Our First Festa


This past weekend Tallahassee saw it’s first (annual? only the future will tell) Italian Family Festa out at the John Paul II Catholic High School. I found out about the Festa through Groupon, which turns out to be a fabulous resource for learning about local businesses and events, not just saving money at them.

With the Greek Food Festival an annual event that we dearly love, we hoped the Italian Family Festa would come close to that ideal.

Italian Family Festa

As a first-year festival there were some expected hiccups. The website, for instance, was a little sparse on details (it would have been nice to know what sorts of foods would be there, not just a list of Italian foods that might be there, and a price-list is always helpful for folks who don’t carry cash as a habit) and, once we arrived it took being sent to 3 different tables/locations just to find out where to sign up for the wine tasting.

Italian Family Fest Wine

Those bumps aside, we had a good time. The wine tasting (at $10 a person) was more a class than just a taste-for-all, featuring 6 Italian wines and a very good presenter–he had personality to spare and plenty of ways to make wine relatable, always a good pairing. It was held in the school’s gymnasium, though, and was not the only activity going on in the space, making a little hard to hear.

Various entertainment was scheduled throughout the weekend and we had fun listening to the singer perform pop hits. Funny, we didn’t know songs like Firework and Seasons of Love were inherently Italian 😉

But, wait, what about the food?

There was a stand selling meatball subs and sausages–we each chose the latter with peppers and onions. Lots of fennel and very tasty. There was a local New York-style pizza place with a stand and, finally, a stand selling Fried Doughnuts (zeppole? though I’m not sure how authentic they were), calamari (they were out by the time we tried to order some), mozzarella sticks (pass), funnel cakes and steamed mussels. There were also cannoli available at a table, inside. The cannoli were the best things we ate, that day, and gone so quickly that I failed to snap a photo!

Italian Family Festa Food

Ices and a variety of coffee and tea were available from booths as well as bottled water, beer and wine (the latter required the purchase of tickets). Even after the wines we’d taste in the seminar, earlier, we each got a glass of Prosecco to eat with our zeppole before calling it a day.

Thankfully the Groupon offer meant I paid slightly less for weekend passes what it would have cost us just to enter the one day ($5 per person entrance fee). We opted not to return on Sunday.

I hope that they do try again, next year, and are able to add to the cultural options in our little southern town.

Comfort Food


Comfort foods can come in many forms: favorite recipes from childhood, treats remembered for special occasions or just starch-, fat- or sugar-laden dishes that offer a chemical reaction we associate with happiness as well as satiety. Usually considered a guilty pleasure or indulgence, I have a hard time seeing all comfort food as all bad and, I think, as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence or in massive quantities, a little comfort can go a long way.

One of the reasons this came to mind (aside from the impending holidays and increasingly cooler weather, both of which set my taste buds craving those sorts of foods) is the birthday meal I prepared for a friend last winter and is mentioned in this week’s comics. It’s pretty simple to prepare and not particularly unhealthy, so I thought I’d share.

Gnocchi Casserole with Pesto, Sausage and Broccoli

1 lb Gnocchi
Salted water
1 lb Turkey sausage, sliced
Olive oil
1 lb Broccoli, steamed
1/2 c Prepared pesto
Non-stick spray
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, shredded

Boil gnocchi in enough salted water to cover until tender. Simultaneously, saute sliced sausage in a bit of olive oil until the edges crisp. Drain pasta and combine with sausage and broccoli. Whisk together the pesto and enough olive oil to thin it out enough to lightly coat all of the other ingredients.

Prepare a 9×12 baking dish with non-stick spray (I prefer the olive oil variety, but any will do). Toss the thinned pesto with the gnocchi, sausage and broccoli and pour all into the prepared dish. Top with cheese and place in a 350-degree for 15-20 minutes.

Now, of course, this can be done up til the baking and put in the fridge until later. Just up the baking time to 30 minutes or more, or as long as it takes to bring everything up to a nice and toasty 165 degrees. Cover with foil if it seems to be drying out or browning a little too much. You can also make your own gnocchi if you’re so moved, but I remember getting the gnocchi and pesto at World Market (CostPlus in some areas) and both being very high quality.

How much you thin the pesto is up to personal preference–I tend to think a little goes a long way–and how thick the pesto is to begin with. Chances are you’ll have pesto left over. To preserve the rest of the pesto until the next use, add a layer of olive oil to the jar and store in the fridge. This will prevent the pesto from drying out while in cold storage.