We Called It Gravy Too*

Posted November 12, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Food, Growing up Italian, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's

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I awoke to the aroma of a simmering sauce that filled the kitchen and crept into my room and onto my pillow. My ears were tuned to the sound of…plop blurp, plop, blurp. The aroma and the sounds were coming from the tomato sauce…gravy…cooking on the kitchen stove, and it meant it was Sunday.

Courtesy of Brian

I sat on the edge of the bed, wiped my eyes, got up and shuffled to the kitchen. Pajamas hanging below my feet, I stretched to tiptoes and peeked over the top of the large white pan on the stove over the small gas flame. The cover was tilted to allow the steamy aroma to escape. I used the “mopine” to lift the cover and look in, though already aware that it was the gravy for Sunday’s pasta. “Edward, what are you doing?”
The gravy was bubbling and popping, releasing with each burst a pocket of vapor with its smell into the atmosphere. Partly exposed meatballs floated along the surface like hot icebergs. A piece of bone, probably pork, was peeking through.
I shuffled like a hockey player to the pantry and the bag of Italian rolls fresh from Crugnale’s Bakery. Dad was reliable. The rolls were warm and soft. I removed one, ripped off a corner, held it between my thumb and two fingers, returned to the pan, swiped it through the gravy and held it up straight, gravy at the top.
Steam rose from the roll as the gravy cooled. To protect my fingers, I twirled the bread just ahead of the dripping lava, allowing the gravy to move to another side of the bread, cooling as it did so…a skill learned in the early years of the Italian family.  Though irresistible, it was still too hot for my sensitive, eager tongue. Test it. Touch it lightly with the tip of my tongue. OK. Ready. Cool enough.
The mass was formless, soft in my mouth, wet, moist, full bodied, and rich with the rage of tomato and the hint of garlic and basil… breaded gravy heaven. Time for another dunk, and another and another, piece after piece of bread ripped off, dunk after dunk made with the same caution, taste after taste completed for the thrill of Sunday’s gravy. “You’ll ruin your dinner”.
Now for the meatballs. I needed another corner of bread. There they were, floating; a deep brown color laced with red meant they were done. They had been fried before they were put into the gravy, and sometimes good to eat just after the frying, the simple flavors of garlic and olive oil enveloping the meatball and spilling into the bread. But today, I planned to rescue them from the gravy.
They were ripe. It seemed as if the meatball fit better into a split rather than cut bun. A spoon was sitting in the ladle next to the simmering pot. I lifted out a meatball, dropped it into the bun, and then ladled more of the deep red, shimmering, hot sauce. Blowing the steam away, I resisted the tendency to gulp it down. The meatball was firm, the bread soft and chewy, the gravy almost hot. Some of the gravy spilled out of the bun onto my pajama top. No matter.
I chewed slowly, rolled my tongue around and enjoyed the flavors of the heated, slightly crunchy meatball that married perfectly with the soggy bun and the gravy.
“You’ll ruin your dinner.” I smiled.

* From the book, “Growing Up Italian; Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories.”

Barking Cats Book Publishers


Mi Casa

Posted November 8, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Education, Italian Lore

Tags: ,

Diane and I saw this wonderful ceramic sign on the door of a house in northern Italy and thought is so emblematic of the hospitality of the Italians.

“La casa mia e’ aperta al sole, agli amici e agli ospiti.”

“My home is open to the sun, to friends and to all guests.”

Minna’s Favorite Recipes

Posted November 4, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Growing up Italian

This recipe is from Giuliano Hazan, author of Every Night Italian and
The Classic Pasta Cookbook.  He is also the son of Italian Cookbook author and cooking teacher Marcella Hazan.   This is “the” classic Sicilian pasta sauce, combining eggplant and tomato, perfect for the garden abbondanza at this time of year.  It is quick – and delicious. 
Makes 7-8 1 cup servings (I know what your thinking – who eats just 1 cup of pasta?  This recipe is from a “Cooking Light” magazine)

2 tablespoons olive oil


3 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds coarsely chopped peeled tomato (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 4 cups)
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch cubes (about 1 cup)
1 pound spaghetti

1.  Place oil and garlic in a large skillet; cook over medium-high heat 30 seconds or until garlic begins to sizzle.  Add tomato and salt; cook 15 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Add eggplant; cover, reduce heat, and cook 15 minutes or until eggplant is tender.  Stir in basil; set aside.

2.  Cook pasta in boiling water 9 minutes; drain.  Toss with sauce and cheese. Serve immediately.


Guglielmo Marconi

Posted November 1, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Education, Italian Lore, Reflections

Tags: ,

Here I am writing of Marconi again, but I do so because I am fascinated by what he accomplished. Marconi was born in Bologna and at the age of 20, and with no formal scientific education, he was able to identify the missing element that allowed his self-made apparatus to transmit a signal over a distance of several kilometers. And, he did it alone, basically in a room on the third floor of his father’s home, studying and experimenting alone…no professors taught him! His ingenuity carried the day, if you will.


Within a year, he became an international celebrity and, spending much time in England, he spoke the English language beautifully. On March 27th in 1899, he transmitted a signal across the English Channel.

in 1901, he continued his experiments on Cape Cod, Wellfleet where , as Thoreau said, the “bare and extended arm of Massachusetts, where a man may stand and put all of America behind him,”

Of course, Marconi succeed there in transmitting a signal across the pond from the Poldhu station on the English coast to Wellfleet. There is another Marconi monument in Wellfleet, dedicated in July of 1963. In 1999 Princess Elettra Marconi visited Wellfleet in recognition of the 125th anniversary of her father’s birth.  I believe that is the year that she came to Rhode Island to dedicate the Marconi monument in Cranston.

Princess Elettra Marconi

My Journal

Posted October 28, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Growing up Italian, Reflections, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's

Tags: , ,

Courtesy of Rubberball Photos

I grew up in a traditional Italian household, with our family living one floor above my grandparents in a three-decker house. I loved the Italian traditions and customs, but because I was so young when my grandparents died, much of those traditions were lost as our family became increasingly Americanized. I gave it little thought until some years later when I first vacationed in Italy. I then realized how much my Italian heritage had lapsed. My newfound pride helped me to realize the importance of that heritage and the necessity to record it.

I started a journal wherein I wrote all I could remember of the early years. I interviewed parents and family.  One day I found my grandfather’s diary, written in Italian. It further invigorated my memory. I interspersed those memories with snippets of Italian history and culture. As my four children grew older and were more able to comprehend our heritage, I put those recorded facts together and was able to comfortably discuss my childhood along with the history and customs of Italy.

The journal became my guide. I gave holiday talks to our family. The first was on Christmas Eve at our family’s feast of La Vigilia. I referred to the journal for my story and of how our tradition continued.

The snickering turned to silence and the silence turned to questions. My dissertations are now a part of the family lore.

From those notes, I have written childhood stories. Some have been published.

I regularly contribute to the journal and refer to it often.

Recipe from a Guest, Mary Ann Coletti

Posted October 24, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Food, Recipe

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This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. Simple and very satisfying. It comes out of Michele Scicolone’s book “A Fresh Taste of Italy
Spaghetti with Rubies
(Spagheti con Rubini)

2 bunches of beets (8 medium beets, about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper, or to taste
Coars salt to taste
1 pound thin spaghetti or linguine (I have also used bucatini)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F
2 Trim the tops and stems off the beets.(if tops are fresh blanch, chop and add to skillet with beets) Wash the beets under cool running water and scrub them with a brush. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until tender. (pierce with a knife) Let cool, then peel and coarsely chop the beets (dice)
3. In a skillet large enough to hold all of the pasta, combine the olive oil garlic and red pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 30 seconds, or until the garlic is fragrant and the oil is sizzling. add the diced beets (and greens if using) and turn them in the oil mixture until heated through.
4. Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Add salt and the spaghetti. Cook until the spaghetti is almoxt al dente, tender yet firm to the bite. Drain the spaghetti, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water

Michele Scicolone

5. Pour the spaghetti into the skillet with the beets. Add some of the cooking water. Simmer over medium heat, constantly turning the spaghetti with the beets, until the pasta is evenly colored about 2 minutes.
6. Serve immediately.

In the summer I always have fresh mint available. Chop a handful and add to the finished pasta. The subtle flavor of mint adds anothe layer of flavor to the dish. Enjoy!

Marconi Maritime Center

Posted October 20, 2010 by Edward Iannuccilli
Categories: Education, Italian Lore, Museum, Reflections

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The Marconi Maritime Center in Chatham, Cape Cod

Thr Maritime Center is what I wrote of in a previous post. It is in Chatham, MA, on Cape Cod and well worth a visit. Marconi chose Chatham as a site for one of his 10 wireless radio ststions planned to link America with Europe and Japan. It was built in 1914 and converted to maritime operations. It served mariners the world over until 1997. The buildings are now restored very well and unchanged in their original settings.

Guglielmo Marconi

Built by Marconi in 1914, it became the “world’s greatest coastal station ” for ship to shore communications during WWII. Visit the Walter Cronkite video of the center and its glory.

The web site is