As you all now know, I am a reality TV junkie.
I've seen about 70% of the Bachelor/Bachelorette seasons. Name a "Real Housewives of..." and I've probably seen it. Actually, I've watched probably half of the shows on Bravo.
I'm not proud of it, but those are the facts.
One of my favorites is Real Housewives of New Jersey - for the obvious reason, that NJ is my home state. And as crazy as some of the ladies on there are, I feel like I can relate to them more than any of the other Housewives.
But it worries me sometimes that people get the wrong idea about Italian-Americans... especially ones from Jersey.
Growing up, I never thought much about it. But these days, between the housewives, Jersey Shore, and even The Sopranos, I wonder - does the rest of America think we're all crazy, fist-pumping 'guidos' & 'guidettes' with weird accents and an uncle in the Mafia?
I've noticed it becomes much more obvious whenever I leave (what we call around here) the "tri-state area".
I attended college in Florida, and was in for an eye-opener when I got questions like "Oh you're Italian? From Jersey?? Is your family in the mob?"
And my response was usually an extremely confused, "Huh??" In 18 years, no one had ever asked me that question before.
Then during my senior year, I was standing outside the office of one of my Sociology professors, and she had up a map of the breakdown of most common ancestries in the US, by county. And I saw that the only counties where Italian ancestry was dominant was a small scattering in the Northeast - mainly New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
So that kind of put things in perspective for me... but it didn't make it any less disconcerting!
My dad's not in the mob. We don't give people cement shoes to sleep with the fishes.
We don't flip tables at dinner, or start fist-fights at christenings (ahem, Teresa Giudice?)
We don't gel our hair into sharp points, or 'GTL,' or fist-pump to awful dance beats.
At lunch a couple months ago, I was talking to my co-worker & friend Lou (@LouRinaldi) who has pondered this very same issue. How is being Italian-American perceived by others who don't share this background? Especially considering the way the culture is portrayed in movies and television?
And how does that affect our own sense of identity in relation to our families & traditions?
He even made what I found to be an extremely interesting mini-documentary about it (shown here courtesy of Current TV).
So naturally Lou was the first person I told when I got an email from Yummly that they were featuring my baked ziti on their blog... in a post that was entitled "The Ultimate 'Jersey Shore' Dinner (After You GTL)," in anticipation of the season premiere of Jersey Shore on MTV.
Ok. Not that The Best Baked Ziti isn't the perfect recipe to gear up for a night of Snookie & Pauly D. And I was both flattered & extremely excited that something on V&B was noticed by the writers of Yummly's blog.
But I guess it just caught me a liiiittle by surprise to see V&B and "The Situation" in the same post, especially in light of this recent conversation with Lou.
Then this past weekend, I went to my cousin George's wedding in Connecticut.
Lindsay & GeorgeAnd let me tell you something.
My family is awesome.
my cousin's fiance, my aunt, my cousin, myself, and my grandmother
The day was filled with laughter, dancing, tons of food, and so much love.
my cousin Sandi's son Dylan
my dad & George
And you know what? That's what it means to me to be Italian-American.
my cousins & I, May 2008That... and fresh mozzarella.
What?? I'm just sayin'.
- 1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 t. fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 t. minced fresh garlic
- 1 1/2 lbs. grape tomatoes, halved
- 12 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut in 1/2" cubes
- 1 lb. penne or other tubular pasta (I like to use whole wheat)
- 1/4 C. chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 t. to 1 t. sugar (depending on how sweet your tomatoes are)
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
Whisk oil, lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 t. salt, and 1/4 t. pepper in large bowl. Add tomatoes and gently toss to combine; set aside. (Do not marinate tomatoes longer than 45 minutes).
While tomatoes are marinating, bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a stockpot. Add 1 T. salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain well.
While pasta is cooking, place mozzarella cubes on a large plate or platter, and freeze until slightly firm (about 10 minutes).
Add sugar, partially-frozen mozzarella, and pasta to bowl with tomato mixture and gently toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in basil and sugar, and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and sugar. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
Recipe Slightly Adapted from Cook's Illustrated