Friday, January 12, 2018


Friday, November 10, 2017

Friends in the Kitchen: Manacotti

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Miraculous History of Italian Pasta by Marino De Vito (as translated by Torre DeVito)
Good morning everyone, my name is Marino De Vito and I would like to discuss this wonderful Italian dish (with thanks to "Mediterranean Diet" for all their help).

We begin with a brief history of pasta. It's origin is one of the most obscure in the history of food. Its roots are as old as agriculture, because at its most basic, it is simply water mixed with milled cereal grain. You can get flour (farina in Italian, from the latin far) from many different cereal grains, although the most common is wheat. When man learned to grow grain, grind it for flour, mix it with water, and dry it in the sun to preserve it, bread and pasta were born. Pasta was probably developed in different parts of the world in parallel. There are theories that establish pasta's origin in  in China, India, the Arab world and the Mediterranean. The earliest references to pasta are from 4000 BC in China but both Arabs and Greeks also developed similar products.

Pasta refers to any food prepared with flour mixed with water, to those simple ingredients you can add salt, egg or other ingredients, forming a product that is usually cooked in boiling water. Though the flour from any cereal grain may be used for this purpose, most of Western recipes follow the Italian tradition and use wheat flour (Triticum durum); In the East other flour is more common such as buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and rice (Oryza sativa).

There are many theories about how Italians discovered pasta. Some researchers advocate that it was dicovered by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century, who could have introduced it to Italy upon returning from one of his trips to China in 1271, but more recent research confirms that the oldest references to pasta in Italy dates back to 1152, a century before Marco Polo alleged discovery. In the chapter CLXXI "Books of Wonders of the World", Marco Polo refers to the pasta in China. For others it goes back much further, to ancient Etruscan civilizations, elaborated by the crush or crushing of various cereals and grains mixed with water, then boiled and resulting in a tasty and nutritious food. When the Greeks founded Naples they adopted a native dish that was made with a a paste of barley flour and water then dried in the sun called "makaria". In ancient Rome, there are also references of pasta, dating from the third century BC. In fact, Cicero, the Roman politician and orator, speaks of his passion for the "Laganum" Latin for "Laganas" which are long strips of pasta. At that time the Romans developed instruments, tools, procedures - machines - to prepare these noodles that we now call "Lasagna". From there,pasta has become ever more popular due to its ease of transport and storage. Meanwhile the Roman empire was expanding which encouraged the cultivation of cereals throughout the whole Mediterranean basin.

Today noodles can be found anywhere, but pasta, that's Italian!

Editors note: This article was original published in Spanish on

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lentils and Sausage for New Years!

Our new years meal has often been black-eyed peas and collard greens. Down here in the South-Eastern United States this combination is supposed to bring luck and money for the new year, but in Southern Italy it is lentils for the New-years meal, the little lens-shaped beans  look a bit like coins, some argue, and thus they are supposed to bring wealth. I don't know about all that, but I do know I love them! My Italian grandma   used to make them with carrots, celery, onions,  and of course garlic, and she would serve them with fresh Italian bread, extra-virgin olive oil, and freshly grated Parmigiana or Locatelli cheese. We'd grate in the cheese, drizzle on the oil, and Dad would crack some fresh peeper on his. Oh, I can almost taste it now! On rare occasions my grandma would add a few sweet Italian sausages halved lengthwise to the pot to flavor the lentils. Here is the recipe:


1 1/2 cup dried lentils, washed and drained
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halves
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (Optional)
1 medium carrot, chopped (I like to leave them as little rounds)
4 cups beef broth
3 cups water
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 small bay leaf
1 Pinch thyme
1 Pinch oregano
In a large soup pot, combine lentils, garlic, onion, celery, and carrots. Stir in beef broth, water, tomato paste, paprika, pepper, bay leaf, thyme and Oregano. Simmer, covered, about one hour or more, until lentils are soft. Optionally:cut sausages in half lengthwise (or cut into 1/2 inch slices crosswise on the bias) and add to soup before cooking.


Lentils are "lenticchie" in Italian, and early Italian anatomy students first named the lens of the eye the "lenticchie" because it was shaped like a lentil, and in fact this is where the word "lens" first came from.

Before the American Civil War, lentils were planted as a secondary crop in the south, the alternate rotation with wheat because they release nitrogen into the soil. When Sherman made his march to the sea fields of lentils were lost but fields of black-eyed peas, little more than feed for livestock, were ignored as Union troops destroyed or stole other crops. I can find no proof of it, but perhaps there was a tradition of eating lentils on New year's Day that switched to black eyed peas after the Civil War, and that tradition of eating black eyed peas or lentils? It's Italian!

