All Aboard! Part II of “Be Italian,” A Time Travel Adventure on Papa’s Wonderful, Whimsical Train of Life!

All Aboooooooooooooooard!

Welcome back, dear ones! We gave you quite a bit of time on the train with that last intermission- it has been two years since our last post! We apologize for the extended delay, but we hope you enjoyed the glorious panoramica and had some grand adventures of your own as life rolled on between stations.

When last we were together, we shared in an amazing journey in “Be Italian- Part I,” from the ancient beginnings of “Italia” through to some of the more modern experiences our ancestors had as immigrants. If you did not have a chance to make the journey with us, please feel free to go back and take it all in – we promise we’ll wait for you!

If you did join us for the first part of the trip, then, as promised, we are now moving from the Pheonicians and the French Revolution onward to Fellini and Far Niente, and to our next stops on Papa’s wonderful, whimsical train of life.

Please take your seats, because we are about to depart for our next destination – “Sophia Loren Station,” and a trip back in time- to learn how being Italian in America went from challenging to charming!

Loren Station SignSOPHIA FOOD

Whether you are a fan of Italian food, culture, music, cinema, art, epic landscapes, monumental cities, or all of the above, how could anyone possibly resist all that Italy has to offer the world, right? Right! But alas, the love of everything Italian in America was not instantly irresistable. As with the introduction of most foreigners during times of immigration, and our unfamiliar traditions and cultures, it was a very slow evolution. Well, more of a revolution when you consider what everyone’s ancestors had to withstand and endure in order to be acknowledged, accepted and respected. The often skeptical, negative attitude that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not solely the property of American citizens toward Italian immigrants – each immigrant ethnic group also faced discrimination from other ethnic groups, ranging from minor ethnocentrism to rivalries to full-on wars. The rise of gangs was common in New York, and gangs were formed to win political elections, gain power, and better compete for and protect scarce resources, family and freedom. Martin Scorcese’s 2003 movie, “Gangs of New York” offers us a cinematic version of that late 19th century on Manhattan Island. His film primarily focused on the Irish neighborhood of the “Five Points” – but this trailer provides one view into what life was like for people in some of the rougher neighborhoods at the time.

A number of reviewers and fans criticized Scorcese and his team for exaggerating the elements of chaos and violence, but according to National Geographic News, Scorceses’s set designers reportedly took pride in their efforts to capture the “look and feel of that time in New York.”

“Holding camphor-soaked kerchiefs to their noses to ward off the stench, middle-class tourists would go “slumming” in Five Points—escorted by police—to see if the lurid tales given by reporters and missionaries were true.

‘Five Points,’ wrote one Methodist reformer, had become ‘the synonym for ignorance the most entire, for misery the most abject, for crime of the darkest dye, for degradation so deep that human nature cannot sink below it.’”

But consider the possibility that the voyeuristic perception of those “well-to-do” American tourists was just an antiquated reality show that resulted in an inaccurate, biased portrait of the actual reality. The insensitive snoops merely wanted to see firsthand if what Charles Dickens referred to as “a world of vice and misery” was true- and they then spread their biased perception freely and not always with the purest of intentions. According to the National Geographic article:

“‘Much of what was written in newspapers, tracts, and books,’ says archaeologist Rebecca Yamin, ‘was colored by religious zeal, a desire to sell papers, or plain-old fear. Middle-class outsiders then looked at this neighborhood that was teeming with activity and street people selling food, and it was frightening. They just looked from the outside and assumed it was all very bad.’”

There Was Nothin’ Romantic About Bein’ Italian

Papa told a few stories about being witness to neighborhood violence, but more often spoke freely about his experiences of being discriminated against in the Bronx. Even as a child, non-Italians would refer to him as a “dego,” a “guinea,” a “wop,” or even a “greasy Italian.” “Back den, there was nothin’ romantic about bein’ Italian.” He would say with a very serious face. He remembered his classes in grade school being filled with all different kinds of children, and he said that he had friends from different ethnic groups – some of his earliest classrooms were integrated with, in his words, “Italians, Irish, Jews and Hungarians.”

