Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn, Told in Stories and Recipes

Overview

"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 ...

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Overview

"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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Vincent's new book is a 'Thousand and One Nights' set in Sicilian-American Brooklyn. An intoxicating adventure savoring good life and great food" (Danny DeVito).
New York Times Book Review

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.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Schiavelli, an actor who has appeared in such movies as Amadeus and Ghost, was inspired to write these memoirs by a letter sent to his grandmother from Sicily in 1905. Addressed only to "Carolina Vilardi, Bruculinu, America," the letter actually arrived in his grandmother's hands. Focusing mainly on his cook-extraordinaire grandfather, Schiavelli eloquently demonstrates the primary place of food in the life of his immigrant Italian neighborhood. The total of 70 recipes are grouped by recollection rather than ingredients, and close each chapter. Birthdays were celebrated with the dishes eaten by the mother before she gave birth. Thus he offers, among other dishes, the ubiquitous Spaghetti e Pupetti (Spaghetti and Meatballs) served for his Uncle Charlie's birthday every April 20. Recollections of illness and the evil eye include the recipe for Anneddi cu l'ovu e Tumazzu, small pasta mixed with peas, pecorino cheese and raw eggs, "the ultimate comfort food." Easter included his grandfather's signature dish, Tumala d'Andrea, a mold of rice filled with pasta and meat sauce (similar to the timpani prepared in the movie Big Night). There are recipes for easy-to-make Orange Biscotti, and for the summer, Mannarina, a liqueur made with tangerine zest, sugar and grain alcohol. Schiavelli's authentic Sicilian-American dishes combine with his nicely told tales to capture the atmosphere of his Bruculinu upbringing. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395913741
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

A popular character actor and an accomplished cook, Vincent Schiavelli has made more than 100 films and television appearances, most memorably in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Ghost and Tomorrow Never Dies. He is the author of Papa Andrea's Table, which won a Columbus Citizens Foundation Literary Award. Schiavelli has written articles on Sicilian cuisine for such publications as Saveur and Los Angeles Times. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

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:

Carolina Vilardi
Bruculinu, America

This address clearly illustrates our country cousin's charming naïveté regarding the size and population of Brooklyn. On the other hand, the letter did arrive.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Bruculinu, as the Sicilian immigrants called their Brooklyn neighborhood, was a remarkable place.
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Recipe

Sausage with Potatoes

6 servings
  • 2 pounds russet, Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes
  • 3 bell peppers, assorted colors
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 1/2 pounds thin or thick sweet (mild) Italian sausage, preferably in a coil rather than links
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into strips about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Put them in a bowl with just enough cold water to cover and set them aside to soak.

Seed the peppers and cut them into pieces about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Peel the onion, slice it fairly thin and separate into rings.

Arrange the sausage in a coil in the center of a large roasting pan. Drain the potatoes and place them on either side of the sausage. Arrange the peppers and onion rings on top of the potatoes. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper.

Roast for 20 minutes, then pour the wine over the sausage and vegetables. Turn the vegetables. Using a metal spatula, carefully loosen any potatoes that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Roast for 20 to 40 minutes more, depending on the thickness of the sausage, or until the sausage and potatoes are cooked through. Sprinkle with oregano and serve.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved this book!

    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  No   Report this review
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