Flipping through the channels the other night, I ended up watching Lidia Bastianich making meatballs on her Italian cooking show. Lidia’s homey recipes and thick Italian accent reminded me of the Italian side of my family.
When I was very young, my parents drove us from our home in Queens to visit relatives in Brooklyn once or twice a year. My mother’s paternal grandfather and a host of Uncle Tonys and Aunt Marys always greeted us warmly. The hallways of their four-story brick row house smelled of freshly simmering tomato sauce. Different family members lived in apartments on each floor. A pigeon coop was up on the roof.
My great-grandfather had emigrated from Italy in 1900. After working in construction for decades, a fall off of scaffolding left him severely injured. I remember a pleasant, smiling elderly man sitting up in bed. Aunt Mary spoke to him in Italian. He always handed one dollar each to my brother and me at the end of our visit. We stopped making the trek to see the Italian relatives after my great-grandfather passed away.
My next Italian immersion experience growing up was on Saturday afternoons. My brother and I tagged along when my dad drove to Mercurio’s, the Italian deli located a couple of blocks from our elementary school. The minute you opened the front door—wham!—the pungent smells of cheese and curing meats let you know that this was not the supermarket or the German deli down the street. I remember gazing up at the salamis and sausages hanging from the ceiling. The counters and shelves were overflowing with chunky breads, bottles of olive oil, antipasto salads, trays of olives, and freshly made mozzarella balls. I liked the tiny licorice candies that you scooped up out of a barrel.
We ate typical American food for dinner in my house—steak, pork chops, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, turkey, and meatloaf. My mom was a good cook. Sometimes she made baked ziti or stuffed shells for Sunday dinner. A couple of times a year, Mom made a fantastic lasagna filled with Italian sweet sausage, ricotta, mozzarella cheese, and meat sauce. That delicious lasagna took hours for Mom to make, yet mere minutes for us to devour!
The first few years that I lived in Manhattan after college, I remember going down to Little Italy for the San Gennaro festival. I stopped going when the crowds became so overwhelming that I felt trapped inside a wall of hungry humanity inching towards the zeppoli vendor. A gelato or cappuccino here or there was my only semblance of Italian food after that.
These days, my connection to Italian food is when I eat a slice of delicious garlic pizza at La Familia in Katonah or indulge in a few Perugina Baci chocolates (dark chocolate covered hazelnuts).
Imagine my delight upon stopping by Nico’s Italian Deli on Route 123 in South Salem. Longtime Lewisboro residents, owners Linda and Lou Iacomini, along with Lou’s brother, Anthony, offer Italian specialties and Arthur Avenue breads. All of the food is made on the premises, including the homemade tomato sauce. Italian combos, chicken cutlets and eggplant parm are among the deli’s most popular sellers. “Everybody loves our chicken cutlets,” says Lou proudly. “We’ve been feeding the community for 20 years.”
Stop into Nico’s Italian Deli to pick up lunch or ask them to cater your next party. The Iacomini family will make you feel like you have Italian relatives, too.
Kim Kovach enjoys writing about food. She also likes to write about gardening, interesting people and unusual experiences. Learn more at kimkovachwrites.com.