Scholarship Stories

At the National Italian American Foundation, we believe in supporting future generations of our community, which is why we have provided over $7,860,400 in scholarships and grants since 2009. Every donation to our Foundation helps us to not only protect the history and culture of Italian Americans, but also continue the education of our younger generations.

We’d like to introduce you to Amy Grudier, from Cedarville University, Class of 2017 – and the recipient of our NIAF Lido Civic Club Matching Scholarship, to learn more about the deserving students that we support. 


The experience of applying, interviewing for and winning the scholarship two years in a row has given me a much deeper appreciation of my Italian heritage. My father was the first person in his family to earn a college degree, so the opportunity to be able to do the same is definitely a great privilege. My first two years at Cedarville can be summarized as full of opportunity.

I have had opportunities to interact with incredible people, learn from phenomenal professors, participate in several community service projects with my peers, and grow in my passion for emergency medicine by getting my EMT certification freshman year and Stethoscopevolunteering as an EMT sophomore year. Receiving my EMT training was made possible through the NIAF scholarship, as the additional financial commitment it posed would not have been affordable if not for the NIAF scholarship.

Through the generous support of those in the NIAF, my first two years at Cedarville have been filled with many memorable moments, and the opportunity to grow in my knowledge of and passion for nursing, emergency medicine, and care for people.


For more information on our NIAF Scholarship Programs, click here.

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Italy’s Earthquake: A Call to Action

Italian American Relief Fund

To the Italian American community:

On Wednesday morning, August 24, 2016, a large part of central Italy was struck by a devastating earthquake. This tragic disaster has claimed the lives of hundreds of people, and words cannot convey the deep loss that has affected so many of us. Our hearts and prayers are with them and the rescue workers who are frantically trying to save the remaining victims trapped under the rubble.

Please help the National Italian American Foundation, and our partners throughout the Italian American community, to raise funds for our Italian family. To help in ANY amount, please visit

As developments unfold, we will continue to update the above site. We are in contact with local authorities as well as the Embassy of Italy to finalize the details of the relief fund, and as soon as we have any updates, we will share them on our website and social media. Although immediate relief is crucial in the aftermath of the earthquake through organizations such as the Red Cross, it will also take years to rebuild these stricken communities, and all donations we receive will go towards those people in need and returning their lives back to normal.

The generosity of our Italian American community is evident in the donations we have received so far, but we must keep the momentum going. We can do a great deal of good in the coming days and weeks, and we hope you will be a part of this effort.

Please pass this along to as many friends and family as you can and please join in our prayers for our Italian family.

I am, as always,

Yours in Partnership,

John M. Viola

President & COO of The National Italian American Foundation


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Scholarship Stories

At the National Italian American Foundation, we believe in supporting future generations of our community, which is why we have provided over $7,860,400 in scholarships and grants since 2009. Every donation to our Foundation helps us to not only protect the history and culture of Italian Americans, but also continue the education of our younger generations.

We’d like to introduce you to Brandon Abranovic, from Arizona State University, Class of 2017 – and the recipient of our NIAF Intel Scholarship, to learn more about the deserving students that we support. 


While many students nowadays must struggle to balance school and work and are burdened with debt after graduation, the NIAF Intel Scholarship has freed me from financial worries and allowed me to focus exclusively on academics and extracurricular activities.  This has allowed me to engage in many extracurricular activities that have greatly enhanced my educational experience.  For example, during my freshman year, I was offered the opportunity to be involved in a program called EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service).

Through my involvement in EPICS, I was appointed the leader of a small group of engineering students working on a design for an affordable digital high power microscope.  Over the course of a semester and several design iterations, the design developed by my team was successful in developing a working prototype that is now being evaluated for commercialization and large-scale manufacturing.

I believe that this microscope has the potential to enhance education opportunities for millions of low-income students around the world.  My team is currently preparing a technical paper for publication as well as pursuing a patent on several elements of our design.

The NIAF Intel Scholarship is helping me earn credentials and continue to explore the many applications of Chemical Engineering, but most importantly NIAF is allowing me to further my commitment to educating myself and getting me one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a professional engineer.

Ellis Island platformBeing Italian American means a lot to me. I am honored and proud to be part of this nurturing and wonderful community – a community that gives me a collective identity, while helping me forge my own individuality by giving me the comfort, security and a sense of belonging to a community.

These historical contributions that Italian Americans have bestowed upon the US are of great importance. Their hard work, traditions and values throughout the history of this country have had an enormous and positive impact and, one day, I hope I will be able to add my own experiences and endeavors to the ever expanding book of the Italian American accomplishments.

Piggy bank

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We want you to know the staff working behind-the-scenes here at the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), so we are taking the opportunity to introduce you to one of our staff members! This week, we introduce you to Julia Streisfeld, our Assistant Director of Programs:

Meet the Staff Julia 2

How long have you worked at NIAF?

I started working at NIAF in late September of 2015, in the midst of the madness of the Pope arriving in Washington, D.C., and three weeks before NIAF’s 40th Anniversary Gala! I moved here after graduating with my Masters in Italian Language Culture and Literature from University of Connecticut.  It’s strange to think that almost a year has passed.  Moving down here for my job at NIAF is one of the best choices I’ve ever made!

Why do you like working at NIAF?

The quote, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” could not even begin to sum up how I feel about working at NIAF (except for if it added in something about having fantastic coworkers).  I have always had a passion for the Italian and Italian American culture and now I get to work among a family of amazing DSC_5453people who share that enthusiasm and for members who truly appreciate what we do here.

I loved teaching Italian and working with my Italian American students at a university level – in fact, there are certain parts of teaching that I miss immensely, but now I get to apply what I learned in my academic career and share what I taught in an exciting, real world setting. My coworkers especially have made the transition to a new work environment and a completely new city a smooth one after moving almost 400 miles.  Their passion, humor and encouragement are what really make our work environment special. It’s like being adopted into a huge, welcoming family.

Also, working with college-age students is something I truly enjoy. I spent a total of 4 years working as a Resident Assistant and in the office of Residential Life.  Working in student affairs is where I discovered my passion for making a difference in students’ lives during one of the most pivotal and stressful periods of their lives.  This June, I had the opportunity to attend a scholarship reception for one of the matching scholarships that NIAF offers where I met a bunch of the scholarship recipients.  Actually meeting the remarkable students that we are helping was extremely fulfilling. My job not only allows me to promote my heritage, but also allows me to make a positive impact on the lives of outstanding students, all at the same time!

What is your favorite Italian dish?pesto

It’s so hard to pick just one! I would have to go with either arancini or pesce spada arrosto in salmoriglio.  I’m also a sucker for almost anything with pesto Genovese or prosciutto.

Give us a random fact/event/skill thousands can know about you:

One of my favorite hobbies is making jewelry and I try to sell some of my work on Etsy.  I am in awe of gemstones and the way that the earth can produce such a wide variety of colors and shapes of stones and I love that jewelry is basically a wearable form of art.

What is your favorite Italian tradition and why?

By far, my favorite Italian tradition is the procession through town after a couple gets married. I love the idea of being able to celebrate a wedding with friends and family as well as the entire community.

What is your favorite Italian piece of art/music/literature?

danteThis is quite possibly the hardest question I have ever been asked, especially after 6 years of studying Italian culture, but here it goes! There is no way that I can choose just one piece, so I will have to go with my three favorite Italian literary works: La Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri, I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga and Ossi di Seppia by Eugenio Montale.

Why is being Italian American important to you?

There is so much to be proud of as an Italian American. Italian Americans are the Statue of Liberty arrivaldescendants of a culture of excellence in every aspect ranging from literature, to art, to music, to the scientific advancements that Italians have provided the world. Being Italian American is important to me because it means not only coming from this rich culture and being a part of a group that has produced so much history, but also coming from a long line of people that have succeeded in the face of adversity.
With my ancestors coming from Castellemmare del Golfo to New York, I am fiercely proud of, and grateful for, my Sicilian background and all of the sacrifices that my ancestors had to make in order to get Castellemmare del Golfomy family where they are today. When I think of what it means to be Italian American, I think of my great-grandparents fearlessly leaving their homes in search of better lives and a better future for the generations to come, and the countless hours that my grandparents worked to provide for their family.  My Italian American identity is important to me because it instilled in me the importance of perseverance, hard work, sacrifice and the unquestioned importance of family.


