I seem to find pieces of Italy no matter where I go. This antique postcard from 1905 called to me at vintage paper show at first because I thought it was an image of some sort of cave for hanging prosciutto (see those sacks hanging from the ceiling?). But the description on the bottom and a little more digging found that it’s a photo of something much more special.
The text below the photo reads: Monte Pellegrino, L’Interno della grotto di S. Rosalia
Santa (Saint) Rosalia was a nun in the 12th century that opted for the life of a hermit, living in a cave on Monte Pellegrino in Palermo, Sicily for years before her death around the age of 30. She lived her whole life praying and devoting herself to God. Admirable as that is, she came to fame centuries later. The story goes that people of Palermo used to have four saints they prayed to, all which failed them miserably during a bout of the plague in the 1600s. Rosalia, who soon became a saint, cured it when she appeared to a citizen of Palermo and requested her bones be found and given a proper Christian burial. Her bones were located high on the mountain in her cave, a formal procession was held and the plague finally lifted. Her grotto (cave) became a place of saintly worship.
Pilgrims now climb Monte Pellegrino to pray and ask for the curing of ailments. The entrance is a Baroque facade, but beyond the doors, you step right into Santa Rosalia’s grotto. Those crazy planks running across the ceiling are a guttering system, capturing the water that drips constantly into the cave and channeling it off and away from pilgrims. Visitors leave gifts of jewellery and precious things, even silver charms that are likenesses of body parts for which they need help.
Pictures of the grotto today are not much different that this postcard from 1905. Whether in a mountainside or here in Canada, the hidden gems of Italy always amaze!
It’s the simplest recipes that sometimes hold the dearest spot in an Italian kid’s heart. Pasta piselli is a classic, simple dish that just about every Nonna serves up to grandkids for lunch or dinner, particularly for picky eaters. It’s hard to get little feet to stop running around long enough to get some food in them. From my memory, the conversation with Nonna goes something like this:
“What do you want to eat?”
“Do you want pasta?”
“Do you want pasta piselli?”
There are two versions of pasta piselli – with sauce and without – but we’ll start with the one my Nonna made. Adding peas to a regular pasta dish does something: it adds a pop of unexpected sweetness and, I image, is a great way to get vegetables into a little one. When you grow up, pasta piselli is a simple pleasure, an easy home cooking twist that infuses an ordinary dish with a little history and love (yes, all that from a few peas!). Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.
200 gr of pasta (100 grams per person)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
Four days before Christmas, I found myself in my cold, dark basement counting jars of food. We had just lost power and it was clear it was going to be out for days. While it’s not the way I wanted to start my Christmas holidays, it was time to take stock of how much preserving we’d done throughout the year. I was never happier to count mason jars.
In 2012, I wrote a post all about why I love keeping up the traditional methods of preserving food, including knowing where you food is coming from and making your food go farther for your money and your effort. I wrote:
“This year, we’re trying out some preserving methods we’ve done before (like sausages and tomatoes) and stretching our muscles on the lesser-used methods like potato and meat sausages, green tomatoes, crushed olives and more.”
Thanks to writing for my blog, and a family that enjoys these projects, I got to try and document these preserving methods. We also preserve food by batch cooking meals like lasagna or eggplant parmesan and freezing them for use later. And they came in handy! The blackout caused by a massive ice storm lasted for four days in my neighbourhood. With temperatures at -10 degrees Celsius and below, the house dark and our phone service even lost, we were in urban survival mode.
We took a drive to where there was power and found lineups for gas, stores our of wood, salt and shovels, and restaurants either closed or having hired security at the door to monitor the crowds scrambling to get food. Turns out it was safer at home in the cold. While others were lining up for Big Macs, we took a flashlight to the shelves in the basement, our makeshift “cantina”, to wrangle up our food. Meals meant cracking open our mason jars and getting out a sharp knife. We had olives and sundried tomatoes with taralli and slices of sopprasatta and cheese. We also had preserved eggplant and pestos spread on bread. Sausages from the freezer were wrapped in foil and thrown into the fireplace for a quick cook. We even cooked lasagna (also from the freezer) on the barbecue.
House lights and the hum of furnances finally woke up our neighbourhood on Christmas Eve. Relieved, we quickly got to work getting our Christmas Eve meal of seafood on the table and we counted our blessings to be in a warm house with all of our family.For others, including my parents, it would be almost another 48 hours before power came back on in their house.
I’m proud of my heritage and its appreciation for food. I understand now, more than ever, why it is important. So lessons from this harsh (pioneer) Christmas were learned. I have neighbours and relatives that are stocking up now for the next emergency (we need to get some firewood too!). What about you? Ready to try some preserving this year? Here’s some recipes from the last two years to get you started:
Today we welcome a guest post from Abril Liberatori, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at York University. Her dissertation explores immigrants from the Campania region in Italy who migrated to Canada in the post-World War II period. She aims to compare Campani immigrants’ experiences in Ontario and Buenos Aires. (Photo above: Family birthday party for the author’s grandfather. Buenos Aires, 1941. Author’s private collection.)
People in Buenos Aires refer to themselves as ‘descended from the ships,’ a poetic way of saying that the city is founded on the backs of immigrants. My own ancestors were newcomers there once, when they crossed the Atlantic from the small villages of Campania into the then-bustling and promising South American country. Many of my ancestors’ friends and families ended up in Canada and the United States, and so these waves of migration developed networks of families scattered across the globe. Those networks were resilient and strong. Families across the Americas kept in touch with their relatives in their hometowns and abroad. They wrote letters, sent photographs and mailed remittances. These networks were so strong that they lasted years, sometimes even decades. So, as a fifth-generation ‘Italian’ (can I even call myself that?), I grew up feeling that migration was an important aspect of my identity.
When I was six years old, my parents moved our family from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Toronto. The experience was one of the defining moments of my life. But migration was not a new concept for me, in fact it has long been a part of who I am.
As far back as my memory permits, I remember my grandfather mapping our family tree. Over dinner tables I would trace my fingers over browned photographs, sleuthing to find the same features I saw in the mirror. I would pore over charts and tables of endless ancestors, seeing the same names over and over again. I would hear stories of heroes, and pioneers, sinners and workers. I was young, but I knew my family’s stories well. Later, as an immigrant to Canada myself, I reveled in the distant adventures of those who looked so much like me and lived such similar experiences. To this day, those family stories continue to be etched in me. Migration, it seems, defines me.
In a way, I believe migration defines many of us. In a country that allows us to celebrate the multiple aspects of our identity, many of us connect with our ancestors’ migration histories (or even our own) as vital aspects of who we are. Many of us have family in different parts of the world. My project is an attempt to trace the migration stories of these Campani families that are spread throughout different countries, but who have their hometowns, and their experiences of migration, in common. From my own family’s roots, I have developed a passionate interest in the migration stories of migrants from Campania. I find it fascinating that these family ties continue to survive across decades and continents. I would like to create a space where those stories can come together.
From my dinner table to yours! If you or your ancestors are from the Campania region and you would like to share your migration story with me, I would love to hear from you. Please contact me directly at email@example.com.
I look forward to hearing your story!
I’m ending out 2013 with a two-in-one post: a traditional recipe that tries out something new AND a giveaway! Get ready to enter to win a great prize from Catelli Pasta!
We start by mixing the old with the new, just in time for New Years. With more and more frequency, we’re encountering dinner guests to our house who must avoid gluten (a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and some other grains). That means our quick go-to pasta recipes are out and our homemade pasta is definitely not an option. In order to enjoy our pasta dinners, we’ve had guests actually bring their own gluten-free pasta to dinner, which is unacceptable to us as hosts. So we’ve been searching out pasta options for our guests and Catelli recently shared their Catelli Gluten Free Pasta with me to try. It is made with rice, corn and quinoa and is produced in a dedicated gluten free facility, so I can guarantee my guests a meal they don’t have to worry about.
