Tag Archives: Italian

Enhance Easter feast with spring’s primavera

Primavera! Spring! Land that has lain bare and dormant during winter is coming alive. The winter season, mirroring the liturgical season of Lent, is giving way to the beauty of spring — bursting forth into new life as we celebrate the Easter season!

God gifted us with these seasons. “Then God said: Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. … Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the seasons, the days and the years.” (Genesis 1: 11-12; 14-15)

In Italy, my birthplace, the season of spring is a special time. For farmers, it marks a new beginning – soil that was barren and tilled during the fall and winter, is ready to regenerate. My favorite farmer, my mother, says the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, is one of the biggest planting days of the year. Seeds of all sorts are planted, many ready for harvest within weeks. But some, like tomatoes, are harvested months later.

Nature mirrors the mighty plan of God. At the Annunciation, God becomes man — the seed planted in the womb of the Virgin Mary; nurtured and grown, to be born some nine months later, to become the Bread of Life!

In springtime some of the best pasta dishes are enjoyed in Italy. Fresh, seasonal spring vegetables, served with some of the world’s most flavorful pasta artigianale (artisan pasta), make a perfect Pasta Primavera dish. There is a village near my hometown, along the southern foot of Mount Vesuvius, called Torre Annunziata. It is famous for its “macaroni” production — macaroni referring to all types of pasta. Like so many Italian towns, Torre Annunziata is named after a church, one dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation.

When I was a kid, I believed all saints, including the Virgin Mary, were Italian. All their names were Italian (Santa Maria, San Giuseppe, San Pietro, etc.); the pope lived in Italy; and every city had a saint’s remains buried in its church. I was eventually disappointed to learn about my misinterpretation, but I probably wasn’t the first Italian to think Italians invented half the world.

The mild climate of Torre Annunziata, created by the sea on one side and Mount Vesuvius on the other, makes it the perfect place for producing pasta. Pasta is best when subjected to a long, slow drying process in warm (but not too warm) temperatures. Torre Annunziata pasta is hung from bamboo sticks outside to dry in the sea wind, which can take up to five days. The result is a pasta so perfect in texture and taste you’ll understand why Italians eat it with almost every meal.

You can pair any vegetable – fresh, sautéed, or any cooking style –with your favorite pasta to make a scrumptious, rustic Pasta Primavera dish. Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua!

CHEF NEIL FUSCO is founder of Cucina Antica Foods, Corp., a specialty Italian food-products company. Raised on a farm in San Marzano in southern Italy, he learned his family’s production and cooking with the renowned San Marzano tomatoes they’ve grown there since the 1800s. His newly released cookbook is “The Main Ingredient,” with amusing and heartfelt stories about faith, family and recipes from his childhood in southern Italy.

Rustic Pasta Primavera

Serves: 4


25 ounces Cucina Antica® Tomato Basil cooking sauce
Italian imported fusilli pasta (cooked and drained)
1 medium yellow squash cut in 1/2 inch squares
1 medium zucchini cut in 1/2 inch squares
½ lb of fresh mushrooms quartered
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped


In a 10” sauté pan on medium heat add olive oil, squash, mushrooms, and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt. Sauté until you have achieved a soft but crunchy consistency.

Add 25oz Cucina Antica® Tomato Basil cooking sauce and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Simmer approx 2 minutes.

Take approx ½ cup of the sauce and mix with cooked pasta.

Plate pasta and top evenly with the remaining sauce and vegetables. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese and basil evenly and serve immediately.

New Year’s warmth with family culinary kinship

Do your New Year’s resolutions begin with fervor, then flame out by February? Instead, take this opportunity to have your resolutions be more than a checklist of personal goals for the year. Unite the whole family through a commitment to nurturing your body and soul and making it a way of life.

In my hometown of Campania, Italy, everything starts with a prayer to the Blessed Mother. The farmers use the phrase La Madonna ci pensa, meaning, “Our Lady will look after us.” The sunny climate and rich soil in Campania allow for multiple crop cycles in a year. The tomatoes there are sweeter, hazelnuts earthier, basil stronger, and peppers spicier. Our harvested fruits and vegetation made for healthy meals. When I was about 10 years old (the oldest of 5 children!) my mother had me help in making the family meal. Cooking together as a family using fresh ingredients was not a yearly resolution but a way of life in our native land.

