Thursday, May 19, 2011

Italian Festivals and Feasts

On Sunday May 22, 2011 history will be re-created in Massa Marittima, Tuscany, Italy. Every fourth Sunday in May and an additional Sunday in August there is a contest called, Balestro del Girifalco which is the acclaimed 106° crossbow-shooting challenge. It is an organized competition for 24 participants who dress up in medieval clothing and recreate this contest. The May crossbow is dedicated to Saint Bernardino from Sienna who was born in Massa Matittima on September 8th 1380. The archers shoot arrows out of ancient style Italian crossbows which are based on the weapons that their ancestors used, it is a way of being transported back though history. After the arrow has been loaded, the archers yield their position and aim at the target, which is a disc about 18 inches wide and just over 35 meters away. The crossbowman who shoots his arrow closest to the centre of the target, becomes the winner. A gold arrow made by an artist is the prize for the winner of the completion as well as a large painted silk banner. There is a lively historical parade with about 200 people who dress in reproduced medieval costumes. They run through the streets with banners and flags before they end up at the Piazza del Duomo. There is plenty of food, drinks and merriment plus the abundance of history which is accomplished by this re-creation and fun filled day is had by all.

As I think about celebrations and feasts, what comes to my mind is a memory as a young child going to the Italian festival called the “Feast of San Gennaro” with my parents….. Being an Italian American family, this was a special treat for my family to attend this annual outdoor feast which takes place in “Little Italy,” New York. This year the feast will turn 85 years old which will be celebrated on September 15-25, 2011. This is the longest-running, biggest and most religious festival in lower Manhattan. This neighborhood which became home for hundreds of Italian immigrants who came seeking to improve their lives in the early part of the 20th century. This feast attracts more than three million people from all over the globe to Little Italy to participate in the annual celebration of faith with the patron saint of Naples, Italy the Statue of San Gennaro. This feast includes religious processions, colorful parades, free musical entertainment, games, rides ( Ferris wheel, merry-go-round) and a wide variety of ethnic foods, charming outdoor café’s and even a world famous cannoli eating completion. The feast of San Gennaro reflects Italian American culture and heritage which brings the world to “Little Italy” and “Little Italy” to the world. If you would like more information it can be found at

One of my families many favorite things to do at this feast were the games that we could play. I remember my brothers and I trying to get the little white ball into the small fish bowl. This bowl had a real goldfish in it and if you were able to throw the little white ball in the neck of the bowl, you would be able to take home the goldfish, and you were a winner. Another one of my favorite games was the horse race. This game took skill and good aim. You would have to hold a water gun steady and try to aim it on the round disc. If you keep the water on the disc, your race horse would move. The first horse to get to the other end of the row wins. When you did win a game sometimes you could chose a stuffed animal or doll. Many  times throughout the years of attending the San Gennaro festival, I would be going home with my stuffed animals. Another big part of the feast were the different types of foods, so delicious and the smells were fantastic. I remember walking with my Dad down one of the streets (Mulberry Street) and seeing the cotton candy booth, ice cream (Gelato), and of course the truly authentic traditional Italian foods such as pastas, fried zeppoles and one of my parents’ favorites, sausage peppers with onions on an Italian Bread roll. You really don’t have to be Italian to enjoy sausage and peppers. You can’t help seeing them and smelling them as you walk up and down the streets of the festival. These are sweet or hot Italian sausage which is cooked on a hot grill and served with piles of peppers and sautéed sliced onions. If you ask anyone at the festival they will tell you that the sausage and peppers are the top selling food items.

I don’t know about you, but all this taking about food is getting me hungry. So, I would love to share with you a wonderful recipe of Sausage, Peppers, with Onions. This recipe is one of my families very favorite meals. Which can be eaten as a dinner meal, for lunch and even to take on picnics as the summer is approaching. This dish is very simple and easy. All the flavors blend together and the onions as they caramelize give the peppers a sweet taste. Wine would be a good beverage to have along side your dish. You can also pair a Red or White wine which will work very well with pork. You should try to aim for lighter reds like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Chianti, or softer reds like a Merlot. Chardonnay is a good choice for a "porky" white. 

Sausage and Peppers
2 large green peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1 inch strips or chunks
2 large yellow peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1 inch strips or chunks
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1 inch strips or chunks
2 large yellow onions, cut into 1 inch wedges
1 / 4 cup of olive oil or as needed
2 tablespoons of Oregano
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 to 2 lbs of Italian style pork sausage-with or without fennel seeds
(the amount of sausage depends on how many people that are eating)

Preheat the oven to 375° Spread the vegetables in a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano. Make sure vegetables are in a single layer so they will all cook and brown evenly. Now pierce or stick each link of sausage two or three times with a fork, so they will cook through. Place sausage in between the peppers and onions. Bake till sausage and vegetables are cooked and browned. Bake uncovered about 45 minutes depending upon your oven. Your vegetables should be still firm, and no traces of pink should remain in the sausage. Serve hot, with bread or a tossed salad.

I hope that you enjoy this recipe and you never know, maybe one September night on Mulberry Street, in Little Italy, as I am enjoying the San Gennaro Festival, I may see you eating a Sausage, Pepper with Onions sandwich.

Till next time……

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