Stay tuned for more Meet the Staff blog posts, coming your way soon!

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Book Review – My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily

In need of a good beach read this summer? Check out Gilda Morina Syverson’s travel memoir, reviewed by NIAF in our Ambassador magazine

My Father’s Daughter cover

My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily

By Gilda Morina Syverson

“Dad,” I said, “I’m giving everyone something to be in charge of.”

…“You’re in charge of the language,” I said, unsure what his response would be.

Dad’s mood could change in a second, and we have been known to come head-to-head over the simplest comments. The Italian language is so natural to my father, though, that it seemed like a reasonable undertaking and a fair request.

Dad burst out laughing. “You’re kidding?”

“No, Dad. I haven’t had time to practice. So can you take on the language?”

Still snickering, he said, “I thought that was why you were bringing me to begin with.”


At age 50, Gilda Morina Syverson knows it is time to transform her relationship with her father by casting off her role as argumentative child and by healing the rifts that divide them. “My Father’s Daughter” tells the story of that inner transformation that slowly unfolds with discoveries about ancestry, family, culture, and connection to Italy.

From Rome to her father’s hometown of Gualtieri Sicaminò, then her mother’s hometown of Linguaglossa, Syverson uncovers clues to her parents’ past, placing her own Italian Lemon GroveAmerican childhood in Syracuse, N.Y., in greater context. A garden full of lemon and orange trees; a shed where her father stole chicken eggs, sold them, and gambled away the money; the “passion and bewilderment” felt sensing her grandparents’ presence at a mass in San Nicola di Bari church in Gualtieri, and other moments reveal to Syverson that her pilgrimage home is not only a journey to the old country but also to the new world of her adult self.

A Novello Literary Award Book finalist, “My Father’s Daughter” is a mosaic of travel memoir, identity writing and family stories. Syverson’s stories will resonate with millions of Italian American Baby Boomers who grew up influenced by Italy in their most intimate family relationships.

— Review by Kirsten Keppel


This review appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of NIAF’s Ambassador Magazine.

My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily by Gilda Morina Syverson
Divine Phoenix Books; 292 pages; $17.95

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Rosa’s Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

Captured (written) by The Recipe Hunters in Calabria, Italy

We’re sharing a blog post from our guest blogger team, The Recipe Hunters, on a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan that they learned while traveling through Calabria. You can read their original post here. Happy cooking!

35. Eggplant Parm

Eggplant Parmesan or Melanzane Parmigiana is a symbol of Southern Italy. Southern Italy is known for its robust agriculture, it’s delicious eggplant dishes, tomatoes, and, more importantly, it’s traditional cuisine.

There is no better time in Italy than eggplant season! There are thousands of ways in which southerner’s large, delicious, and plentiful eggplants are used in cooking. When asking a southerner what they miss the most from mom’s cooking, it is usually met with a response “Ohhh my mom makes the best melanzane parmigiana.”

Eggplant parm is found throughout all of southern Italy, but each house has their own unique way of making it with little tricks that make all the difference. We had to find a grandma of our own to show us her recipe. Check out the Calabrese Eggplant Parmesan recipe made with love by Rosa in Monasterace, Italy!

Ingredients for Rosa’s Eggplant Parmesan

  • 800 g Whole Peeled Tomatoes

  • 1 Red Onion

  • 1/2 cup Water

  • 3 lbs Eggplant (1.4 kg)

  • Olive Oil

  • Vegetable Oil

  • 2 handfuls grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana

  • 1 handful grated Pecorino Romano

  • 1 lb (450 g) of Mozzarella -sliced (mozzarella di bufala is the best!)

  • 100 g thinly sliced prosciutto (1/4 lb)

  • salt to taste

Recipe for Rosa’s Eggplant Parmesan

  1. In a medium sized pot add 1 diced red onion with 2. Once oil fizzles, add tomatoes1/2 cup of olive oil and heat over medium-high flame, stirring occasionally so that the onions do not burn.