Papas Classroom

(Oliverio Archive Collection – Papa is second from left!)

Some of Papa’s best friends were Irish, Jewish, and “even Sicilians,” who were a completely separate part of the “Italian” section. (Papa went on to marry Catherine who was part Sicilian)

Papa Pyramid

Oliverio Family Archives Original – Ed Schwartz, Abe Pinowitz, Neil Oliviero, Bernie and Harry Solomon, Norman Green, Freddy Zellis

Papa had these classmates and friends, but their relationships were not always accepted by their families. Papa said there were a number of times that they were prohibited from visiting each others’ homes or neighborhoods and either had to meet on school property or on “neutral turf,” which was not so easy to find. Papa told a story of the time he finished building a bicycle he had been working on for about a year – he couldn’t afford to buy an entire a bike, so he had been finding parts, piece by piece, and it was finally complete. He brought it to visit his Irish friends in their neighborhood, and the boys were all standing around the bicycle, admiring it. Papa said an Irish police officer came by and and asked them whose bike it was. When Papa said it belonged to all of them, the officer didn’t ask any more questions. He told the friends to get home, took Papa and his bike back to the Italian neighborhood, and then took the bike! When Papa asked the officer why he had to take away the bicycle, the officer told Papa that there was no way a, “Dego kid could build a bike” and accused him of stealing it. (Apparently the officer had not yet heard of the Italian nack for mechanical engineering, design and construction!) Papa sought his revenge by eventually going on to rebuild bikes, musical instruments, sewing machines, cars, houses, and eventually entire ships at the Brooklyn shipyard.

Papa told another story of discrimination, this one more personal as it related to his first love, Ray. He referred to her with a faraway gaze as a “beautiful, strong, Polish Jewish farmgirl.” He was totally smitten and was planning on asking Ray to marry him when she told him they could no longer see each other. When he asked why they could not be together, she said her father told her it was because Papa was not Jewish. Papa was heartbroken and perplexed, and both emotions remained with him for a lifetime as he retold the story often and kept a photo of the two of them taped casually, but securely, onto his desk.

Papa’s experiences of being discriminated against stayed with him through his entire life, however he was determined not to allow them to shape his future path. He spoke of the experiences and his battles with them in the introduction to one of his poems, “Tuetego:”

“This is an angry poem. I have suffered discrimination, not as an individual, but merely for my ethnicity…I have traveled a difficult road but have overcome. Many times I think it is these very suppressions and exclusions that drove me to achieve success as a vengeance. Had I been accepted into some coveted Camelot, I might not have had the full, and in retrospect, beautifully rich, adventurous life I have had. The more arduous the task the more gratifying the success.”

The poem itself goes on to appeal to people so see the true self in another and not be clouded by prejudgment based on skin color or nation of birth:

“…Try to see what’s deep within
For there is where true souls begin
I could be less than I conceive
And yet much more than you perceive

…With true appraisal let each reflect
We are mortals we bear defect
We can together cohabitate
With love and tolerance, and not with hate

…If you are swayed by external measure
Then your judgment do not treasure
In final test, please try to see
How you would feel if you were me.”

I often reflect on Papa’s immigrant stories, experiences, and his poem as I read today’s headlines about the new waves of immigrants. And every time I do, I can’t help but recall the words that are chiseled into the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island in New York:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
~ Emma Lazarus

I can only hope that we who receive this new millenium of “huddled masses” stop to consider our own roots- because at some point within the history of time, every single one of us reading these words descended from DNA that had migrated from a different part of the planet (or even from a different part of the infinite universe*) than the one from which we were born.

*(Universal Origins Footnote: Some theoretical physicists, natural scientists and cosmologists subscribe to the theory that life on Earth originated from microscopic organisms deposited on our planet when meteors, asteroids and other carriers from other planets crashed onto Earth billions of years ago.(1) According to believers, over hundreds of millions of years these objects continued to collide with this planet and deposited their tiny inhabitants on the earth, and the organisms grew and thrived in Earth’s climate. The near-invisible creatures eventually evolved from simple, single-celled organisms such as bacteria into the complex array of flora and fauna we see around us today. All dramatically different, on the surface at least, and all descendants of immigrants.)

