While into the American melting pot went Italian foods, they held their own

January 30, 1991|By Gerald Etter | Gerald Etter,Knight-Ridder News Service

Something happened to Italian food on its way to American citizenship, says Nancy Verde Barr. It adapted, recipes changed names, new ingredients were added and others were discarded.

But overall, good Italian cooking prevailed.

Ms. Barr, a professional chef and food writer, documents these changes in "We Called It Macaroni" (Knopf, $21.95). An interesting look into America's heritage of southern Italian cooking, the book has 250 recipes from those delicious appetizer toasts called "crostini" to stove-top chicken made with green olives and anchovy fillets.

The various dishes reflect the foods enjoyed by the "paesani" (fellow villagers) who settled together in the new country. As an extended family, they did their best to reproduce the food of a homeland they had left.

Ms. Barr details the life of the Italian immigrant as it revolved around daily eating habits. She documents the evolution of Italian-American cooking from the early days of pushcart shopping to today's sophisticated line of Italian foods.

Those familiar with southern Italian cooking as practiced in the large urban centers will discover how it came to be. Long-simmering tomato sauces became necessary because canned tomatoes were more available than the fresh; veal Parmesan -- nonexistent in Italy -- was created to satisfy the cravings of a meat-eating nation.

The book covers the subject from appetizers through soups, pastas, main courses, vegetables, breads, pizzas and sweets. Each chapter treats its subject with detailed information. Here are some recipes:


Spaghetti VesuviusMakes 6 servings.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small onion, minced

1 tablespoon chopped hot red pepper or 1/2 teaspoon dried

10 fresh plum tomatoes, about 2 pounds, peeled, left whole, stems removed

salt to taste

pinch of sugar

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped basil

1 pound spaghetti

Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and hot pepper in a large saute pan. Cook until the onion is completely softened but not browned. Cut the tomatoes in half from top to bottom. Do not remove the seeds or juice. Put in the pan, cut side up, and cook over medium-low heat five minutes. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of sugar. Carefully, so as not to break the tomatoes, turn them over. Place in a 225-degree oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Sprinkle the tomatoes with parsley and basil and continue to cook 30 minutes, basting with pan juices from time to time. Cook the spaghetti in 5 quarts of boiling salted water until "al dente." Drain and put into a pasta dish. Pour the tomatoes over. Toss together before serving.


Crostini (appetizer toasts)

Makes 8 servings.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

16 slices Italian bread, 1/2 -inch thick

16 slices mozzarella cheese, 1/4 -inch thick

32 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry, chopped

enough fresh plum tomatoes, about 4, to yield 16 thin slices

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the oil on one side of the bread slices and place oiled side up on flat baking sheet. Cover each piece of bread with a slice of mozzarella, sprinkle with chopped anchovy and top with a slice of tomato. Brush with more oil and spinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 10 minutes.


Chicken with green olives

Makes 6 servings.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds, cut in 8 serving pieces

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

1 bay leaf

2/3 cup pitted and quartered green olives, about 1/4 pound, preferably

Sicilian, but any brine-cured olive will do

6 anchovy filets, rinsed and chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a saute pan. Pat the chicken pieces dry and add to the pan. Brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and remove from the pan. Discard all but 3 tablespoons of fat from pan. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook until softened.

Return dark chicken meat to the pan, add the vinegar and cook on high heat one minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add oregano and bay leaf and simmer 15 minutes, adding a few tablespoons warm water if the pan becomes too dry.

Return the chicken breasts to the pan. Gently fold in the olives, cover and cook 15 minutes. Fold in the anchovies and parsley and heat five minutes.


Steak pizzaiola

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 pounds beefsteak (rump or round) cut in thin slices

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups canned tomatoes, drained and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup red wine (optional)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Pound the slices of steak until they are no more than 1/8 inch thick and of even thickness. Put the oil, onion and garlic in a frying pan and cook over medium-low heat until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a side dish and reserve. Increase the heat and brown pieces of steak on each side, one to two minutes. Remove the pieces as they brown and keep warm.

Return the onions and garlic to the pan. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and wine. Increase the heat and allow to simmer rapidly until the oil and tomatoes separate, about 15 minutes. Stir in the oregano and return the steaks to the pan. Cook five to 10 minutes, or until the steaks are done.

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