Trying to wake up my memory from the 1960’s when the restaurant first began I decided to study the first dinner menu. I counted 183 menu items. In fact there was nothing anyone could want that wasn’t listed on that menu. Not only were there many items but they were really odd entrees. On the cold appetizers category I noticed they had tuna packed in oil. (Did people really go into a restaurant and ask for tuna packed in oil on a plate?) Oh and let me point out that we had a California Fresh Fruit Cup listed on the menu!! (Is California fruit better than Florida fruit? Why not local fruit?) They also served veal kidneys, tripe and chicken livers! There was even a category for omelet’s. Through the years the menu was shortened and thankfully they dropped the word California from fresh fruit cup. We stopped serving pizza and organ foods except for chicken livers. We tried to take chicken livers off the menu but the customers revolted and we apologetically put it back on the menu.
The chicken livers entree on the menu was always a surprise to me. In the latter years these 2 lawyers came to the restaurant that I recall serving when I was a little girl. They had retired to Florida and met up for a lunch date to relive the olden days and they both gleefully ordered the Chicken Livers Marsala. I was thinking to myself “Are you kidding me?” With all the most delicious things on the menu that the restaurant is famous for they ordered Chicken Livers????
As I perused through the whole menu, I noticed that a lot of the menu consisted of Italian-American foods. Most of the entree are not served in Italy. My family is from Naples, Italy. I wanted to find something, anything that came from their hometown. I found that the menu represented a melting pot of items of all the places that my dad and his brothers worked before they opened up their own restaurant. They worked in American pizzerias, French restaurants, American Grilles, and Italian/American restaurants. They also consulted with their uncle Zio Monico who had a restaurant (The New Corner Italian Restaurant) which to this day is still open in Brooklyn from 1936. They used the uncle’s menu for ideas too! Now I know why the restaurant menu had 183 items. Not only did it represent every eatery they worked at but also their uncle’s Brooklyn restaurant.
There were many different pasta and sauces. And lots of parmigiana entrees and even spaghetti parmigiana! But what exactly is parmigiana and did that come from Italy? I remember one year when we all went to Italy on vacation, we went out to eat and an American friend that came with us wanted Chicken ala Parmigiana. We were in Capri at a small local restaurant. You have to understand that in the Naples area when you go into a small restaurant there are no menus. The patriarch, aka my dad, asks what they have. For appetizers, it’s always the staples, some charcuterie and cheese or fresh caught octopus, shellfish etc…. For secondo- it’s always the pasta of the day that they prepare. And then the entrée is just a plain bistecca or some fresh caught fish. Sometimes they may have roasted chicken. I felt bad for my friend when he asked for Chicken Parmigiana. The waiter in his typical Napolitano way, hunched his shoulders, put his cupped hand up in a gesture, and with a look of utter disgust exclaimed in Napolitano “Where do you come from!”
With a little research I found that Parmigiana has nothing to do with cheese or the Parma region! Parmigiana is a southern Italian dish based upon melanzane alla parmigiana, what we call eggplant parmigiana. (My family doesn’t put tomato sauce on eggplant parmagiana, it is individual servings of eggplant where an egg cheese mixture is sandwiched in between eggplant dipped in eggwash, floured and fried.) Adding veal or chicken in place of eggplant is an invention of the Italian immigrant communities in the U.S. The name itself may come from a Sicilian word, parmiciana — for the slats of wood in a shutter, which overlap in the same way as the slices of eggplant in the dish.
Okay! I am beginning to understand the thought process to this menu. But where is our Italian Napolitano roots represented in this menu! There must be something! In my last blog I was surprised that they didn’t even call espresso by it’s name but by demitasse.
And there it was! At a quick glance I thought it was a typo…..but over and over …..like a glowing firefly in the dark. There it was! The very essence of my Napolitano roots!! Finally!!!
I wished they highlighted it or capitalized the letters. Or maybe they should have made the font bold and huge! Wait for it!! Here it comes!!
They spelled mozzarella….muzzarella!!!
Muzzarella is the Napolitano pronunciation for mozzarella. Muzzarella is like music to my ears. It is home! And there it was on the first menu…… Muzzarella! The only thing Napolitano on that first menu that represented the three immigrant chefs!!
You will never see that word written! But you may hear an Italian/American say that word in it’s shortened version…..Muzz!
Deviled Crab Meat Stuffing
“This stuffing has been a favorite amongst our customers through the years. It has been a sought after recipe. The only reason of our reluctance to share was only that there are so many steps in making this coveted dish. I believe this recipe originated from a dish served at one of the restaurants that the brothers had worked at in the 1950’s. I want to say it comes from Nick Beni’s Anchor Inn. I am sure it has been tweeked from the original recipe. Take your time and enjoy!!”
