In late 2021 I fell in love with a relatively obscure dish, Pasta alla Norcina. Unknown to many in the New York metro area as it deviates from the red sauce-heavy dishes found in most of our local restaurants, it was clear I needed to create an instructional video and recipe to help bring this recipe to our audience. Doing so was not without its challenges.

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Pasta alla Norcina hails from the town of Norcia in the southeastern part of Umbria, the region nestled in the center of Italy and bordered by Lazio, Tuscany, Marche, and Abruzzo.

The town itself is known for its pork, and the sausage used for pasta alla Norcina, salsiccia di Norcia.

This sausage consists of pork, garlic, white wine, and a touch of nutmeg – nothing like the fennel or spicy sausages more commonly found near my home on Long Island.

Black truffles can also be found near Norcia making them a component of this dish, when in season.

The scarcity and impracticality of these ingredients make it next to impossible for the everyday person to create a truly authentic version of this dish.

In my effort to help shine a spotlight on pasta alla Norcina, I soon realized I had to find ways to improvise and make do with the ingredients available to me.

In this episode, we discuss why pasta alla Norcina is relatively unknown in the US and go into greater detail on the challenges the ingredients present.

We talk through and provide solutions to the ingredients and discuss how best to recreate as authentic a dish as possible for you, the home cook.

Large wooden spoon with paccheri alla norcina.

If you enjoyed the Pasta alla Norcina – Balancing Authenticity with Practicality episode, leave us a comment below and let us know!  

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James (00:00):
Welcome back to the Sip and Feast podcast. Today we’re going to talk about one of Italy’s most underrated pastas. I don’t know if that’s right. I think every region of Italy thinks that they have the best pasta dishes. So, probably it could be what I would say Americans would think is one of Italy’s most underrated pasta dishes. That’s probably a more accurate statement, right, Tara?

Tara (00:23):
I think the reason we would assign the word underrated to this pasta is because it’s not found here in the US. For us, it’s underrated because we haven’t heard enough about it.

James (00:36):
That makes sense completely. So, not to beat a dead horse, but the immigrants that all came to America from 1900 to 1920, it’s like five million of them. Almost all of them came from … everybody knows Sicily, Naples, Calabria, Southern Italy, and they didn’t come from the area that the dish we’re talking about today, which is pasta Norcina, which is Umbria.

Tara (01:00):
That’s right.

Pasta Norcina background

James (01:01):
So, Tara, give people a background on this dish, so our listeners can actually picture what we’re talking about and where we’re talking about.

Tara (01:09):
Norcia, which is where pasta alla Norcina comes from, is a town in the southeastern part of Umbria, which is the region that is north of Rome, but south of Tuscany. So, somewhere kind of like in the middle of the country, certainly not where most of the Italian immigrants came from in the immigrant waves in the late 1800 and early 1900. And Norcia is actually famous for its pork.

James (01:43):

Tara (01:43):
Were you aware of that?

James (01:44):
I am aware of that, but I don’t think our audience is, so go on.

Tara (01:50):
Okay. The pork that is used, or the sausage, I should say, the sausage that is used for pasta alla Norcina uses a sausage that’s really just found in Norcia and it’s called salsiccia di Norcia. It’s different from Italian sausage known here in the US in that it’s made with garlic, white wine and actually a touch of nutmeg.

Large black pan with finished pasta alla norcina.

James (02:17):
That sounds like a great one. And places here at the specialty stores that we go to, that we frequent, they will have 10, 15 different types of sausage, especially those Italian specialty stores. But I don’t ever remember seeing a sausage like this there. Have you?

Tara (02:36):
No, not at all. Not at all. And I think what we’re going to get into in a little bit are some of the challenges when making pasta alla Norcina, and this is certainly one of them, but we’ll talk about how you can navigate those challenges and make adaptations to make the dish at home.

James (02:55):
Yeah, we’ll talk about that and a little backstory on this dish. The reason we wanted to tell you about this one, and I think we’re going to do a lot of these where they’re recipe-focused, these episodes, for the future, we want to make them topically relevant to you where right now it’s getting cool out. This is the time of year you would be making this one.

Why are we picking this one? This one had a big effect on us in the sense that it was one of the first videos that actually did really well for the channel. I think even to this day, our video probably has substantially more views than any of our competitors’ on YouTube. And I think part of that is simply the way we titled the video, which was what, Tara?

Tara (03:32):
The Most Underrated Pasta Ever.

James (03:35):
It’s funny, we went with that title. And the reason I went with that title… and I do hate click-baity titles, but I knew if I wrote Pasta Norcina, that you weren’t going to click on it, because it is that obscure here in America.

