LIMA — Not Italian?
Don’t worry about it. Every Palm Sunday, the entire city becomes Italian and sits down to the biggest Italian family dinner of the year, the CIAO pasta dinner.
“I want the atmosphere of this place to be like in an Italian home. Even for people without the Italian experience, I want them to be part of a big, happy family at least for a day,” said Andy Maravola, organizer of the annual dinner. “That’s what we project as our heritage,” he added.
Keeping this big family happy is the food, always central to the event.
“We start pre-cooking the pasta on Saturday. Prior to 7 a.m. on Sunday, Johnny and Tony Venturella and their crew are making the sauce and the meatballs,” Maravola said.
That good Italian smell fills Veterans Memorial Civic Center.
“We’re not supposed to open until noon, but we have people start coming after church. If they get in line, we gotta feed ‘em. Especially if it’s rainy or cold, we let them in,” Maravola said.
Of course, they’re family.
And to keep the family happy, CIAO members decided not to raise prices this year. “Our costs went up, but because of the economy we’re not raising our prices for this dinner. We want people to be able to come and enjoy themselves,” Maravola said.
“It’s nice because we always get all good comments from this dinner. As soon as they walk in the door, everybody asks for the cannolis. Some people buy it by the dozen. This year we have 3,500 cannolis to sell,” he said.
Also keeping the crowd happy will be the Italian-American band, Ray Massa’s EuroRhythms. “We had them last year and people liked them. They’re a very good Italian band,” Maravola said.
As always, proceeds from the event goes back into the community, with much of it going towards scholarships for area high school seniors. “Last year we were able to give out $15,000 in scholarship money,” Maravola said.
Although the pasta dinner takes massive planning and preparation, it doesn’t take much to convince folks to head downtown for an afternoon of Italian food and fun. “This thing really sells itself. We’re just wishing for a nice day. We want everyone to enjoy themselves being Italian for the day,” Maravola said.
by Mary Ann Prenezio
featured in Cucina Di Casa
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup white wine
oil for frying
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
Mix together flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking powder. Cut in shortening as for pie dough. Mix in wine. Knead well. Break off walnut size pieces of dough and roll out thin on a floured surface. Wrap loosely around 6-inch metal cannoli tubes, overlapping edges and pressing to seal. In a large heavy skillet fry cannoli shells in hot oil to cover, turning occasionally, until golden brown (about 8 minutes). Drain on paper toweling for 1 minute, then remove tubes. Cool. At serving time, fill with chilled filling and dust with confectioners sugar.
In a medium sauce pan, mix together sugar, cornstarch and milk. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until thick and smooth. Stir in vanilla. Chill thoroughly. Beat ricotta until creamy, add chilled paste and beat well. Stir in chocolate bits. Refrigerate until serving time.