A good pasta has to hold up to a traditional recipe, so I tried it with Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. The pasta definitely has the right taste, it’s very close to traditional white/wheat pasta, so you and your guests shouldn’t notice a taste difference. The cooking time is much quicker than “regular” pasta so be sure to use the timing on the box and keep it “al dente” (still firm, but not hard). As with most gluten-free pastas, when overcooked, the pasta may begin to break apart. Time it well, like with this recipe below, and you’ll have no problems.
If you like this recipe, or have one of your own you want to try out, you are in luck!
The good folks at Catelli are offering two lucky readers of this blog a Catelli prize pack: 12 boxes of pasta for you to enjoy at home!
To enter to win: Leave a comment on this blog post about what new recipes or ingredients you are going to try in the new year by January 6.
Want a second entry? If you are a subscriber, or sign up now to be a subscriber to An Italian-Canadian Life, your name will be entered in the draw twice. Use the Subscribe form at the top, right hand side of the blog (enter the same email address that you use to leave your comment).
A winner will be chosen, using a random generator, on January 6 at midnight. Enjoy the recipe and I’m looking forward to your entries!
Sicilian Anchovy Pasta
340g pasta (I used Catelli Gluten-Free Spaghetti and served four)
2 cloves of garlic
10 anchovy fillets
dried hot pepper flakes
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
The end of December marks the second anniversary of An Italian-Canadian Life. When I started the blog, I committed to evaluating its’ success every year. I’ve had another great year of fun on the blog and judging by the comments and emails I get from readers, I think it should continue. You tell me you love the recipes, the memories and the opportunity to build community. Also, this year the blog:
– received a Canolo Award as an Authentic Italian Food Blogger
– was featured on CHIN Radio
– had recipes featured on Foodgawker and TasteSpotting
– was able to hold a few contests (and there’s still another coming up!) and be a judge for other online contests
– had some amazing guest bloggers share their writing and photos with us.
But what matters most are the posts that resonate with readers and friends. So here’s a look back at the top five posts, based on views, that were published in 2013. Not surprisingly, recipes are the most popular posts, though posts about Italian culture and traditions aren’t far behind. If you have any requests for posts in 2014, let me know in the comments!
Top 5 posts of 2013
Ciambella (or chiambella) is a word used for pretty much anything round with a hole in the middle really, even cakes appear with this name. However, this is a bread that is a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-in-the-middle, great-for-dipping-or-with-cheese kind of bread that I always like to have in the house. My mother started making this bread after getting the recipe from a friend and it’s become one of my family favourites.
Cookies made in a roll or log shape are common among old-fashioned Italian cookie recipes. I’ve had variations of this cookie but in this recipe I mixed two of my favourite things together. My mother makes this log roll with lemon pie filling in the middle and it tastes divine! I used her dough recipe and substituted the lemon filling for Nutella and it is a great alternative. The orange flavouring of the dough mixes well with the chocolate and is a play on the classic bread and Nutella snack.
Not all desserts are meant to be tooth-achingly sweet. And old Italian recipes are prime examples of slightly sweet treats that meet the sweet tooth craving without going clowingly over the edge. As a matter of necessity of course, many of the old recipes are sweetened by nothing more than grape must or honey, like this family favourite is. Mostaccioli were made by my grandmother and great aunts regularly and while they look like biscotti, they are soft and moist as they don’t go through the second baking process.
Limoncello has long been produced in southern Italy and, in fact, is the second-most popular liqueur in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest in alcohol and mixing in a simple syrup. You can use this method to make a number of different types of liqueurs (hazelnut, coffee, orange, etc.) as long as you get your quantities and steeping times just right. Limoncello offers a smooth, sweet lemon taste, without any of the usual bitterness associated with lemons.
This recipe comes from my husband’s family. He fondly remembers eating these as a kid on family road trips. They would pack the sausages, straight from the freezer, into tin foil and place them in the back windshield of the car to warm up in the summer sun as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years ago).