Category Archives: Essays & Rants

Excerpt from Memories of the Fisherman’s Wharf

A drawing my sister Nicki made of the Fisherman’s Wharf

Excerpt from Memories of the Fisherman’s Wharf

I grew up in a seafood restaurant. My family owned The Fisherman’s Wharf on Mott Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy from the mid-1940s to 1958. . . The offerings were mostly seafood but there was also steak and chicken, as well as some Italian-American dishes like spaghetti and meatballs. I loved shrimp, and the deep-fried breaded gamberetto with lots of ketchup was my favorite. The shrimp and rice special was pretty good too. Only, I’d have to pick out all of the pieces of celery before I ate it—I didn’t eat any green food back then except pickles. . .

Excerpt from Memories of the Fisherman's Wharf


. . . they usually started with a few drinks and dinner in one of the local restaurants; Sweet’s, Carmine’s, or Sloppy Louie’s, now all long gone. . .

Excerpt from Memories of the Fisherman's Wharf


. . . Anyone could walk out on the pier where they docked, although no one did unless they were in the seafood business. The pier smelled of sea water and fish, and while the fish couldn’t have been fresher, it still smelled, especially in summer. . .


. . . the piles of clams and oysters heaped like stones. What seemed like sea monsters to me were the giant, decapitated swordfish, sliced crosswise to show the quality of the steaks, the heads on display, their swords pointing at the customers. Always enthralled with crabs, I loved chasing the escapees skittering sideways down the street. . .


. . . The longshoreman worked all night, so instead of scrambled eggs or pancakes, they’d eat a hearty meal of roast beef and turkey with fried potatoes and hot cherry peppers. Everyone drank coffee, steins of beer, and shots of whiskey. I’d have a Coke but otherwise ate everything they did. The cook would tell my father, “The kid’s got a good appetite.”


. . . For some of the clam dishes, Michele often used large chowder clams he’d chop into small pieces, and that’s what led to the problem in the cellar. The clams were kept on ice and covered with damp burlap to keep them alive and fresh. Sometimes when clams are out of water, the shells begin to open. . .


. . .  I wasn’t to go near the lobsters which had much stronger claws than the crabs. They came packed in seaweed and ice, in open-sided crates, with wooden pegs wedged into the joint at the base of their claws so they couldn’t open them.
Pero,” Michele said, “some-a time, the peg, she slip out.”
Michele hardly had to warn me. The lobsters’ fierce looks were enough to keep me away. . .

For the complete Memories of the Fisherman’s Wharf
For Michele’s Deep Fried Breaded Gamberetto and Shrimp and Rice

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Excerpt from the Mississippi Coast 2005

Excerpt from The Mississippi Coast 2005

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, most of what we heard about in New York was the damage done in New Orleans. New Orleans got the headlines but Katrina affected the coastal areas of three states; Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Requests went out from those states for help and one of those requests, Mississippi’s, found its way the New York City Department of Buildings. Our Commissioner agreed to send ten of us with five SUVs and whatever equipment was needed to help with structural assessment.
.  .  . After two days of driving, we arrived at the border of Jackson County. That was as far as our instructions took us. We already were seeing downed trees and overturned trailers miles from the coast. Stopping at sort of a combination gas station-fried chicken restaurant we called for further directions.

Excerpt from The Mississippi Coast


. . .  We arrived at the Gautier City Hall and were welcomed by a group of officials. They thanked us for coming and gave us some local maps. One official said something like “…as soon as   we get a quiet evening, I’m sure we can boil and burn something for all y’all.” I knew he said something positive so I thanked him. I found out later he was inviting us to dinner.


Excerpt from The Mississippi Coast

. . . We were able to get breakfast and dinner at the Imperial Palace but were on our own for lunch. There was a Red Cross food van that was surprisingly good. We had to go to Camp Vancleave fairly regularly to have our laundry done and to get gas at the FEMA tank truck. Jack and I made it a point to go in the morning so we could have “Mohler’s” excellent donuts for breakfast.

Excerpt from The Mississippi Coast


. . . Eventually a family run restaurant on Bienville Boulevard called “BB’s Po’boy” reopened and Jack and I became regulars.
Our waitress apologized for not having any of their famous Gulf shrimp saying, “The boats hadn’t been able to go out because of the flotsam left by the storm.”
The proprietors and staff were glad to be back and their customers were happy to see them. When we talk in New York we’re usually exchanging information, in Mississippi they exchange “pleasantries” and it really was a pleasure being surrounded by such nice people. The food was good enough for us to go through their whole menu in the weeks we were in Ocean Springs but more than that, lunch time was an hour of gentile normalcy taken out of what was usually a bleak day.

