Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Life & People

    What Are We Eating this Christmas?

    In Italy Christmas is not just colorful gift boxes, blinking lights, and cheerful carols, Christmas is an opportunity to slow down, sit at the dining table and enjoy family and friends but also delicacies from a strong gastronomic tradition.

    Every Italian region has its time-honored dishes that happen to be the real “stars” of the table. These are dishes that are synonymous of Christmas and every holiday season, year after year, they are prepared with care and respect for tradition.

    They are soups, meat-based recipes, breads, and sweets, exceptional treats that make a special night even more extraordinary.

    Preparing these recipes is not just plain cooking but following a certain tradition – on Marche’s idyllic rolling hills, capon is boiled in water on Christams Eve. When fully cooked it is left in the pot overnight, either on the stove or outside of the window, on the sill.

    On Christmas morning all the fat on the broth’s surface is removed and set aside, as it is considered “blessed,” a necessary unguent useful for cuts and burns.

    Some say that in the South, Christmas and the holidays are awaited for with more eagerness, as they used to mark the return home of emigrants who came back for a brief cheerful visit. Christmas in Naples is so rich of menus, and there are sweets that actually make Christams, without them there would not be reason to celebrate – these are called struffoli, tiny honey covered fritters sprinkled with colorful sugar grains. They are prepared days before Christmas Eve, and are given to guests throughout the week leading to the holiday.

    For more specific information, let’s look at each region closely.

    ABRUZZO: Lu rintrocilio, pasta with a sauce of mutton, pork, chili, and grated pecorino.

    BASILICATA: Piccilatiedd, bread with almonds.

    CALABRIA: Quazunìelli, dough pockets filled with raisins, walnuts, cooked must, and cinnamon.

    CAMPANIA: Insalata di rinforzo, cauliflower, pickled vegetables, peppers, Gaeta olives, and salted anchovies. Fried eel is another favorite of all Neapolitans tables. While waiting for Midnight, on Christmas Eve, people like to munch on fruit and mixed nuts and struffoli.

    EMILIA ROMAGNA: Panone di Natale, bread made with candied fruit, honey, cocoa, dark chocolate, dried figs.

    FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA: Brovada e muset, soup of turnips and cotechino, cooked pork sausage, served with polenta.

    LAZIO: Pangiallo, bread made with dried fruit, candied peels, honey, and chocolate.

    LIGURIA: Pandolce, bread made with raisins, candied pumpkin, essence of orange flowers, pine nuts, fennel seeds, milk, and marsala.

    LOMBARDY: Cappone ripieno, capon stuffed with a mix of ground meat, mortadella, and hard-boiled eggs. It is served with mostarda di Cremona, fruit preserve spiced with mustard essential oil.

    MARCHE: Pizza de Natà, bread made with walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, raisins, chocolate, grated lemon and orange peel, and figs.

    MOLISE: Pizza di Franz in brodo, pieces of pizza dough, baked in the oven with eggs, parmigiano, and parsley.

    PIEDMONT: Insalata di carne cruda all'albese, beef filet tartar scented with white truffles.

    PUGLIA: Carteddate, rose-shaped fried cookies drizzled with honey.

    SARDINIA: Pabassinas, sweets made with almonds, walnuts, raisins, anis seeds, and cooked must.

    SICILY: Mustazzoli, sweets made with almonds, cinnamon, and cloves.

    TUSCANY: Brodo di cappone in tazza, consommé of capon.

    TRENTINO: Canederli, balls of flour, eggs, old bread, speck, pancetta, and salame.

    UMBRIA: Panpepato, bread with walnuts, chocolate, almonds, candied fruit, honey, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pepper, and red wine.

    VALLE D'AOSTA: Carbonata, strips of meat macerated in wine and aromatic herbs, served with polenta.

    VENETO: Ravioli in brodo di cappone, ravioli cooked in capon broth.

