Tradition

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the definition of Tradition is a way of acting that people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a longtime.

      This past year I struggled with finding my path.  As you have noticed I really slacked off with keeping up with my blog and my recipes. I am not sure what has happened.  I think with the marriage of my last child maybe I lost myself.  I lost who I was and started thinking that I needed to slow down.  But I found I am not comfortable with this new me. In my quest to find myself again I realized that maybe I need to go back and reflect on how things used to be.

My Great Grandfather Isidoro Amalfitano with his fishing crew circa 1930s.

      I found a picture of my great grandfather on my mother’s side.  He was a fisherman along with his brothers on the island of Ischia in Italy.  The Amalfitano men made a living as fishermen.  Unlike most other Ischitanos living on the island the Amalfitano brothers stood out by their tall muscular stature. They had a good life until World War 1 and the Spanish Flu of 1918.  The soldiers coming home from the war brought with them the Spanish Flu and it spread to so many Ischitanos!  It was a deadly flu.  It is said that by the spring of 1919, the influenza pandemic had sickened an estimated one-third of the world’s population and may have killed as many as 50 million people. And Ischitanos were part of that statistic.  The townspeople couldn’t keep up with individual grave plots and ended up having to have mass burials.  My great grandmother became one of those casualties leaving behind a husband and four children.  Soon things leveled off and my great grandfather remarried.  He continued his fishing business with his family and life went on.  My grandmother became of age and she married starting her own family.  Soon afterwards WW2 hit, and my grandfather went off to serve as a medic leaving his family behind to struggle.  The island of Ischia entered another sad time as they dealt with food and water shortage.  Families struggled as the heads of household were off to fight in the war.  After World War 2 ended Ischia struggled economically. My grandfather looked to move to another country for a better life for his family.  He tried out Argentina for 3 years hoping to bring his family there, but Argentina’s economy crashed, and my grandfather soon came back to Ischia.  Instead of feeling defeated he continued his dream of making his family’s life better and made plans to move to the United States. In 1955 he moved half of his family to Marlboro, New York. My grandfather along with my mom and two of her sisters worked to make enough money so that they could bring my grandmother and the rest of the siblings to join them in the US.

Even though the family moved to the US, they continued to follow their Italian traditions.   One of the traditions they never forgot was fishing. Even though my grandmother and grandfather settled inland away from the ocean they couldn’t let go of the love for the sea.  I don’t how they found this place in Norwalk, Connecticut but they did! With the little bit of English that they knew they found a place to rent a motorized rowboat and go fishing in the Long Island Sound.  Many of my summer memories included going to Norwalk, CT to go fishing with my grandparents.  My dad grew up on the mainland of Italy, but his town was a small mountain surrounded by water on three sides so he too enjoyed fishing.  It was a huge family excursion with 3-4 boats getting rented.  We brought steak sandwiches and we always included spaghetti pizza. Once I got married and had children my dad also introduced my children to fishing on the Long Island Sound in Norwalk, CT.

My grandfather Giovan Giuseppe Mazzella fishing on the Long Island Sound near the Norwalk, Connecticut Marina circa 1960

Life got busier and we no longer went on fishing excursions. But just a few years ago a restaurant was recommended in Norwalk, Ct and my husband and I and our children went to try it out. When I arrived, I immediately recognized the spot even though the dock, bait shop, and boat rentals were no longer there.  But now a beautiful seafood restaurant took over the spot. 

  So, as the old year is left behind and a new year is started, I rethink my purpose in life. Maybe I need to go back to my roots. To go forward, one must go back first and ponder.      This past week my husband and I took the family out to dinner to the seafood restaurant in Norwalk.  I handed them all pieces of paper from the oldest to the youngest (who happens to be my granddaughter Emma) to write down their dreams for the new year.  I thought what a perfect place to ponder our dreams.  As I looked out to sea, I thought of my grandfather who never gave up his dream to make a better life for his family. He didn’t succeed at first but that didn’t stop him.  I sat and looked around the table and I realized that I really am living my best life surrounded by my family.  The least I can do is to not give up my dreams!  And you know what?  In order to fulfill our dreams, we must never forget where we came from and who we are.   I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true!  Tradition! It’s the fuel to follow your dreams!

My husband, children. spouses and grandchildren eating dinner in Norwalk, CT at the same place my grandparents went fishing ….2019

Spaghetti Pizza

My mom always made spaghetti pizza for our picnic when we went fishing in Norwalk, Connecticut. Here’s our recipe. There are quite a few versions of it. My grandmother would make a sweet variety. While my Zia in Monte di Procida would make a savory one and sprinkle it with a bit of sugar on top. But I thought I would share my mom’s version which my kids also love! One time when my son was three he got all excited when he saw my mom making it and got all excited thinking we were going fishing!

Ingredients:

1 pound of cooked spaghetti al dente

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/2 cup of cubed prosciutto

1/2 cup of cubed fresh mozzarella

1 1/2 cups of shredded dry mozzarella

1/2 pound of cubed Auricchio Provolone

3 eggs

1/4 cup of Grape seed oil or corn oil. I like to use grape seed oil.

Procedure:

1. Mix all the cheeses and the proscuitto

2. Beat eggs and add to pasta to mix.

3. Add the cheese and prosciutto mixture to the pasta

4. Heat 1/4 cup of grape seed oil in a skillet

5. Add pasta mixture to pan and spread out tucking the cheese inside the pasta.

6. Let fry about 10 minutes or more until you can easily slide spatula underneath the spaghetti feeling that it’s crispy.