Excerpt from The Mississippi Coast


. . . Toward the end of our stay some local building and fire officials invited all of us for dinner at their favorite Irish pub in Pascagoula. They served us corned beef and cabbage with homemade soda bread and the Guinness flowed like water. After dinner a lot of locals showed up just to meet the “inspectors from New York” and they all made a point of shaking our hands and thanking us for coming such a long way to help them. A little embarrassed by the compliment, we in turn, thanked them for their hospitality.

Excerpt from The Mississippi Coast

For the whole story –

The Mississippi Coast 2005 – Mississippi Sun Herald


BBs Po’boy


Imperial Palace Hotel

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Excerpt from The Farm on Staten Island

Excerpt from The Farm on Staten Island

. . .  On their first Easter on Staten Island, my grandmother insisted her brother and his new wife come to Manhattan for dinner. She didn’t want them to be alone for the holiday on what she considered a remote island. A dinner guest might be expected to bring wine or dessert, but the brother I knew as Uncle Tony brought a young goat on a leash. His friends working at the ferry had let him take it aboard, but the driver wouldn’t allow an animal on the Broadway bus, and he was left to walk the three miles from the ferry to my grandmother’s on Mott Street. My mother remembered all the kids on the block being excited to see the goat, and the adults in the family, amused by her uncle’s country ways. Grandma didn’t want anything to do with a live animal so Uncle Tony took it into her tenement’s backyard, where it was slaughtered, dressed, and served at Easter dinner. The family accepted Tony’s behavior knowing that although he left the farm, the farm never left him.

. . . He had a tree I thought came out of a fairy tale. Half of its branches grew deep red apples and the other half, pale green pears. I was bewildered, but he explained that since he didn’t have room for too many fruit trees, he planted an apple tree and then grafted a branch from a pear tree onto it. This brought him close to the level of a magician for me.

. . . Everyone in the family knew I loved going to the farm on Staten Island. My mother’s brother, Uncle Jimmy, often took me along when he went to visit. One late summer day, he and I were walking through the property when we came across a fig tree heavy with ripe purple fruit.

Uncle Jimmy said, “Boy, you can’t get figs like these in a store. Let’s have some.”

He began picking them, one for me, one for him, until we’d eaten almost all the fruit on the tree. Suddenly, Uncle Tony came up behind us and said to Uncle Jimmy, “Caroline was waiting for those figs to ripen to make preserves and you, cafone, ate them all.”

It was the first time I’d ever seen him angry, but since his accusations were directed at Uncle Jimmy and not me, I wasn’t concerned. There he was, my white-haired Great Uncle Tony scolding my gray-haired Uncle Jimmy over some figs as if he were a little boy. Uncle Jimmy grinned and looked guilty while Uncle Tony seemed exasperated with his nephew. It all seemed so funny to me I couldn’t help laughing and soon my uncles were laughing too.

. . .  Aunt Caroline grew tomatoes and herbs just outside her kitchen door, and when she made a tomato-basil salad she put ice cubes in it because the ingredients were still hot from the sun. There was one dish her guests often hoped she’d make at lunch. She’d sauté chicken hearts in olive oil with crumpled dried hot peppers and wild mushrooms gathered by my uncle in the wilds of Staten Island: simple ingredients which came together as something very special. She’d hum as she chopped and the earthy smell of mushrooms and olive oil would fill the kitchen.

. . . When he went to pick mushrooms he’d be gone all day, and Aunt Caroline would say, “He thinks I don’t know, but after he gets the mushrooms, he plays poker with his friends. As long as he brings me the mushrooms, I don’t say anything.”

The first time I can remember her serving the chicken hearts, she looked at me and without asking if I’d prefer it, cut a couple of slices of crusty Italian bread and spread it with cream cheese and Welch’s grape jelly. “Robbie’s American,” she said to my mother, “so I made him a sandwich I saw on television.” Glad to get the cream cheese and jelly at the time, I did eventually acquire a taste for her chicken hearts.