    Italy has many Christmas sweets, ranging from simple cookies to extraordinarily elaborate puddings and cakes. Pandoro the Christmas cake of Verona, has achieved national popularity and is Panettone’s fiercest enemy. It is a light, sweet yeast bred cake made with lots of butter and baked in a high 8-pointed star-shaped pan. It is generally just dusted with confectioners' sugar and there are versions with custard fillings. Pandoro symbolizes Christmas like few other cakes: It even looks Christmassy. The Italian Trade Commission describes it as, “tall, distinctive and shaped like a Christmas tree, it is topped with powdered sugar reminiscent of snow, or a twinkling star.” And indeed, if cut horizontally, each slice is a star.

    Many love Siena’s panforte, a rich flat cake of honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied citron, citrus peel, cocoa, and spices. In Ferrara, people celebrate with panpepato (see description above).

    Zeppole, representative of the area of Sorrento, are small fried ricotta doughnut-like cookies dusted with confectioner’s sugar that must be served warm.

  • Life & People

    The Legend of Panettone

    A slice of panettone and a flute of champagne (or prosecco)… there is no more Italian way to wish a happy holiday season. It’s a ritual in many homes where panettone is a welcomed guest after every meal. But this sweet bread can be enjoyed everywhere, anytime, even at office parties while exchanging gifts or in stores while shopping. Giving panettone is not a simple act of kindness but a gesture rich in history and tradition.

    Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins and candied orange and lemon peel from Milan that has been embraced by fans worldwide. Immigrants to the Americas brought with them their love of panettone.  When it is enjoyed on Christmas in many countries, it’s paired with hot chocolate, or ice cream, and even eggnog. Although the traditional recipe remains a favorite, producers are offering many variations with cream, chocolate chips and frosting, and even liqueurs such as limoncello.

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    Italians consume an estimated two-and-a-half panettoni (5.5 pounds) per family per year, and its popularity is also growing beyond the Italian border, with seven to 10 percent of panettoni produced now exported to France, Germany, the United States, Canada, Britain, and Spain. Americans are adopting this pleasurable Italian food custom with enthusiasm. According to the latest figures from the Italian Trade Commission, pastry imports to the United States are always growing.

    Right after Thanksgiving, there are plenty of tempting panettoni on the supermarket shelves: from the tiny ornament-sized boxes to be hung on Christmas trees, to large ones sold in holiday tins and elegant gift wrapped ones, hidden in red and green foil with golden ribbons. Panettoni used to be available only at a few places like Neiman Marcus or Garden of Eden, but now you can find them everywhere.

    The name panettone can be explained in many ways: documents from the 1200s portrayed an early form of it enriched with honey, raisins, and even pumpkin. The writer Pietro Verri (1728-1797) called it “pane di tono” (luxury bread in Milanese dialect). Raisins are used for good wishes, as they are indeed known to bring fortune and wealth because their shape is reminiscent of golden coins.

    One of the legends of its conception says that the person who invented panettone was the Milanese nobleman Ughetto degli Atellani who lived in the 1400s. He fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To win her over, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich bread in which he added to the flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins, and candied peel.The duke of Milan , Ludovico il Moro Sforza, encouraged the launch of the new cake-like bread: pan del Ton (or Toni's bread).


    Another story says that Toni, the young helper of a cook, was the real inventor. It was Christmas and the court chef had no dessert to offer. What he had prepared wasn’t good enough to be served. So Toni prepared something using everything he had available. Hence the name panettone, “il pan de Toni” (Toni’s bread). Just after the end of World War I, panettone became widely known thanks to a young Milanese baker, Angelo Motta, who gave his name to one of Italy 's now best-known brands. Motta revolutionized the traditional way of making panettone by giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, before cooking, which is what makes it so light.

    Around 1925, the recipe was adapted by a competitor, Gioacchino Alemagna, who also gave his name to a popular brand that still exists today. The stiff competition between the two led to the growth of the industrial production of the cake-like bread.

