“Of Blood and Love: Growing Up on Federal Hill” by Carmine Sarracino An Excerpt: "Sunday Mornings"

They came with little brown cardboard boxes tied with string. Inside were spiradelli, (which we called shfoolyadel), filo dough pastries with fine spiraled ridges in a semi-circle, with a yellow cream center, sprinkled with powdered sugar. And guanti, literally “gloves,” fried twists of dough, thin and crispy, also topped with powdered sugar. Eclairs. Brownies. Doughnuts.

On the stove, a big pot simmered and bubbled with Mama’s tomato sauce, which we called “gravy.” (And we rarely said “pasta.” It was “macaroni.”) “The gravy smells good. Can I have a taste, Anna?” and some Uncle or Aunt, or my cousin Frankie, would dunk a crust of Italian bread, followed by a long, “Mmmmm.” The cottage kitchen was noisy with talk, the clink and clack of cups, forks and plates, filled with savory aromas and cigarette smoke. Someone came in, someone went out, a hive of family and friends. Mama put on pot after pot of coffee. 

Frankie and I went up to the attic and put on our helmet – a WWII helmet liner for him, a Civil Defense helmet for me, with its white triangle inside a blue circle with “CD” in big red letters. Outdoors, this would be battle gear in our constant game of “War.” 

Indoors, on Sunday mornings, they became miners’ helmets. While the adults below talked and laughed, ate and sipped coffee, Frankie and I took up hammers and began to pound the walls of the attic’s three rooms, taking out big sections of plaster – you could see the different colors of horse hair mixed in with the plaster – and leaving only the skeletal lath boards. They wondered, down below, what the hell we were doing up there, but nobody ever climbed the steep, narrow steps to find out. In a few places, we even punched through the lath boards, making holes for us miners to crawl through. 

 Mama stored things on a few of the steps leading up to the attic – a Dutch oven, old pans, a broom, winter boots – but never went up there. Until one day she did. “Oh, manege la’ Merica! I don’t believe it! Look at this! Do you believe it? Look what those two did!” 

Our only hope at that point was that when we finally moved out, whenever that might be, it would be before our witch of a landlady, Carolina, could inspect the attic. Luckily, it turned out that way. And shortly after we moved out, the house caught fire from one of the kerosene stoves – sure enough – and burned to the ground. The family escaped. Many industrious rats, however, perished in that basement. 

Nonna lived on the second floor of the tenement house between ours and the street, so the Sunday morning traffic consisted of her sons and daughters, and sometimes their husbands and wives and kids, coming to visit her after mass. They stopped in our house as well. Some went to early masses, some to later, so there was a steady stream all morning long. 

Mama was a gifted cook, so we often had guests for Sunday dinner, at about 1 p.m. Macaroni (perciatelli and ziti my favorites), sliced gravy meat with peas, and a tossed salad with oil and vinegar dressing. Along with plenty of crusty Italian bread, and sharp provolone cheese.   

Here is the recipe for the most exquisitely delicious pasta dish in the world! 


I have never seen it on a restaurant menu.  Maybe those who know it greedily keep it secret. But in my Nonna’s spirit of generosity I share it with you.

Begin in the morning, not later than 9. This is not a difficult or complex dish to cook, but it takes time. A lot of time. You will need a pound or a pound and a half of eye round beef. A pound or so of prosciutto. 10 medium onions, a couple more or less if they are big or small. A head of garlic. EVOO. One package – shh! – of Lipton’s onion soup mix. One pound of perciatelli. (Bucatini is an acceptable substitute.) The pasta is absolutely important: perciatelli or bucatini.  Period.  Parmesan Reggiano. 

Cover the bottom of a sauce pot with EVOO, a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped, and place the eye round in the pan over medium heat. Turn it so as to sear all sides. Chop all the onions. This is the most laborious part of the dish. The tears you shed here will turn to tears of joy when you sit to enjoy the Genoese. Add the chopped onions to the pot, cover, lower the heat to low, and go do something else for a couple of hours, checking in now and then to stir the onions as they cook down. After a couple of hours, with the onions beginning to cook down and brown, add the prosciutto, cut into cubes about a half inch square. Go do something else for another couple of hours, checking in from time to time to stir. After about 5 hours of cooking, remove the eye round and set it aside to cool. Now add the secret ingredient, the package of dry Lipton’s onion soup mix. True story: my mother kept this ingredient secret – the addition of which I believe my Nonna pioneered – all her life. I mean: Lipton’s soup mix??! You gotta be kidding!!! Near the end of my mother’s life, she told my sister, so that the perfection of Genoese would not be lost. Let everything cook down for another hour, or even two hours. 

You should not need to add salt, but taste to be sure. A few grinds of black pepper. 

Slice the eye round, which should be cool now, across the grain, and lay the slices around the outside of a round platter.  Inside the circle, add canned peas. Ladle some sauce over the beef and peas just before you serve.

Cook the perciatelli, drain, and place in a large platter. Cover generously with the sauce, and top with grated Parmesan Reggiano. 

Prepare for the most extraordinarily delicious meal you have ever enjoyed.  Pour a robust Burgundy. Or a dago red, like Cribari. 

Salud! Per cento anni!