The complete story – The Farm on Staten Island 

Aunt Caroline’s Recipes

Summer Tomato Salad

Chicken Hearts and Mushrooms


 

The Village of Terranova

The Village of Terrnova

Terranova in the distance.

 

The Village of Terranova

We hired a car and driver to take us to the village where my grandmother Nicolina’s family had lived and where she was born. Simone showed up at our hotel in a new black Mercedes and Nicki (Nicolina’s namesake), Bridget and I started the trip inland. We were going to Terranova, a village in the province of Salerno and the Comune (municipality) of Scignano degli Alburni.

As we drove up into the Alburni mountains the lemon groves that were along the coast gave way to chestnut trees and it got colder and mistier as we went higher. After about an hour and a half, we reached Terranova.

The Village of Terrnova

Nicki made some friends. When my Aunt Lena visited in the 1970s she saw goats in the streets. We only saw a dog and some cats.


The Village of Terrnova

The old and the new fountain.


The Village of Terrnova

Farmland in the valley below.


The Village of Terrnova

Streets too narrow for cars.


We arrived to find what I had expected – a small village, population 60, and a church – Chiesa San Giovanni Battista. Simone said he’d try to find someone to unlock the church for us. A woman came and opened the side door as Simone returned with the priest who told us some of the church’s history. The poor people were interred in the crypt below the church so we were standing over the bones of our ancestors. The church was built in 1300 and the stone baptismal fountain was at least that old although a modern cover had been made for it. Nicolina DiAntonio was born in the village in 1878 and her father Lorenzo, grandfather Luigi, great grandfather Antonio, and her great great grandfather Onofrio who was born in 1740 were all baptized there. (That’s as far back as I was able to research.)The Village of Terrnova

Chiesa San Giovanni Battista


The Village of Terrnova

The old stone baptismal font with its new cover, and San Antonio and a recently exposed original fresco of Santa Lucia.


The Village of Terrnova

Terranova


The Village of Terrnova

To be continued – Lunch at Si Ma Quant Sit and a chili-olive oil infusion.

“Italian” Food

Italian Food

To many people, “Italian” food means tomatoes, garlic, and gooey melted cheese in the form of things like spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and veal cutlet parmesan.

Italian Food

Well, that’s not what Italians eat, especially not Italians in Italy. The food of Italy varies by region, and it’s not what’s typically served in American “Italian” restaurants. (I suppose the same is true for Chinese food. Tourists are disappointed when they go to China and expect to find spare ribs, fried rice and egg rolls.)
What may be common in Palermo might be rare in Milano. Types of pasta and sauces, aromatics, herbs and spices and preparation methods are so varied throughout the regions of Italy that America’s Olive Gardens couldn’t possibly keep up with it so they make up their own “Italian” recipes.Italian Food

“Italian” Spice – What exactly is it? I see it often in recipes – “add one teaspoon of Italian spice.” Try Googling Italian Spice and you’ll find dozens of combinations of spices including everything from garlic and fennel to dill and basil. Keep it simple and use the spices that fit the other ingredients in your recipe and not somebody else’s mix of what they think tastes good. Try asking for Italian Spice in a store in Italy and they won’t know what you’re talking about. Use good, fresh ingredients and limit the variety of spices – more isn’t necessarily better.

Italian Food


“Italian” Breadcrumbs – So what makes breadcrumbs Italian? It makes sense that they would be made from Italian bread but no, that’s not it.

Read the ingredientsNiacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Vegetable Oil (Soybean And/Or Cottonseed And/Or Corn And/Or Canola Oils.

Italian Food

I’d rather have just breadcrumbs in my breadcrumbs. Season whatever it is that you’re going to bread. Coat it in flour, dip in an egg wash and then plain breadcrumbs. Fry it in good oil and leave out the chemicals listed above.

“Italian” Salad Dressing – This one is a lot like Italian spice. Everybody has something else to add. The Olive Garden actually uses Miracle Whip in their so-called Italian salad dressing. Miracle Whip – can you believe it?

Italian Food

Here’s a simple version of dressing that’s common in Italian-American homes and in Italy too.

Sprinkle salt and black pepper on the greens. Then a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar (use balsamic if you like). Use more oil than vinegar. Toss and serve – that’s all.

Try this simple dressing on some cut up orange sections with a mix of arugula and romaine.

 

And don’t get me started on “Spaghetti Sauce.”