    When purchasing panettone, be sure to check the ingredients. With almost 80 million pounds produced annually in Italy (as well as domestic versions), not all are of excellent merit. Read the labels and watch for lower-quality ingredients such as margarine

    rather than butter or powdered eggs instead of fresh.

    To ensure a high-quality product, the Association of Italian Confectionary Industries (AIDI) has asked the Italian government to recognize panettone as a specialty item deserving protection. If successful, only producers meeting strict standards will be able to identify their products as panettone. Among the brands meeting AIDI requirements are Alemagna, Bauli, Flamingi, Maina, Motta, Perugina, Le Tre Marie, and Valentino.

    One of the largest importers of panettone to the United States , Frank Lettieri, owner of Lettieri and Co. in South San Francisco , primarily imports the Maina brand. “Maina really stands out is its moistness. In comparison, many panettoni are dry,'' claims Mr. Lettieri.

    Valentino USA brings products of the Italian confectionery tradition, like Panettone and Pandoro, in classic or special versions, as well as other goods that are typically consumed by Italians at breakfast, to the United States . Respect for traditional processing systems combined with the application of modern technologies and the support of strict controls over raw materials and finished products have assured Valentino a fine reputation in worldwide confectionery. Valentino USA is a name that guarantees quality and excellence, exactly what you need to celebrate the holidays in peace.


  • Life & People

    BOOKS. Da Vinci’s Kitchen

    Leonardo da Vinci: painter, sculptor, inventor, mathematician – chef? While details of Da Vinci’s artistic life are common knowledge, especially after the immense success of the Da Vinci Code, a new book provides insight into a different aspect of the life of the definite Renaissance genius – his diet.

    Da Vinci’s Kitchen: A Secret History of Italian Cuisine (BenBella Books, January 2007) by Dave Dewitt, bestselling author of several cookbooks, takes a fresh approach do the artist’s life and to food in Renaissance Italy. “Reading several of his biographies triggered a ‘where’s the food?’ response in me as a food writer,” the author claims, “and prompted me to study his notebooks to find the food reference in them.”

    The book reveals a lot of interesting facts, such as Da Vinci’s invention of the two rotisserie-style devices for cooks to use to turn meat on a spit while it was cooking. One used a counterweight and a rope wrapped around a cylinder, and the other ingeniously harnessed the power of heated air to turn the gears of the spit over the fire. We also discover that during the Renaissance, Italians recommended a very long cooking time for pasta – the concept of al dente came around much later, in the 17th century to be exact, when cooks suggested pouring cold water over cooked pasta to stop the cooking and make it firmer.  During Da Vinci’s time, people chose their wine based on their social standing – whites, which were more refined for the upper classes, and reds, which were cheaper, for the poor.

    The book even includes a recipe for a salad dressing recovered from Da Vinci’s notebooks. Its pages reveal that later in life the artist became a vegetarian, a really strange decision and condemnable lifestyle in Renaissance Italy, where meats were largely consumed. In total the books included thirty recipes to recreate Da Vinci’s dishes and sumptuous feasts of the upper class of Italian Renaissance society. Who knows, maybe by following his diet we will all become ingenious!


  • Life & People

    The Many Cheeses of Italy

    Born to allow milk to last longer, cheese can be compared to wine for its complex characteristics. A product of high quality, just like with wine, must have a prime raw material and must follow a refined production process.


    The history of cheese is intertwined with the history of mankind, through the refinement of agricultural techniques and mostly to man’s ability to tame and breed cattle, sheep, and goats. We find traces of sheep breeding back to the Greek islands and in Asia Minor , around 6000 B.C.  After milking these animals, our ancestors preserved milk, but unfortunately it would spoil quickly, so they had to create ways to make it last longer…and here cheese comes into play, born out of chance and a bit of genius.