7. Flip the pizza over and cook 10-15 minutes long until the other side is crispy.

8. Take out of pan and let sit on paper towel to drain some of the oil and then serve!

Buon Appetito!

Happy New Year with lots of Good Luck serving Lentil Soup. Memories with Toscanini

I have been trying to get over this writing slump that I have been in lately. I really want to write about something special before the end of the year. I kept thinking and thinking but alas nothing went through my mind. So, I decided to look through my scrapbook to hopefully spur a memory. And I came across a letter written by a customer on July 3,1977 on the back of our Coppola’s Restaurant placemat. It’s a letter from Walfredo Tocanini. Not only is this man a councilman from New Rochelle, NY (he left his business card), but his grandfather was the famous Metropolitan Opera House conductor, Arturo Toscanini. He wrote the letter in Italian letting us know that he came to Coppola’s Restaurant to enjoy a delicious Italian meal in the Hudson Valley, celebrating the 4th of July and Garibaldi’s birthday. He emphasized how much they thoroughly enjoyed the Shrimp Scampi and Veal Scaloppini ala Marsala but also wanted to correct something on the menu. Our 1970’s menu was decorated with pencil drawings of famous Italian contributors in the United States. One of the drawings depicted Walfredo’s grandfather, Arturo Toscanini whom we mislabeled as the manager of the Metropolitan Opera House. Walfredo corrected that Arturo was the artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera and that Giulio Gatti-Casazza was the manager of the metropolitan Opera.
So, I thought to myself, “ehh maybe I will write about Tocanini.” But as I looked up the grandson, Walfredo Toscanini I found so much written about him. And then I came across his obituary. He died December 31, 2011! How eerie is that? I came across this on his 7th anniversary! Now I must write about him!
As I am reading about the councilman Walfredo Toscanini I realize that not only was his grandfather a famous conductor but Walfredo made his mark on the world too!
Walfredo Toscanini was born in Milan in 1928. He was an only child and the oldest of Arturo Toscanini’s grandchildren. Walfredo parents were vehemently anti-fascist. They decided to not allow Walfredo to attend Italian public schools under Mussolini’s strict control. Instead he was sent to a Swiss-run private school in Milan. There he learned German and French and was not subjected to fascist propaganda.
In 1938 after his grandfather Arturo had a run in with Italian government because of his anti-fascist beliefs, the whole family moved to America. Walfredo enrolled in New Jersey public schools when he arrived at 9 years old. Later, Walfredo went on to Yale and graduated as an architect. He worked for over 50 years in the New York area as a senior architect and various other jobs. He lived in New Rochelle where he was a long-serving district leader for the Democratic Party and was very active in preserving the arts.
Walfredo’s passion was to preserve and publicize the artistic legacy not only of his grandfather but also of his mother, Cia Fornaroli, a prima ballerina at La Scala in Milan during the 1920s, and of his father, Walter Toscanini, a man of letters, dance historian and anti-fascist activist.
Walfredo Toscanini also arranged to have Arturo Toscanini¹s archives and recordings made available to scholars and music lovers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In 1987, he co-authored an illustrated book, Toscanini with longtime friend and Opera News Associate Editor John Freeman.
As I am writing about Walfredo and his famous grandfather I realized that I have something in common with him! Our families lived through Mussolini’s reign. Although I didn’t experience Mussolini’s fascist reign in Italy, my parents did. I have in my possession my mother’s report card where allegiance to Mussolini is all over the front of her report card. She often told me how they had to practice marching in honor of Mussolini during school. But the most important thing that we both share is the love of our family and trying to keep their legacy alive. Walfredo in keeping his famous conductor grandfather, dance historian father and prima ballerina mother memories alive worked hard preserving their work. My story, although not as grand but it is just as important to me, is preserving my father’s impact in the Hudson Valley with Italian food. My dad died way too young and I keep his memory alive through the bottling of the 825 MAIN Sauces and sharing the many restaurant stories whether it be from our family or our customers. And of course, our many recipes! Even though I am not related to Walfredo Toscanini I hope this story helps in preserving the efforts Walfredo Toscanini made to keep his family’s memory alive.

Happy New Year’s from our family to yours!


Lentil Soup for Good Luck

(Italians traditionally serve lentil soup to enjoy on New Year’s Eve or Day in hopes of bringing greater abundance and prosperity in the coming year) Lentil soup was one of the ‘soups of the day’ at our restaurant anytime during the year!

Ingredients:

2 cups lentils, rinsed twice in a colander under cold water (preferably Umbrian lentils)
6 cups chicken broth
1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. bacon or pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks with leaves attached, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, stems removed, washed, and minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup freshly minced basil
1 12-oz. can Italian plum tomatoes (crushed with your hands (or buy it already diced/chopped)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves or escarole, rinsed well and chopped
(optional) pinch of hot red pepper flakes
2 rinds of parmigiana reggiano cheese
1 bay leaf
1 short sprig fresh rosemary
4 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

Instructions:

1.Rinse the lentils in cold water in a colander.
2. Drizzle olive oil into a pot. When the olive oil is hot, add the chopped pancetta and sauté’ for 2 minutes.
3. Add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Stir.
4. Cook, stirring often, until the onions, carrots, and celery are semi-soft, for about 2 minutes.
5. Turn off stove. Stir in the garlic, tomatoes, chicken broth and bouillon cube.
6. Bring everything to a boil.
7. Add the lentils, parsley, seasonings, and cheese rinds.
8. Cook for 45 minutes
9. Taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste preferences if desired.
10. Add the spinach or escarole allow to wilt

Serve with: freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, pass around to guests

Buon Appetito!