My Italian Family History

My mother’s side of the family is where my Italian family history originates and where my Italian cooking influences come from. My cooking style and recipes have been passed down from my great grandmother, Donata (Belli) Passarelli.
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My most memorable Italian cooking influence was my Grandma Ida. I grew up watching my grandmother (Ida Passarelli Bonelli) make homemade noodles of all types at her kitchen table. When I was old enough, she’d let me help.


Bonelli/Passarelli families: Want to preserve or share an Italian family recipe? Submit it here!


Both my grandmother, Ida (Passarelli) Bonelli, and my grandfather, Leo Bonelli, were full Italian. They were both born and raised in the U.S. after their families emigrated from Italia in the early 1900’s. Great Grandpa Carlo was from the Abruzzo region (Alphedena) and Great Grandma Donata from Roma.

Ida (Passarelli) and Leo Paul Bonelli
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Both Italian families originally settled in the East (New York, Hoboken New Jersey) and moved to the midwest (Chicago, Illinois) in the early 1900’s.

My Grandpa Leo’s father (Louis Bonelli) was a barber and must have had to work very hard to support a family of 13! The soup pot was always on.

Louis and Carmella Bonelli Louis and Carmella Bonelli
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My Grandma Ida’s father (Carlo Passarelli) was a stonecutter and mason. Grandma’s mother (Donata Belli Passarelli) was a midwife and, after Grandpa Carlo’s death, took in boarders.

I’m always dumbfounded when I think of how my Italian family accomplished so much without the modern conveniences I have today. And they had LARGE families, cooked everything from scratch and still had time to help others.

Then there is the fine, detailed doilies and bed linens my mother and I still have from Grandma Donata (Belli) Passarelli. We figure some of these were made before she was married because they have the initial “B” instead of the initial of her married name, “P” for Passarelli. That means they are over 100 years old. Where did she find the time!

When I was young and spent time at my Grandma Ida’s, Sunday seemed to be the “visiting” day. Family and friends would stop by and grandma would put on a pot of coffee. There was always pizzelle or other goodies to share and a welcoming offer to “come and sit a spell”.

It was also traditional to have sauce (or gravy as it’s sometimes referred to) and occasionally chicken on Sunday after church. I don’t remember my grandma baking much, but Mom said she used to when my mother was a little girl. Maybe that’s why I don’t have the patience and “fuss” needed to be a baker! I must say, though, I’m getting better at baking and I wish I had more family recipes to use. I’m a much better cook. I guess I’ll just have to start my own Italian family baking traditions with my children.

One thing we do love is Italian Ricotta Cheese Pie (Crostata di Ricotta). It’s a wonderful, rich cheesecake-like pie that you make in a springform pan. It’s about 4 inches thick – delicious!

We’ve started a couple of traditions in our family. On Thanksgiving weekend, after we’ve all had our turkey dinner, we make gnocchi together (Italian dumplings made with potatoes and semolina). It’s great fun and we get flour everywhere. 🙂

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Above – making gnocchi. Left to right: Husband Doug; son-in-law Ryan, daughter Angela, son’s fiancé Ashley; son Drew.

Our traditional Italian Christmas meal is ravioli. Sometimes the kids are home to help, but usually I make 80-100 of them ahead and freeze them for our Christmas eve meal. I have to use fresh ricotta and since I’m nowhere near Chicago or an Italian market, I visit my Uncle Leo and Aunt Robyn in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where I can get delicious, fresh ricotta at Il Ritrovo (an Italian market, deli and pizza restaurant in historic downtown Sheboygan, 515 S 8th Street.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit about my Italian family history and I hope you have some wonderful Italian family traditions of your own. Ours always involves some sort of food; usually a meal.

There are always ways you can include your family in the kitchen and create some of your own memories that will become your Italian family history for years to come.

Bonelli/Passarelli families: Want to preserve or share an Italian family recipe? Submit it here!