In Japan, Adele Sarno would be considered a Living National Treasure but in New York she’s being evicted. An 85 years old Italian-American woman is in the way of the expansion plans of the Italian-American Museum. How’s that for irony?
Two quotes for yesterday’s New York Times that sum up the issue: (the complete article is below)
“You’re fighting a museum that purports to exhibit Italian-American culture and then proceeds to evict a living artifact,” said Victor J. Papa, director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council.
“So the museum should be running a charity or providing residences at discount rates?” Joe Carella, the spokesman, asked. “That doesn’t match the mission.”
New York Times – 3/25/15
Museum in Little Italy Seeks to Evict a Living Link to the Past
Adele Sarno’s father, a longshoreman, emigrated from Naples, and she grew up in Manhattan’s Little Italy. As a child, she served as princess for the annual Feast of San Gennaro, she said, and one year was even crowned the queen.
Ms. Sarno eventually owned a candy shop and, later, an Italian products store below her family’s apartment on Grand Street until Sept. 11, when business dried up.
The number of people of Italian ancestry who live in Little Italy is shrinking by the year, and may soon drop by one more: Ms. Sarno, 85, is being evicted from her apartment after losing a fight to keep her $820-a-month rent from skyrocketing. But what has gotten tenant advocates’ attention is not just her age, but also the identity of the landlord: the Italian American Museum, which is in the building next door.
“You’re fighting a museum that purports to exhibit Italian-American culture and then proceeds to evict a living artifact,” said Victor J. Papa, director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, an affordable housing group that has helped Ms. Sarno in her effort to stay. “That’s absolute hypocrisy.”
A spokesman for the museum said ethnicity had nothing to do with it. The museum owns a total of six apartments, including Ms. Sarno’s, in three contiguous tenement buildings at Mulberry and Grand Streets, and relies on the rental income to help pay expenses.
“So the museum should be running a charity or providing residences at discount rates?” Joe Carella, the spokesman, asked. “That doesn’t match the mission.”
Founded in 2001, the Italian American Museum is “dedicated to the struggles of Italian-Americans and their achievements and contributions to American culture and society,” according to the mission statement posted on its website. Ms. Sarno said she was indeed struggling, with a notice from the city marshal giving her only days to leave. She filed a request in housing court this week to halt the eviction.
“How could you throw old people out?” she said on Wednesday, sitting in her apartment, a mini-museum itself furnished with lamps, marble tables and ceramics from the old country. “I’m not going to be here that many more years. Let me die in my home.”
The players in the dispute have added a cultural element to one of the thousands of eviction cases in New York each year. In this case, Ms. Sarno’s two-bedroom unit could fetch five times the current rent in an area that, like many in the city, has become lucrative territory.
Ms. Sarno, whose only child, a daughter, lives in Wisconsin, wants to stay in the neighborhood where she was born by midwife. Her family, including two brothers, a sister and her parents, who eventually separated, all lived in Little Italy. She said she had moved to her current second-floor apartment, where her father was living, after her divorce in the 1960s.
Not much is left of Ms. Sarno’s Little Italy, now mostly a tourist magnet of a few blocks that has been overwhelmed by Chinatown’s sprawl. The 2010 census recorded not one neighborhood resident who had been born in Italy.
“My good friends all passed away,” she said. “I’ve got my television.”
She still counts on a few friends: the owner of the gun shop next door who takes out her garbage; the young couple upstairs who have a baby and pay $4,500 a month; an old boyfriend who drives her to a ShopRite on Staten Island to save on groceries.
Her doctors and the parish where she was baptized, Church of Most Precious Blood, founded in the late 1800s, remain within walking distance.
The museum moved to Little Italy from Midtown Manhattan in 2008, buying the three buildings for $9 million in order to expand. The recession halted those plans, Mr. Carella said, and the goal now is to find a developer to buy the buildings while allowing the museum to remain rent-free.
Ms. Sarno said she got a letter from the museum about five years ago saying that the rent was being raised to $3,500. With Social Security payments and help from relatives as her only sources of income, she said, she could not possibly pay that much.
