What Wise Guys EatWritten by Skip Lombardi
When I lived in North End of Boston, in nineteen eighties and nineties, I hung around a neighborhood bar from time to time, called The Corner Café. It was located on Prince Street near corner of Salem Street. And it was indeed a neighborhood place. The owner, Richie Longo, was a neighborhood kid who grew up on Prince Street and duly attended Saint Leonard’s School—as his first generation Italian-American parents had—along with all other neighborhood kids.
The regular patrons at time, were neighborhood people too; all of whom seemed to have nicknames. (although, nicknames were useful for identification purposes). There was Joe Lawyer, who wasn’t a lawyer at all, but worked as an insurance investigator. Then there was John Lawyer, who was a stockbroker, and John Lawyer, who really was a lawyer with an office across street. And I was always confused about Mary Nurse, whose nickname seemed unnecessary; she was indeed a nurse, but she was only regular named Mary.
Then there were rest of regulars: mostly young men ,who fancied themselves to be wise guys. Their conversations were peppered with phrases like ‘fuggeddaboudit,’ and ‘ba-da-bing!’ And they often talked about ‘needing to see this guy,’ or ‘having to take care of that thing.’ But despite fact that they revered Robert DiNiro, and may have harbored dreams of being known by a nickname like “extreme unction,” most serious crime any of them may ever have committed was betting on Red Sox late in September.
When these local heros weren’t talking about ‘this guy,’ or ‘that thing,’ though, conversation tended to stray toward food; often, toward Chicken Scarpariello. This was a hot dish—literally, and figuratively—during my years in Boston. And folks often debated qualities of one preparation over another. The talk often centered around merits of Cantina d’Italia’s recipe, that included sausage, over Felicia’s, that didn’t. Sausage or not, though, Chicken Scarpariello is kind of dish that would please any wise guy because it encourages eating with a fork in one hand an a torn-off piece of crusty bread in other; latter, used for sopping up sauce, and for punctuating various exclamations of ‘fuggeddaboudit,’ or ‘ba-da-bing.’
The short version of history of Chicken Scarpariello, ‘shoemaker’s-style’, is that it was named for humble fellow who cobbled together ingredients for dish from his meager pantry. How it became a wise guy favorite is more obscure, and very likely lost to history. But I suggest that when you serve Chicken Scarpariello at home, dinner table conversation will become animated and rise a decibel or two above normal. And will you and your fellow diners enjoy it? Fuggeddaboudit.
Florentine-StyleWritten by Skip Lombardi
I owe my history teachers an apology. You tried your best to ignite even a glimmer of emotion in me for your subject, but I stymied you at every turn. Well into adulthood now, I'm reduced to making muttered comments that history is not my strong suit, when in fact, I made certain it was preordained.
Now, at this advanced age in my life, I'm looking into some ancient Italian recipes, and my research is taking me to some fascinating places I probably should have known about all along. For example, I've known-seemingly forever-that it was Caterina de' Medici who taught French to eat with a fork. But I recently stumbled onto some information about her other culinary contributions that I've found to be enlightening.
For readers who may also have been in back of classroom reading "Mad" magazine during Renaissance, Caterina de' Medici was one of those Medicis. You know; ones from Florence. The same Medicis who had a second story built onto Ponte Vecchio so they could cross Arno river without mingling with hoi-paloi, even if they had to climb a set of stairs at each end.
Sometime around 1533, Caterina's uncle, Pope Clement VII, arranged for her to marry one of King Francis' kids, Henri, a.k.a. Henri of Orleans; later, Henri II, King of France. She was fourteen at time.
It must have been tough going for a young lady who was, by-and-large ignored by Royal Court. But it left Ms. de' Medici with some time on her hands, and she seemed to use it productively. (Of course there was that tawdry business about St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, but that was later in life). When she wasn't engaged in eating, say, a "ragoût of cockscombs, kidneys, and artichoke hearts," she apparently spent a lot of time thinking about food. It goes without saying, that this qualifies her as my kind of Regent.