  2. Once the onions begin to fizzle in the oil, add 800 g of whole peeled tomatoes, 1/2 cup of water, and a pinch of salt and stir.

  3. Turn the heat down to low, slightly cover the pot and allow the sauce to simmer while you prep the eggplant.

Prepping the Eggplant11. 1 cm thin

  1. Remove the green part of the eggplant and wash the eggplants under cold water.

  2. Cut the eggplants lengthwise in half, then face the eggplants white-side down and slice horizontally into 1 cm thin slices.

    Made with Love Tip: If you do not like the peel, you can cut the skin off but I like the way it tastes.13. Adding seasalt after every layer

  3. Lay the slices of eggplant in a large bowl and after every layer sprinkle the eggplant with seasalt, repeat this step until the eggplants are all sliced.

Removing the liquid from the Eggplant slices:

  1. Once all of the eggplant slices are in the bowl, firmly press down on them with your hands, add a plate on top of them, and over the plate place a heavy weight.

  2. Every 5 minutes, remove the weight and turn the eggplants, adding a little sprinkle of seasalt as you move them around.16. Rosa adds salt

  3. Once you can see a pool of brown clear water at the bottom of the bowl and the eggplants are soft, remove the weight and bring them to close to your stove-top (approx 30 min).

Frying the Eggplant slices:

  1. In a large frying pan add 1 cm height of vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat.23. Once oil is hot enough place slice

  2. Prepare a large straining bowl with a double layer of paper towel to collect the excess oil from the fried eggplant slices.

  3. Once the oil is hot enough (place a slice of eggplant in the oil and if it sparks and pops, then it is ready if not wait until it does) place a layer of eggplants in the pan and brown the eggplants on both 25. The fried slices being drained of excess oilsides.

  4. Once both sides are browned, place them on the paper towels in the bowl to drain the excess oil. Repeat this step until all slices are browned.

Layering the Eggplant Parmesan in a Large Deep Pan (9-by-9-inch, 10-by-5-inch or 10-by-6-inch baking pan):

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (176° C)29. Start layering the eggplant

  2. Add a layer of olive oil in a large deep pan

  3. Now layer the following…

Tomato sauce,

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana,

Grated Pecorino Romano,30. And layering

Bread Crumbs,

Fried eggplant slices as close together as possible,

Prosciutto slices

Thinly sliced mozzarella.

  1. Continue to layer until you have run out of ingredients.

  2. Once you are done layering, place the eggplant parmigiano in the oven for 45 minutes.

  3. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving

  4. Remember to eat your Eggplant Parmesan with Love!

36. Final Product

This recipe and blog post is courtesy of our NIAF Guest Bloggers, The Recipe Hunters – Anthony Morano and Leila Elamine. Learn all about them and their other adventures here!

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Un Minuto Con…

Fascination between two countries

By Rosario Mariani,

With the U.K.’s recent “Brexit” shifting European relations and economies, Italy’s long-standing love of all-things British have come to light. Italians seem fascinated with everything English.

In fact, in recent years, young Italians have flocked to London (despite the English weather) to work there Big Bensince the economic situation at home was not favorable.  Bright and ambitious young men and women sought opportunities in this great metropolis, although how the U.K.’s departure from the European Union will affect this is still uncertain.

Today, London has a sizable Italian-born population that has brought the flair and sophistication of the Italian lifestyle with them. The newcomers are well-educated and have quickly assimilated to the traditional aristocratic British traditions. On my first trip to London in 1972, it was virtually difficult to eat well anywhere.

Today, the “Cucina Italiana” inspires some of the finest restaurants in town.  Gelaterie and Cafes are almost in everyespresso corner to satisfy, not only the tourist, but also Italians living in town, still clinging to their traditions. Conversely, the British seem to have slightly moved away from their traditional afternoon tea to the enjoyment of having an espresso.

In retrospect, 400 years ago this past April, William Shakespeare was born (and died) and the British bard must have been equally as fond of Italy.  Many of his 38 plays were set in “this sceptred isle” of Britain, but 13 of them were based in the sunnier climate of Italy.

