Monday, January 11, 2010

Someone in my lineage likely had dyslexia…

My mother’s side of the family is a classic Italian-American clan. My grandfather is a first-generation American citizen and my grandmother was second-generation. Gramps’s birth certificate reads “Umberto DiLuciano” (even though he goes by “Albert”); Gram realized she was christened “Maria” after thinking her name was “Marie” for about seventy-five years! My mother’s generation (two girls, two boys) all live within one mile of each other in the same city in which they were raised. Many of us attend Catholic Mass as a group on Sundays, taking up an entire pew. We go out for brunch after Church then meet up later that night for pizza at someone’s house. We have a family recipe for spaghetti sauce that is kept under (figurative) lock and key. Like most Italian-American families, we are very proud of our heritage and use holidays as an excuse to pull out all the stops and make traditional Italian food.

One of my favorite dishes is usually served with our New Year’s Day supper. The preparation starts in advance. People gather together a few days before the holiday to make delicate crepes filled with a secret blend of Italian cheeses. This year my Gramps and Uncle Randy made the crepes, while my Mom filled the thin pancakes and rolled them into tasty little cigar shapes. She stacked the finished product into casserole dishes, barely covering them with our homemade chicken stock. They sat in the fridge until New Year’s Day, when my Mom gently reheated them and rationed out the crepes to eagerly awaiting family members. The flour crepes absorb the flavorful stock and the cheese infuses the broth with salty, Italian goodness! This dish is the primo piatto of the meal, followed up with ham, potatoes and veggies. I’ve missed out on this meal for years, sadly, since I always return to whatever city I am calling “home” for New Year’s, but I can almost taste these delicious treats as I write this!

What are they called and where can you get them? My family calls them “scrapelle,” and have done so for as long as anyone can remember. I’ve searched high and low for this dish in restaurants and online but haven’t been able to find them anywhere. I took some Italian in college and even spent a quarter studying in Italy. I asked dozens of Italians about “scrapelle” but none had ever heard of such a thing! I was headed home for the holidays, thinking about our family traditions (including my favorite dish). Suddenly, I had an “aha” moment worthy of a cartoon light bulb illuminating over my head. The Italian word for “crepe” is “crespelle”! Somewhere along the line, someone must have mixed up the word! No wonder there was no trace of this dish anywhere! In true Italian-American fashion, we had our own bastardized pronunciation of an Italian word. Hey, the Sopranos leave the vowels off the end of every Italian word (“mozzarell” and “mortadell”), give us this one.

I’m not sharing the recipe for this one, because it’s a serious family secret and I might be disowned for doing so (well, someone would definitely give me mal'occhio). But please, enjoy the photos of my family! 

Friendly group, huh? The man on the left and the woman standing in the middle are my great-great grandparents.  It was taken circa 1919.

If you're curious about the others:
The first one is my great grandparents, my great-uncle, and great-aunt Francie, taken around 1924. I LOVE how Victorian it is!
The second picture is my grandfather on his confirmation day with his godparents, taken around 1940 (that's a guess, but it's close!).
The third photo is my great-grandparents' wedding picture, taken in 1919.


  1. all i can say is..."awwwww..."

  2. Happy New Year, Alyssa! Great posting--I enjoyed it!

  3. My family grew up in west Philadlephia ... and we make the very same thing ... We call/spell them "scrapelles" as well. But we only use one specific kind of cheese, just enough to dust the inside before rolling them. Too much and they get way too salty.

    The other difference is that we will make them a few days or weeks in advance, and freeze them on a flat baking sheet so they don't stick together. They thaw out a couple hours before eating.

    Then they only go into the broth just before serving. This 'soup' is a staple at just about every holiday. It gets served after the antipasta and before the main course. But as far as I am concerned, they ARE the main course. I turn my nose up at the escarole soup more often than not, just to have the last few scrapelles. (we often have both soups at the holiday dinners). And once in a while, we will just have it for dinner during the year. (using 2-3 crepe irons at a time streamlines the process!)

    So far I have only ever found it at two restaurants:

    1- Mama Maria's on Passayunk in Philadelphia - They give you just two of them cut into little spirals sitting in about 1/4" of broth ... just enough to taste them and make you want to rush back into the kitchen and eat the whole pot

    2- Laconda on Rt 3 in Edgmont / Newtown Square, PA
    I ate there 'once' about 8 years ago and they were on the special of the day menu - the broth was SO salty I thought I felt salt granules in my mouth and it burned!(imagine sand in your bathing suit!). It was horribly disappointing :(

  4. Lyssy, I love how you've collected all these pictures. They are really amazing. Also you're a beautiful writer

  5. I loved the pictures! P.S. you have a similar face shape as your great grandma in the first picture.

  6. Alyssa, What a great story. Do you know where your family comes from? We have scrapelles in chicken soup as a treat every once in a while. Our family is from the Abruzzi region. There are a number of regional recipes we all share, including the particular fish dishes at Christmas Eve. I think you should post your recipe, I'd be curious how it stands up to our family's.