Today we welcome our first guest writer, Jerry Buccilli, a 2nd generation Italian from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Growing up Italian
There are two very old proverbs, “La cucina piccolo fal la casa grande,” which means, “A small kitchen makes the house big,” and the second, “una buona mamma vale cento maestre,” which translates to “a good mother is worth a hundred teachers.”
I wanted to quote these sayings because they hold a particular meaning to me. We immigrated to Canada when I was seven and after moving from one apartment to another we finally found a house to settle in. It was small 1,100 square foot bungalow tucked away in an old Italian neighborhood in Welland, Ontario, but it was warm, cozy and it was home. It also had the tiniest kitchen you ever saw. But my mamma, who ranks amongst some of the best cooks I’ve ever known, would always be cooking up a storm in there. Using the little resources she had, she made due and created her little feasts. The food, the music and the good laughter and conversation that emanated from our kitchen was the focal point of our lives. It was like mamma was showing her love as only she could. Through food. It’s a romantic notion to be sure, but that’s exactly what it was. A love story.
For us Italians growing our own fruits and vegetables, making fresh bread and our own home-made pasta, making wine, sausages and canning our own preserves….or waking up to home-made Sunday sauce (the smells of garlic, tomatoes and braised meat were oh, so intoxicating)…this was about carrying on a love story with tradition. Handing down recipe after recipe, generation after generation. Each family had its own time-honoured secrets to share.
It’s no secret, really, that my spoken Italian is not as good as I’d like it to be. I’ve been exploring the use of Italian books on CD for my car rides, but I have also been trying to tune in to Italian radio and television to get my language back. In Toronto, and thanks to all the resources online, that’s not too hard to do. Recently, I found out that I’m probably not the only Italian-Canadian trying to reconnect with my language (you can check out my article in August’s Panoram Magazine about it, and this previous blog post).
In response to all us younger Italian-Canadians speaking English and Italian, CHIN radio is offering a new format to a popular Italian show. Today, Wake Up Italian Style, the Italian morning show on CHIN AM 1540 launched “Odd Couple Fridays” featuring Edoardo Monsaterolo, the show host and producer with a special guest co-host. Edoardo is joined by members of the Italian-Canadian community sharing their success stories in English and Italian and their favourite Italian music playlists. You can listen to Wake Up Italian Style in your car, online or connect with them on Facebook. So join me and listen up.
This morning Rick Campanelli (from ET Canada, and formally “Rick the Temp” from Much Music) was the first to joint the “Odd Couple” between 7-9am on Fridays. Rick shared his entertainment knowledge with listeners with Edoardo helped him connect with his Italian roots. Here’s a sample of what to expect…tune in!
The Morning Show will be actively featuring young Italian-Canadians (in their 20s, 30s and 40s) from all walks of life in English and Italian as guest-hosts with Edoardo on a regular basis. I can’t wait to hear more.
I’ve been after some Italian comfort food lately. The weather is turning a bit blustery, there’s a definite chill in the air and the tomatoes are all but done. It’s time to turn in the garden and maybe start to pack up the barbeque (though I’ve seen my neighbours grill in a snow storm). So we decided to have our last steak on the barbeque one night and, lucky for us, the skies opened up and the backyard turned into a small pond.
With the rain pouring down, we opted for a new version of steak. Often when I want to cook up something comforting and familiar, but new to me, I turn to Lidia Bastianich. Her recipes remind me of my own family’s favourites and she always throws in something new to me for good measure. So to cook up my steaks, I cracked open her new book Lidia’s Favorite Recipes and found pan-seared steak pizzaiola. See Lidia always has a solution, and to boot, it meant we could yell Tutti a tavola a mangiare! until it was ready to serve up. To say the phrase properly, it’s best you do it while holding a glass of wine and you’ve really got to hit that last syllable there to hammer it home. We’ve been practising.
The steak turned out fantastic – as Lidia intends, the flavours remind you of pizza. I used jarred tomatoes from our garden, rather than canned. Keep bread handy to sop up the extra sauce after the steak is long gone.
Pan-Seared Steak Pizzaiola
(Reprinted with permission from Lidia’s Favorite Recipes, Lidia Bastianich)
3 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into 1- inch strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into 1- inch strips
2 cups sliced white button mushrooms
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
One 14- ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), crushed by hand
Four 8- ounce bone- in shell steaks, about 1 inch thick
What’s it like to be Italian-Canadian? What’s it like to date an Italian-Canadian or join their families? Turns out these are pretty frequent questions I’m hearing.
One of the more interesting aspects of keeping up this blog is seeing what people search (in Google, Yahoo or whatever) that gets them to An Italian-Canadian Life. There’s been quite a few people who search for Italian-Canadian “wedding” or “dating.” It made me raise an eyebrow – it’s a topic I didn’t expect. Here’s a sample of what people search for:
“italian canadian dating”
“italian love phrases”
“italian boyfriend family”
“italian breakup dating”
“what it means to be italian canadian”
I’ve also received emails from some readers who are looking to understand more about their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s Italian-Canadian family. So what is it about dating an Italian-Canadian that is so darn interesting or confusing? While each family is unique, there’s certainly a few things I can recognize as typical of Italian-Canadians (as tongue-in-cheek as this is!)…here’s what you should know:
It’s La Vendemmia! Yes, the grape harvest is celebrated by Italians here too in Canada. Besides the work of many crushing grapes on the weekend, for me it also meant a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake to enjoy the wineries.
This month: grapes, peppers, Joe Avati and a lot of business news make up the “buzz.”
You already know I had too many eggplants on my hands this summer. The eggplant “meatballs” recipe I featured in August was my most popular yet! Well, our garden didn’t stop producing them for some time, so we had to use another way to capture all the eggplant goodness we had. What better way than to jar them as antipasto so we can enjoy them all winter! This eggplant antipasto recipe comes from my husband’s family who used to make this often. We’re happy to take up the tradition again. The result is tasty and a great part of an antipasto platter (my favourite!).
Dried, crushed hot pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil