Almost Italian tells the story of how "cucina casalinga," the immigrants’ home cooking, became "Italian" restaurant fare.
From the Connecticut kitchens of their grandparents and the pizza parlors of their teen years to the restaurant and home kitchens where they, too, have cooked--Skip and Holly have watched, listened, chopped, and stirred their way to a profound appreciation of the "red sauce" cooking too often dismissed as "not real Italian."
The authors analyze Stuffies sold from clam trucks on the Rhode Island shore and recreate the ephemeral Cioppino of San Francisco’s North Beach. Making pilgrimages to dine in red sauce shrines with maitre d’s and to sit at the lunch counters of grocery stores in Little Italy neighborhoods they document their experiences between bites. With the care and persistence of archaeologists, they sift through recipes, tales, and delectable bits of trivia.
Heavily illustrated, Almost Italian includes scores of color photos, including shots of Eggplant Rollatini, Escarole and Beans, and Pizza Rustica, which share the electronic screen with nostalgic postcards, posters, family snapshots, and menus.
Whether your taste leans towards Spaghetti with Meatballs or Pasta Primavera, towards Enrico Caruso or Louis Prima, you'll enjoy this richly anecdotal and wry commentary on the culture and evolution of Italian food in America.
- Bosphorous Books
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