    Through the centuries the art of dairy has developed and refined itself (and Italy is a leader in this development), but the basic elements have remained the same: milk, salt, heat, and curd. By law the denomination of cheese is given to the product that is obtained from whole milk or partially skimmed milk, or cream according to the coagulation and use of ferments and salt. Cheese is apparently a simple product but is actually comprised of many, many secrets. Let’s discover some of the virtues of many cheeses that are commonly found on our tables.


    Longtime celebrities

    Mozzarella – Real mozzarella is made with latte di bufala, (water buffalo’s milk) while the cheese made with whole milk is called fiordilatte. Originally from Campania , part of Lazio , Puglia and Basilicata , mozzarella owes its name to the process of mozzatura (cutting) done to separate from the pastey individual pieces. Shiny and smooth, white and slightly stretchy, it can have more or less flavor depending on the type of brine it is put in and on the length of time it is kept in. The production stages for mozzarella di bufala are:


        1. Milk storage (raw buffalo milk is stored in big steel containers).

        2. Milk heating (thermal treatment of the liquid, then poured into a cream separator).

        3. Curdling (by induction of natural whey).

        4. Curd maturation (the curd lies in tubs in order to reduce the acidification processes).

        5. Spinning (hot water is poured out on the curd in order to soften it).

        6. Shaping (with special rotating shaper machines).

        7. Cooling (by immersion in cold water).

        8. Pickling (by immersion in pickling tubs containing the original whey).

        9. Packaging (in special films cut as bags or in small basins and plastic.


    Many say the best way to eat mozzarella is in the so-called caprese salad, a simple salad of sliced fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes and basil.


    Robiola – This cheese owes its name to rind that used to be red. It is a soft cheese with a faint perfume of truffles. It is made with varying proportions of cow, goat and sheep milk. Varieties of Robiola are produced across Piedmont from the provinces of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria and into Lombardy. The taste and appearance of Robiola varies depending upon where it was produced. The most famous is Robiola di Roccaverano DOP (protected designation of origin), which has no rind and a slightly straw-yellow coloring with a sweet, yielding taste.  Robiola is generally served as a table cheese, either alone or with oil, salt and pepper.


    Ricotta - The name ricotta means "cooked again" ("re-cooked") in Italian, referring to the second processing of the liquid to produce the cheese. The main ingredient of this cheese is whey (a by-product of milk cheese making), rather than milk. When fresh, it is creamy and slightly sweet, with a finely grained texture and a pure white color. Ricotta is a favorite ingredient of many Italian desserts, such as cannolis. It is also available salted, baked or smoked.


    Mascarpone - Hailing from Lombardy , mascarpone is a buttery-rich double cream to triple-cream cheese made from cow's milk. The name form the Lombard word mascarpia refers to cream of milk. It is a delicate and pleasant flavor. It is good by itself, in sweets and with fresh fruit.


    Gorgonzola – This blue-veined delicacy is made from whole un-skimmed cow's milk. It can be buttery or firm, crumbly and quite salty, with a 'bite' from its blue veining. The name comes from Gorgonzola, a small town near Milan, where the cheese was first made. Gorgonzola is typically aged for three to four months. The length of the aging process determines the consistency of the cheese. It is great with polenta, risottos, pizza, but it is said to go best with pears.


    Stracchino – This is a soft cheese that also comes from Lombardy . It is eaten very young, has a soft, creamy texture and normally a mild and delicate flavor. The name of the cheese comes from the Italian word stracca, meaning tired. It is said that the milk from tired cows is richer in fats and more acidic. The best way to eat it is in a simple sandwich.


    But this is just the beginning. There are so many cheeses in Italy that they cannot all fit into one article. Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano, for example, deserve a page of their own.


  • Life & People

    Experience the World of Olive Oil

      Italy is covered with olive trees, from the northern regions all the way down to Puglia and Sicily . The pressing of tree-ripened olives extracts tasty, monounsaturated oil that is good for cooking, as well as raw for salads. The flavor, color and fragrance of olive oils can vary greatly depending on distinctions such as growing region (oils from southern Italy tend to be fruitier) and the crop’s condition. Olive oils are graded according to the degree of acidity they contain.