From the lovelorn streets of Romeo and Juliet’s Verona and Julius Caesar’s murderous Juliet's Balconymachinations in Rome, to the frothy mix of sex, money and intrigue in Othello’s Venice, Shakespeare’s fascination with Italy is a constant undercurrent of his work. His Italian settings are so crucial to his plots that they have become characters in their own right – and his influence is felt in Italy to this day.

Buon compleanno (a little late) to Guglielmo Shakespeare! We will have to see how the U.K. and Italy’s relationship evolves after this recent development in European Union politics.


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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A Summer of Pesto

By Danielle DeSimone

For me, summer means pesto.

It’s usually our go-to, last-minute dish. It’s the “There’s-Nothing-In-the-Fridge-But-People-Are-Coming-Over-In-Ten-Minutes” dinner that is thrown together in a flurry of crushed garlic, clanging pots, and the hiss of boiling water. Now that I no longer live close to my family, it’s the dish that I always request when I come home, falling back into familiar patterns, arms, and smells.

Unlike many stories of Italian American cooking, I was not taught at the stove by a mother, a grandmother, aunt, or sister in the enclaves of Italian communities like New York, basil plantNew Jersey, or Cleveland. I’ve been taught by my father, in southern Virginia. The Italian side of my family is from the grey, factory-studded hills of upstate New York; before that, Puglia. But with my father in the military, I’ve known so many homes that I’ve lost count of them, and the homes of my ancestors can sometimes seem distant and untouchable.

But here, in my family’s kitchen in the middle of June, I can almost feel them again. It starts with the directive from Dad – “Go get some basil from the garden.” I’m handed a tall, brown paper bag and I slip out to the side of the house as evening begins to fall, where bushes of basil as tall as an eight year old fill terracotta pots.

The beauty of basil is how easily it gives off its scent – barely brush against it, and it bursts into the air in waves of peppery mint and cloves. The smell gets under my fingernails as I pinch off the leaves. With the bag full, I go back into the kitchen where Dad claps his hands twice. “Okay,” he says. “Let’s get moving.”pesto sauce

My Italian family is from Puglia, but pesto is not a Pugliese dish. As we all know, pesto comes from the northern region of Liguria, and is often attributed to the city of Genoa. So it makes sense, then, that my dad learned to make pesto not from his family, but from an elderly Genovese woman named Vera who lived in the apartment directly above us while my father was stationed with the U.S. Navy in Gaeta, Italy, when I was just a baby.

As bossy as she is kind, Vera first burst into my parents’ lives the day she forced a 6-course meal on them in their first week in Italy. From then on, my parents would visit Vera and her husband, Ennio, almost every week. While my father would eagerly follow Vera, watching her bustle around the kitchen with the sort of burning hunger of a music pupil watching a maestro, my mother would sit awkwardly in the living room with Ennio as he smoked his cigars.

As a member of the older generation, Ennio didn’t approve of my father’s love of cooking, and he was confused by my mother, who – with her Irish and German upbringing – had only really mastered the art of scrambled eggs. Meanwhile my father, looming over Vera at 6’1,” would try to decipher recipes with the most basic of Italian (ciao, si, grazie, per favore) while Vera spoke no English at all. My dad learned to cook from Vera with miming hand gestures and indiscernible noises. He learned in pinches of that, handfuls of this, a dollop here and there.


DeSimone and her father, 2011.

So now, when my Dad and I are in the kitchen, we don’t cook by a printed recipe or even a handwritten one, passed down through the generations. My father teaches me how to make pesto by sight, smells, and tastes. He’s a serious man, but in the kitchen he comes alive, and you can see the enthusiasm that he must have had when he followed Vera around her own kitchen as he gives me directions on how to add the olive oil gradually while pureeing the basil, or why you should pull a cup of starchy pasta water out of the pot, to mix in later.


I have come to associate the smell of basil and pesto with summer and, by extension, with cooking with my father. It can sometimes feel like we are not a traditional Italian American family; our recipes are a combination of a few, lingering traditions, and techniques learned from living in Italy itself, not from the great-great-grandmother I never knew. But then, being Italian American – to me – means evolving from tradition.


A recent photo of DeSimone and her father.

