In recent years, the Columbus Day holiday – celebrating the man who discovered America – has taken a hit in some “woke” circles across the country. Some governments have changed the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. Others, like Montgomery County, Pa., have removed Columbus Day from the list of official holidays and replaced it with Juneteenth.
In other circles, moves like this have only strengthened support for the traditional Columbus Day celebration … and all of the heritage-based festivities that go along with it. That is the case with the Americans of Italian Heritage Council, an organization that has been celebrating Columbus Day and its affiliated Italian heritage for 18 years with its annual Columbus Cup Golf and Bocce Feast at Bellewood Country Club near Pottstown, Pa.
This year’s event is Monday, October 10. This event is by no means your typical golf outing. Instead, it is an all-day celebration of Italian food, music, wine and traditions … with a bit of golf and bocce added.
“Each year I get approached by patrons at the event and they make the same plea,” explains Al DeGennaro, president of the Americans of Italian Heritage Council. “They ask me to promise to keep the event going. Part of the reason is because they enjoy it so much. Another reason is the importance of preserving our Italian heritage.”
Typically, a large part of the heritage comes from the presentation of “old world” foods at the event. Many of the items on the annual menu come from recipes that have been preserved other the years from grandmother to grandmother … but are not typically seen in modern Italian restaurants in America.
That includes the annual “Featured Dish” … painstakingly revived from Grandmom’s kitchen and recreated for the event. Over the years, the list includes classic dishes such as: braciole (beef rolls in red gravy), minestra (greens and beans), polenta (corn meal topped with ground sausage and red gravy), riso al forno (baked rice), eggplant parmigiana, stuffed olives and more.
This year’s featured dish is linguine with clams. The dish may be well known but its lineage is not.
According to a number of food historians, the Italian dish originated as Spaghetti alla Vongole, in the city of Naples. The first recorded recipe appears in the cookbook “Cucina Teorico-practica,” written by Ippolto Cavalcanti, the Duke of Buonvicino, in 1839. His recipe called for five ingredients – pasta, olive oil, garlic, parsley and, of course, fresh clams.
Variations have crept into the recipe over the years – most notably adding white wine and red pepper – but the foundation has remained virtually the same. The biggest difference is that in restaurants across America, spaghetti has been replaced by a different hard version of pasta – linguine.
So the question arises … why is linguine … the readily available box version, not a homemade version … used almost exclusively with clams?
For that answer, two sources were researched.
The Italian food website www.paesana.com states that the main difference between the two long pastas is that spaghetti is round and linguine is flat.
“Linguine is like if each spaghetti strand was flattened by the world’s smallest steamroller. These small tongues, as
translated, are most adept at lapping up oil-based sauces with finely chopped herbs, and tiny dots of pepper … Linguine actually holds onto sauces better than spaghetti due to its flat curvature. This curious attribute grants linguine an overall better eating experience in that it carries more flavor into each bite.”
The second source is Michael DeCenzo, a native of Lafayette Hill, who now lives in Downington. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America but gained an equal amount of Italian food experience from his mother’s kitchen. He spent 20 years as executive sous chef at the Sheraton in King of Prussia, when the large hotel was owned by developer Leon Altemose, and another 13 years as executive chef at University and Whist Club in Wilmington, Del.
“I would never consider using any type of shortcut of pasta with clam sauce,” he said. “Pasta is all about taste and texture. The clam sauce provides plenty of taste. Linguine is just the appropriate texture. I like to poke the clams, then twirl the pasta around with my fork.”
“With pasta, the chew is important,” he stressed.
“Old World” dishes, like Linguine with Clams, inspire emotions with a lot of people. Even the culinary-based DeCenzo is not immune.
“I can’t help thinking about the memories, the tastes and the aromas we grew up with while cooking these traditional foods,” he admitted. “That’s all part of the allure.”