(I'm posting this old Full Frontal column from 2006 as a #TBT, after my best gal Abby brought to my attention a very similar piece that is, admittedly, way more detailed and researched,)
Upon finding a recipe online for “Montigott,” I decided it was time to quit simply complaining to my friends and take my crusade to the street! Or at least here.
I was looking for a simple casserole or cassoulet recipe for the slow cooker, maybe something homey and cheesy like tuna noodle, you know, and I stumbled on Montigott, posted by some lady. Montigott, it turns out, is a favorite of this woman’s family, and a recipe she received from an Italian friend perhaps thirty years ago. One uses sausage – pork preferably – tomato sauce, cheese, a whole bunch of other stuff. The recipe actually looks kind of good. Looks like the classic Manicotti to me!
So here’s the thing – I can almost promise that this domestic goddess wielding “Montigott” is from the tri-state area. Jersey, probably, possibly Long Island. There is a very strange phenomenon there, whereupon stepping across the invisible barrier between the tri-state and the rest of the world, one experiences and may even be taken over by a mandatory bastardization of the Italian language.
“Muzzadell,” my father says, “is how the Italians say it. Vinny says it like that.”
“Vinny’s food is delicious, Dad,” I say, daydreaming about the delectable tagliatelle with shaved black truffles at Vinny’s fantastic restaurant. “But his being from New Jersey trumps his Italian heritage where language is concerned.”
My father won’t budge. No matter how much I tell him that Italian is all about pure vowels. Unlike we dirty-tongued Americans, Italians wouldn’t let a diphthong contaminate the almighty round tone.
I was at a friend’s boyfriend’s house a few years ago while they attempted to make fresh pasta. He was from Long Island. The constant mutilation of Italian words as he asked his girlfriend for ingredients nearly put me over the edge.
“Give me more riggott.” “Give me some muzzadell.” “Maybe next time we can make Manigott.”
I freaked out and started yelling the words he was saying: “Riggott! Muzzadelle! Manigott!” Luckily they just thought I was being weird, shouting things in excitement.
My sister and I have taken to dropping the last syllable of all Italian words in protest, and in order to show how arbitrary it is to do so. We no longer listen to the dulcet tones of Pavarotti, but can’t get enough of that Pavarott’s tunes. We order Peetz from Natall’s and drink Pinot Greej.
Now that others get a view into Jersey (without having to actually go there, ewww!) via “The Sopranos” I fear this problem will grow impossibly huge. The day I heard Tony Soprano refer to some leftover spaghetti as “cold pahst” I shed a tear for the almighty Italian vowel. I rue the day when Midwesterners will complement their flat “a” by dropping that last syllable, adding a “g” where it doesn’t belong.
Of course, the upside with the whole Sopranos thing is that maybe some people from other parts of the country will quit saying “eye-talian dressing.”
Jenn Sutkowski credits her old singing teacher, Maria, for shining light on the marriage between Italian and vowels. Maria’s home was a haven away from the dropped syllables and hard “g.”
Postscript: It's a dialect. For more, see this New York Times piece that was written a couple years before mine, explaining that Italians (in Italy) won't correct people and are glad when people try to speak the language, even when they mangle it.
From the above article: "And Gregory Pell, an assistant professor at Hofstra University who teaches Italian, said that because of the way double consonants were spoken, such as the double 't' in manicotti, Americans might not clearly hear the last 'ee' sound. When New Yorkers drop their endings, he said, 'it's become a new word and its own version.'"
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.