We have more Italian restaurants here in Long Island and in basically this corridor of America, which encompasses a little bit of Connecticut, Northern Jersey and the five boroughs, there are just thousands of restaurants, and I’ve been to hundreds of these restaurants in my life, living here for all but three of the 40, almost 45 years of my life. I’ve never come across this dish on a menu until relatively recently.

Now, obviously the people didn’t… They might’ve started queuing off YouTube videos. The success of it. I’m not positive, but it was kind of coincidental when I saw it in a place I believe out East. And then we have an actual place here that opened that’s very special occasion place, expensive, that is called Osteria Umbra, believe it or not. And I believe they have it on the menu too, I would think.

Tara (04:45):
I think they have it as a special. So, it’s not a recurring thing on the menu.

James (04:50):
I always try to find new dishes that I can make for you, and then I would do a little bit of research. When I did that research, and we’re going to get into it in a little bit, there would be some hiccups for the average person trying to make it.

What I did, and this is essentially what every Italian immigrant did who came to this country, I modified it. And we get a lot of angry comments saying that the recipe is not exact, and we’ll go into that in a bit, why it’s going to be hard to make it exact, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be any less good. It’s a delicious dish, and I really want you to make it for your family.

I got so many satisfied comments with this one, Tara. You see them all the time, and it’s just one of the greatest pasta. And it’s a full meal because we’re in America. Obviously we’re not eating a little bit of pasta. That’s a big difference. You would make a whole batch of this for you and your family.

Tara (05:45):
Yeah, it’s a good one, and definitely because it has that little touch of nutmeg in it, I think it’s perfect for the fall.

James (05:53):
I don’t think I’m selling it adequately for you. I don’t think I am. I’m going to give it one more shot here. It is decadent, it is hardy, it is creamy. The combination of the sausage and the white wine and the creaminess of it. Did I already say creamy? I think I did.

Tara (06:15):

James (06:16):
All right. Well, and the nutmeg, and I didn’t even put truffles on it, which is how It’s supposed to be done.

Tara (06:24):
That was a little outside of our budget.

James (06:25):
And it’s outside of a lot of-

Tara (06:25):
Most people’s budget.

James (06:31):
… maybe your budget it’s outside of, and that’s part of what… We’re doing this for you, not for me. I’m not going to sit here whipping out a $500 truffle and telling you that my dish is going to be better than yours. I want you to make the exact same dish that I’m making.

Challenges to making the authentic version

Tara (06:47):
I think we should go over some of the challenges in making what would be a, “authentic pasta alla Norcina” for the everyday people here in the US.

James (06:59):
Let’s define authentic. Let’s rattle it off quickly what makes it authentic. I have actually the Umbria Tourist Board’s recipe. You want me to do that quickly or do you want to go into it?

Tara (07:09):
No. You can read it.

James (07:10):
All right, the major sticking point is the use of cream versus ricotta, and that’s where we will get the biggest haters in the comments section. All right. So, I’m going to read you. This site is in Italian. You can use Google Translate to translate it into English. So, this is a legit site. This is from Italy. This is actually the site of Umbria.

So, short or long pasta, 400 grams. That’s about a little less than a pound. Sausage, about 300 grams. Everything here is a little less than a pound. So, you just scale up if you want. Cooking cream. Okay, so that’s Panna da Cucina, all right? That’s the cream that they use in Italy. It’s a lower fat percentage than the heavy cream that is here.

Then they say if you want the ancient version, you would use sheep’s milk ricotta. Again, you’re not going to get sheep’s milk ricotta here. You could buy a ricotta salata here, but that’s not what it is. That’s a hard… not a hard, but that’s a solidified cheese. That’s not what you would be using.

So, right there that’s going to be kind of an issue. You go with the cream if you want, you can actually make Panna da Cucina, if you want to. It’s not hard to do. There’s plenty of recipes online. We could go into that in a second. And then it has onion, grated Pecorino, half a glass of white wine, that’s just going to be dry white wine, extra virgin olive oil DOP from Umbria. Remember, this is the Umbria Tourist Board. You cannot use olive oil outside of Umbria. This is very Italian, how a recipe like this would be written. They want to use everything exactly to the area that it’s from. They don’t want to use competing products. Salt to taste, black pepper, and then fresh black truffles or truffle-flavored oil. Does that all sound right, Tara?

Tara (09:00):
Yes. Although I would say that they say sausage because they’re obviously referring to the sausage that one would obtain if they were in Umbria, or to be more specific, in Norcia. That, I think, brings me to the first challenge.

Pasta alla Norcina in black bowl with fork and grated Pecorino on top.

