What does it mean to be Italian in North America? Today An Italian-Canadian Life welcomes a guest post by Amy Di Nardo, a university student studying nursing in Toronto, who hopes to work in the gerontology field. She loves garlic, kitchen-floor dances, and espresso. (I can’t say I blame her…)
The neighborhood I currently live in Toronto (Downsview) is very diverse. If I go for a walk on a Saturday afternoon, it excites me to hear different languages — whether it be Yiddish, Italian or Russian being spoken at different intersections. At a nearby park, I see young children playing on the swings, while a group of elderly ladies walk by, deep in conversation.
I have lived in Toronto for just about two years and it was a huge transition. I found that it took a great deal of time to adjust to the the rhythm of a large city. In my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, I grew up in an Italian bubble. The city contains a very large Italian population relative to its size and due to its isolation from other major cities (nine hour drive to Toronto), a unique culture was created that lives and thrives within the community.
The ways in which ethnic communities interact, both internally and externally to other groups, seems very different in small versus metropolitan centres.
It didn’t take me much time to find an Italian presence in Toronto. The first experience I had was going to College Street for the Tarantella Festival. The street was closed off for dancing, musicians, vendors and artists such as Mimmo Cavallaro and Rionne Junno. I wouldn’t expect this sort of large-scale event to come to Sault Ste. Marie.
After this event, I was introduced to the popular GTA magazine, PanoramItalia, and the newspaper Lo Specchio. There were profiles, articles, events, language classes — everything you can think of! I quickly realized how organized and vastly different the Toronto Italian community is from Sault Ste. Marie — however, I still cannot put my finger on the exact variances.
Our memories from childhood stick with us throughout our lives and dinner with my grandparents (who lived right next door) make up so many of my good memories about food and this particular recipe: patate fritte (fried potatoes).
I’m a meat-and-potatoes-girl while my sister was all about pasta. So when my grandparents called to invite us over for pasta dinner, I dragged my feet. But when it was slow roasted chicken legs with roasted potatoes, I was out the door before my mother even finished hanging up the phone. The only thing that could move me even faster was patate fritte.
This is a mess of a dish that may not look gourmet but tastes heavenly. It’s a prime example of typical Calabrese home cooking that uses what you have around the house. It’s particularly best at this time of year when gardens are winding down – maybe you have one lonely eggplant left or need to get rid of some beans or onions. Slowly pan-fried, this meal results in crispy potatoes and a mix of vegetables that are irresistible. Of course, you can omit the vegetables all together and just come up with a great potato side dish, or you can add small pork tenderloin pieces to the frying pan to round out the meal.
I’ve grown to love pasta a bit more now, but in still – patate fritte is my ultimate Italian comfort food and my best memories in one dish.
[By the way if you like this recipe, and love this blog, vote for An Italian-Canadian Life for Best Canadian foodie Blog in the MiB Awards today!]
Yellow or Yukon Gold Potatoes
Fresh romano beans
Dried hot pepper flakes or one fresh hot pepper (as desired)
It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately and I’ll tell you why – I’ve been travelling through Norway, Finland, Russia and a few other countries, getting some new experiences and trying out some new foods (like reindeer and bear!). I have to tell you though that there’s two things I really missed: working on this blog and a good bowl of pasta. Pasta was the first thing that was served up for dinner when we returned and now I’m back to work on the blog!
Now you all know how much I like to take pictures of my food, especially pasta. (If you didn’t see my previous post on lasagna, check it out). Well now’s your chance to show your photography abilities with your own bowls of pasta and celebrate pasta through World Pasta Day!
I’m a juror for a great contest being run by Aurora Importing & Distributing. It’s super simple and the prize is a great pack of pasta products from Aurora (looks like a whole shopping cart full!). You just upload a photo of a pasta dish you have prepared on Facebook by October 22, get your friends to help vote your photo into the top 5 and us jurors pick the top 3 pics.
If I wasn’t a juror, I would be submitting a photo lickety-split! It doesn’t have to be fancy, just look really tasty – just remember to use your camera or phone to take a pic before you dig in (this is an error I make frequently. I usually remember to take a photo when my dish is almost empty – ooops!). Check out these cellphone pics below from my Instagram account as inspiration and let’s see your photos!
Hurry – contest entries need to be in by October 22 on Facebook!
Jerry Buccilli joins us for his fourth guest post with An Italian-Canadian Life. We love his writing, memories and recipes and this is another great addition. Thanks Jerry!
My Dad will be celebrating his 80th birthday this May. He’s had a good, long and colorful life. Sometimes there were dark periods (as when mom passed away) but for the most part no regrets. Since his children began having children of their own we all began calling him “nonno”….even his own children. He’s proud of this reference and often says that his best accomplishment in life was to raise his family.
As with most Italian men of his generation he’s also incredibly proud of his garden. As far back as my memory takes me I remember my father working in the garden during the long summer months. He’d work there so much that we often had lunch outside so he could quickly return to his “work.” There’d always be something to do: a tomato plant to tie so it wouldn’t fall over; zucchini to pick; herbs to cut, trim and hang up; watering, shoveling, cleaning, etc….There was always something.
Sometimes, when the garden was in full bloom and it was having a good year he would whistle or even sing. My mom would be sitting a few feet away near the patio and she’d ask him to sing to her. At first he would hesitate but then he’d begin to belt out some old tune and mom would smile.
Life was good. He was always the happiest in his garden with his wife by his side.
Often I would sit with him in the middle of the garden and we would talk. My father would tell me stories from his youth. Or his days in Venezuela when he and his father and brother travelled across the Atlantic to find work when WWII left Italy in economic upheaval and work were scarce.
I do a lot of cooking for our house, but the one thing I don’t do with any frequency: make sauce. Sure I do quick tomato sauces (what people call marinara or arrabbiata sauces), but those long-boiling, Sunday-dinner, one huge pot of gold sauce (sugo) – that’s really my mom’s and my husband’s domains. They do it well, really well, so I don’t bother to challenge them on it.
And I have to say, there’s nothing like walking into a house where tomato sauce has been bubbling away all day. The warmth and the pure, sweet smell generates hunger pangs right away. I once had a doctor suggest I was allergic to tomatoes and that I should cut them out of my diet to be sure – I couldn’t fathom it and I still haven’t tried it. For Italians, tomato sauce is the ultimate comfort food and it’s no wonder that I get requests for tomato sauce recipes from readers and friends.
Everyone has their own take on tomato sauce and no one way is correct – they are all perfect in their own way. Each has a special touch from the sauce maker. This recipe was originally called “Sal’s Nonno’s Sauce.” That is, it comes from my husband’s grandfather. But truth be told, it’s actually a mixture of his grandparent’s recipes (from both sides) that make up this awesome sauce. True to form, it really is Sal’s own recipe now that he’s perfected it. And it always gets rave reviews. The shredded meat makes this sauce perfect for huge pasta shapes like rigatoni or a lasgana or pasta al forno.
Many thanks to my husband for pausing long enough for me to take photos and our good friend who spent the day with us making sauce, reminding me to take photos and write this recipe down finally.
500g (1 pound) total of three types of meat. (Either a mixture of pork, veal, and goat OR three different cuts of the same type of meat)
Salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cloves chopped garlic
2.8kg (100 ounces) of peeled tomatoes
6 cups room temperature water
Fresh basil and parsley