9.24.2014

365 Project Day 267: On New Orleans' Food Influences: Italian and Sicilian

Italians and Sicilians both came to New Orleans in droves in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  (Yes, Sicilians are Italian, but it's different.  I promise.)  Like many New Orleanians, my immediate family on my mother's side came from Contessa Entellina, a small village in Palermo, Sicily - many of the residents of which actually trace their lineage to Albania.  I have numerous cousins (second, third, first once removed, and so on) haling from further north on the boot.  Family names include Grisaffi, Ragusa, Cangelosi, and Castrogiovanni.

We are all over Nola.  But how did our ancestors impact our food culture?  Well.  We've talked before about muffulettas, and Brocato's, and St. Joseph's altars, and Italian ices  and Roman candy - are you seeing a trend?  Italians came here so prolifically (and long enough ago) that Italian culture has permeated the city.  Italian families owned little groceries like Central all over town - my great grandparents included.  And of course, these immigrants bought with them tomato sauce and pasta, which are now ubiquitous.

While Italians north of the Alps were historically more wealthy and drowned pastas in cream sauces, further South tomatoes were the thing - since the 1500s at least, when nightshades were brought back from the "New World."  Existing creole cooking techniques were applied to Sicilian sauces, and red gravy was born.  However, many Sicilian families refused to adopt the roux-based tomato sauce, and stuck with their traditional sauce-making ways.  My (Irish) grandmother on my dad's side made red gravy; my second-generation Sicilian mother was appalled.

Sadly, many restaurants in Nola today cook their red gravies or traditional tomato sauces with meat or meat stock, so options for eating out are limited, particularly at old-line restaurants like Venezia in Mid-City.  You can visit Louisiana Pizza Kitchen for a meal with a decidedly Italian slant if you care to go out - they've even got vegan desserts for you.

For today's taste adventure, we're staying home with items we obtained from Hollygrove Market.  The sauce made by New Orleans Tomato Company isn't nearly as good as my mama's, but you can only expect so much from a jar.  It's pretty good for a jar though, made as it is with locally grown Creole tomatoes and herbs, and a short ingredient list.  As for Esses, this handmade pasta doesn't contain eggs and is brought to you via the area's farmers markets from a local chef.

How easy it can be to have a traditional, vegan, Italian meal with locally sourced products.




1 comment:

  1. Oooh that tagliatelle looks fantastic, I'm making pasta for dinner this evening but not with fancy fresh pasta!

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