cookbook club: Italian American

I’m ending 2021 with a special cookbook. This book was the reason I selected the theme Flavors of New York in the first place. If you’re just joining us and would like to catch up on previous or cookbooks (including previous seasons), you can catch up from the start HERE.  

Also, as our Autumn 2021 season of Cookbook Club draws to a close with this fourth book, I’d like to announce the start of our next season of  92nd Street Y and Kitchen Arts & Letters cookbook club that begins on February 1, 2022 (click that link above for more information). Our theme will be Cooking Off The Beaten Path – I’d love to have you join us live on Zoom if you’re able (click here). If not, I’ll be posting about each book as we go, so you can follow along here on Wander Eat and Tell too!

Now, back to this very important book – Italian American: Red Sauce Classics and New Essentials by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli….

autumn 2021 cookbook club featured books
all books available at

Why is this book so special to me?

A couple reasons come to mind. But first and foremost, author Scott Tacinelli was one of my favorite students ever at French Culinary Institute so long ago. Then he became my friend. Then several busy, full years passed. I traveled the world on cruise ships for a couple years then moved across the country. Scott became a respected and beloved chef in NYC. He married Angie, another amazing chef, and they opened a restaurant. That restaurant, Don Angie, won awards and earned a Michelin star, and a loyal following beyond compare. 

Then one day when I was looking for the next round of cookbooks for a new season of the cookbook club. I saw an upcoming release that made my heart burst: Scott and Angie wrote a cookbook. How could I not build the season around it? 

The other reason? I’m Italian American. I’ve dedicated a substantial part of my career and research to studying and writing about the history of Italian American food culture, especially in New York City. My master’s dissertation was about this. It’s personal. I never tire of stories of Italian American family life, traditions, and – of course, food! 

Italian American cuisine was born of the confluence of hunger, imagination, and making do with what was available. Between 1880 and 1920 most immigrants came here from Southern Italy because of hunger verging on starvation. They didn’t have a “cuisine” when they arrived. It was born here. It evolved, and continues to evolve, here. 

So, here’s to the next iteration!

about the book

Expecting another book about pasta, meatballs, chicken parm, and garlic bread? They’re in there – you may not always recognize them – but they’re in there. 

This is red sauce Italian, the sequel. It’s what happens when two Italian American chefs live on the edge of old Little Italy and new Chinatown in Manhattan and “make do” with the ingredients that are most easily available to them. 

A different kind of hunger, imagination with the power to manifest, and making do is no longer a necessity but a creative challenge. The ingredients are quite different, the chefs’ palates are more experienced, and imaginations run wild within the context of tradition.

Classic giardiniera gets a blast of kimchi. There’s no romaine in that Caesar salad – there are chrysanthemum greens under all that flurry cheese. And you really must try the persimmon caprese! 

There’s also step by step instructions with photos for making handmade pasta shapes that you may have been intimidated by without the gentle confidence imparted in the instructions. And there’s lots of sharing of old family recipes that you don’t want to miss either. 

A lot of what’s in here shows up in the rotation at Don Angie. So maybe – if you’re lucky enough to be in NYC and score a table – you’ll get the chance to try them in their natural habitat. For the rest of us, cooking from this book can get you a delicious preview.

about the authors

The introduction to the book begins with “This book is about family.” In it, you’ll meet Scott, Angie, and their big Italian American families. The stories and the photos help you feel like you’ve known them all your life – and you’ll wish you had. 

Neither of the authors is originally from NYC. Both are career-changers who chose the restaurant life, though Angie grew up in her family’s deli and bakery in Cleveland. Scott’s from New Jersey. They met working in restaurants in their adopted home, New York City. 

