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Food a big draw to Bravo Italiano Festival

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Entertainment and tradition abound; the one thing that reeled people in to the 29th annual Bravo Italiano Festival was the mouth-watering, heavenly aroma of homemade Italian cooking.

“It’s wonderful,” Carla W. Haas said Saturday. Her face lit up at just the smell of her linguine with clam sauce. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come down today — because I always enjoy having the food here, and it’s in generous potions.”

Her large plate was full of at least three scoops of the popular pasta. Her husband, Steven C., was daydreaming of a plate of pasta while working on his plate of half hots, which he described as “a hot banana-type pepper stuffed with a meatball-type spiced meat concoction. It’s hot, spicy and very good.”

Amanda J. Hibbard of Watertown could not agree more. When asked what meal she must have while at the festival, she said, “The half hots. It’s the one thing my family never makes that they have here.”

Michael C. Crump said the homemade sausage and meatballs were what made his mouth water, and for 5-year-old Gabriella M. Hibbard, the fresh fried dough was “yummy.”

The festival was held Friday and Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. It has been sponsored by the Italian-American Civic Association since 1985, when a group of men of Italian descent sat down over a cup of coffee and agreed to do it, former festival organizer John J. Morgia said.

All of the food featured this year was homemade, association President Mark Verne said, and was organized under the watchful eye of Italian-American club cook Antoinette M. Manarina.

“We’ve been doing this the last nine days ... at least 16 hours a day,” Ms. Manarina said. “At one point I had about 10 guys with me in the kitchen. Usually eight people work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then another crew came in.”

She estimated 125 pounds of meat went into 2,000 meatballs, with 220 pounds of linguine, 350 pounds of sausage for sausage and peppers and at least 30 batches of fried dough.

“People are amazed — like people that have never been here before? ... They go, ‘Wow, what is this?’ They just don’t realize that we start from scratch and we go from there,” Ms. Manarina said. Even the sauce was made from scratch.

One dish that stood out from the staples such as pasta and half hots, Ms. Manarina said, was the tripe.

“It’s the lining of a cow or pig’s stomach,” she said. “One man walked out with four dishes.”

Mr. Verne estimated about 2,500 people attended the festival over the two days. That was a lot of mouths to plan for. But Ms. Manarina said the effort was well worth it.

“Homemade — it tastes better, and we were taught by our mothers and our grandmothers. We Italians grew up making food,” she said. “We grew up in Watertown with so many Italian restaurants that, you know, everybody knew what good Italian food was and we just want to carry on that tradition.”

“It means a lot to the club — a lot to Italian culture and heritage,” Mr. Verne said of the festival.

While people like Mr. and Mrs. Haas came for the entertainment, or Ms. Hibbard and Gabriella came to thrive in their Italian heritage, very few could leave without trying an honest-to-God Italian home-cooked meal. While Miss Italia, the entertainment and the Italian cars on display may change, the food will always be hearty and rich in Italian tradition.

Video of Friday’s activities can be found at http://wdt.me/azVbLH.




Bravo Italiano Festival 2013
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