Moving On

Papa said that over time, many well-defined ethnic New York neighborhoods began to disperse and diversify. Some left the ethnic boroughs because they feared reprisals from the government. They “downplayed” or even hid their heritage, trying to blend into other neighborhoods, making every effort to “Be American” out of a fear of being forced to return to their homeland. Some families relocated because they learned of better or different work opportunities in other cities, states or different parts of the country, and some moved because their financial situation had improved or worsened.

As different ethnic families gained and lost resources and support, entire groups began to move away from New York. Even the Irish enclave of the Five Points eventually gave way to members of the Italian and Chinese ethnic groups, creating the areas known today as Chinatown and Little Italy. The vintage images that follow give an idea of what Little Italy looked like from the end of the late 19th century to the early 20th century: (all images are public access from the U.S. Congress print collection.)

IMAGE Bronx in Little Italy US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division IMAGE Little Italy IMAGE in Little Italy2 US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division IMAGE Festa in Little Italy

Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Leads the Way!

Papa and his family, neighbors and friends were subjected to the same discrimination as other immigrants, but they also took a special pride in “being Italian.” Other cultures took pride in their heritage as well, demonstrating and sharing traditions, foods, and holidays. But Italian was somehow different. Somewhere along the way, “being Italian” became contagious– suddenly even non-Italians wanted to do everything Italian style!

It seems like the food came first. From as early as the 1950’s, people outside of the Italian culture began eating and cooking Italian food. What American family doesn’t remember Chef Boy-ar-dee spaghetti dinners?


Here is a great, nostalgic Chef Boy-ar-dee commercial from 1953 that espouses the ease with which one could cook Italian for the whole family at only “15 cents a serving!”

Chef Boyardee

(Italian Food Sidenote: Not many know that Chef Boyardee was a real chef. His name was Hector Boiardi and he was born in Italy in 1897, and came to the United States in 1914. He joined his brother who was already working in the Plaza Hotel in New York City, and Hector quickly worked his way to head chef. He eventually moved to Ohio to open his own restaurant in Cleveland, and his food was so popular that he decided to open a factory in Milton, Pennsylvania in 1928 and sell his creations to the general public across the nation. He called it “Chef Boy-Ar-Dee” so that his non-Italian customers would be sure to pronounce it correctly)

(Chef Boyardee Fan Footnote: here is an interesting video short on how Chef Boyardee Ravioli is made today!)

With that helpful nostalgic prompt you may remember Chef Boy-ar-dee, and you may even eat it now as an adult (it’s ok, you can admit it, even the most Italian of us have resorted to opening a can of cold ravioli or spaghetti-o’s in our hungry past- most likely around the same time we stocked up on Ramen noodles!) But what about Franco American spaghetti? This was one of the first companies to try and convince Americans that they could easily, simply and cheaply cook Italian food right in their own homes:

iMAGE Franco American Sphagetti

Franco American claimed in this 1955 commerical that is was “America’s favorite spaghetti.”

Breaking Down Pasta Barriers

These companies made cooking and eating Italian food accessible, easy, and eventually familiar.

How many people can remember cutting their spaghetti into pieces so as not to slurp and make a mess? Do you remember the hotly-debated spaghetti etiquette dilemma “To spoon or not to spoon?” Forks with handles and spinning, rotating tines anyone? How many people wore a napkin or paper towel bib to dinner to try and prevent the inevitable red sauce splatter when trying to slurp up the strands? And who out there intentionally wore red on spaghetti night to prevent sacrificing yet another good shirt to the pomodoro gods? To Italians, Chef Boy-ar-dee and Franco American were not, of course, real Italian food, but to many Americans, real Italian food was still new, unfamiliar and often messy. As time moved on, however, the rise of the popularity of real Italian food was facilitated by widespread exposure of all kinds of celebrities and beautiful people- not eating American-made canned and boxed Italian dinners, but instead voraciously and enthusiastically slurping up those big, awkward, unwieldy strands of sauce-laden spaghetti.