With the help of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, she sought a determination from state housing officials about whether her apartment was subject to rent-regulation laws that would protect her. She learned it was not, and after several years of appeals and legal back-and-forth, the museum was allowed to the pursue eviction in November. The notice to vacate followed this month.
Described by neighbors as an independent woman who goes to bed early, wakes up in the middle of the night and cooks pasta in the wee hours, Ms. Sarno said that if she was forced out, her most viable option would be to join her daughter in Wisconsin, taking along her 19-year-old cat, Tosha.
“I don’t want to go there,” she said. “I don’t drive. I’d be stuck in the house 24/7.”
In an interview, Joseph V. Scelsa, founder and director of the museum, rejected the idea that the eviction was at odds with the institution’s mission.
Little Italy, he said, “is not a community of Italian-Americans any longer.” He said at some point the population that gave the area its name would disappear entirely, but that “the legacy would still remain because we have an institution that does that.”
Other promoters of Italian-American culture saw the irony in the situation.
“I would hope they can find some sort of solution for her,” said Anthony Tamburri, dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College, where Dr. Scelsa once served as director. “The thought of an 85-year-old having to move to Wisconsin is unsettling to be sure.”
Link to New York Times article – click here
Happy St. Joseph’s Day! March 19th is a big day for Italians celebrating their patron saint. It’s an even bigger celebration in Sicily where traditionally food was given to the poor. You don’t have to go to Sicily for the feast and you don’t have to be Sicilian (we’re Neopolitan). We went to Bar Eolo on 7th Ave. and 21st St. in Manhattan. They explain their name –
“According to Homer, Eolo—Italian for Greek mythology’s Aeolus, ruler of the wind— lived on the volcanic Aeolian islands off the north coast of Sicily and was a favorite among the Greek gods.”
The celebration was last Sunday and here’s what they served –
The entertainment was great too, supplied by a Sicilian folk trio featuring Michela Musolino.
Eolo’s next event is an Easter Sunday lunch.
St. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily and March 19th is his feast day. This recipe is in honor of all my Sicilian friends who celebrate his day with this traditional dish. This is a basic recipe and I’m sure everybody’s grandmother makes it a little differently but if you’ve never made it before this is a good start.
For a variation on this recipe and a funny story about cooking rivalry, click here – La Cosa Nostra.
Pasta Con Sarde
Boil the fennel in 4 quarts of salted water for 10 minutes then drain, saving the water to cook the pasta, chop the fennel and set aside.
Fry onion in oil with salt, black and red pepper. Add anchovy to onions and dissolve. Cook onions at a low heat until soft but not brown. Add fennel to onions and mix thoroughly. Add pinoles and rehydrated raisins to sauce. Keep heat low.
Dissolve saffron in ½ cup of warm water. Add some to pasta water and the rest to the sauce.
Cut the filets into four pieces, raise heat, add to the sauce and cook for a few minutes.
For the pasta: Cook the buccatelli in the water that you used to boil the fennel. Add the cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce and toss gently so you don’t break the fillets.
Place pasta in a large serving bowl and top with some of the toasted bread crumbs (click here for recipe). No cheese on this pasta!
Pass the crumbs and extra sauce.
Happy Sunday – This is about the Sunday gravy I grew up with. It’s tomato sauce with meat but really much more. My mother started it in the morning and simmered it on a very low heat until the last of the family was home from the 12:30 Mass. My father and I went to the 9 o’clock mass and brought home something for breakfast – usually Danish, crullers and jelly donuts. After we ate, my father would grate enough parmigiana for the meal and my mother would begin by browning the various meats in lard – usually meat balls, sausage, short ribs and beef braciole. It would vary sometimes with ox tail or a pig skin braciole called cotechinata or in my family’s Napolitano dialect – gaudiga. It wasn’t my favorite. I always imagined I was eating a cooked football.