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Filomena’s Fettuccine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

Filomena’s Fettuccine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

Filomena’s Fettucine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for Anchovy Tomato Sauce that I got from a pizzeria chef I know.  I thought it was pretty good. A friend of mine showed it to his Sicilian grandmother who, to put it mildly, didn’t approve of it. The differences in the two recipes don’t seem too extreme to me but to her, there’s a world of difference. Out of respect for Nona Filomena, I’m posting her recipe. I tried them both and prefer Nona’s.Filomena’s Fettucine with Alici and Tomato Sauce
Filomena didn’t exactly give me a breakdown of ingredients and preparation so I’ll paraphrase our phone conversation and fill in a few blanks.

Filomena’s Fettucine with Alici and Tomato Sauce

“You start with a small can of alici (anchovies) in a frying pan with some oil (olive). When they start to dissolve, put in your garlic (2 cloves) finely chopped so you don’t mistake it for a pinole. You cook that a little bit (5 minutes)and then put in a small can of paste (6 oz.). Stir it until it absorbs the oil and then a little of the pasta water to thin it, but not too much. Put in the pinoles (pine nuts) and currants (about 1/3 cup each). Now, a little sugar (two teaspoons) to cut the acid of the tomatoes. Let it cook until it’s done (about 20 minutes) and maybe if you need it, a little more pasta water. You should taste it then. There’s probably enough salt from the alici but if you like it salty you might want more. No cheese with this but you put a bowl of fried breadcrumbs on the table and people help themselves.”
A few of Nona Filomena’s comments:
  • No parsley in this sauce. It doesn’t belong.
  • You make this with fettuccine. No other kind of pasta.
  • You don’t put the toasted breadcrumbs in the sauce as it’s cooking because they get soggy. You want them crisp.
  • It’s all right to finish cooking the fettuccine in the sauce but if you’re making two or three pounds when the whole family is coming, you don’t have to do that.
  • No red pepper in this – just black.

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Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

From an article in Gastronomica about my family’s cooking –

Excerpt from La Cucina Povera. . . There’s none of that restaurant-style lasagna or ‘‘veal parm’’ in our cookbook with their rubbery layers of mozzarella and loads of garlic. For us there’s no simple thing called ‘‘spaghetti sauce’’; we have dozens of sauces that go with various types of pasta in strict combination. Most of the recipes we include are the ones our grandmother, Nicolina, brought with her to America from Salerno more than a hundred years ago. This is truly la cucina povera, the cooking of the poor.


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . . The next course was pasta frutti di mare. If guests asked for cheese to sprinkle on their pasta, we of course had to tell them they couldn’t have any. Everyone should know it’s a mortal sin to put cheese on seafood. The pasta course was followed by other things that swim and were available at the end of December. A standard was baccala, dried cod fish, prepared both as a salad and a stew. It’s so dry it resembles a plank of wood when you buy it.


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . . We’d also serve cured meats like prosciutto and capocollo but which we pronounce in Grandma’s dialect, ‘‘braschute’’ and ‘‘gabbagoul.’’


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . .  When I think about my childhood family meals I can still smell fresh-cut lemons and dried oregano, and hear the sizzle of my mother’s breaded veal cutlets frying in olive oil. The shades of color in an arugula, romaine, and blood orange salad bring back memories of much more than just something to eat.


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . . I handed my fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Molly, a sharp knife, a cutting board, and five pounds of sardines and asked her to clean them. After I showed her how it to do it, she worked on them until she was left with a neat pile of fillets, without once saying ‘‘Ew’’ or ‘‘Yuck.’’


Excerpt from La Cucina Povera

. . .  As I unwrapped it and put the heart on the kitchen counter, Bridget left the room and wouldn’t come back. . . I don’t remember ever seeing anything like that in my Mother’s kitchen, and it didn’t look at all like the dainty bits in the finished dish she served. I didn’t know where to start and after calling Nicki, found she didn’t either, so I Googled, ‘‘preparation beef heart,’’ and came up with a method of cleaning it.


Complete article – La Cucina Povera

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Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra
This isn’t about the Mafia. Cosa nostra literally means “our thing.” And in this story, the thing is how an Italian woman feels about her cooking. In New York’s Little Italy there was a Neapolitan-Sicilian cooking rivalry between housewives.