One of the first to break down the walls of social discomfort and demonstrate the appeal of the “slurp” was Sophia Loren (whose still image alone did more for the Italian reputation than all the best spaghetti and meatballs ever served!):

iMAGE- Sophia Spagheti

And of course once Sophia Loren dug in, every lovely lady wanted to be seen slurping spaghetti!

IMAGEeating-spaghetti3 IMAGEEating Spaghetti image- sPAGHETTI lADIES

The entire country soon followed suit, as we can see from these paparazzi photos from the mid 20th century:

From Sean Connery and T.S. Elliott

iMAGE- San Connery iMAGE- TS Elliott

To The Beatles and Babies

iMAGE- Beatles image- sPAGHETTI baby

Even entire Neighborhoods embraced the pasta mania!


And spaghetti began surfacing in popular culture too – everyone remembers the scene from the movie Lady and the Tramp. When I was a child and saw the movie I didn’t realize how many funny Italian references there were in it!

Before you knew it, it was not enough to just eat Italian, families across America wanted Italian cooking in their homes and Italian cookbooks began to abound. Do you remember any of these laying around the house?


Soon everyone was Italian food crazy. Even beer companies saw it as an opportunity to unite American and Italians:


The epitome of American acceptance of Italian food had to be at the end of this scene from the Gene Roddenberry movie Star Trek- Captain Kirk even gets Spock to declare he loves Italian food!

Now That’s Italian!

As we all know, Italian food ultimately became wildly popular all over the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, Italian food is one is one of the top three ethnic cuisines in the United States. They report that 9 out of 10 Americans can recognize Italian dishes as Italian! For your drooling pleasure, here is a list of just a few of the more popular Italian specialties. Some of these began in Italy, some were adapted when Italians came to America, and some were actually created in America by Italian immigrants. How many of these do you remember? How many of these did your family cook when you were a child? How many of these do you eat now? (Pavlovian Involuntary Drooling Sidenote: Reading this list will, without question, make you hungry. If you are gluten, dairy or sugar-free, fasting, dieting or vegan, or do not have immediate access to some type of food, you may want to skip over this particular part until a later time. Consider yourself warned!)

  • Baked ziti – Ziti pasta, originally from Sicily, tube-shaped pasta similar to penne but longer, mixed with a tomato sauce, covered in cheese, and then baked in the oven.
  • Lasagna– layers of flat, wide lasagna noodles, layered with ricotta, red sauce and mozzarella cheese, and then baked in the oven. Sometimes it was called “Lasagna Bolognese” if there was meat sauce involved. In hindsight, did that dish require any description at all?
  • Polenta – A mash made of Cornmeal, in varying degrees of thicknesses, served with everything from butter to alfredo sauce to red sauce.
  • Spaghetti with meatballs – I will not make the same mistake here that I made with lasagna, especially since we just had a 13 photograph tutorial on spaghetti. I will say the sauce is sometimes prepared with a number of meats like beef bones, Italian sausage or stuffed beef rolls called braciole.
  •  Eggplant parmesan – with layers of baked or fried eggplant, mozzarella cheese and red sauce.
  • Sausage and Peppers – Italian sausage and red and green peppers, often with onions, baked until brown and sizzling in the oven.
  • Chicken (or Veal) Parmesan – fried breaded chicken or veal cutlets covered in sauce and cheese, served with pasta.
  • Alfredo sauce – An extra creamy, parmesan-drenched white sauce (made famous by a Roman chef named Alfredo di Lelio) and poured over Fettuccini.
  • Marinara sauce – a thin, red sauce with only tomatoes, no meat.
  • Bolognese sauce – a tomato-based sauce made with ground meat.
  • “Sauce” or “Gravy” – a red sauce made with tomato paste and many different kinds of meat. Usually made for holiday or other special meals and cooked forever. To this day, families still argue over whether it is called “Sauce” or “Gravy.”
  • Cioppino – a fish stew originating in America, mixed with tomatoes and wine.
  • Wedding soup – A chicken broth base with tiny meatballs and little bits of pasta.
  • Pasta e fagioli – we called this “pasta fazool” – a thick soup with white cannelloni beans and small pieces of pasta in a broth with a little bit of tomato paste.
  • Calzone – I am convinced every country has this in varying shapes and sizes. Spanish call it empanada, Indians call it Samosa, the Cornish call it Pasty, Eastern Europeans call it Knish, Brazilians call it Salgado, the Polish call it Pierogi, but wherever it’s made it’s a circle of dough, stuffed with something or everything, then folded into a half moon shape. In Italy, it’s cheese, red sauce and possibly some type of meat, or greens like rappini or escarole.
  • Stromboli – a round piece of dough, covered in red sauce, provolone or mozzarella cheese, a few slices of optional pepperoni, and then rolled into a “pinwheel.”
  • Pizza – see my explanations for “lasagna” and “spaghetti.” Of note, however, is that there are many kinds of pizza that have evolved, from thin crust to pan pizza, from New York style (based on the original Neapolitan pizza) to Chicago deep dish to Sicilian square, thick crust pizza.
  • Muffuletta – a very large, round sandwich, on a special bread that is flattened and crispy on the outside but very soft on the inside. It is filled with cheeses and deli meats, including, but not limited to, salami, ham and mortadella, and topped with an olive salad made from celery, olives, and carrot (the same mix that is in those jars of “Giardiniera” that seemed to be in the kitchen cabinet for decades) and drowned in olive oil mixed with garlic and oregano. The Italian Market on Decatur Street in New Orleans claims they made the first one in 1906. This is hotly debated. Still.
  • Italian beef sandwich—thinly sliced beef, marinated in spices and cooked so that the juices drip out. The meat is placed on a long grinder or hoagie roll, and the eater can dip the sandwich in the cup of its own juices. Native to Chicago, the sandwich may have been the result of Italian “cucina povera” (poor kitchen) cooking in which the hard-to-find beef was sliced extra thin and covered with juice to make it go further.