    The best oils are cold-pressed, a chemical-free process that involves only pressure, which produces a natural level of low acidity.

    Extra virgin oil is only 1% acid and is the result of the first pressing of the olives. The olives are crushed with grinding stones or steel presses which separate the dry part of the olives (pomace) from water and oil by pressure and/or centrifugation spinning.

    Evoo can range from a crystalline champagne color to greenish-golden and light green. It is the finest and most expensive. There are three categories of extra virgin olive oil:

        * Mild – Light and buttery. Ideal for raw meats, pasta sauces, raw vegetables and fish.

        * Fruity – Slightly stronger, it pairs well with grilled meats, pasta sauces, cooked vegetables and bruschetta.

        * Spicy – Strong taste, perfect for rustic dishes.

    Virgin olive oil is also first-press oil, with a slightly higher level of acidity (between 1 and 3%).

    Fino olive oil is a blend of extra virgin olive oil and virgin oils.

    Olive oil is a combination of refined olive oil and virgin or extra virgin olive oil. It is obtained from oils with defects or which have high acidity and have to undergo refining (an industrial process which renders it colorless, tasteless, and odorless) and are then mixed with small quantities of virgin or extra virgin olive oil.

    Pomace olive oil is obtained by using chemical solvents to extract the oil remaining in the pomace, then refined and mixed with a small quantity of virgin olive oil.

    Seed oil is extracted from the seeds by using chemical solvents and then refined.

    Tasting Steps

    The range of olive oils is so varied in flavor that sometimes it’s hard to choose what to buy. As with wine, it’s possible to taste the different oils in order to find the one that better suits personal preferences or purposes.

    The president of Monini NA, Mr. Petrini, shares advice with us on how to taste and categorize olive oil.

        * Pour the oil in a small glass and gently swirl in order to release all the various aromas.

        * Inhale, first briefly, then deeply, trying to capture all the different aromas.

        * Sip a small quantity of oil from the glass, trying to keep it in the front of your mouth between your lower lip and tightly shut teeth.

        * Inhale, breathing first delicately then more vigorously so as to vaporize the oil in the oral cavity where the taste buds are.

        * While trying to identify and catalogue all the different aromas and flavors, exhale from the nose so that the vaporized oil particles can reach the nasal membrane giving even more precise sensations.

        * Once you have collected sufficient information you can expel the oil.

    Positive Attributes

    Pungent – Spicy aftertaste, intense in oils particularly rich in highly beneficial antioxidants.

    Fruity – Taste perception typical of fresh and healthy olives.

    Full body – A sensation of thickness or compactness typical of quality oil.

    Bitter – Typical and intense in oils obtained from green olives.

    Floral – Extremely pleasant sensation which recalls the penetrating perfume of flowers.

    Woody – Sensation which recalls the fragrance of forest wood, typical of oils from Umbria .

    Negative Attributes

    Greasy – Leaving a very sticky palate and greasy aftertaste.

    Rancid – Typical smell of deteriorated fat.

    Vinegary – Smell perceived in oil obtained from badly stored olives in which the sugar has fermented thus forming alcohol or vinegar.

    Earth – Typical smell of oil obtained from olives picked up from the ground.

    Practical information

    Always check the label to make certain the oil is estate pressed and bottled, and only buy olive oil in non-opaque glass, which will allow you to see the oil. It should be green, though not too brilliant a green. Be wary, on the other hand, of oil in cans that you cannot see, and also of very pale oils, or yellow oils. Pale oils have certainly been filtered and may have been cut with other less healthy oils, whereas deep yellow oils could well be old. Always check the expiration date that it should be two years after bottling.

    Olive oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid, the acid one also finds in caught (as opposed to raised) oily fish such as salmon, which is important in preventing cardiovascular disease. In addition, olive oil reduces LDL cholesterol -- what sticks to the arteries -- and raises HDL cholesterol, which is instead beneficial and it is a powerful antioxidant.


