Sons of Italy raised the tents and set up the tables in Key West’s Bayview Park for their annual festival. The spread certainly amounted to a forkful, but the day wasn’t just about eating spaghetti and spicy meatballs. The sons, and daughters, in this group celebrated their heritage, old-world family recipes, and a desire to combat a genetic blood disease.
“This is our fourth festival and it’s getting bigger every year,” Cindy McCausland remarked. She’s the vice president of Sons of Italy. “I’m half Italian. My father is Sicilian and I’ve been in Key West for ten years.”
The Saturday afternoon spread included manicotti, ravioli, lasagna, tortellini, Caesar salad, cannoli and Italian wine… all homemade.
“Wine is a quintessential element to the Italian meal,” Tom Guida with Republic National divulges as he samples the sweetness. “You can taste the sun, the earth, the vineyards, and the love that goes into making the product.”
Guida played one of three judges savoring all the dishes. The third place ribbon was given to Bob Pontello for his stuffed shells who joked, “My wife put my name on it!”
The retired pipefitter’s wife Amy is a nurse with the local cancer clinic.
“It’s made with a lot of Ricotta cheese and has oregano, parsley, basil and a lot of garlic, but the sauce kicked it off!”
Loretta Pittaro, who was awarded the red ribbon for her cream cheese almond cake says the process connects her to her roots.
“My grandma taught me how to bake when I was 8 years old,” Pittaro recollects. “I always wanted to name a bakery after her.”
As Way Marie plays from the gazebo, Betty Toppino boasts of her heritage, too. “Oh, this is what we do. We cook and gather around the dining room table. The recipe has been in my family for years.”
The secret to her grand prize winning pasta, she makes the sauce the night before, then, assembles the ingredients in the morning. The result, well let’s just say there aren’t any leftovers.
“Its all gone,” Betty announces.
But the community will continue to reap rewards. Sons of Italy give between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to charity.
“We try to keep it local,” McCausland is encouraging, “but we do support the national cancer and Alzheimer’s charities, plus, the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation which is a Mediterranean blood disease.”
Cindy“I think it’s a wonderful thing to be Italian. America was founded by an Italian. They are the leaders of the arts and food. When you think of good food you think of Italy.” Cindy McCausland, VP of Sons of Italy.
The grand prize winner for her lasagna! “I’m proud to be Italian. I learned to make this dish before I was 21. It’s an old family recipe and I peel the casing off of Italian sausage.”
Judges and Winners
Betty Toppino took the prize for the perfect pasta dish. Her lasagna. Pictured front left Betty is with 2nd place winner Bob Pontello and Loretta Pittaro, who took third for her grandma’s sour cream almond cake. They had to please the palate of the judges behind them. From left to right. Republic National’s Tom Guida, Mangoes’ Frank Trotta, and Alonzo’s Bruno Caruso.
“Adding wine to your meal allows the flavors to explode in your mouth, giving you the sensation of what life is about,” Tom Guida Republic National. “It’s whatever you like with your dinner. What tastes right for you is what you want to go with.”
Trish and Taylor
Key West City Commissioner Barry Gibson’s family tasted the dishes. Trish and Taylor shared an Italian ice for dessert.
Mary serves some manicotti and Caesar salad with a smile!