WHEELING - In the mood for a trip to Italy for a delicious homemade meal at a table topped with a clean white cloth? Longing to enjoy the company of just the right mix of friends, old and new, to pass the time, all while easily taking the time to savor the handcrafted fare without feeling rushed? Then head to the north end of the Heritage Port grounds during the upcoming annual Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival.
"Little Italy," as event organizers have called this part of the local festival's venue, has grown considerably in its popularity in recent years. It provides the perfect setting to experience a variety of cultural traditions offered at a much more calm and leisurely pace than is found elsewhere at the annual festival.
The location of this cultural corner at the north end of the Heritage Port grounds is perfect for anyone wanting to catch a glimpse of the weekend's ongoing bocce tournaments, but who do not relish sitting in the open seating above the courts.
T-L Photo/KIM LOCCISANO
Giovanna Loccisano (far left) and her father, Jon Loccisano of Yorkville work along with Dante DeFelice and his father, Dominic DeFelice of Bellaire. Both Loccisano and DeFelice believe strongly in passing on their Italian heritage and traditions to the next generation.
Over the course of the festival this niche will be home to award presentations including awards for homemade wine making.
It will also serve as a sort of traditional summer kitchen environment for all the demonstrations, focusing on the timeless traditions of creating classic Italian cuisine, starting with homemade pasta, said organizers.
"In recent years it has become a nurturing spot for those who enjoy experiencing a taste of Italian traditions including classic foods for all courses of a meal, dancing, music, singing and demonstrations to help pass on the cultural knowledge and more," said Kathy Frantazzi, president of the foundation's board. "The tradition of the pasta making demonstration will be available for festival goers at various times throughout the weekend. Not only will they have the opportunity to learn how to make the pastas, but they will also have the chance to cook and then enjoy the treat of eating what has just been made."
"We expect to have demonstrations, in addition to the spaghetti making event that will provide insight to making classics such as fried dough and gnocchi," said Frantazzi.
This year, those who visit the plaza in search of cool refreshments will also be able to consider purchasing several varieties of imported Italian beer, she said. Wine will also be available for purchase thanks again to the help of Good Mansion Wines.
But don't forget the dessert!
Cookies and pastries lovingly handcrafted for this event will find their way in abundance to the Heritage port, with the sale of many of these items helping continue the growth of the festival committee's scholarship program awards.
"People really enjoy the change of pace offered at this end of the festival's activities," she offered. "But there are plenty of people who really enjoy getting into the festive spirit of the music shared by the professional musicians performing there. It's not at all uncommon for people to get up and start dancing when they hear a favorite song or see a traditional dance they have always enjoyed."
A variety of demonstrations and information will be shared about the rich heritage of the Italians and their descendants, today's Italian Americans.
Culinary experts agree the central secret to the success of Italian cuisine continues to rest largely in its classic simplicity and its ever increasing popularity.
The diversity offered in classic Italian cuisine is, according to historians, the result of the many other cultures which have at one time or another had a good deal of influence on Italy's many unique regions, which were not united as a single country until recent history.
Another of the heavy influence on a region's cuisine is its location and the foods grown and easily available there, such as those which are largely structured on fresh seafood, or those more centered on foods from grains or vegetables and farm raised meats.
"The plaza area at the north end of the festival grounds is a perfect setting for the wealth of music to be enjoyed throughout the festival," offered Frantazzi, noting the aspects of Italian heritage to come alive for guests finding their way to the plaza will range from opera to performances by those skilled at playing such instruments as the mandolin and the accordion.
The work done to bring about the annual festival is done on a volunteer basis, all in an effort to support the financial growth of the entity's scholarship fund, from which 14 awards are made to local high school seniors each year.
"We invite everyone to come to the festival to enjoy good food, and good entertainment and fun with good friends."
Details of the weekend event's schedule are available at www.italyfest.com.