  • Art & Culture

    Gian Antonio Stella. Passionately Writing on Immigration

    Gian Antonio Stella, editorialist and political, business, and society journalist from Vicenza, has been writing for the Milanese newspaper, “Corriere della Sera” since he was a young reporter. Married, with a son, he is a passionate cook and a hopeless guitarist. He is a world traveler who sometimes lives in Rome, other times near Venice, or wherever he happens to be.


    He has won several journalistic awards (starting with the “E” assigned by moguls such as Montanelli, Biagi and Bocca, moving on to the “Ischia,” and the “Saint Vincent” for his essays). He has written several books, among which the notable “Schei”, a reportage on the North East, “Dio Po / gli uomini che fecero la Padania” (God Po, the men who created Padania), a poisonous pamphlet on the Lega (political party who claims the supremacy of northern Italy), “Lo spreco” (The Waste), a poignant discussion on how Italy wasted at least two millions of the old liras, “Chic”, an ironic voyage among filthy rich Italians, “Tribù” (Tribe), a fun portrait of the right wing party that rose to power in 2001, and “L’orda, quando gli albanesi eravamo noi” (The Horde, When we Were the Albanians), a book on xenophobia and racism towards Italians that were emigrants.


    We then arrive to “Odissee, Italiani sulle rotte del sogno e del dolore,” (Odysseys, Italians on the Road to Dreams and Pain) the work that has recently been at the center of events in New York City. This is the adventurous and touching story of our great grandparents, human beings who left their country in search of fortune, while facing a terrible obstacle: the Ocean.


    These poor souls had to survive the terrible conditions of living on huge ships before arriving at their promised land. Those in the third class lived all together, grouped in large dormitories, eating food covered by rat waste, and singing popular songs to help time go by, songs that reflected their feelings, fears, and hopes.


    Many of these ships never made it to their destination – the Sirio hit a wall of rocks because the captain had no map to follow, while the Principessa Mafalda was traveling with a broken motor. The Carlo Re was struck by a cholera epidemic, so it was not allowed to enter South America and was left roaming around while its passengers were all dying.


    These are some of the stories that Gian Antonio Stella portrays in his work through his passionate writing, a representation of travel documents, tragedies, adventures, strong hopes and shattered dreams. The book is a harsh slice of life, an essential tool in understanding the Italy of today.


    This work and everything concerning its author, is thoroughly analyzed on the web site


    The site provides several images of the protagonists of Stella’s stories, poems on the sea written by illustrious writers such as George Byron, Ernest Hemingway, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Gabriele D’Annunzio, words to some popular songs that were often sang on these long trips, and a useful forum where people looking for relatives, immigration documents, and other related data can communicate.


    The site also dedicates a part to the theatrical representation of “Odissee”, entitled, “Odissee. Canti e storie di mari e migranti,” (Odysseys, Songs and Stories of Migrants and the Sea) a play created by the collaboration between Gian Antonio Stella, Gualtiero Bertelli and the Compagnia delle Acque theater group.


    Masolino D’amico, famous Italian critic and writer for “La Stampa”, describes the play as “Ninety irresistible minutes of performance that every theater on the peninsula should welcome.”

    The show successfully mixes together the words of Stella with old songs as well as new ones written by Bertelli, with touching slides, and unforgettable facts.





  • Are They Really Italian??