And that as I mentioned before, the salsiccia di Norcia is different from the US sausage. It’s made with pork, white wine, garlic and a little bit of nutmeg. You’re not going to find that here in the US in that form, unless you make it yourself. So, that’s challenge number one. And then I think we’ll go into-

James (09:43):
It’s not hard.

Tara (09:44):
Do you want to talk about how to address each challenge as we’re going through it?

James (09:48):
Yes, let’s do that. So, you want to tell how to make the sausage, quickly?

Tara (09:52):
Here’s, I guess, our bandaid or so to the challenge. It would be if you can’t find plain bulk sausage without fennel here in the US, and you could use ground pork, and then you could make it yourself, adding the garlic and the white wine and the nutmeg.

James (10:16):
Yeah, I mean to expand a little bit out, so you use pork shoulder, you could cut a lot of fat off of there and then you can use leaner cuts of pork and then you would run it through your sausage-making machine and get a grind. You would mix it aggressively by hand. And then the next day, you would be left with something that is a very good approximation of what the sausage would taste like in Norcia.

Tara (10:40):
And that’s, I think, one of the things that I didn’t realize about sausage was that it’s that agitation, the mixing, that gives sausage that almost tacky-

James (10:51):
Tacky, stickiness.

Tara (10:52):
… type of consistency that would be different than just regular ground pork.

James (10:57):
Not a hard thing to do to get it to work, but I really think, depending on where you are in the country, if you could get a high quality plain sausage, that’s just your starting point there. Then all you have to do then, if it’s a plain sausage then you can just add your wine, you can add a little bit of the nutmeg. You’re pretty much there in an easier way.

Make it on a weeknight?

Tara (11:19):
So, let’s say that you want to make pasta alla Norcina on a weeknight, and you don’t want to have to go through the process of getting ground pork, mashing it up, letting it sit, and all you can find is maybe fennel sausage. Do you think that the fennel is too overpowering-

James (11:42):
Not at all.

Tara (11:42):
… or will you still have success with the dish?

James (11:45):
Not at all. It will be delicious. Honestly, this dish is so good, you could use any type of sausage. You could use spicy sausage. Now, it will change the dish completely because it’s not supposed to be a spicy dish at all, but it would still be damn good, and you can then use any other type of sausage you like. I mean, honestly this dish is so good you could probably take non-Italian sausage, and it would be really good. Do you agree with that?

Tara (12:12):
When you say non-Italian sausage, do you mean-

James (12:14):
Like Jimmy Dean, you’re talking about?

Tara (12:16):
Like a breakfast sausage?

James (12:17):

Tara (12:18):
I personally wouldn’t do that.

James (12:20):
That’s not what I was saying. That’s not what I meant.

Tara (12:23):
I wasn’t sure if you meant a Greek style sausage or something I wasn’t…

James (12:27):
Yeah, just like any sausage. A lot of German sausage makers or Polish, they’ll have stuff you can get. Because I remember when we were in Minnesota there, they had some places like that more so than-

Tara (12:39):
Yeah, they did.

James (12:42):
Yeah. I don’t think that should be a sticking point for you. I think you can really… you mix and match here, and I think you’re still going to get really good results.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned about this channel is you must be able to make modifications. Again, that is the Italian-American experience. Every single thing that is brought to this great region of America, this New York, New Jersey corridor, everything was changed and modified. And in my opinion, often made better. I know that’s controversial, but I don’t think it’s too controversial to many of the people that live here. What say you, Tara?

Tara (13:22):
I don’t want to say it was made better, but what I will say is I think there are some differences between the way food is prepared in Italy and the way food is prepared here. There’s not a lot of freedom to prepare meals and to just do whatever you want in Italy.

James (13:41):
You mean, they have the approved recipe, the tourism board’s recipe, stuff like that.

Tara (13:44):
Yes, yes, which I would like to save this for another podcast episode.

James (13:49):
It’s a good idea.

Tara (13:50):
Because I think we can really get into it. But I think when our ancestors came here, they had to take the recipes they knew and they had to make adaptations based on what was available here in the US. They weren’t the same things that were available. And to take the other side of that, there were many things that were available here that were not widely available in Italy, like chicken for example.

James (14:18):
Meats, everything. They were actually able to eat better. So, probably explains a little bit of the difference in thin people in Italy versus not just… everybody in America tends to be a little bigger. Maybe we have a little bit more abundance of everything here.

Black truffles

Tara (14:37):
We talked about the pork and how to overcome that particular challenge. The next challenge is that pasta alla Norcina is typically made with fresh black truffles. Now, in Italy, if truffles were not in season, they wouldn’t necessarily replace the truffle with anything else. They would simply omit it, and it would not be part of the dish.