And of course what would Italian dinner be without Italian dessert? Here are some of the more popular sweets and treats we have all come to know and love:

  • Tiramisu – A multi-layered cake made with lady fingers and mascarpone cream, drenched in espresso.
  • Cannoli – a sweet ricotta filling in a fried pastry roll shell. Sometimes mixed with chocolate chips, sometimes covered with pistachios, always delicious, never enough.
  • Struffoli– long rolls of dough, cut into small squares, then deep fried and covered with honey, powdered sugar and possibly those teeny, crunchy, round rainbow sprinkles. Usually found at the Christmas dessert table, and impossible to eat without getting sticky honey everywhere!
  • Sfogliatelle – This dessert I described in the book on more than a few occasions: “Hearty, clam-shaped pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese.” They are made from flaky philo dough and, as with many other Italian pastries, result in pastry flakes everywhere.
  • Biscotti – long cookies, almost as hard as rocks, typically flavored with almond or anisette, and used to dip in coffee or wine.

Now if that list didn’t leave you hungry it is only because you a) have an iron will and a heart of coal; 2) stopped to order pizza delivery midway through the list; or 3) ran out the door while reading, headed to your nearest Italian restaurant, and are now enjoying a nice lasagna while I carry on on your smart phone. Before you take that next bite, did we miss anything my dear? Did we leave anything out? What famous Italian dishes were the most famous around your family’s table?

Wine, Women and Song

One Italian delicacy that almost everyone thinks of when they think of Italian food is not actually the food but the wine! Almost never excluded from the traditional Italian family table, it was usually a jug or large carafe of red table wine, and it was served at both lunch and dinner, but rarely to excess. And by “rarely to excess” I mean only occasionally on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. And perhaps Easter. And probably anniversaries and birthdays. Oh, and weddings, yes of course weddings. And now that I think of it, Sundays, as well as some Friday and Saturday nights. Ok, so sometimes wine was overserved and imbibed to excess. But even the bambinos and little ones were accustomed to drinking it, theirs diluted with ample amounts of water, of course. Italian wines have since grown very popular in the United States, with many people having heard of “a nice Chianti” (with Anthony Hopkins, some liver and fava beans, of course,) a San Giovese, a basic red vino da tavola (red table wine) or maybe a “Super Tuscan.” And Italian wines don’t even need to be imports any more, as Italian- American wineries have become very popular in the world market. Vineyards such as Ferrari-Carano, Ernest & Julio Gallo (go EJG!), Louis M. Martini, Robert Mondavi, Corrado Parducci, Rubicon Estate Winery (also known as Francis Ford Coppola,) Sebastiani Vineyards, Trinchero and numerous others have become incredibly popular.