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Punch in the Bread Basket -or- How Pancetta Got Its Name

It's Christmas season, and I'm sitting in Panera Bread, and I've just been to Capri Flavors  where my friends the Vuotto's run a wonderful Italian import business, and there the shelves were piled high with  a Christmas sweet-bread called Panettone and I began to think. I wondered if "Panera" was derived from "panare", the Italian word for bread... and then I wondered, does the "Pane" in Panettone" mean bread? And wait, Hayden Panettiere the actress, "panettiere" means baker, she must  be descended from Italian bakers... and Panzanella is a Tuscan Bread and Tomato Salad.  This odd stream of consciousness led me to wonder: "where in the world did pancetta, a sort of Italian bacon, get its name?"

Well before I answer that, let me tell you a little more about panettone and pancetta.

Panettone is the Italian version of fruitcake or stolen, it is more bread-like than fruitcake is, and lighter than either fruitcake or stolen, but it often has fruit in it (though less than either fruitcake or stolen). I can also tell you that panettone has no place in my memory as having anything to do with my family traditions, other than lining the shelves at the deli on the corner of the street I grew up on in Manhattan.

Though I called pancetta an Italian bacon, it has one major difference. Most American bacon is smoked. Italian bacon, on the other hand, is cured with salt, and sweet and savory spices, and then it is dried. My favorite use of pancetta is in pasta carbonara. Here is how I make pasta carbonara:


1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound pancetta, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced, about 1 teaspoon (optional)
3-4 whole eggs
1 cup grated parmigiana cheese
1 pound fettuccine
Salt and black pepper to taste

While the pasta water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook on a low heat till crispy. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then turn off the heat and put the pancetta and garlic into a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs and mix in about half of the cheese.

Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta, and cook, uncovered. When the pasta is still a little firm (al dente - when it sticks to the wall you throw it at) , use a spagheti comb to move it to the bowl with the pancetta and garlic. Move the pasta quickly, so it stays hot; the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs sufficiently to create a creamy sauce. Toss the pasta like a salad to mix it, then add the egg and cheese mixture and toss quickly to combine once more. Add salt to taste.

Serve at once with the rest of the parmigiana and freshly ground black pepper.


As it turns out, the "pan" in pancetta has nothing to do with bread... or does it? Pancetta is an Italian cured meat made from pork belly, and the Italian word for belly is pancia, so pancetta means something like little belly, but wait a minute...  pancetta sounds like "pane cesta"  which means "bread basket" (though it would be rendered cesta de pane) and paniere, paniera the other forms of basket are very close to "panare" and "pancia". No wonder the belly has been nick-named "the bread basket" - it's Italian!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Italian Protestant Town in North Carolina?

In the United States, especialy here in the south, it is not unusual to find Protestant Italians, but most of them converted from Catholicism long after immigrating here. Imagine my surprise when, on a recent trip to Asheville, I pulled off of the road in the Town of Valdese, North Carolina, only to discover a whole town full of Italians descended from Protestants that had imigrated from the Waldensian Valley in the Piedmont region of Italy. The Alpine valley in Italy and the town in North Carolina were both named after the Waldensian (aka Valdensian) Movement, a movement that started in Lyon, France in the late 1170s, as a reform movement within the Catholic Church. Waldenesians advocated a return to the vows of poverty and preaching of the Gospel.

In 1184, the Catholic Church officially declared the movement heretical, and the Waldensians were persecuted by armies from both the governments of Italy and France and by officials of the Catholic Church. Because of this Waldensians fled to various parts of Europe, including Italy, putting down particularly deep roots in the Piedmont region of Italy in a Valley of the Cottian Alps that has come to be known as the Waldensian Valley, where they remained secluded until they received some degree of religious freedom with the Edict of 1848.

With the new-found tolerance their numbers grew, and in the late 19th century many Waldensian migrated to the United States settling in New York City, Chicago, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and here in  North Carolina.  The group of Waldensians that immigrated to North Carolina crossed the Atlantic on the SS Zaandam, a ship of the Holland-America Line, and arrived in Burke County via train on the Salisbury-Asheville line of the Richmond & Danville Railroad on May 29, 1893. Eleven families formed the first group. They were led by the Reverend Charles Albert Tron, who came to help them launch their enterprise, and to return to Italy once the community was established.