But for those of you who are not familiar with truffles, they’re considered a delicacy. They’re extremely expensive. They are not something that you can plant or really plan for a crop. They have a symbiotic type of relationship with tree roots. So, they’re often found at the base of trees, near their roots, and they really need specific type of temperature and climate to grow in. So, they’re very temperamental. And the other thing is that often you can’t find them on your own. You have to use the assistance of a dog or a pig.

James (15:43):
Or a pig.

Tara (15:44):
In order to find them.

James (15:46):
Yeah, and if people have a spot, they will not give it away to other truffle hunters because that’s how valuable they are.

Tara (15:54):
That’s right, and that’s why they are so expensive. For everyday people who can’t just run up to Dean & DeLuca or wherever it is that they’re selling truffles and grab a truffle, or have the income to afford a truffle, what do you do?

Now, I read some conflicting information saying that, “Yeah, use truffle oil.” But then there’s others who say not to because the truffle oil isn’t made from actual truffles, they’re made from… It’s got some type of chemical in it that makes it taste like a truffle.

James (16:29):
That makes sense. I mean, I would never think truffle oil would be made from that because you’re using all of the truffle. There’s no remnants left over to extract an oil from.

I’ve never had good experience with truffle oil. For lack of a better descriptor, it reminds me of a baby’s diaper or a wet blanket or… it’s not good. Now, maybe I haven’t had good truffle oil, but again I don’t think there is such thing as a good truffle oil that’s made from real truffles.

Tara (17:00):
Yeah. I don’t know.

James (17:01):
I might be wrong..

Tara (17:03):
I don’t know enough about it. And I’ve only had truffles probably three times in my life. And each time I’ve had them, they have been vastly superior to any truffle oil I’ve ever had. So, yeah, probably not the best substitution. And I can see why in Italy they would forego using the truffle entirely if they can’t get it.

James (17:26):
That’s a very Italian thing to do. In season, you use it. When it’s not there, you don’t use it.

Tara (17:31):
That’s right.

James (17:32):

Tara (17:32):
But what we did here, what Jim did, was he added something else to his pasta alla Norcina to make it a little bit interesting. While truffles are considered fungi, they are not mushrooms. So, you added mushrooms to kind of bring that kind of fungi flavor to it.

James (17:58):
It’s funny. The video has thousands of comments. So, often when a video does that well, or depending on how you think about it, you will get comments from nice people, people who like you, and you get people who have no idea who the heck you are, and people that are just out for one thing: blood, blood. It’s like that Kyle’s dad in that South Park episode when he used to pour a glass of wine and go into his secret chamber to just mean tweak people all night long. It was like his thing.

So, those people really came out in that video, and they didn’t go after the mushroom part at all. So, the mushroom part did not rub people the wrong way. I will tell you, besides the cream and the cream versus the sheep’s milk ricotta, the other thing that annoyed a bunch of people, but I don’t think it was Italians, it was the garlic, how I put it in and I cooked a few, I lightly browned, made it gold in the cloves, and then I removed them.

Tara (18:56):
Well, because that’s what would be done in Italy, right?

James (18:57):

Tara (18:59):
They don’t keep the garlic in the…

James (19:01):
Yeah. I mean, the one from the tourism board doesn’t even have garlic in the recipe.

Tara (19:04):
Well, because It’s supposed to be in the sausage.

James (19:06):
That’s true. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Really, the cream is that main distinction.

Italian cream vs American cream

Tara (19:10):
Okay. Let’s go on to the cream. So, you mentioned before it would either be made with the sheep’s milk ricotta or the Panna da Cucina. You used heavy cream. What is so special about the Panna da Cucina?

James (19:26):
Panna is just normally called panna. There are other types of panna. Use Google, it’s your friend. That’s how I learned this stuff too. It’s great, right? We can all learn the same stuff.

And it’s Panna da Cucina is 20% fat, yet it’s thicker than heavy cream in America, which is 35% fat. So, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Jim, how is that possible? How could something be thicker that is less fattening?” Well, they use thickeners in it. There’s a bunch of different brands you could buy in Italy, and some of them will be thickened with oil. I think it’s sunflower or safflower oil.

Basically it’s creating almost an effect where when you add it to your pasta, your sauces, it emulsifies without breaking. Because if you’d try to take half-and-half here or light cream and put it in your sauce, it would have a good chance of breaking versus heavy cream, which I think is 36% or 37% in America, milk fat, it will not break. So, that’s one way how they make it, and I believe the other way was they use thickeners like corn starch and stuff like that.

