Some years back, I used an old family recipe in Keeping the Feast, mentioning our little ancestral Italian town in the process. This set off a flurry of geographical sparks via the Internet. E-mails came in from as far away as California and Florida from descendants of folks who had immigrated from Teora to the same area of Newark during the years my great-grandparents arrived there.
Turned out the Teora cultural association in Newark produced a great book on the little town and all its families as part of a massive fund raising effort the group undertook to rebuild Teora after the 1980 earthquake leveled it. Included in the book, which I was lucky enough to get copies of, were pictures of several generations of presumed relatives.
The book opened a real window on a chapter of the family heritage. It was a terrific experience. Since then, whenever someone with a last name that appears in that book turns up, I ask if there’s a Teora connection.
Sometimes there is. More usually, there isn’t. But even when there isn’t, there are still stories to share and even a recipe or two to exchange.
That was the outcome of a stop at Racioppi’s Kitchen during the “Taste of Red Bank Benefit” for St. James School. Turns out this Racioppi family hailed from Bari not from Teora and immgrated to Jersey City instead of Newark. But the stories were warmly familiar and so were the smells, sites and flavors in this cozy West Side restuarant.
Joe Racioppi, St. Agnes Parish, Atlantic Highlands, and his chef son and namesake, Joe — a Culinary Institute of America graduate — talked about how food keeps history in focus like nothing else in America today.
“Our family has been here for more than 100 years. We’re not Italian. We’re American. Even if I learned to speak Italian again as I did as a child, there wouldn’t be anyone to talk to,” said the elder Racioppi. “The food is what keeps tradition alive.
“When we cook our food and encourage other people to share it and enjoy it with us, that’s what brings us together. Right now, Latino foods are opening doors for immigrants today just like Italian foods did for us generations ago.”
Chef Joe Racioppi shared his recipe for the bruschetta enjoyed by hundreds of “tasters” who came over to the west side of Red Bank during the benefit for St. James and literally “wiped us out!”
-One cup each fresh mozzarella, red onion, sun dried tomatoes, diced fresh tomatoes, pickled artichoke hearts, roast portabella mushrooms and grilled egg plant, all chopped fine.
-3 tblsp. balsamic vinegar
-3 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Chill before serving on top of large, toasted croutons.