GREAT CHICAGO ITALIAN RECIPES
AN INTERVIEW WITH PHIL
Phil from Great Chicago Italian Recipes has a passion for his heritage and for Italian Food! Read his exclusive interview here.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com:
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you lived in Chicago (number of years), how old are your kids? grand-kids? How many?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life. As a matter of fact I still live on the same block I was born. My wife and I have two children who just turned teenagers. We had them a little late in life but they do keep us on our toes.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: The Italian community is the fourth largest community in Chicago. Basically it is a little Italy within the city. How do you see the Italian American community influence in day to day life, food, culture?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: I believe that the Italian-American community continues to struggle with tradition. We try to pass on our language, recipes and lifestyle to our children in hopes they discover the importance of their heritage.
The Italian American community in Chicago and in general also hopes to overcome stereotypes that depict us in a negative light. We are constantly promoting the positive aspects of our nationality. Mainly we focus on the accomplishments of Italian Americans in sports, music, theater, film and business.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: What was it like growing up in Chicago as a kid?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: Growing up in Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s was of course very different than it is now. People spoke to each other. I remember when I was younger you would walk out of your house and the whole block would be full of neighbors hanging outside talking and watching out for each other. I’ve been in every house on my block growing up. Now I hardly say hello to the people who live next door to me. No ones outside anymore. It seems that everyone is on the computer, texting, Skyping and emailing. There’s no personal contact anymore like there was.
We played football in the streets, had snowball fights and freely ran around the neighborhood with very little concern. And then of course there was the family. Dinner an Gram’s house on Sunday after mass. Dinner’s at Aunts and Uncles houses and a lot of backyard parties and big family gatherings.
Now everyone is gone and it’s difficult getting anybody together to sit down for a meal. Everybody seems to busy to stop and take the time to reflect. Things just start going by too fast.
All in all it was a great time growing up in Chicago. If I could do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: What was your favorite Italian recipe or food when you were a kid?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: It depends on who’s house I was at the time. I had great pesto sauce at a friends house that his Mom made, gravy at my Aunt’s house, pasta and cauliflower at my Gram’s and homemade Italian sausage at Uncle Tony’s house was always the best.
At home my Mom cooked so many good things it’s hard to decide what would be my favorite.
If I have to choose I would probably say my all time favorite dish was Grandmother’s Taganu D’Aragona recipe. It's Sicilian dish that you can find on Great Chicago Italian recipes.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: You are second generation Italian to the United States and your Grand Parents are from Sicily. I see that family, your heritage and food are a big part of your life and a part you want to instill in your family.
Tell me, what is the most memorable culinary occasion you can remember sharing with your family. Either a time you prepared a meal together, or something you cooked for them that they loved.
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: There were so many great times it’s hard to mention all of them. Any time I went to my Gram’s house I was always put to work either grating the cheese or making bread crumbs from old bread that she would save up for me.
At Uncle Tony’s house I always helped to make the sausage.
The main thing that made me feel good was recreating some of my Grandmother’s recipes for my Aunt and Mom. When they said how close it was to my Gram’s I know I did something right. It felt good to know that it brought back a lot of good memories for them.
Now it’s time to teach my kids so when they grow up they’ll be able to share the same experiences with their children. That’s basically what tradition is all about. Creating good memories that last a lifetime.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: If you asked each of your family what their favorite meal you made was, what do you think they would say?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: The kid’s love lemon chicken, chicken parmesan, pizza and pasta and meatballs. I don’t think there taste buds have developed enough yet to truly enjoy some of the dishes I make.
Sometimes I cook one dish for my wife and I and a completely different meat for them.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: One of my favorite recipes on your site, and I've read so many, is the Taganu D'Aragona. I supposed I loved it most because of the story you tell about your Grandmother and how much effort goes into it. What can you tell me about your Grandmother, who seemed to have a huge influence on your culinary quest.