But this is a product that is used in Italy, it’s sold in every supermarket there in Italy, and it’s not just in the supermarket for people to not use it. Because we’ll often get the comments always to say, “No cream is ever used in Italy.” Well, what are they selling the product for then? Obviously it’s being used. And in this particular dish, it is definitely a part of the… You do the ricotta, and then it’s not always going to look good.

Pasta alla Norcina held in black bowl.

Tara (20:58):
It’s going to look grainy.

James (20:59):
It’s going to look grainy, it’s going to look clumpy. It’s going to look kind of messy. It’s not going to look so good. And you do eat with your eyes. Is it one better than the other? I think it’s depending on the quality of that ricotta you use. But if you’re in America, you’re not going to get the sheep’s milk one. So, it’s not going to have that tanginess that it normally would. And yeah, that’s kind of the dilemma. Do you do what Jim is saying here, do you break some rules or not?

Tara (21:26):
Your comment about adding sunflower oil kind of just made me think a lot of the products that we use, like the condiments especially that are imported from Italy, they all have sunflower oil.

James (21:39):
They all have it. They all do.

Tara (21:40):
What’s the deal with sunflower oil?

James (21:41):
I think it’s a cheaper product obviously than olive oil.

Tara (21:46):
Is it from actual sunflowers?

James (21:48):

Tara (21:48):

James (21:49):
And it’s also safflower oil.

Tara (21:51):
Yeah. What is that?

James (21:52):
I guess it’s from the safflower.

Tara (21:53):
What is the safflower?

James (21:56):
I don’t know. I don’t have any safflowers growing, but there’s a lot of oils that can be used. Actually, commercial, when you buy vegetable oil here in America, it could be up to 15 different types of vegetables that go into that oil.

Tara (22:07):
That I knew.

James (22:07):

Tara (22:08):
But isn’t it mostly corn or no?

James (22:10):
It might be, but it’s all different other types. The safflower, sunflower, soybean, peanut, avocado. All of those can make it in there.

Tara (22:19):

James (22:19):
So, that’s basically it about the oil. I don’t know for sure.

Tara (22:24):
Yeah, I actually just did check. There is a safflower, there actually is a safflower. So, I was unfamiliar with that flower. I’m not a botanist or a florist.

Dry white wines

James (22:38):
There you go. You learned something new today.

Tara (22:39):
Another component, Jim, is you added white wine. Now, often you do cook with white wine and you’ll say it’s just a dry white wine. When you say a dry white wine, what are you usually referring to? Because I think a lot of our audience, either they don’t drink wine or they’re just not familiar with using wine to cook with.

James (22:58):

Tara (22:59):
So, I do get that question frequently on the website, “When you say dry white wine, what are you talking about?”

James (23:05):
Okay. I just want to make this as simple as possible, so you’re not confused. These are the dry white wines that I recommend. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio. Just by one of those two, get a $10 bottle. Can you do a $12? Of course. Can you do a $7? Of course you can. Those two will be perfect for all of your cooking needs.

Basically, wine will impart more flavor to your dish. It’s the compounds themselves. It’s not the alcohol, it’s the stuff that’s left over after the alcohol. It’s what makes a wine taste good or not. Now, there’s some debate whether you can use boxed wine or cooking wines or does expensive wine, is it better in your dishes? And we spoke about this in the past when we were talking about Brasato al Barolo, which is a very expensive dish for anybody to make, and that’s a different discussion because that’s a braised meat. But for here, dry white wine, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, you will be set with that.

Pasta shapes and Jim’s background

Tara (24:05):
Is there a specific pasta that should be used for it?

James (24:07):
Yeah, that’s good. This is something that’s worth discussing too. Traditionally, it’s going to be a short tubular pasta. So, it will be your pennes, your zitis, your rigatoni. You can use mezzi rigatoni. We did it in the video, we did it with…

Tara (24:23):

James (24:24):
Tara says it better than I do. So, she always says it.

Tara (24:26):
I mean, it looks like paccheri to someone from the US, I guess, we would pronounce it. It’s actually C-H. P-A-C-C-H-E-R-I. The C-H in Italian is like a kuh, like a K.

James (24:41):
So, Paccheri.

Pasta alla Norma in white plate with basil garnish and shredded ricotta salata.

Pic above is Pasta alla Norma made with mezzi paccheri pasta.

Tara (24:43):
Yeah. Paccheri.

James (24:43):

Tara (24:44):
You’re supposed to roll the R.

James (24:45):
I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I’m trying, I’m trying.

Tara (24:48):
I’m trying to teach the taste tester how to roll his Rs because he’s learning Spanish this year, and I was trying to explain to him how to do it. And it’s really difficult. I think if-

James (24:59):
So difficult.