 

My Aunt Lena, a first-generation Neapolitan-American who grew up in Manhattan’s Little Italy, happened to fall in love with a first-generation Sicilian-American. This wasn’t quite as tragic as Romeo and Juliet. Really, it was no big deal—except where cooking was concerned. Shortly after the wedding, Aunt Lena’s Sicilian-born mother-in-law, Rose, came to dinner. My aunt put together an extensive menu, including a Neapolitan standard: lasagna. The basic family recipe is broad pasta layered and baked with a garlic based tomato sauce, three cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan), and meatballs “no bigger than a dime.” My mother and aunt could roll these little gems between their palms three at a time.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

Rose said she loved it, and sometime after that, she invited my aunt to dinner, saying she liked her lasagna so much she thought she’d serve her own version of it—of course, with a Sicilian twist. In Rose’s version, the garlicky sauce was supplemented with chopped onions. In addition to the three traditional cheeses, Rose added a good amount of provolone. And, layered with the strips of pasta, she added sliced hardboiled eggs and some sopressata. The all-important little meatballs were gone. My aunt politely ate some of Rose’s dish and commented on how good it was, all the while hiding her outrage that a family recipe should be so casually bastardized. She hoped she would soon have her chance to avenge this affront to the cuisine of Naples. She didn’t have to wait long, as March 19th was coming up. That’s the feast day of St. Joseph, when many Sicilian households traditionally serve pasta con sarde. The name means “pasta with sardines,” . . .

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

So my Aunt Lena invited Rose for a St. Joseph’s day dinner, and said she wanted to serve pasta con sarde. Like a good daughter-in-law, she asked her for her family recipe, and Rose was happy to supply it. My aunt followed the instructions precisely, but during the simmering of the sauce, she added enough crushed San Marzano plum tomatoes (imported from Naples, of course) to turn Rose’s green sauce red. Rose, in turn, controlled her reaction to this wrong-colored sauce, and said it was all delicious. My aunt’s honor was satisfied.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra


. . . I was twelve when I ate lunch at a friend’s home, where his grandmother served us delicious sandwiches made with breaded flounder fillets. When I got home, I made two mistakes. First, in my innocence, I asked my mother and aunt, “How come your fillets aren’t as tasty as the ones Vinnie’s grandmother makes?” Second, I forgot that Vinnie’s grandmother was Sicilian. My mother and aunt always treated me like a little prince who could do no wrong, but this time I really made them angry.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

“If you like Vinnie’s grandmother’s cooking so much,” my mother huffed, “you should eat there from now on.” And she wouldn’t talk to me after that. I knew she didn’t mean it, but I also knew she was very upset. When I sat at my family’s dinner table that evening, hoping the afternoon’s conversation had been forgotten, I discovered that I wasn’t allowed to have any of the pasta lenticchie and pork chops with vinegar peppers everyone else was eating.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

“Since you don’t appreciate the way we cook,” announced my aunt, “this is what you’ll eat from now on.” And she and my mother made a big show of serving me a baloney sandwich on Wonder Bread. When I’d finished the sandwich my penance was complete. They forgave me, and gave me my real dinner. And I was very careful to watch what I said about their cooking after that.


. . . Not being able to talk about food, or exchange recipes, or even go grocery shopping together without some subtle eye-rolling, made it difficult for the Neapolitan and Sicilian housewives of my childhood to become close friends. But they did have at least one thing that bound them together: They all looked down their noses at the Toscana housewives from the north who cooked with butter instead of good southern olive oil.

Excerpt from La Cosa Nostra

 

La Cosa Nostra the whole story from TOMATO SLICES

My Aunt Lena’s Pasta con Sarde Recipe

 Traditional Pasta con Sarde Recipe

Pasta Lenticchie  and  Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers recipes

Excerpt from Hanging Out on A Sunday Afternoon

Excerpt from Hanging Out on A Sunday Afternoon

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“Hey, Sam the knish guy is coming down from Houston Street. Let’s go get one.”
An old Jewish man named Sam passed by with his cart just about every day selling hot potato knishes. Joe got his with mustard. Mine was plain. I knew it would take the edge off of my appetite for Sunday dinner but I couldn’t help myself.
Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon
Joe said, “Let’s go back to Dom’s and get a Lime Rickey to go with this. It’s funny; I like Lime Rickeys, which you can only get in the summer, but I can’t wait for colder weather when the sweet potato guy sets up his cart on Allen Street. I love those things.”

