40 Italian families compete for top honors in the Eldorado Great Italian Festival Sauce Cook-Off Oct. 10-11.


The Eldorado Great Italian Festival Sauce Cook-Off is a crowd favorite and for good reason — everyone is invited to sample the authentic Italian sauces made by the 40 families competing for best sauce honors. Buy a bowl of pasta ($4) and hit the booths (noon until 4 p.m. Oct. 10-11). No two sauces are the same, and if there’s any doubt they’re the real deal, cookers put those to rest.

In the Albino-Mascola booth, Donna Mascola will make her great-grandmother’s sauce, which took first place in 2009 and 2010. She’s not too concerned about revealing that the recipe includes San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil and meat. (By the way, the meat happens to be prime rib). For one, nothing is measured — it’s all done by taste. The time it takes to cook “depends,” and the way you know it’s done is by the “deep, rich” color of the sauce. Only relatives are privy to the nuances, whether they’re Albinos originally hailing from the city of Potenza or Mascolas from nearby Foggia.

Mascola wouldn’t mind another win, but the prospect isn’t why she’s participated since 2003.

“I love sharing our heritage and traditions,” she said.

Pam Bonaldi Ricci agreed with Mascola on both counts. Competitors for 27 years, the Bonaldi-Ricci’s took second place for best sauce in 2014. The 100-year old winning recipe comes from grandmother “Nonni” Urli, who Ricci said was the best cook around. One of the recipe’s secrets — garlic is cooked whole and removed before serving.

Nonni Urli’s recipe isn’t the only one the family has used over the years. Recipes abound from Abruzzi cooks on the Ricci side, and Tuscan and Veneto region cooks on the Bonaldi side. Ricci isn’t saying which recipe they’ll use this year.

“Stop by our booth and find out,” she said.

Kevin Cavalli will make grandfather Lou Precissi’s Bolognese sauce at the Vincenza-Lucca booth, a recipe he’s practiced for 26 years. Although his wife, Noelle, is a professionally trained chef, Cavalli’s roots in the Vincenza and Lucca provinces give him sauce-making cred. Even daughters Sofia, 9, and Gianna, 3, know dad is in charge of the pasta sauce.

Will he reveal anything about the recipe beyond adding pork and beef to the marinara base?

“Sure, I’ll tell you, but then I’d have to kill you!” he joked.

Maria Masters cooks her grandmother’s sauces at the booth named for her Sicilian grandfather “Don” Georgio Tsitsera. She’s loyal to the traditions learned at her grandmother’s wood-fired stove. Although she doesn’t slice garlic with a razor like her grandmother, she still makes it paper thin to bring out the sweetness. Only extra virgin Sicilian olive oil will do, and she “gently squishes” whole San Marzano tomatoes by hand. The sauce is stirred with a wooden spoon — metal is not allowed.

Keeping traditions alive isn’t the only reason she competes year after year. She loves making people happy with her food and especially enjoys the camaraderie amongst the contestants.

“We’re all just having fun,” she said. “It’s what Italian people do.”

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