From polpette to spaghetti and meatballs, from bruschetta to garlic bread, from ragù alla Bolognese to Sunday sauce (or gravy), we have all transitioned from being just Italian, to Italian American. And so when my father looks over his shoulder and whispers in that conspiratorial way that Vera’s recipe never had butter but he sneaks a sliver in, or that he includes more pecorino romano than parmigiano reggiano because our family likes the sharpness of the sheep’s milk, that constant push to become something different, something more, continues. A tweak here, a pinch of salt there, and our family pesto changes from Vera’s recipe to something of our own creation – the DeSimone’s very own interpretation of what being Italian American means to us.

Nowadays, living far away from my father’s garden full of plump basil and the dozens of other herbs and vegetables he grows, I rely on a solitary potted basil plant for my own pesto dishes. I call my dad on the phone as I cook, checking with him at each step to make sure I’m doing everything right. My own interpretation of the recipe hasn’t evolved much since I’ve started cooking it alone – it still emerges a silky, bright green, clinging to farfalle pasta and filling the kitchen with that sweet smell of summer, just like my dad’s. I miss being in that brightly-lit kitchen with him, working in unison while Sinatra croons in the background, and so for now, this recipe – to me at least – doesn’t need to be changed just yet. It’s perfect just the way it is.


Danielle DeSimone is NIAF’s Social Media Manager & Assistant Editor. 

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The Recipe Hunters

Introducing NIAF’s new guest bloggers: The Recipe Hunters

My name is Anthony Morano. Each and every aspect of Italy in my life is intrinsic to who I am today.

Zia Marietta

For me, Sundays were holidays growing up. My mother would ceremoniously cook a mountain of bolognese sauce and by “cook” I mean simmer for hours. The aroma would drift throughout our home, filling the house with warmth and a feeling of my mother’s love. Love that we shared at the dinner table, laughing, crying, and spending countless hours together.

The dinner table was a safe haven. It was a level playing field where everyone’s voice was Meatball recipeheard and opinion was valued. Over our bowls of spaghetti, we would have debates, share stories, review current events, celebrate, laugh, recount old memories, and make new ones.  The tradition of Sunday dinners began with my Nonna and Nonno and stays with us today as our most cherished family activity.

My Nonna and Nonno moved to America to provide their children with opportunities they never had. My Nonno taught me the importance of hard work and instilled upon me the mentality of those who fought for the American dream. He was here to work, to become financially independent and to use that independence to create a sustainable life back in Italy. He was well on his way, until tragically dying in a car accident on his annual trip back to Calabria. His death influenced me profoundly; I wanted to understand why he was so eager to return to Italy.

My family visited Italy for the first time when I was 13 years old. I remember my excitement to visit new cities, try new things, and go on an adventure. I remember trying my first cappuccino and being allowed to order a cornetto with chocolate for breakfast! As anthony familywe sat in the bar, it was the first time I witnessed my dad relax as he chatted with locals, enjoying each and every moment as if he were finally home. We felt Italian. Being Italian American motivated me to minor in Italian at Emory, to study abroad in Rome in 2007, to meet my relatives in Calabria, to practice the language, and to document Italy’s food culture.

One of the most reflective moments in my life occurred in 2010 while I was an analyst at JP Morgan. My father took my brother and I to my grandparent’s hometown in Caulonia, Calabria to reunite with distant relatives, meet the locals, and to see how far we had come. From my Nonno’s journey delivering coal from town to town on the back of a mule, to celebrating my father’s 25 years as a Rheumatologist in the US.

After that trip, I felt so proud of my family’s resilience and accomplishments. I think Zia Marietta Group PictureNewton said it best: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Our family’s Sunday stories were no longer just stories, and that trip was the first time my life came full circle. Since then, my passion as an Italian American has continued to grow. For me, being Italian is about family, friends, culture, knowledge, food, art, and history; balancing it all. It is the Renaissance mentality.

On following trips to Italy, we would research the artwork, the history, and, of course, the Anchovies Shutterstockfood. We only wanted to eat like the locals did.  I recall my first drive from Calabria up the Amalfi coast; when we passed Cetara, my dad’s eyes lit up and he explained to us that the town was known for it’s Colatura (anchovies fish oil) that we had to stop to taste and buy.

