Taste of Italy, Grecian Festival highlight Norwich weekend

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Sep. 9, 2013
Strolling musician Charlie Catania plays the accordion at Taste of Italy in Norwich. He is half of the musical duo Vesuvio.
Strolling musician Charlie Catania plays the accordion at Taste of Italy in Norwich. He is half of the musical duo Vesuvio.

Apparently Giuseppe Rizzuto was born to be a chef. “He was 7 years old and he followed me around the kitchen,” said his mother, Concetta Rizzuto. Now, at the Sept. 7 Taste of Italy festival in Norwich, Giuseppe was tossing a big aluminum bowlful of penne into the air, mixing the pasta with its marinara sauce for waiting customers. “I like to make sure everything’s fresh,” he said.

Giuseppe’s Catering was one of  more than a dozen restaurants and caterers providing traditional foods from the old country at the 22nd annual Taste of Italy event at Howard Brown Park. Besides the multitude of ethnic offerings, ranging from calamari and pasta fagioli to cannoli cake and pizzelles, the event featured a craft show and art exhibit, an ongoing bocce tournament and a variety of entertainment.

Angelo Sapia and Charlie Catania, members of the duo Vesuvio, strolled among the diners in the event pavilion, providing some appropriate dinner music with mandolin and accordion. Jane Maynard (nee DiRocco) compared notes with Sapia on their Italian origins; Sapia hails from Sicily, and Maynard’s grandparents came from Abruzzo, in the central mountains. “My brother took accordion lessons,” said Maynard. “My father could write and speak Italian. When we went to visit the relatives in Worcester and Boston, he always spoke Italian to my aunts and uncles.”

John and Carol Rota ran the ongoing bocce tournament. John started playing the game back in Italy at age 5, meaning that he’s been playing for three-quarters of a century. But, Carol notes, folks in the old country “would die to see us playing on this [grassy lawn].” In Italy, the game is played on a perfectly smooth, hard-packed sand court, she said.

John said that the hard wooden balls were imported from Italy. “These are the real ones. You don’t buy these all over the place,” he said. Most “bocce sets” sold in the U.S. have plastic balls, he noted.

Meanwhile, across town at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the cuisine hailed from a little farther east in the Mediterranean. There, the bill of fare for the church’s 38th annual Grecian Festival included spanakopeta (spinach and cheese encased in flaky pastry), mousaka (a beef and eggplant dish) and heaps of butter and honey pastries, including the ubiquitous baklava, with its layers of honey, walnuts and phyllo dough.

There was also a selection of alcoholic drinks from Greece. Wendy Wachter explained that among the imported specialties was ouzo, a liqueur flavored with anise seed for a licorice-like taste; metaxa, a Greek brandy; and retsnia, a wine flavored with pine resin.

Amy Constantinou tended the steady stream of customers for the sweet pastries and egg breads. “We’ve been baking for two or three weeks,” she said of the parish’s ladies. “It’s a lot of flour, a lot of sugar and butter. It’s a lot of work, too. But we enjoy it.”

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