    ...lost her appetite during pregnancy. To restore it Alfredo went to his kitchen and mixed egg noodles with parmigiano cheese and butter, creating a dish that his wife couldn’t resist.” _Little did he know that years later millions of people in the world would have loved it too. We got our answer…Fettuccine Alfredo really is an Italian dish. The original Alfredo’s restaurant is located in the heart of the historic center of Rome, Piazza Augusto Imperatore, and it has always been run by Alfredo’s family. In the ‘60s it was THE place where to enjoy La Dolce Vita; international stars like James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren used to meet there to hang out and enjoy something good to eat. In 1977, a devoted fan of the Roman restaurant, Guido Bellanca, opened Alfredo II in New York, where Fettuccine Alfredo started its rise to success. The restaurant and its staff are devoted to maintaining a high standard of extremely authentic Italian cuisine and, of course, preserving the original fettuccine Alfredo’s recipe. Fettuccine Alfredo has now become a staple in Italian-American restaurants in the United States, though in Italy, it is mostly served to American tourists. Some variations see chicken or shrimp served on top of the noodles, while Alfredo sauce is sold in food stores nationwide produced by several brands. Almost a hundred years have passed since Alfredo first created his signature pasta dish but fans continue to grow and to cherish this simple yet delicious dish. And now Mr. Bellanca, the current heir of this institution, is very passionate about promoting authentic Italian cuisine. “In my restaurant I take you back to Rome in the 1960’s through music, design, but mostly through food”.

  • Life & People

    Tutte le Little Italy

    Appassionati di cucina, curiosi, in continua ricerca di ristoranti nuovi e piatti originali ma privi di idee, non disperate, la Green Line Publishing ha pubblicato la guida che fa per voi – YOURGUIDE to the Italian Restaurants of America’s Little Italy Neighborhoods -una guida ai locali significativi di tutte le Little Italy sparse negli stati Uniti. Gli autori sono Jim Molis e Charles Kelley, specialisti in guide specializzate, hanno infatti in precedenza pubblicato una guida sui pub irlandesi non solo in giro per l’America ma anche in Europa, che si concentrano su locali e cibi etnici. Quest’anno sono passati dalla birra irlandese all’Italia. Originari di Boston, i due amici e collaboratori, sono partiti dalla nativa città per raggiungere altre mete rinomate per la bellezza e la tradizione delle loro Little Italy. Si parte quindi con il North End di Boston, per poi passare a Federal Hill a Providence, Wooster Street in New Haven, Arthur Avenue nel Bronx, Little Italy e Mulberry Street a Manhattan, South Philly a Filadelfia, Little Italy a Baltimora, Little Italy a Chicago, The Hill a Saint Louis e North Beach a San Francisco. La guida include piu’ di 250 ristoranti, ognuno presentato con una fotografia in bianco e nero, l’indirizzo complete, gli orari d’apertura ed I giorni festivi, la lista dei prezzi, I piatti forti e la sezione What’s in a name dove il nome del ristorante viene spiegato. il Cortile, 125 Mulberry Street, deve al suo nome al bel cortile situato nel retro dove e’ un piacere mangiare durante I mesi estivi, mentre Gepetto’s a Providence deve il suo nome al creatore del burattino Pinocchio nella favola di Collodi. Boston ha il primate di pagine, 35, seguita da Manhattan, 31, e San Francisco, 28. Oltre a ristoranti la guida copre panifici, bar e caffè, mercati e altri negozi di specialità culinarie.

    “La creazione di questo libro è stata un’esperienza unica. Ovviamente c’è toccato viaggiare molto. Abbiamo visto dei posti bellissimi e mangiato dei piatti favolosi, ma I nostril ricordi piu’ cari sono rivolti alle persone che abbiamo incontrato,” dichiarano gli autori, “Tra I tanti c’è Dave Grecco di Mike’s Deli nel Bronx che ci ha fatto assaggiare delle prelibatezze che non avevamo mai provato prima.” Anche se in passato sono gia’ uscite guide su Little Italy, questa e’ la prima volta che si ha un libro cosi' completo.

    Molte le curiosità – dopo un lungo ed arduo dibattito la Pizza migliore e’ quella di Lombardi’s, 32 Spring Street, a Manhattan mentre il miglior negozio di specialita’ italiane e’ l’Arthur market for Italian Specialties, 2344 Arthur Avenue, nel Bronx…fortuna nostra che viviamo vicino ad entrambi.

