My grandparents came to Manhattan from Italy. The could have gone anywhere in the United States, but they settled in Manhattan. Most of the immigrants from my grandfather’s town of Vizzini settled in Manhattan, around Elizabeth Street, so my grandfather came to a place that he knew about from the people who came before him. This is where he met my grandmother. What could be better than meeting and marrying a girl from your own town, in America?
Like many newly weds, my grandfather wanted to raise his family away from the crowds of the City and settle in a suburban area with open space like in the old country. So he came to Brooklyn, or as he and my grandmother called it, Bruculinu.
My grandfather bought a house after saving enough money from having a successful butcher shop in New York City. He took along his mother- in- law, father- in- law, one brother-in-law, two sister in-laws, not to mention his own two children, my Uncle Sal and my mother Rose. They came to Bruculinu around 1927. My grandfather didn’t always have his own business. He paid his dues, so to speak. When he first arrived here he worked digging portions of the New York City Subway system. When he was able to save enough money he opened his own business, got married, and after a few years came to the suburbs.
It really is special growing up in a house that has been in the family so long. My mother grew up in Bruculinu, and went to the same schools in the neighborhood that I did. It is also very special living in the same house as your grandparents. There were times when I didn’t believe that, especially when I was a teenager and had to answer to TWO sets of parents. But later on in life you begin to realize how special that time was. You never depended on strangers or other people to watch your children. Grandma was just upstairs. Day care? What was that? It was a different world, and not that long ago. Just a generation ago. I’m not sure we are in a better place today. Our parents and grandparents had plenty to teach us…we had plenty to learn.
Nothing on earth reminds me more of my grandparents than watching the Lawrence Welk Show. They loved that show!! Public TV airs the Lawrence Welk show here early on Saturday evenings. If I’m surfing the channels and catch it, I have to stop and watch. I’m immediately transported back to Bruculinu, sitting next to my grandfather at his dining room table, with my grandmother sitting in her arm-chair watching the champion of Champagne music. My grandfather would sit there mesmerized at the singing and dancing, as he rocked his legs together back and forth…it was a habit he had while sitting and enjoying something. He would be chewing his Black Jack gum and smoking a cigarette. The smell of licorice and smoke also reminds me of him.
Another show my grandparents love to watch was Italian Film Festival. I’m not sure if it was aired on WOR or WPIX but that was another staple of my grandparents TV viewing. As the title suggest, all the movies were in Italian with English subtitles. I used to sit and watch it with them as well. Helped me learn Italian. But I would still ask my grandmother what was going on and she would explain it to me.
My grandmother was a soap opera junkie. Search For Tomorrow, As The World Turns, or The Secret Storm, are some of the shows I remember her watching. When I was home from school I would go upstairs to their apartment. My grandmother would be doing her laundry while watching TV. I could remember the smell of laundry detergent and bleach that was coming from her washing machine, which was right next to her sink in the kitchen. It kind of went with the soap operas… the shows always opened with organ music… and the fresh smell of my grandmother’s cloths washing… it just got imbedded in my memory like that. Go figure. Till this day, when I do laundry I think of my grandmother watching soap operas.
My mother used to make this vegetable to get us kids to eat carrots. Add a good marinara sauce to anything and we will eat it. This is a great vegetable side dish, and very tasty. If you add potatoes to this you can have yourself a meal. I always like to use fresh string beans for this recipe. They are a pain to prepare and pick off the ends, something I always remember seeing my mother and grandmother doing at their kitchen table or in front of the TV. But it’s worth it. If you don’t have the time, you can always use frozen string beans. Never use canned for this recipe, God forbid!
String Beans and Carrots in Tomato Sauce
- 1 pound of fresh string beans, cleaned or 16 ounces of frozen string beans
- 4 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 ” thick
- 2 cups of San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5-6 fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- freshly grated Romano Cheese
In a medium sauce pot heat 1/4 cup of olive oil on moderate heat and saute the garlic for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes and rinse the cup with 1/2 cup of water and place in the sauce. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer. Add the oregano, basil, salt & pepper. If you have a rind from your Romano cheese add a piece of that to the sauce as well. If not you can add the Romano grated cheese later.
Add the string beans and carrots and simmer the sauce uncovered for 35 minutes, stirring from time to time. As the sauce thickens, stir more often to prevent from burning. The string beans and carrots will be cooked after the 35 minutes but continue cooking until the sauce is real thick. Be careful you do not burn it.
The carrots and string beans should be soft and tender. If you didn’t have the cheese rind, remove the pot from the heat and sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated Romano cheese over the string beans and carrots and mix well.
This dish is best served warm or at room temperature. It can even be served chilled as part of an antipasto platter.