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“I know who you mean but I’m not too crazy about sweet potatoes,” I said.
Joe paid no attention to me. He was feeling nostalgic again.

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“But what I really miss is the old guy who used to sell jelly apples all winter outside the school at three o’clock. He’d dip them in hot jelly when you ordered one so the jelly would still be hot and soft as you ate it. And if you wanted, he’d roll it in coconut – no extra charge. I haven’t had a good jelly apple since the old guy died.”

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

We ate our knishes and talked as we walked to our building. I asked Joe if he wanted to have dinner with us. He declined but said he would stop by later. We climbed the stairs and he went into his apartment as I entered my crowded kitchen where dinner was being prepared. My mother, aunt and sisters were cooking. My father, although he didn’t help except to grate enough parmigiana cheese for the meal, often seemed to find reasons to pass through just to see what was going on. When we finally sat down to eat, the dishes seemed to just keep coming. There was someone constantly getting up to bring still more in from the kitchen.
Once, a high school classmate of my older sister joined us. She wasn’t Italian and asked for a knife to cut her pasta.
My mother sometimes took offense when someone simply asked to pass the salt, saying, “Why, I didn’t put enough salt?” But this time she said, “Hon, let me show you how to twirl your fusilli on a fork.”
Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon
Dinner ended with the inevitable question, “Who wants black or brown?” meaning espresso or American coffee. As the coffee was being served there was a knock at the door. It was Joe who wanted to see if I was ready to go out.
“Come in, Joe,” my mother said. “We’re just finishing dinner. Come in and have something to eat.”
“Hello everyone,” he said as he entered the dining room, “No thanks. I just ate.”
“Well, sit down anyway and have some coffee. You know everyone here. This is my cousin Gloria from Staten Island.”

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon

“I remember Joe when he was a little boy,” Gloria said. “Have a piece of Blackout cake. I got it at Ebbingers on the way over.”
“Honest, I’m really full.”
“All right, sit down anyway. Somebody cut him a piece of cake to go with his coffee.”
“OK, just a little piece.” Joe knew he couldn’t win.

 

Hanging Out on a Sunday Afternoon


Latkes for Chanukah

Latkes for Chanukah

If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’m Italian-American and most often post Italian recipes. But not this time. I grew up in New York and specifically on the Lower East Side so that means I grew up with Jewish food. Latkes have always been one of my favorites and my grandmother used to make them. If you think about it, a Jewish latke isn’t very different than an Italian  potato and egg frittata.
My father’s mother, Amalia came to America from Italy in the early 1880s as a young teenager. Her family settled on Prince Street in what was to become Little Italy but was then a mix of Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants. Her first job was in a nearby Jewish garment factory and being surrounded by girls and women speaking nothing but Yiddish, that was the first language she learned in America. English came later.

 

My Aunt Sis told me that once when she was shopping with her mother, she saw a coat she liked. Grandma said it cost too much and started to leave the store.
One of the shopkeepers told the other in Yiddish, “These Italian mothers always give in to their kids. She’ll be back for the coat.”
My grandmother turned to him and said in impeccable Yiddish, “It’s too expensive but I might buy it if we could negotiate a better price.” The surprised shopkeeper did just that.
I remember family dinners at her apartment on Prince Street and there were often some of her garment worker friends invited. Grandma spoke perfect English and Italian and it was always fun for us grandchildren to hear her conversing with her old friends in Yiddish.
I think I’ve figured out the Latke recipe she used although it’s possible she fried them in olive oil. But whatever kind you use, the oil is a reminder during Chanukah of what was burned to keep the eternal flame alive the temple.

Latkes for Chanukah

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and pepper in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs and stir until the flour is absorbed. Use the coarse side of a grater to grate the potatoes and onion. Latkes for ChanukahDo this right over a dish towel and then squeeze out and discard as much of the liquid as you can. Add potatoes and onions to the flour and egg mix and blend thoroughly.Latkes for Chanukah

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan. Put a tablespoon of the potato mix in the pan (I use an ice cream scoop) and flatten it with a spatula. Don’t worry about rough edges – they’ll get crisp and that’s what you want.Latkes for Chanukah
Cook them for about 4-5 minutes and turn them. Then the same on the 2nd side. When they’re done, drain them on a paper tower (or a brown paper bag like Grandma did) and sprinkle with salt. Serve them hot with apple sauce and sour cream. Happy Chanukah!Latkes for Chanukah

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