Tara (24:59):
If you don’t learn how to roll your Rs at an early age, I don’t think you can learn how to do it.

James (25:04):
I never got it. I took French all through school, and I can say five words right now. Our daughter, Sammy, is taking Italian and she’s pretty good, right?

Tara (25:17):
Yeah. She’s actually in the Italian Language Honor Society.

James (25:20):
Yeah, she’s in the honors.

Tara (25:21):
She’s doing well in it.

James (25:22):
So, if she ever shows up in a video again, I’ll see if she can say some words. She’s terrified to be in videos now, so…

Tara (25:28):
Well, she’s not terrified. She’s camera shy because-

James (25:30):
Camera shy.

Tara (25:32):
Because she’s a 15-year-old girl. That’s normal.

James (25:34):
The other day in the comments, somebody wrote, “You have a daughter too?” Because she’s in some of the older videos, she’s in the focaccia, the shrimp scampi one.

Tara (25:45):
She was so good on video too, and she loves to cook. Whereas James somewhat interested every now and then in cooking, but he’s more interested in the end result.

James (25:56):
And believe it or not, Sammy’s actually could probably do even better taste testings than James. She gets so frustrated that James likes everything. She’s like, “James, there’s no nuance in your grading system.” And there’s some true to that. He will give high marks to most pasta dishes, like this one.

Tara (26:15):
Yeah, in fact, I know he taste tested this one, but I think this one was before you were doing the rating system.

James (26:21):
He taste tested this one, he loved it. And again, speaking about pasta shapes, so any of those short ones. But I have seen it from… And if you want to know traditional stuff here, say you don’t want to take my word for it, Tara. We’re trying to give you the New York, the Italian American perspective on these dishes. We have a good vantage point living where we do because this is where most of the immigrants came, all right? You just look at a map, you can see where they immigrated, and this is where they opened up their cheese shops, their sausage shops, their restaurants.

And this is where they still are to this day. I always joke, “I went to school with… Probably over half the people in the school had an Italian last name.” Right, Tara? It’s nuts. And that was the dividing line. It would be like the center of the Island that had more. And then you go to the North Shore, which would be a little bit more money. People were here a little bit earlier. There would be less of that. Where I went, that’s what it was.

Tara (27:21):
Yeah, same for me. I went to Farmingdale, that was either Italian or Irish. That was it.

James (27:27):
And I never even… I let you guys know. I’m half Italian, so that means it’s my mom who’s the Italian one in the family. So, her maiden name is Leone. Her mother, her maiden name was Santora. So, that means my mother’s father was Leone, he was Sicilian. He’s 100% Sicilian. I don’t look Sicilian at all.

And then my grandmother, my mother’s mother, she was from Basilicata. And I guess my mother looks more like my grandmother, but that’s it. But those were the two names, Santora, Leone. And do you how many Leones there are in Long Island? I mean, there’s probably a thousand of them. There might be more. And then Santora too. There’s a whole bunch of them. And what was your dad’s mother’s name?

Tara (28:18):
My grandma’s last name was Gallo.

James (28:20):

Tara (28:22):
So, that’s-

James (28:22):
That’s not common.

Tara (28:22):
That’s like Smith. Yeah.

James (28:26):
But I would say yeah, like Gallo, Leone, Casino, doesn’t… Really, really, just… Cassano. I had 10 friends with last name of Cassano. These were just extremely, extremely common. I don’t know if they grouped everybody, if there was a bunch of different Leone, different spellings, and they just turned them all into L-E-O-N-E when they got to Ellis Island.

Tara (28:54):
There actually is a different spelling, and it’s the Lioni Fresh Mozzarella that’s sold in Brooklyn. It’s L-I-O-N-I. But the word, Leone, L-E-O-N-E is derived from the word leo, which is lion.

James (29:12):
Yeah, that’s what I thought. Lion. Yeah.

Tara (29:14):

James (29:14):

Tara (29:14):
And then actually I had a high school teacher. His name was Monte Leone, which means mountain lion.

James (29:22):

Tara (29:22):
That’s a cool name.

James (29:23):
Yeah, Monte Leone. I had a couple Monte Leone people in my school too.

Tara (29:28):
Did you?

James (29:28):

Tara (29:28):

James (29:29):
There was just too many last names that were like that. But anyway, that explains why the area had just a plethora of all these restaurants because it was their grandparents, or a lot of times it was just their parents, who owned all these places.

Tara (29:46):
And again, going back to tying it all together, those folks came from Southern Italy, which is why pasta alla Norcina is relatively unknown here.

