Spaghetti with Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatora, Shrimp Scampi…all evoke red-and-white checkered oilskin tablecloths, candles in straw-covered Chianti bottles, and Dean Martin on the jukebox. Though these dishes are indisputably Italian-American, not one of them is Italian.
In 2004, I published a cookbook titled Almost Italian. My sources for the recipes were the ‘Little Italy’ communities that had sprung up all over America as a result of the huge waves of European immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rich culinary traditions accompanied even the poorest Italian immigrants who settled here and found a gastronomic landscape of both limitation and opportunity.
Initially, some of the ingredients essential to their cooking—olive oil, sheep’s milk cheeses, and even pasta—were unavailable. But at the same time, the new immigrants found they could afford other ingredients that, in the old country, had been out of financial reach—most notably larger quantities of meat and chicken. Both lack and abundance inspired an entirely new cuisine, what we have come to know as Italian-American.
Since 2004, Internet technology has advanced enormously; Web 2.0 is here (that’s an inside joke for all you geeks who live on something besides nachos). It seems reasonable that I should serialize the second edition of Almost Italian online. A blog strikes me as the perfect vehicle. So beginning in September 2007, I’ll post the entire book, one recipe at a time, three or four times per week. I encourage you to subscribe to my RSS feed to get updates as I post them.
As I move along with the project, I’ll be soliciting your participation. In fact you can begin by following me with Twitter. In the first edition, I collected approximately 100 recipes, based on the criteria I used then. But times—and food—have changed. Some dishes of American invention have begun appearing on trattoria menus in Italy. American-Italian cuisine itself is constantly evolving as more of us travel to Italy and come back with own notions of what’s Italian. Once-exotic imports sold only by specialty grocers in urban Little Italys are now supermarket staples in towns across America. My own network of food research has grown.
I spent 25 years as a software engineer and had the privilege of living in Boston’s North End. The Web has given me the platform to expand my research and to bring these experiences together. I believe this second editon of Almost Italian will be a different and far more engaging book than the one I published just three years ago.
I look forward to sharing my passion for food with you.
Note: We’re grateful and delighted to acknowledge the contributions of Ms. Francesca Folinazzo. She has graciously agreed to share her family photographs, which will, from time to time, illustrate the cookbook online. Please visit Francesca at Folinazzo dot Com.