I also remember my dad’s stubborn insistence on traveling two hours out of the way to visit his cousin in Emilia-Romagna and try her tortellini in brodo. And then later when my dad told me to mention zeppole to my aunt so that she would make them for us. I was intrigued to learn about each specialty. On our following trip, I took on the assignment to be the food researcher. I went through books and online articles to figure out what food specialties were in each town. On one trip from Venice to Rome, I demanded that we head to Norcia for the wild boar, Castelluccio for the lentils, and Orvieto for the white wine.  I appreciated the uniqueness in each region, town, and home.

Having gone on a journey to discover my own culture, I realized the importance of that journey in my personal fulfillment and how valuable it is to know one’s own roots. The “Italian” food I ate on Sundays was a mixture of my mom’s Neapolitan roots, combined with my dad’s Calabrese ones.

I realized that my knowledge of Italian cooking is just an iota of the cooking experience in this world, and that lack of knowledge sparked my curiosity. I wanted to experience the variety that exists in Italy from region to region, town to town, and household to household. I also thought, just as much as I love visiting Italy, I would love discover the regional and traditional cooking of other cultures around the world!


Two years ago, Leila Elamine and I co-founded The Recipe Hunters and began a worldwide journey to discover various cultures through their “Sunday dinner Mirador De Ezarotables.” We go from country to country, volunteer, integrate ourselves in the local communities, and search for people who cook traditional food and maintain their culinary heritage. We have recorded over 200 recipes in the homes of locals in Norway, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, Spain, Vietnam, Korea and, of course, Italy. We are excited to share those traditions with the NIAF community and what better place to start then with where it all began: Italy!


Anthony and Leila

Recipe Hunters Logo

Learn more about Anthony and Leila by following them here. Stay tuned for more travel/food blog posts from The Recipe Hunters, coming soon! 

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Festa della Mamma


By Gabriella Mileti, NIAF Director of Programs

Sophia Loren once said, “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts.  You are connected to your child and to all those who touch your lives.  A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

Well, with all due respect to the Italian icon, I think she is half right.  Italian mothers never think for themselves, they only think for their family.  In my 32 years of existence, I can Gabriella Mother's Day 1assure you my mother has never thought for herself.  She has dedicated her life to taking care of our family of six.  Even now that we are all grown up and adults, I have to force my mother to do something for herself, and it is usually a total failure.

As Italians we know that at the heart of every household is a strong woman—a woman who takes care of her family, the home and everything else in between.  Indeed Italian mothers are a force of nature, all the while warm and affectionate.  To this day I don’t know how my mother raised four children, kept a home immaculately clean and put food on the table every night all without a babysitter or housekeeper.  In fact, I didn’t know what take-out was until I got to college nor did sauce ever come out of a jar, or any food for that matter.

As a young girl in a predominately anglo-elementary school, I showed up at the lunch table every day with the best lunches from mortadella or prosciutto sandwiches to Nutella or even hot soup in a thermos, while the other kids ate peanut butter and jelly on Wonder Bread.  My mother always made sure I had the most complete and best meals when I was not eating at home.

Italian mothers are the best and are always looking out for their children.  My mother always made sure we were covered properly for fear of a draft, we were never allowed to leave the house with wet hair, for fear of catching an pneumonia and while at the time I thought she was over doing it, I look back and realize she was only doing it for our own good, to keep us safe and healthy.  Because we were, and still are, her number one priority.

Italian mothers are great at uniting people.  Like in any normal family, we all have our differences, my mother was always there to make sure at the end of the day we were united as one family.  And no matter what, she always has our back, supporting us in every decision.

And above all, my mother never forgot the value of tradition and culture.  I grew up making pasta from scratch, speaking Italian in the house, and traveling to Italy on a yearly basis.   My Gabriella Mother's Day 2parents did a phenomenal job in instilling in us to be proud of our Italian heritage—I work for the National Italian American Foundation, after all.  And for that I am forever grateful.

They say, of all the words in the Italian language, the word “mamma” is the most beautiful.  You know why?  Well, when you say it, your lips kiss twice.  Remember to honor all those strong, beautiful women in your lives not only on Mother’s Day but every day of the year.

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