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"In the early 1950s, Bruculinu, as the Sicilian immigrants called their Brooklyn neighborhood, was a remarkable place. If the weather was fair, the streets would be teeming with life. Women would be haggling with pushcart vendors in Sicilian and broken English over pieces of fruits and vegetables. Other vendors in horse-drawn wagons would be chanting their wares amid the song of the ragman's bell and the iceman's bellow. Growing up in this place was like having one foot in mid-twentieth-century United States and the other in ...
"In the early 1950s, Bruculinu, as the Sicilian immigrants called their Brooklyn neighborhood, was a remarkable place. If the weather was fair, the streets would be teeming with life. Women would be haggling with pushcart vendors in Sicilian and broken English over pieces of fruits and vegetables. Other vendors in horse-drawn wagons would be chanting their wares amid the song of the ragman's bell and the iceman's bellow. Growing up in this place was like having one foot in mid-twentieth-century United States and the other in mid-eighteenth-century Sicily." So begins Vincent Schiavelli's captivating story of coming of age in the Italian section of Brooklyn. In a series of witty vignettes, Schiavelli describes the social customs and secret recipes he learned from his grandfather, a Sicilian master chef, as well as the tenements, gangs, dances, holiday celebrations, and funerals that defined the culture of the neighborhood.
Few people have told the story of Sicilian-American Brooklyn as well as Vincent Schiavelli, whose new book, Bruculinu, America, is a tumultuous chronicle, a rich memoir woven around an equally compelling cookbook.
As told by Mr. Schiavelli, an accomplished cook and the grandson of a monzù, a Sicilian master chef, there is no way to separate food and history in recounting the lives of thousands of southern Italians who immigrated to the borough, mainly to Bushwick, in the early twentieth century. They called their new home Bruculinu (pronounced broo-koo-LEE-noo).
Growing up in Bruculinu in the 1950s, the author was surrounded by his large family and a vast extended family of immigrants whose feasts, funerals and celebrations were played out in frame tenements and on streets filled with pushcarts and horse-drawn wagons selling produce and clothing. The neighborhood was so closely tied to its southern Italian roots, the author writes, that "you imagined if you could ride the subway a little longer you'd be in Palermo."
Anyone who has been to Sicily will recognize some of the 70 authentic recipes, each of which has a story that describes the cook as well as the cooking. This is not gussied-up, new-wave Sicilian food, but sustaining and real-simple food cooked with skill and respect. I can't think of a more immediately pleasurable dish than asparagus soup made with pureed asparagus, eggs and Pecorino cheese, or carrots with cloves (simply steamed with a faint hint of spice), or macaroni and beans (a rich stew of ditalini pasta and pinto beans), or ancient-style sardines (fresh sardines marinated in vinegar). There are meat, chicken and fish dishes; simple and unusual pastas; marinated and deep-fried vegetables; elaborately conceived pastries, and what may be the definitive recipe for a real Italian ice-not smooth and creamy, but icy, slushy and tart.
Sometimes in the author's descriptions, reading is as good as eating. As his grandfather prepares vegetables to deep-fry, "he continued dusting and breading, treating each tiny artichoke heart or cauliflower floret as if it were the last morsel of food on earth.
Mr. Schiavelli is a born storyteller, skilled at portraying other people. For 30 years, he has been a character actor in television, and films like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Ghost. But his own coming-of-age story could be his greatest role; Bruculinu, America would make a delicious screenplay --New York Times, May 27, 1998.
The spark for my writing this book was ignited by an address. It is written on the envelope of a letter my grandmother received in 1905 from a cousin in Polizzi Generosa, Sicily. It simply reads:
Having a sicilian ancestry, I am always looking for books concerning Sicily or Italy. This one had me hooked by the first couple of pages. The author gives a detailed insight into how sicilian-american families behaved a generation ago. Sicilians, as well as italians, love to celebrate everything with food, and the recipes in this book do not disapoint. My only complaint is that it should have been twice as long!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.