James (30:01):
Oh, completely unknown. Completely unknown. If you’re from here, you might be like, “Jim, there’s a place I always went to that had it.” Well, that would be the exception to the rule. And we’re trying to show you something here today that is one of the more obscure ones. We’re going to talk about though… Every episode, we’re going to do… and there’ll be episodes that just aren’t recipe 100% focused. But when we do a recipe-focused one, we’re always trying to talk about what it means to the immigrants who came here, how they made it or how they invented it, when he’s talking something like Chicken Parmesan, which doesn’t exist at all in Italy, how it became so ubiquitous, how everybody loves it, and basically the effect it had on this part of America.

Tara (30:50):
That’s right.

James (30:50):
Which is massive. I mean, no community has a bigger effect on this part of America really, food-wise, than the Italian community. I mean, is that a controversial statement I’m making or not? I mean, it can’t be.

Tara (31:03):
Food-wise, no. I would agree with you. I mean, there’s certainly a large Irish-American population here, but…

James (31:10):
They’re not known for their food. And by the way, I could say that because impart Irish too.

Tara (31:14):
So am I, just like we’re both typical Long Islanders, we’re a mix.

James (31:18):
Yeah. I’m half Italian from my mother’s side, and my dad, who doesn’t even know everything he is, but my last name, Delmage, that’s a French name. But then my dad’s mother was O’Donnell. So, I have the Irish, I have French, and then I have the Italian. But the reason that I associate the food, everything, as Italian, is because my mother and my grandmother were the cooks in the family. My dad, he can make eggs. Sorry, dad. I know you don’t listen.

Tara (31:52):
I think your mom actually loves his eggs.

James (31:54):

Tara (31:55):
Doesn’t she?

James (31:55):
She’s like, “He makes the best eggs.”

Tara (31:57):
Yeah, yeah. It’s so cute.

Question 1 – How faithful does a recipe need to be?

James (31:59):
So, you got some questions for me, huh?

Tara (32:02):
I do.

James (32:03):
Is there a kiss/kill again or not?

Tara (32:04):
There’s not this time.

James (32:05):
Darn it.

Tara (32:06):
I have two questions though, and thank you to everyone who submitted your questions. You can send them to…

James (32:12): We’ve been getting a lot more questions now. Tara has to go through 50 of them. So, it’s hard for her to get your question here. We’re trying to limit it to two to three at the end of each episode. Because I always go on tangents and rants. I mean, maybe we should just do shorter answers so we could do more of them.

Tara (32:32):
We can.

James (32:33):
We’ll stick to it for now.

Tara (32:34):
Some of them might need a longer answer. Obviously, the Kiss/Mary/Kills can have a quick answer. So, actually this one I pulled from an earlier question. So, this is from the archives. And the reason I pulled it is because I think it pairs nicely with the topic we’re talking about today. And this is from John.

John says, “Over the years, I watched YouTubers and read food blogger recipes, in particular of non-American origin. There are comments, criticism regarding the authenticity of a recipe versus a perceived accepted authority, maybe a deviation of ingredients or technique. Jim, what is your thinking or your opinion about how faithful to be to a ‘cannon recipe’,” And he gives the example of bolognese, “… before it becomes something else?”

So, I picked this because we talked about Norcina, we talked about making these adaptations to it. If you do make all the different adaptations, if you do use fennel sausage to make pasta alla Norcina, is it no longer pasta alla Norcina? Is it something else? Same thing with bolognese.

James (33:49):
So, John, that’s a great question. It’s a struggle, I believe, and this recipe we’re talking about today really exemplifies that because even if you wanted to make it exactly how it is, you would not be able to do it, unless you had extreme means where you could be like, “I’m shipping in sausage from Umbria right now,” which would be ridiculous.

So, how far away can you go? There’s a problem going on right now. And I joked in the last episode about the know-it-alls on Reddit, and it really is a problem. I don’t know what’s causing this movement right now, but it’s really where they’re trying to… people of that ilk are trying to really take down people that do anything different.

And again, part of the reason why I make this type of food is because of my background, and I don’t think I would even want to venture into other types of cuisine for this reason now with what’s going on. As far as doing that, I think you can venture pretty far. And then if you do venture too far, then you got to say it’s inspired. I think that’s your safest way to do it.

But no, I mean, I call this pasta Norcina on our website and I know it doesn’t have the truffles in it and it just doesn’t. And I still think it’s a good representation of the dish.

Tara (35:17):
I think so too. And I think one of the best or most well-known culprits would be like a carbonara.

Nest of spaghetti carbonara in black plate.

So we used guanciale in our spaghetti carbonara recipe pictured above, but do feel free to use pancetta or bacon if you can’t source it. It will still be deliciouse.

