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!
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
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