|Italian Immigrants bound for the US.
Notice the preponderance of men.
If you frequent good old Italian-American Red Sauce restaurants, you may be well acquainted with a close cousin of this dish: Chicken Scarpariello. Its origins, however, are not in Italy but in an Italian American kitchen. Its name, “Scarapiello”, means “Shoemaker”. If your imagination takes you to an immigrant shoemaker coming home and making this for dinner, you may not be far off base. When Italians started immigrating to this country from 1890 on, very often the men went on ahead leaving their wives and children behind until they’d established themselves. Many early Italian immigrants were barely educated and the early waves were full of laborers and, less often, artisans like shoemakers. The Italian men latched onto ‘padrones’, immigrants who had arrived a few years earlier. These men handled lodging, savings and work, giving farms and factories a constant labor supply. Interestingly, around 50 percent of Italians who immigrated to this country from 1900 to 1920, saved all the money they earned and re-patriated to Italy. These men never even learned the most rudimentary English. They pined for their homeland and did everything they could to duplicate the cooking of their wives and mothers back in Italy. “Scarpariello” is one example.
|Little Italy NYC|
When Italians tried to duplicate Italian cooking in America, they tended to incorporate outsized flavors. They’d load in such staples as oregano and use unthinkable amounts of garlic, all to conjure up the aromas and tastes of their Mamas’ kitchens. Overwhelmingly, these immigrants came from the South of Italy, the Mezzogiorno and even further south, from Sicily. Scarapiello incorporates fire-roasted bell peppers and the heat of chile peppers, all to bring home the tastes of the South. The biggest difference between the way Italians ate in Italy to the way they ate in the States was in the proteins. To this day, Italians consume nothing like the amount of meat and poultry we do in the US. But once they arrived here, the land of milk and honey meant the addition of chicken, beef and pork—signs, if nothing else, of their prosperity in the new world.
Pork Chops Scarpiello is a great way to introduce the palate to the pleasures of chiles. They don’t overwhelm the dish because they are balanced with roasted bell peppers, lemon and parsley. It’s a really bright, summer-y dish that you can put together pretty much all year round. I did brine the pork in a mixture of ¼ cup of Kosher Salt to 1 quart of water for about four hours. I am not sure if this made any difference but, as the saying goes, it couldn’t hurt. If you want to go to the effort, you can, of course, roast your own bell peppers either in the broiler or over a gas burner. However, I found that jarred Fire-Roasted Peppers provide the flavor without the labor. The recipe calls for pork chops an inch thick. If yours are thicker, adjust the cooking time upwards and when the pork chops rest while you make the rest of the dish, put them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven to finish them off. The recipe serves 4. It is simplicity in itself to halve it. Here it is: