By Keysha Drexel
Organizers of an Italian food festival scheduled for next weekend in North Shelby say their goal for the second annual event is simple.
The Feast of Saint Mark Italian Food Festival on April 27 at Saint Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church is all about faith, family and food, said Robert Sbrissa of Greystone.
Robert and his wife, Monica, organized the inaugural Italian Food Festival at the church last year and are heading up preparations for an even bigger–and better, Robert says–event this year.
“The focus is on celebrating our faith, bringing our families together and enjoying some really good food,” Robert said.
Robert, who grew up in an Italian family in Canada, said when his career brought him to the Birmingham area 16 years ago, he was surprised there were not more Italian festivals.
“I grew up going to Italian festivals and feast festivals all the time in Montreal, and when I moved here, I thought that the Italian community needed to celebrate its culture,” he said.
With that goal, Robert worked to help organize the church’s first festival last year.
“We had originally planned on about 500 or 600 people showing up, but it really gained momentum, and we sold out 1,500 tickets three weeks in advance of the festival,” Robert said.
The festival was so well received last year, Robert said, that this year organizers are expecting about 3,000 to attend.
“Everybody loved it last year and so we were determined to make it even bigger and better this year and really give people a taste of Italian culture and really good Italian food,” Robert said.
That really Italian good food will be prepared by Bernard Tamburello of North Shelby. Bernard, owner of Bernie’s on Main in Columbiana, has been a professional chef for 22 years.
Last year, all the food for the festival was catered, Robert said. But this year, the festival committee wanted to have the food prepared on site.
“And so we turned to our local chef, Bernard Tamburello, with the goal of being true to the culture and providing high quality food for the festival,” Robert said.
Bernard’s family roots stretch back to Palermo and Bologna, and he said he’ll be using family recipes to offer festival-goers favorites like chicken marsala, eggplant parmesan, rigatoni with marinara sauce, freshly-made bread, homemade Italian cookies, cannoli, limoncello and freshly-brewed espresso.
“With Italian cooking, you want everything to be as fresh as possible. You use high quality, local ingredients,” he said.
But the real focus of Italian cooking, Bernard said, has less to do with what’s actually served on the plates.
“It’s about the people at the table. You want to make them smile,” Bernard said.
In order to make the people eating your food smile, Bernard said, you have to have a passion about what you’re cooking.
“I’m a passionate guy, and it shows it everything I do, especially my cooking. I’m proud to be Italian, and I’m passionate about Italian food,” he said.
But the festival is not just about Italian food, Robert said.
“The Italian culture is so entwined with the Church’s culture and the patron saints are a huge part of Italian culture, so that’s why it’s important that this celebration be not only about great food but also about the Feast of Saint Mark,” he said.
Robert said faith is also an important component in another thing the Italian culture holds dear–family.
“The faith is what holds generations together, and that’s what we want to do with this festival. We want to bring the families, all the generations together to celebrate,” he said.
Robert said he will not measure the success of this year’s festivals by its ticket sales.
“Instead, for me, this will be a true success if I can look out during the festival and see grandparents and grandchildren and aunts and uncles and whole families sitting down at the table together,” he said. “That’s what we saw last year, and we hope it’s even better this time.”
Bernard said festivals and celebrations are important for preserving the Italian culture for future generations.
“We lost a lot of the Italian culture here in Birmingham when our grandparents’ generation died, but I won’t let that happen with my kids. I want to teach them everything I can so they can carry it forward and teach their children someday,” he said.
Bernard grew up in Homewood but said he didn’t realize the extent of the Italian influence on the Birmingham area until he took a trip to Vulcan as an adult and read about sculptor Giuseppe Moretti’s contributions to the community.
“That’s the kind of thing we need to be teaching our children. It’s their heritage,” he said.
Bernard and Robert said they both make it a priority to cook with their children on a regular basis and to pass along not only cherished family recipes but family values.
“It’s important for families to spend time together, and this festival will give people a chance to do that,” Robert said.
The festival will have activities for all age levels, Robert said, including a grape stomp, face painting, a pirate ship ride and a rock climbing wall for the kids and dancing to live music from Razz Ma Tazz in the piazza, which also features a professional outdoor music stage and dance floor.
There will be music from Total Assets and performances by the Dance South dance team and performers from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio featuring Fabian Sanchez of “Dancing with the Stars.”
A bocce ball court is being built for the festival, Robert said.
The festival’s finale will be a bonfire at 10 p.m.
Festival-goers are welcome to bring lawn chairs to enjoy the outdoor activities. The indoor activities will be held in the church’s parish hall.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. The ticket price includes festival admission and access to food in the Parish Life Center.
To order tickets, T-shirts or aprons, visit www.feastofsaintmark.com. For more information, call 980-1810.
Veal Scaloppine with Lemon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound veal Scaloppine, cut from the top round, and flattened
Flour, spread on a plate
Freshly-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped very fine
½ lemon, sliced very thin
1. Put the oil and 2 tablespoons of butter into a skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter foam begins to subside, dredge the scaloppine in flour and cook them. Remove scallopine from pan.
2. Off the heat, add the lemon juice to the skillet, using a wooden spoon to scrape loose the browning residues on the bottom and sides. Swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter, put in any juices the scaloppine may have shed in the plate and add the chopped parsley, stirring to distribute it evenly.
3. Turn on the heat to medium and return the scaloppine to the pan. Turn them quickly and briefly, just long enough to warm them and coat them with sauce. Turn out the entire contents of the pan onto a warm platter, garnish the platter with lemon slices and serve at once.
Note: One sometimes sees scaloppine with lemon topped with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley. It’s perfectly all right as long as you don’t make the sauce with parsley. The color of cooked parsley contrasts unappetizingly with that of the fresh. If you use one, omit the other.
Classic Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake
(modified from original)
This ricotta cheesecake is similar in style to an American cheesecake but is much lighter.
2 pounds ricotta cheese
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup amaretto
1 ½ teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. (150 degrees C.). Set rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 9 ½ inch springform pan and tap out excess flour.
2. Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl, and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula. Stir the sugar and flour together thoroughly in the ricotta. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the vanilla, orange and lemon zest and Amaretto. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake in the center of the oven for about 100 minutes until it’s a light golden color. Make sure the center is fairly firm and that the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. The cheesecake will sink slightly as it cools. Cover and chill overnight.
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup limoncello (optionally, add a touch of lemon paste color)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Make glaze by combining sugar and cornstarch, blending in water and lemon juice until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Cook 3 minutes.
2. Chill until cool but not set. Spread top of cheesecake with lemon glaze. Chill overnight. Can also be frozen.
Feast of Saint Mark Italian Food Festival