James (35:29):
That’s what I was going to bring up.

Tara (35:30):

James (35:30):
I’m so sick of this, the carbonara. I’m so sick of these petulant twerps on Reddit who are criticizing people that don’t use guanciale. I almost feel like stripping the carbonara recipe on our site that uses guanciale, and just bringing it back to bacon or pancetta, because I’m telling you, the more that these comments come in, I almost want to go the other way with it.

Believe it or not. And this is part of the reason why there’s a video of Gordon Ramsey, because we have to bring up Gordon Ramsey, it’s just another episode of the Sip and Feast podcast. But there’s an episode of him making carbonara and he’s putting cream in it and peas and parsley and he’s just like… People in Italy are having a heart attack. They’re like, “What is going on?”

And he was taught that, I’m almost positive, from the culinary school he went to because the culinary schools, the really classic ones, like Cordon Blue, in the ’80s, that’s how they were teaching people to make it. Because in the ’80s, a lot of cream was being used in Italy. And we went into this in the last episode. So, Gordon Ramsey probably is a product of culinary school from that time period. Yeah, he is. I mean, by his age.

Yeah, carbonara people go… They’re literally trying to say that guanciale is a requirement for that dish. No, it’s not. It’s just not. And carbonara, for all you purists, it’s a relatively new dish in Italy. It doesn’t date back 300 years ago. The Roman dish that dates back that far is alla Gricia. It’s not carbonara.

Tara (37:10):
And that uses guanciale too.

James (37:12):
Carbonara, they believe, is I think a World War II, but it might be World War I invention that was kind of like Americanized with American troops wanting bacon and eggs. Again, don’t quote me on that, I might be wrong about this, but it’s definitely not the oldest recipe. And that goes for a lot of the recipes that purists are attacking people for. A lot of these things weren’t in Italy too long. Another great example is tiramisu.

Tara (37:41):

James (37:41):
But yet, you’ll get people telling you, “You didn’t do it right.” And, “You’re not doing the classic version.” This isn’t just one episode that could be done. You could do a whole podcast on this topic. And realistically, probably the best people to give information on this would be Italian people who are food experts and lived in Italy half their life, then made the trek to America, I would think.

Because I think it’s really hard to give a lot of color. If you’re in Northern Italy your whole life. I don’t think you have that much knowledge about what’s going on in Sicily at all.

Tara (38:16):
Yeah, that’s right. You wouldn’t.

James (38:17):

Tara (38:18):
So, basically you’re saying it’s okay to use bacon and still call it carbonara, if you can’t get guanciale.

James (38:25):
Absolutely. I mean, I don’t think that really helps too much.

Question 2 – Chicken Marsala

Tara (38:27):
All right. Onto the next question. This question comes from Steve. He has two quick questions. “Traditionally, does chicken marsala get heavy cream in it?” That’s question one. Second question is, “Sweet or dry Marsala wine traditionally added?” He sees a lot of recipes online and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on that.

James (38:48):
All right. These are two easy answers that I’m 100% positive of. It does not get cream. And the second one is, it’s always dry marsala. Now, listen, you can make it with sweet marsala. I’ve done it. In fact, I think the first chicken marsala video I did, I had sweet because I didn’t have the dry on hand. I hope I’m not wrong about the cream. I mean, I’ve never seen marsala made with cream.

Spatula holding piece of finished chicken marsala over large platter.

Chicken Marsala pictured above.

Tara (39:08):
Didn’t you use cream in a recipe?

James (39:10):
No, I might’ve put it in the pasta one that I did.

Tara (39:14):
The pasta? Yeah.

James (39:15):

Tara (39:16):
Okay, because he said, “In a YouTube video, you added sweet marsala and a bit of heavy cream. But the written recipe on the website mentions no cream.”

James (39:23):
Okay. So, Steve, I don’t know if I did it. I mean, if it’s that first marsala video that’s going back four years now, but always take the recipes that are on our site as gospel versus the videos. I can’t edit a video. The only thing I could do with video is delete an old video, if I really think it’s horrible and make a new one. But with the website, I can constantly update and improve the recipe.

Now listen, if you put a little bit of cream in your marsala, it’s going to be totally fine. I thought in that video I mixed up a little corn starch to thicken the sauce. You could also do flour. It just depends, if you want the sauce a little thick, and most people like their marsala sauce to be a little thick, just like they would want their francese or their piccata sauce or anything like that. But I would experiment yourself. A little bit of cream still going to be good.

Tara (40:15):

James (40:15):
Yeah. All right. Leave your questions. We will see you next time.

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