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: My Grandmother Theresa was the only Grandparent I knew. My Grandfather passed away a few months after I was born and my paternal Grandparents were gone before I was born.
She was of course a strong woman. She came to America from Italy with her son three or four years after my Grandfather She had seven children here in Chicago.
As far as cooking is concerned that‘s all I ever saw her do. When I went to the house she would always be busy cooking even when she was in her 80‘s. She taught me a lot. Mostly simple things that used fresh ingredients.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: You have some very traditional recipes on the site. Some that most would not expect as being Italian style food such as Vitello Tonnanto, a traditional Tuscan soup called Cipollata, and Swordfish with Salmoriglio Sauce. Many folks don't know that swordfish and seafood is a very popular dish in the Southern regions of Italy. Did you acquire those recipes from your family?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: These dishes are regional recipes. Some of them I found in books or online and others are from family members.
What I do is adapt these recipes to my taste. I make them my own by trying out different ingredients and techniques before I publish them. It’s a creative process that I truly enjoy.
Nothing relaxes me more than cooking.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: Phil, when did you start your website Great-Chicago-Italian-recipes.com and why?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: This October the website will be 6 years old. I started the website at a time when I became unemployed.
You tend to reassess your life as to where you've been and where your going.
It’s really true when they say "Do what you love and follow your passion". It took me a long time to figure out exactly what I enjoyed doing.
I also created the site to preserve our Italian heritage and culture, It serves as a reference for younger generations to learn about who they are and where they came from.
It’s important for all of us to reflect on our cultures no matter what nationality we are.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: Of all the recipes you have on your site is it possible to name your favorite as an adult? Maybe narrow it down to your favorite of one category or the one of each category?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: Wow, I eat so many different things it’s difficult to pin point but if I had to I would say that in the pasta category it would be the Taganu D’Aragona.
My favorite veal dish is definitely Osso Bucco. I love the versatility and flavor of pork tenderloin dishes. My favorite chicken dish would have to be Milanese Style. This is chicken cutlets that I bread with breadcrumbs, cheese and basil.
My favorite beef dish is Beef Stew and it’s a toss up between Stuffed Peppers, Stuffed Cabbage and Eggplant Parmesan in the vegetable category.
In the seafood category I enjoy anything with mussels and shrimp.
As for desserts, there are too many to choose. I love them all.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: Chicagoans take their food very, very seriously. What's it like to walk out your front door and be exposed to one the best of culinary foods, restaurants, deli's and market in the US?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: It’s exciting to see so many choices. As much Italian food as I eat,I still enjoy the many ethnic dishes this city has to offer.
I enjoy Greek food, Chinese, Polish, Spanish, German and Irish cooking almost as much as Italian. Only I’m a lot better at one than the others. It’s great to see Chicago achieve world class status for our cuisine. There a so many innovative Chefs out there who work very hard at their crafts. It’s nice to be in the middle of an ever changing industry in this city.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: Do you have an Italian/American food festival in Chicago? If so, have you ever attended, exhibited? What are they like?
Phil of Great Chicago Italian Recipes: Yes there are a few festivals in the Summertime. One is Festa Pasta Vino which is held on Oakley Street which is an old Italian section of the city and then there is the Taylor Street Festival which is our largest fest that is held in the Little Italy section of town. There is also a show at Navy Pier called Italian Made that features all kinds of Italian foods and products. I have attended them many times but have not exhibited at any of them yet. Maybe next year.
Pasta Recipes by Italians.com: We hope so Phil, and we hope to see more amazing Italian pasta recipes on your site as you spread the good word about Italians, our heritage and of course the food!
Thank you for being a part of this interview!
Vivere, Amare, Ridere e Mangiare Bene
Live, Love, Laugh and Eat Well!
Do you have a pasta recipe to share? Just like this chicken fideo soup I will post it right here on this site for a whole page dedicated to your Italian pasta recipe.
ITALIAN SOUP RECIPES