La Dolce Vita!

Once Italian food and wine took hold and captivated the American public’s palette and stomach, then the fun really began. Along with the food and American’s waistlines, over the decades Italy as a country and a culture grew and grew in popularity in American’s minds and hearts. Of course this growth was encouraged by America’s exposure to all things Italian appearing in popular culture. We saw Italy in the early movies and on television, and eagerly listened to Italian music and Italian-American musicians.

Beginning with the movies, everyone immediately fell in love with Sophia Loren, the voluptuous Italian actress. Between 1964 and 1977 she won four Golden Globe awards for “World Film Favorite – Female.” These next two Youtube tribute videos remind us why Sophia is so deserving of our adoration. The first, from Musica Disegno has the perfect soundtrack, “You want to be American” (“Tu vuò fà l’americano” by Renato Carosone.) and features some of the greatest actors of all time. (Check out Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Peter Sellers, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, and others, “back in the day!”)

(Catchy Song Sidenote: The song, “Tu vuo fa l’americano,” originally done by Renato Carosone, was written in the Neapolitan dialect and translates into “You try to act the American.” It’s a satire about an Italian that tries to behave like an American, smoking American cigarettes, playing baseball, dancing to rock and roll, all the while still living off of his Italian Mama and Papa. It has been remade several times and appeared in a number of films, including the “Talented Mr. Ripley” in which a very young Matt Damon joins a just as young Jude Law and Italian actor/ comedian Rosario Fiorello on stage to sing their rendition.)

Another noteworthy Sophia Loren tribute, this one from AstroLab, features the Rosemary Clooney hit “Mambo Italiano,” a must listen at every Italian cooking session and impromptu dance party!

Even the world’s movie sweetheart of the time, Audrey Hepburn, who was born in Belgium, by the way, loved Italy. Well, Rome at the very least, as she starred as a runaway princess in Roman Holiday with the dashing Gregory Peck. If you have not seen it yet, I strongly recommend watching with a bottle of vino and a big plate of Italian formaggio.

Here is the trailer, entertaining in and of its nostalgic, vintage self!

(More Audrey Hepburn Please Sidenote: If you are hungry for more, here is a wonderful Roman Holiday YouTube Tribute from “val,” featuring amazing Italian scenery and set to Dean Martin’s iconic song “On An Evening in Roma.”

Movies didn’t hold the monopoly on Italy mania, though. Italy showed up in early television too. Lucille Ball had an entire “Lucy Goes to Italy” movie, with a very famous and very funny “Lucy grape stomping scene.”

Do you remember seeing it in those “I Love Lucy” reruns? If not, you might remember it from the Julia Roberts movie, Pretty Woman!

It wasn’t long before Italian cinema made it on the American scene as directors like Giuseppe di Santis, Bernardo Bertolucci, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rosselini, Francis Ford Coppola and others captivated audience’s and critic’s eyes and emotions. Here is a clip from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, one of the most famous scenes in film history – Anita Ekberg as Sylivia, and Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello wade into the Trevi Fountain in Rome:

As you can see from these film and television examples, Italian and Italian-inspired music played a key role in the world’s crush on everything Italian. Musical artists like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Connie Francis, Tony Bennet and many others wrote, recorded and performed music that we all know, love and still listen to today. For a list of my and Papa’s favorite old time Italian and Italian-American tunes, check out our past blog, “Aniello Agostino Oliviero’s Infinity Symphony in G Major” and scroll to the bottom of the post to the “Musical Recipe of the Month.”