The immigrants founded the Valdese Corporation with a charter granted by the State of North Carolina and purchased about ten thousand acres of land near the Catawba River in eastern Burke County  from the Morganton Land Improvement Company. On June, 18th additional settlers arrived from Utah, and on August 23rd, six families of 14 persons came from Italy aboard the SS La Bretagne, and on November 23rd, 52 families totaling 161 persons, crossed the Atlantic from Italy on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, and joined the original group. Their settlement, the Valdese settlement, became the largest Waldensian settlement in the world located outside of Italy, and the town of Valdese North Carolina grew up in the midst of it.

A Protestant movement begun in France in the middle ages that led to a settlement in North Carolina, might be unexpected, it might even seem strange, but whatever else it is, it's Italian!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Italian National Anthem

I have never seen an understandable translation of the Italian National Anthem into English. Here is my attempt:

In Italian: 

Inno di Mameli

Fratelli d'Italia, 

L'Italia s'è desta; 
Dell'elmo di Scipio 
S'è cinta la testa. 
Dov'è la Vittoria? 
Le porga la chioma; 
Ché schiava di Roma 
Iddio la creò. 

Stringiamci a coorte! 
Siam pronti alla morte; 
Italia chiamò. 

Noi siamo da secoli 
Calpesti, derisi, 
Perché non siam popolo, 
Perché siam divisi. 
Raccolgaci un'unica 
Bandiera, una speme; 
Di fonderci insieme 
Già l'ora suonò. 

Stringiamci a coorte! 
Siam pronti alla morte; 
Italia chiamò. 

Uniamoci, amiamoci; 
L'unione e l'amore 
Rivelano ai popoli 
Le vie del Signore. 
Giuriamo far libero 
Il suolo natio: 
Uniti, per Dio, 
Chi vincer ci può? 

Stringiamci a coorte! 
Siam pronti alla morte; 
Italia chiamò. 

Dall'Alpe a Sicilia, 
Dovunque è Legnano; 
Ogn'uom di Ferruccio 
Ha il core e la mano; 
I bimbi d'Italia 
Si chiaman Balilla; 
Il suon d'ogni squilla 
I Vespri suonò. 

Stringiamci a coorte! 
Siam pronti alla morte; 
Italia chiamò. 

Son giunchi che piegano 
Le spade vendute; 
Già l'Aquila d'Austria 
Le penne ha perdute. 
Il sangue d'Italia 
E il sangue Polacco 
Bevé col Cosacco, 
Ma il cor le bruciò. 

Stringiamci a coorte! 
Siam pronti alle morte; 
Italia chiamò 

In English:

Mameli's hymn

Brothers of Italy,
Italy awakes;
And fastens the helmet 
Of Scipio on her head.
And Victory, Where is she?
Let her shave her head,
For what a slave of Rome
Hath God made of her.

Let us join together,
Ready to face death;
Italy calls us!

For centuries we have been
Downtrodden and derided,
For we were not a people,
We were divided.
Let one flag, 
And one hope;
Join us together.
The hour is already here. 

Let us join together,
Ready to face death;
Italy calls us!

Let' us unite and love one another;
For this unity and love
Reveals to the people
The ways of the Lord.
Let us swear to liberate
the native soil:
Under God, United, 
Who can defeat us?

Let us join together,
Ready to face death;
Italy calls us!

From the Alps to Sicily,
Everywhere is the battleground
And every man a defender
With their hearts and hands;
The children of Italy
are called "little soldier";
The sound of the trumpet
Is our daily call to prayer.

Let us join together,
Ready to face death;
Italy calls us!

We are the reeds that 
Will bend the mercinary swords; 
Already the eagle of Austria
has lost its feathers.
It drank the blood of Italy
and the blood of Poland
It drank with the Cossacks
But its heart was burned. 

Let us join together,
Ready to face death;
Italy calls us!

Some notes:

Scipio refers to Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (Scipio the African AKA Scipio the Great) (236–183 BC)  A general in the Second Punic War  who defeated Hannibal. 

I took some liberties with this verse:
Dall'Alpe a Sicilia, 
Dovunque è Legnano; 
Ogn'uom di Ferruccio 
Ha il core e la mano; 
I bimbi d'Italia 
Si chiaman Balilla; 
Il suon d'ogni squilla 
I Vespri suonò. 

Legnano is a specific historical battlefield, I translated it as Battleground.
uom di Ferruccio is "the men of Ferruccio", a specific captain, I just call them defenders.
Balilla was a nickname for Giambattista Perasso who was a child from Genova that fought in the 1746 people's revolution of Genova against the Austrians. Without the historical context i felt it would be more understandable as "little soldier"

To hear Inno di Mameli in Italian, visit:

Inno di Mameli, like it or not , it's Italian!