Mangia, Little Italy! is both a valuable book and a frustrating book. It's valuable for preserving a singular style of cooking, that of the small-town Sicilian cook from early in the century dropped into the Little Italy of New York--an experience repeated all over the nation in one Little Italy or another during the great wave of 20th-century immigration. Where some ingredients were never available, or seldom available, back in Italy--mozzarella, for example, or a plethora of seafood--in Little Italy they were there for the haggling. And as a result, Italian American home cooking changed from all that it was back home to some of what it could be in the New World. This book captures that, and you can put the results on your own table.
The book is frustrating because the tales of the family--of Grandma--while intended to be charming, need the hand of a skilled writer. Francesca Romina is a skilled cook and a skilled cooking teacher. She is not a skilled writer. It throws off the focus of the book, trying to be too many things (personal history, cookbook, food history, urban narrative, family history), and not all of them are accomplished with the same attention to quality.
That said, you'd be a fool not to have a go at the seven-hour Sunday Tomato Sauce, the Pizza with Salted Sardines, the Sicilian Meatloaf, the Fried Mushrooms with Lemon and Garlic, the Sesame Seed Biscuits, or Concetta Di Palo's Ricotta Cheesecake. Romina's careful collection of Italian American home cooking turns up some wonderful dishes you may not have encountered before.
"Eat, Little Italy!" is the exhortation of the title, and that seems the best advice. --Schuyler Ingle