These examples of early popular culture are historical and show how the public embraced Italy back then, but even now Italian references show up in Moden popular movie and music culture – Two of my favorites are the song “Be Italian” by Fergie from the movie 9 (This video is from director Rob Marshall, and features Fergie as the Italian Prostitute, “Saragina:”)

And this modern musical rendition of one of my all-time favorite Italian songs, this version by the Gypsy Kings:

I think that last song sums up this part of our journey beautifully, don’t you my dear? Here is the chorus of “L’Italiano” in both Italian and English:

Lasciatemi cantare
con la chitarra in mano
lasciatemi cantare
una canzone piano piano
lasciatemi cantare
perché ne sono fiero
sono un italiano
un italiano vero

and in English:

Let me sing
with a guitar in hand
Let me sing
a song, slowly, slowly
Let me sing
because I am proud
I am an Italian
A true Italian.

The Italian immigrants, like so many immigrants of past and present, walked a very long road to become accepted in their new country. And in doing so they not only managed to hold onto their pride, traditions, customs and beliefs, they graciously shared them with others as well. Being Italian in America may have initiallly been incredibly challenging, but, as Papa predicted, it wasn’t too long before the whole world became charmed by the culture, people and place. Being Italian in America may not have always seemed romantic on the outside, but those with the romance inside their hearts and minds managed to keep it alive and well for the rest of us.


If this post left you longing for a piece of Italy, don’t worry! Papa’s train is ready to depart Sophia Loren station for our next and final stop on this particular tour, “Be Italian!” station, where we will give you all kinds of ways you can satisfy your Italian cravings, from making a great Italian meal and watching a favorite Italian film, to learning the Italian language, visiting Italy or even moving there! And you will meet three wonderful Italian-Americans, Leila, Lisa Marie and Jill, who will introduce you to their Nonnos and Nonnas and reminisce over their best memories of being part of an Italian-American family in America.

Grazie mille, my friend, for spending the time with us on today’s adventure. Until the next time we meet, enjoy the food, the wine, the love and life! It’s the Italian way. Ce vediamo prossimo mese! See you next month!

Recipe of the Month- A Special Dedication to the Earthquake Victims


As I was writing this post from Calitri, Italy, my neighbors in the central Italian villages of Amatrice, Norcia, Accumuli, Arquata and Pescara del Tronto were being devastated by a series of earthquakes, the first of which occurred on August 24th. The earthquakes took place only a few days before the town of Amatrice was to celebrate its 50th annual food festival, “Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana.”

The town of Amatrice is known worldwide for its famous dish, one that is offered on the regular menu in many Italian restaurants. In response to the events, food blogger Paolo Campana made a plea for some of the sales proceeds of those dishes to be donated to the villages. Over 600 restaurants in Italy alone participated. Others suggested that instead of eating out, families and friends might cook at home, and send the money they would have spent to disaster relief funds such as the Red Cross. The website “Divina Cucina” did a great job of respectfully providing information on the events and what we can all do to help, including a recipe for the original Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Here, in honor of and reverence to those in the region that were impacted by the disaster, we humbly offer our version.

Vegetarian Pasta All’Amatriciana


1 Pound of fresh spaghetti from the refrigerator section of your grocery store (some people like Bucatini, but the authentic recipe calls for spaghetti)

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 half moon cloves of garlic, chopped (the original recipe does not include garlic or onion, but we will add it here to add flavor since we are not including the “guanciale” pork.)

1 1/2 teaspoons of hot red pepper flakes

3 cups of finely chopped tomatoes

1/2 to 1 cup very small cubes of Pecorino cheese

1 cup grated Pecorino cheese

1 teaspoon of sea salt, extra set aside to taste

In a cooking pan, sautee the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt on low heat. When garlic begins to lightly brown, add tomatoes and stir together. Partially cover with lid or screen lid, allowing moisture/ steam to escape. Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, then lower to low heat to simmer for 30 minutes. If the heat is too high and the sauce cooks down too much you can add a 1/4 cup of red wine to the sauce. Boil the pasta as directed. Strain to remove all water and quickly rinse with fresh water to prevent further cooking. Place into a large bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking. Throw the Pecorino cubes in the simmering tomato sauce and stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour sauce onto pasta and mix again. Top with the grated parmesan and additional salt as you wish. Enjoy. Grazie mille, Amatrice. Che Dio sia con Lei.






1. For more details, read the Wikipedia entry for “Panspermia”