I’d write more here, but the full story is in the book, and it’s such a good one that I wouldn’t want to spoil it here!

the cooking part…

For each cookbook the club cooks from, I create a menu featuring a selection of recipes from the book in order to provide some structure for the prep and for our conversations. These are only suggestions, and many people experiment with whatever strikes their fancy. Here’s just a few of the recipes we chose from:

Cold Antipasti & Salads
Roasted Cauliflower and Pine Nut Spread
Grandma Rito’s Marinated Roasted Peppers
Persimmon Caprese

Hot Antipasti
Mushrooms al Forno with Fontina and Marsala
Sicilian-style Pizza Rolls

Pasta, Sauces, etc.
Smoky Chicken Ragu with Mezcal, Chiles & Olives (choice of pasta)
Spiced Lamb Ragu with Marsala and Fennel (choice of pasta)
Polenta Gnocchi with Rosemary, Honey & Toasted Sesame
Don Angie Pinwheel Lasagna

Everything Else
Mortadella and Chicken Meatballs
Shrimp Parm Meatballs
Sesame-Seared Fish with Sicilian Red Pesto
Steak al Limone
Saltimbocca-Style Fennel with Prosciutto and Fontina

Pecorino & Pecan Shortbread
Polenta Snickerdoodles
No-Bake Spumoni Cheesecake w Cherries, Pistachio and White Chocolate

notes on what we cooked

lasagna pinwheels

This is Don Angie’s most popular dish – I’m guessing Instagram has a lot to do with that. But it’s also phenomenally delicious. And now you can make it at home. And you should. We all did, and it was a crowd favorite.

persimmon caprese

I mentioned this earlier. It was the first thing I made from the book because I’d just gotten my first persimmons of the season and I couldn’t resist. This and a baguette made a decadent dinner. I’ve made it two more times since because the season is short, and this dish is that good.

steak al limone

Our group made preserved lemons as part of the previous book, Flavors of the Sun. This was the perfect way to make use of our efforts. As a diehard lemon lover, I had to have this. It’s amazing. The relish has become a regular staple in my fridge, even without steak. I’ve actually tasted the “real thing” at Don Angie, and I can say that the recipe is spot on!

eggplant parm

Think you don’t like eggplant parm? Too mushy? Too much frying? This recipe changed the minds of several people in the group whose families now welcome this satisfying hearty and not-at-all-mushy Italian American staple. There’s also eggplant parm pinwheel lasagna if you want to add some pasta to the mix and get fancy.

eggplant polpette

Or no-meat meatballs. I had some vegetarians in the group. It’s not always an easy to adapt recipes to accommodate – especially when “meat” is in the name of an iconic part of a traditional meal. Even our omnivores loved these. OK – I’m done pushing eggplant now!

homemade whipped ricotta with honey

Have you ever made homemade ricotta cheese? This recipe (and all that lasagna) gives the perfect excuse to try. This makes an absolutely decadent breakfast on warm baguette or croissant. Honestly, it makes a great dessert too!

cocoa and coffee almond cookies

The perfect crackle. The perfect flashback to your neighborhood Italian bakery – even more so if yours was Rito’s in Cleveland!

ginger & lemon ricotta cookies

Another beloved treat. One baker tried them with orange instead of lemon and loved them even more. Let me know if you try that combination!

Have you cooked from Italian American? I’d love to hear what your favorites dishes were. Leave a comment with your thoughts below!

As always, I want to thank Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore and the 92nd Street Y in NYC for creating these programs that provide great opportunities for furthering food and drink scholarship and enrichment. 

If you missed this season’s club registration there’s still time to register for Winter 2022 – registration comes with new copies of all four of the selected books shipped to you from Kitchen Arts & Letters! Our live by Zoom sessions are scheduled for February 1 & 15, and March 1 & 15, 2022

Register HERE on the 92nd Street Y website. Our theme will be “Cooking Off the Beaten Path” – I’ll be writing more about it and the four books we’ll cook from here on this blog later this month!

If you would like to catch up with the past seasons’ books, you can get started HERE.

Note: all the links in this post are here because they’re products or services I personally support. I do not receive any sort of payment for having them here. My compensation is in no way tied to your clicks, purchases, or registrations. 

Sign up for my newsletter and follow @Wander.Eat.and.Tell on Instagram to be one of the first to know when registration opens for the next season of Cookbook Club!

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