Last month we introduced you to Audrey, her Emilia-Romagna roots, and her love for “worm soup.” This month, we’re traveling to two other Italian regions, with Tony as our host. Read on to learn about his story (we sure wouldn’t mind sampling a batch of his nonna’s anise and sesame cookies!).
What is the story of your Italian heritage?
I am Italian on both sides of my family, my mother’s side is Sicilian and my father’s side is from Umbria. My great-grandparents were all born in either Italy or Sicily and my maternal great-grandfather came to the US as a teenage boy on his own. He eventually started his own produce business that my grandfather and great-uncles all work for. They settled in Milwaukee, and that is where I am from. I am exploring the possibility of obtaining my Italian citizenship if I qualify though it’s difficult to find all the necessary documentation. Some day I want to be able to live and possibly work in Italy.
What is your favorite Italian dish? How did you come to love it?
Wow, that’s a tough one to answer, there are so many I absolutely love. If I had to narrow it down to a couple I would say lasagna because that is what I grew up with, my grandma and parents made the best lasagna ever! We would have it for special occasions and holidays and it was always what I wanted my family to make for my birthday too. I would also say spaghetti alla carbonara is another one of my favorite dishes and this one came about from my trip to Italy in 2014. I had it in Roma and it was one of the best spaghetti dishes I have ever had! I would have eaten it every day if I could have. It has to be the real, Italian way of making it…there are so many bad imitations of it here in the US. I miss that dish! I also have some favorite sweets, tiramisu of course and torta della nonna are among my favorites, but really any Italian pastry or cookie is delicious!
Do you have an Italian nonna? If so, can you tell us more about her? Do you have any Italian food memories connected to her and your family?
I did, they are now gone however. My favorite memories including my grandma’s cooking or baking wonderful food for us to eat. Whether it was pasta, lasagna, or cookies and other treats, my memories all revolve around food and holidays. My Sicilian grandma was more of the baker and for every holiday I remember her making cookies…lots and lots of wonderful Italian cookies with anise and sesame seeds and at Easter time with hard boiled eggs in them. Every time I eat an Italian cookie with anise I am taken back to my childhood and holidays with my nonna baking her fantastic cookies. My sister and I have continued that tradition and every Easter and Christmas we bake my grandma’s cookies. My great-auntie Jo was also a wonderful baker, and though not my nonna she left me with fond memories of her tutu cookies which were possibly my favorite! We bake those too, every chance we get.
Why is it important to you to stay connected to your Italian heritage and Italian traditions?
I believe it is important to stay connected to my heritage and traditions because it’s who I am, where I come from, my history. I strongly identify with my Italian heritage and ethnicity with pride and the pride that perhaps my grandparents could not have as strongly when they were younger because they were the children of immigrants and spoke a different language, had different traditions, and were Catholic in a predominantly protestant country. There was a pressure to conform and become “more American” and even when we were kids, my grandma always seemed to feel that pressure to conform and frankly that bothers me. America has its own identity and “culture” but it’s not an ethnicity to me. I am Italian, and just happen to be born in America. I am proud of my heritage and culture and want to embrace it and share it with friends and family and connect even more to it.
Has Nonna Box brought you closer to Italy and/or your heritage? If so, how?
I believe it has, it has enabled me to experience regions beyond those that I am familiar with, Umbria and Sicily. I like that each box tells a story and shares the uniqueness of that region with us all. It has deepened my knowledge of Italy and given me an even bigger appreciation for the nation as a whole…all the while providing me with delicious food and ingredients that I can enjoy and share with others.
Why did you want to try Nonna Box?
When I first saw/heard about Nonna Box, I was very excited, I knew it would enable me to get products from all over Italy delivered straight to my door every month. It gives me the opportunity to try foods from regions of Italy that I have not yet been to. I know the quality will be great, and I love learning about the regions and what makes them special. I also enjoy the recipes and the story of a nonna each month!
Have an interesting family story that you’d like to share with us? Our founder would love to hear from you! Write him at [email protected]