  • Life & People

    The Art of Gesture

    Well, for those traveling to Italy or who simply want to learn this special way of communicating, there is a helpful guide, a tiny book containing a lot of useful notions on how to speak the language of hands. Speak Italian, The Art of the Gesture by Bruno Munari published by Chronicle Books is available, for only $14.95, in all bookstores and novelty stores nationwide.

    To understand things better we must say that there are different kinds of gestures:

    Symbolic, signs that are recognized worldwide as they have a specific meaning that are socially known. Indeed everybody is familiar with the meaning of hands clapping at the end of a good show.

    Referential signs refer to specific actions that must be performed. Placing the index finger in front of one’s lips, means “shut up.” Then we have mimic gestures, where the hands describe an action, such as drinking, cutting, or reading.

    The idea of the book wasn’t Munari’s. There already was a first collection of gestures published by Andrea de Jorio in Naples in 1832. It was a volume of 380 pages of text and 19 illustrations. The original title was La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire napoletano. The book was then republished twice: first in Turin in 1958, thanks to the Carpano Society, and then in 1963 with the addition of 20 texts and illustrations. The title was changed to Il supplemento al dizionario Italiano. And this is when Munari got into the game.

    Bruno Munari is considered one of the major masters of Italian design, a true artist in a never-ending quest for new forms of expression. In his career he has shined in the visual arts, sculpture, graphic design, cinema, and more. Many know him for his “libri inutili” (useless books) for little children. His extraordinary abilities brought him to collaborate with Italy’s major publishing houses such as Mondadori and Einaudi.

    Among the many images featured in the book, we find one of Italy’s favorite gestures, “le corna” (the horns). If the hand points downward, it is a sign of good wish against bad luck as they are directing all the negative energy to the ground. While if the hand points in the opposite direction the meaning is rather different and you are basically calling a person a cornuto, a cuckold. This sign, with the latter meaning, is often seen on Italian streets performed by aggressive drivers.

    A cute one that not many people know is the sign of hunger, where the flat hand moves back and forth against one’s stomach.

    Many Hollywood films are familiar with the sign of menace where the hand moves across the neck as is to mean “I’ll cut your throat.”

    And there’s much more, more complex hand movements that say “he’s a wise guy,” or “these two are an item,” basically anything for those who want to learn a language that is not available in regular dictionaries.


  • Art & Culture

    Great Italian Americans: Sam Rodia

    This is the core of I Build the Tower a documentary written, directed, and produced by Edward Landler and one of Rodia’s nephews, Brad Byer. The film tells the exceptional story of Sam, his life and his work - the man and the artist.

    “There are three kinds of people in this world,” the shaky voice of toothless Rodia accompanies black and white images of his past, “the rich, the bourgeois, and the poor. But the poor aren’t free, and women aren’t free, they are ruled by their bosses.” All throughout the film “Uncle Sam” (that’s how many of his friends liked to call him) delivers numerous wise quotes making him not a simple immigrant nor an artist, but mostly a thinker, a sort of philosopher on the verge of madness and genius.

    Sam has something to say for everybody, from Christopher Columbus, to many American Presidents, the rich and the poor, and even himself. “I was one of the worst men in America,” he chuckles.

    But this “bad” man was loved by many that from the peace and quiet of their backyards observed him climb on his towers, and when the local authorities wanted to destroy them they all fought for the life of the so-called Watts Towers. Now they have become an important cultural center and the symbol of freedom and of the ideals of the American dream. They stand colorful in the suburban desert of Los Angeles, similar in shape and colors to the work of one of the world’s greatest architects, Antonio Gaudì.

    Rodia didn’t know the Spanish master, but the influences seem reminiscent of the spectacular Park Guell.

    Many have suggested that the towers become a symbol of Los Angeles just as the Golden Gate is the symbol of San Francisco. But would Sam want to be a symbol for the United States? - The land where he was brought by his parents when still too young to decide? These questions remain unanswered.