After talking to my sisters Nicki and Rochelle I came up with the following preparation for one pound of pasta:
Heat some olive oil (or lard if you don’t mind high cholesterol) and lightly brown whatever meat you’re using adding salt and black pepper. Do it in batches so it browns and doesn’t get crowded and steam. Remove the meat, add and lightly brown garlic (no onions) in the same pot. Return the meat and add one large can each, crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Add two small cans (6 oz.) tomato paste. Fill the two cans with water (you can use red wine instead although my mother never cooked with wine)to remove any paste remaining in cans, add to the sauce and stir until it’s smooth. Add 3 or 4 basil stems with leaves, either fresh or preserved in oil, some red pepper flakes and simmer for as long as it takes for the toughest meat to be done.
For most people this is a big meal but we ate it between an elaborate ante pasta and a roast meat and vegetable course. Sunday dinner was served at 2 PM so at about 7 or 8 in the evening my mother would serve re-heated lunch leftovers.
A few words about tomatoes and pasta…
It’s more than acceptable to use canned tomatoes if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients (spices/flavorings) added to the can.
If you want to use fresh you have to peel and seed them. Put them in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Run them under cold water and peel with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core. Chop and you’re ready to cook.
For the pasta use more water than you’d think you’d need. Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much). Some chefs say no oil in the water because it is absorbed by the pasta and prevents the sauce for adhering. Others say a few drops of oil helps prevent the pasta from sticking and adds a little flavor. I’ll leave it up to you. Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
Ravioli – My mother, aunts and grandmother never used anything but a ricotta mix for stuffing. Since we never ate in Italian restaurants I didn’t know they could be made with meat or anything else (pumpkin?) until I was almost an adult. My family’s ravioli were square, large, sealed by crimping with a dinner fork, then laid out on a clean sheet on the bed to dry before cooking. If you’re in New York you can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or http://www.pastosa.com/.
My mother used to make this and her original recipe also called for beef lung – no longer permitted by Dept. of Agriculture. I added the cubed beef to make up the difference. I never saw this on a restaurant menu.
You can get the whole soufritte story here – La Cucina Povera
In the same pot, add more oil, sauté onion and garlic until soft. Add tomato paste and caramelize. Add stock, deglaze and stir well and add bay leaf. Return meat, mix with onion and add oregano. Simmer covered for 1/2 hour, adding more liquid if needed. Taste for seasoning. Add the browned calf liver at the end.
Cast iron is one of the oldest and best materials for cooking. If seasoned properly it’s as non-stick as any of the modern coated pans. It holds heat well and spreads it evenly and can be used both on the stove or in the oven. If you get a new one that’s not pre-seasoned, it’s simple enough to season it yourself. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat the cooking surface of the pan with a thin layer of Crisco and put it in the oven, upside down, for 1 hour. Put a foil covered baking sheet under it to catch any drippings. Let it cool in the oven for about another hour and it’s done. If it’s sticky, heat it for another ½ hour. If it’s not an even coat, do the whole process again. Sound like a lot of work? Don’t worry because you’ll only have to do it once.
To clean it after use you usually have to just wipe it with a wet sponge (no soap) and if anything sticks, simply fill it with hot water and let it soak for a while then clean it with a brush, never steel wool. Dry it and it’s ready for its next use.
My daughter, Kristina recently gave me a new pan. At first I thought it was just a decorative cast iron serving platter and although it’s attractive, it turns out that it’s also very utilitarian. It’s creator calls it a “ten inch pie pans with handles.” I don’t often bake pies but so far I’ve used it for chops, omelets and skillet corn bread. It’s lighter than my standard 10 inch cast iron pan, it makes a better serving presentation and it came pre-seasoned – a big plus. It’s made by Marsha Trattner, an artist-blacksmith in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She makes other things in addition to pans. Take a look at her web site: She-Weld.com
One last cast iron utensil… I got it at a flea market for $20. A Dutch oven old enough to probably have been used in a fire place. Not very pretty and extremely heavy, it’s still the greatest for stews.
