On the Page
The section about the Jewish immigrants addressed culinary adaptability and adoption. She wrote, "Where most cuisines are anchored to a place, Jewish cooking transcends geography. Spatially unmoored, it is the product of a landless people continuously acquiring new foods and adapting them as they move from place to place, settling for a time, then moving again."
And within the tenement was a spirit of community. "Transactions within the tenement were most often cashless. Neighbors exchanged gifts of food as part of an improvised bartering system in which the poor gave to the truly destitute, or, in many cases, to families struck by tragedy: a death, sickness, a lost job. In return for her edible gifts, the tenement homemaker received the same consideration whenever her luck was down—and no one in the tenements was immune from a run of bad luck." And "Sharing food with neighbors was standard practice among immigrants of every nationality, and in some cases, between nationalities. So, for example, an Italian housewife fed minestrone to the Irish kids who lived on the second floor, while Russians brought honey cake to the old Slovak lady across the airshaft."
While the book is well-researched - and I certainly learned a lot! - it was dry, at times, dragged a bit, and was quite long. I enjoyed the section about Ellis Island because when my grandparents (and parents) immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, they came in on a ship to the West Coast. So, they had a very different experience. Also, Ziegelman's book ends abruptly without a conclusion that ties in all of the threads of the families' stories.
There was an abundance of food mentioned in the book. But, not surprisingly, I was drawn to making an Italian dish. "In the United States today, no immigrant cuisine is more embraced by the American cook, her kitchen stocked with tomato paste, canned tomatoes, jarred marinara sauce, olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and above all pasta, mainstay of the American dinner table." It's not just that...we eat Italian food for most meals since that is the cuisine I learned to cook first!
Initially, I was inspired by this passage about snails..."In the Old Country, Italian women foraged for snails, a free source of precious protein. In America, the snail peddler became a fixture of the Italian pushcart market. His mode of advertising, unique among street vendors, was an upright board with the snails clinging to it. The bulk of his delicate stock could be found in a crate under the pushcart to keep the snails shaded and cool. Italian cooks soaked their snails in cold water, prompting the animal to inch out of its shell, then fried it with garlic, creating a savory and inexpensive topping for pasta." But, in the end, I decided to make spaghetti con aglio e olio because I had all of the ingredients in my cabinet and didn't have snails!
Ziegelman wrote that "[the] pasta recipe below comes to us from Concetta Rizzolo, an immigrant from Avellino, a town east of Naples, who settled in New Jersey in the 1910s." This is very slightly adapted from the recipe as written. I did offer parmigiano-reggiano for serving that isn't mentioned in the recipe nor, likely, something they had access to for a normal family dinner.
- 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 6 to 7 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper chile flakes
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1/2 chopped cup parsley
- Also needed: hard cheese for serving
Click to see what everyone else read in June 2021: here.