I grew up in northern Jersey. My father had a butcher shop in Newark’s First Ward, the fifth largest Italian immigrant community in America. He cut the best veal scallopini.
A good part of my childhood was spent in the kitchen with my maternal grandmother, Rosa; my Aunt Filamena; and my mother, Elena. They cooked the food of Mirabella Eclano near Naples, passed on from generation to generation.
My aunt lived downstairs from us. She married Francesco, a native of Calabria, and thereafter her cooking took on a Calabrian style – very spicy and delicious.
My paternal grandma down the restaurant served up classic Neapolitan fare and pizza in Newark’s First Ward.
I learned Sicilian cooking from my brother-in-law’s family from Catania. I still taste his father’s spicy tomato sauce with tender calamari served over linguine.
After college, and after most of the “old stoves” had passed, I started earnestly cooking the traditional dishes I grew up with, for family and friends. I’ve been a crazy cook ever since.
I like nothing better these days than to gather family and friends around the table on the hill above North Beach and eat for about 6 hours. If you come to my house, though, there’s a goal you must help achieve – We gotta drink one more bottle of wine than there are people at the table!