Minestra and Zuppa
< Minestra >
Basically, minestra is soupy pasta with vegetables. The vegetables can include broccoli, cauliflower, cecis, peas, lentils, beans or greens. The pasta is usually small, like tubes, shells or even broken spaghetti. The ingredients and combinations are up to you. An example of minestra is Pasta e Patate or the following pasta with escarole and beans from my sister Nicki. (If you need to distinguish between the soupy minestra pasta and pasta with say, tomato sauce or pesto, those are known as pasta asciutte, ‘dry pasta’ although it’s covered with sauce.)
Pasta con Scarola e Fagioli
On a cold winter night nothing warms you up like a bowl of minestra. It’s hearty, delicious and easy to prepare. My Mother served soup at every meal. This minestra was and still is one of my favorites.
Clean the escarole in cold water and cut into ½” strips. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a 3 quart pot add the garlic cloves and remove them when they are brown and soft. Add the ham hocks to brown. Add water to cover the hocks and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about a half hour to forty-five minutes. Add the escarole and cook until softened about 15 minutes. Then add the rinsed cannellini beans and pasta. Cook until the pasta is done – about 10 minutes.
< Zuppa >
Zuppa is a broth which never includes pasta and usually has a slice of bread or biscotti in it. An example of this follows as Merlutze en Brode, a recipe from a restaurant, The Fisherman’s Wharf, that our family had in the 1950s. This style of preparation goes back to a time before tomatoes were common in Italian cuisine. Our chef, Michele, was proud of this one – so simple and so good.
Merlutze en Brode
Lightly sweat the garlic in oil. Add salt, black pepper and ½ of the parsley. Cut the whitings into 5 pieces each, including head and tail, add to pot and just cover with hot water. Remove the head and tail when they get soft. Continue simmering until the skin becomes loose enough to remove and you can lift out the spine and bones from the pieces of fish. Add more water if it gets too dry. Add the rest of the parsley just before serving. Put some bread or fruzalle in a bowl and cover with the fish broth.
This is probably a very different version for most of you. It’s a ‘parmigiana’ recipe with just parmesan cheese, no mozzarella. You can substitute other vegetables or chicken or veal cutlets but no mozzarella. If you look up parmigiana, you’ll see it’s defined as “cooked with Parmesan cheese,” not mozzarella. Give our family recipe (written by my sister Nicki) a try.
It’s light and fresh compared to the parmigiana al ‘Americana you get in most restaurants with that thick rubbery layer of mozzarella on top.
Remove 3 or 4 strips of skin from the eggplants but leave enough to hold them together. Slice them into rounds and place the slices into a scolo pasta (colander) in layers, sprinkling kosher salt on each layer. Place a heavy plate and a 28 ounce can of tomatoes (you can use any kind of weight but what could be better than a can of tomatoes?) on top for weight and set the scolo pasta in the sink for about ½ hour.
After the eggplants have drained, squeeze out the excess water and dredge the slices in the flour and salt and pepper mixture. Fry the slices in olive oil until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Coat a baking dish (I prefer a high round dish) with a ladle-full of marinara sauce, then a layer of eggplant and a generous sprinkling of cheese topped with another ladle-full of sauce and some torn basil leaves. Repeat this process until you finish the eggplant. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh basil.
Note: Marinara Sauce – Not all Italian tomato sauce is Marinara sauce. This 3 ingredient sauce (not counting salt and pepper) is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. This sauce has multiple uses: delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat was not an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic (cut in large pieces so they can easily be removed)
1 ½ lbs of fresh tomatoes or 1 28oz con of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
Salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
Lightly brown garlic in the olive oil. Add about a pound and a half of chopped fresh or one large can of crushed tomatoes (approx. 28 oz.). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer ½ hour on medium heat and it’s done.
One last note – I have nothing against mozzarella. I love it fresh and cold, especially on a sandwich with ripe tomatoes and salt and pepper. I just think it’s been overused by cooks in Italian-American restaurants to the point where non-Italians think that’s the way all Italians eat. And it isn’t.
It you can’t get it fresh, try making your own – Ricki’s 30 Minute Mozzarella