16 oz Crabmeat (lump or claw)
9 oz Sherry
3 large mushrooms
1 medium onion ( 2cups of finely chopped onion)
1 ½ sticks of butter ( 12 TBS butter)
1 quart of whole milk
¾ cup of clam juice ( reserved from 4 cherry stone clams) or buy clam juice in a bottle at grocery store
4 cherry stone clams finely chopped, optional
19 oz flour
10 oz corn starch
10 oz shortening
1 ¼ tsp egg food coloring
¾ cup of water
11 oz water
1 TBS salt
1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp oregano
2 medium pots, 1 large (2 gallon) pot 1 bowl, whisk, knife, measuring cup, measuring spoons.
- Finely chop onions. Set aside.
- Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Slice and dice whole mushrooms (stems and all). Set aside.
- Coarsely chop crabmeat. Set aside.
- Combine the 2 cups of finely chopped onions, ¾ cup of water, 12 TBS butter in a pot over high heat until it comes to a boil then lower the heat to simmer. Continue simmering on low heat while the rest of the ingredients are put together.
- Corn Starch preparation: In a bowl with 1 cup of cold water slowly add 10 oz of corn starch whisking vigorously to avoid clumping. The mixture will set up and become thick. Set aside. Don’t worry if corn starch sinks to the bottom.
- Rue: In a very large pot ( all the ingredients will be combined in this pot) melt 10 oz of vegetable shortening on low heat. Turn off heat and remove pot from the burner. Slowly add flour until all the flour is mixed in and the rue becomes thick. End product should be the consistency of a thick paste.
- Clam Juice: Either buy a bottle of clam juice found at your grocer. Or shuck 4 cherry stone clams reserving ¾ cup of the juice and chopping the clams and adding it to the mixture. One may even add small tiny shrimp to this. We have done both in the restaurant.
- In a separate pot warm 1 quart of milk with 1 ¼ tsp of yellow food coloring over medium heat.
At this point there will be 3 pots and a bowl. You will have the large pot with the rue, smaller pot with onion mixture, small pot with the yellow warm milk and a bowl of cornstarch mixture. At this point we will start combining the prepared ingredients.
- To the pot with the onion mixture add the 9 oz of sherry , chopped mushrooms, chopped crabmeat, chopped clams (optional) and ¾ cups of clam juice. Keep simmering on low heat.
- Start warming up the rue again and when it starts to bubble slowly add the yellow milk mixture and vigorously whisk so that no lumps form and the yellow mixture is thickening. Keep stirring until you take it off the heat or it will burn. It should become a very thick and smooth.
- Turn off heat on onion mixture and slowly pour into the yellow rue and stir until smooth. Bring to a boil. You will see bubbles and popping. Turn off heat.
- Add the seasoning: 1 TBS salt, 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper, 1 ½ tsp oregano
- Taste it and see if it to your liking. This is the time to adjust the seasoning. Add a little more salt if you like.
- Stir the cornstarch mixture in the bowl. If the cornstarch sank to the bottom and will be hard just keep stirring until it is all blended again.
- Put the yellow mixture on medium heat until it becomes bubbly again. Add the corn starch mixture in small doses ( like in 10 parts) . Whisk the corn starch continuosly. Continuosly stirring and completely incorporating the cornstarch during each addition. It will become very thick where it is hard to turn the whisk. You may want to have someone hold the pot in place as you stir.
- Let it cool and then place in refrigerator to set.
This is a large batch and it yields 11 cups of stuffing. You can freeze it. But it needs to be portioned out in balls and wrapped individually and put it freezer. We never froze it in the restaurant but for the home cook these are large portions. I even stuffed clams shells and wrapped each one and then froze them. The frozen balls can then be put on shrimp or wrap filet of sole around them and placed in oven.
** Suggestion: Timing is critical in this recipe. Have all the ingredients and utensils ready. Please be sure to have all the pots of ingredients boiling hot when they are added except for the milk. You can turn off the heat while you get to next stage but be sure to bring to temperature when you are ready to add to the final stage. (Milk should be hot but not boiling as it will burn.)
For stuffed clams the oven is preheated to 350 degrees. Sprinkle paprika on stuffed clams and drizzled with olive oil. Bakes 20-30 minutes depending on size and amount of stuffing. I generously stuff the clams. Bake until the tops of clams are light brown and crispy. Then serve.
For stuffed shrimp: Roll a large a heaping table spoon of stuffing into a small log and place in the middle of a shrimp. 3-4 shrimp per person. Put in a casserole with a little water on bottom top with mozzarella cheese and drizzle with melted butter. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.