So, how can we create healthy, delicious meals for families in this country without feeling like it’s a burdensome resolution? You do not need to live on a farm to do it. Today’s markets are attuned to consumer demand for healthier food — neighborhood and farmers markets have all the fresh ingredients. Just like the farmers in Campania, you too can invoke the help of Our Lady by reciting a Memorare for the physical and spiritual well-being of your family. Next, getting the whole family involved in preparing the meal creates a warm, close-knit family dinner table. I use simple ingredients so the whole family can help. Fresh produce involves trimming, peeling and cutting. Get your children involved and invested in the family meal: children can snap ends off string beans. Older children can rinse and cut zucchini, celery, peppers, etc. Children can even enjoy helping with readying the water pot and boiling the pasta! Working together creates a sense of unity, love for each other and for the meal that has been created.

St. Benedict says, “Ora et Labora,” meaning, “Pray and Work.” We should offer up all tasks or work as a prayer. Dinnertime should be a very special family time where all can voice an appreciation for each other and the food that has been provided and prepared together. This is a natural and joyful way to turn all thankfulness into a family prayer to God who has provided the nourishment for our bodies and souls. It is a very teachable moment and should be more than a 10-second thanksgiving. It allows everyone to acknowledge the value of a family meal, pray for those less fortunate and appreciate God’s love and providence for all.

CHEF NEIL FUSCO is founder of Cucina Antica Foods, Corp., a specialty Italian food-products company. Raised on a farm in San Marzano in southern Italy, he learned his family’s production and cooking with the renowned San Marzano tomatoes they’ve grown there since the 1800s. His newly released cookbook is “The Main Ingredient,” with amusing and heartfelt stories about faith, family and recipes from his childhood in southern Italy.


Chef Neil’s Old-World Minestrone Soup

Serves: 6

2 cups Cucina Antica Garlic Marinara Sauce
2 cups water
4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. elbow, ditalini or conchiglie pasta
2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
Pepper to taste
4 tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated


Combine Cucina Antica Garlic Marinara Sauce, water, stock beans, carrots, oregano, celery, onion, bay leaves and salt in a large pot.

Cover and cook for 45 minutes on low to medium heat. Remove bay leaves.

When vegetables are tender, add the pasta and spinach.

Place cover on pot askew and cook pasta for about 10-15 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls, add pepper to taste, and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591)

Despite being ill, this saint  fasted on bread and water three times a week . . .

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Feast Day: June 21
Patron of Catholic youth, AIDS patients

Aloysius was born Luigi Gonzaga to a wealthy Italian family. His father was in service to King Phillip II of Spain, and his mother was a friend to the king’s wife. By the age of seven, Luigi desired sainthood, but his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps with a military and political career.

Luigi developed kidney trouble which made him very weak. During his illness he read about the lives of the saints, which increased his desire for sanctity. He arose nightly for prayers and fasted on bread and water three times per week. Safeguarding his purity was one of his highest interests. At 15 he wished to join the Jesuits, but his father refused. In an attempt to divert the boy’s intentions, he sent him on a two-year journey through Spain and Italy. Luigi’s mother supported his desire for religious life, and by the age of 17 his father relented and gave his permission.

In Rome, Luigi’s Jesuit superiors curbed his penitential practices for the sake of his health. He took the name Aloysius and was a model novice. While in Milan as part of his formation, he received a revelation that he hadn’t long to live. Because of his weak physical condition he was sent back to Rome to complete his theological studies. In 1591, the plague hit Rome and the Jesuits set up a hospital where Aloysius offered his services to help the sick. He was stricken with the plague and after three months was given the last rites by St. Robert Bellarmine. With his eyes fixed on the crucifix he was holding, Aloysius spoke the name of Jesus and died at the age of 23. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

This column is produced for Legatus by the Dead Theologians Society, a Catholic apostolate for high school age teens and college age young adults. On the web: deadtheologianssociety.com