Celebrate the Feast of St. Rocco on Long Island

Volunteers and the nonnas of St. Rocco's Church in Glen Cove prepare for the "best feast of the East." (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

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An assembly line of silver-haired women in matching Italian flag aprons forms early in the morning at St. Rocco's Church in Glen Cove. They are not here to pray, but to cook. Chicken is washed, cut and butterflied in the kitchen by a staff, then put into their capable hands. One dips the cutlet in flour, while another bathes it in egg and a third coats it in bread crumbs before it gets fried in the pan. One down, only 2,399 to go.

Every year, the nonnas of St. Rocco gather to cook and prepare enough Italian specialties to feed more than 100,000 people who will come to "The Best Feast in the East" -- the Feast of St. Rocco, which opens tonight and runs through Sunday. For this week in the summer, Glen Cove becomes the Little Italy of Long Island.

"The people truly enjoy every bite, and we enjoy making it," says Rose Masone, 78, of Glen Cove, who has been volunteering for more than 27 years. "We make sure it's always quality."


FOOD-FOCUSED

There are rides, games and a marketplace, but the main reason people flock to this feast is for old-school, homemade Italian dishes like pasta fagioli ($5), eggplant rollatini ($8), chicken Parmesan ($9), cavatelli with broccoli rabe ($8) and spezzatino ($8), a stew made with veal and peppers sold inside the Pasta Plus Pavilion. (If you are looking for sausage and pepper heroes, they're sold at an outdoor stand.)

"We try to bring them back to what they had as children growing up," says feast director Angie Colangelo, 49, of Glen Cove. "It reminds them of their youth and what they ate with their families."

The nonnas begin their process in June, when they start frying up eggplant, making meatballs and layering trays of chicken Parmesan, all of which eventually will be sold in a matter of minutes to families who wait on line.

"The people come from all over for our food. It amazes me when they tell me that they travel from Manhattan or Montauk," says Antoinette Zekraus, 78, of Glen Cove. "It makes us feel good."

These ladies are motivated by the love of their parish and keeping up family tradition. "Our parents and grandparents started this and that's why we are here," says longtime volunteer Lucille Johnson, 78, of Glen Cove. "My family all worked in the kitchen. It gets in your blood."


TRIPE RULES

Perhaps the hottest seller is St. Rocco's signature tripe entree ($7). Made from the chambers of a cow's stomach, tripe is sauteed in a tomato-based sauce with carrots, onions and potatoes. Last year the dish was so popular it was sold out by Saturday afternoon.

"We run out of it every year," Johnson says. "It's a specialty that you can't get everywhere."


NEW TO THE MENU

While St. Rocco is filled with old-time traditions, the menu is always tweaked. This year stuffed shells have been replaced by lasagna ($8) and penne a la vodka was removed to make room for daily specials like spaghetti with white clam sauce. However, the biggest change is the unveiling of an outdoor wine garden featuring a variety of vinos along with bread, cheeses and tapas set on bistro tables. New dishes will include fried calamari, baked clams and Portobello mushrooms topped with Gorgonzola, eggplant, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella then drizzled with balsamic vinegar and pesto.

"We are always making enhancements," Colangelo says. "Our goal is to make people feel homey and taken care of."


AFTER DINNER

In the same outdoor area, dessert is served alfresco in the Pastry Pavilion, where the festival will offer homemade cannoli and sfogliatelle (shell-shaped pastries filled with cream) with cappuccino floats and espresso as live Italian music is played under the lights. Red wine with hand-peeled peaches will be available as well as taralli -- a crispy Italian pretzel.

"It's like back in the day, when everybody congregated in the kitchen," says Colangelo. "You'd keep everybody at the table. It makes for a very social atmosphere."


FEAST OF ST. ROCCO

WHEN | WHERE 6-11 Tuesday night through Friday night (Aug. 1), 3-11 p.m. Saturday and 3-10 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 2 and 3), Church of St. Rocco, Third Street and St. Rocco Place, Glen Cove

ADMISSION Free

INFO 516-676-2482, stroccoglencove.com

 

RECIPES: FROM NONNA'S TABLE TO YOURS

NONNAS OF ST. ROCCO'S QUICK & SIMPLE MARINARA SAUCE

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic (sliced)

1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes (San Marzano, preferred)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 basil leaves

Place olive oil and garlic in a large, heavy pot. Cook over low heat until garlic is browned. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil, and cook on a low simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened. Makes 3½ cups.

 

NONNAS OF ST. ROCCO'S MAGNIFICENT MEATBALLS

¼ cup seasoned bread crumbs

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 pinches of parsley (fresh)

1 clove garlic (crushed)

1 egg beaten

1 pound ground beef

Olive oil for greasing tray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, cheese, salt, pepper, parsley and garlic. Add ground meat, egg and ¼ cup water. Blend mixture with hands until everything is well mixed. Roll mixture into 3-inch balls, place on greased tray and bake until they're nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Makes 14 meatballs.

 

NONNAS OF ST. ROCCO'S CHICKEN PARMIGIANA

4 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 eggs

½ cup flour

2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

6 tablespoons to ½ cup olive oil, for frying

2 cups tomato sauce (homemade preferred)

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (fresh preferred)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Slice chicken breasts in half, parallel to the cutting board. Place breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin until they are even and about ¾-inch thick.

2. Beat eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Place flour on a wide flat plate. Place bread crumbs on a wide flat plate. Dip each chicken cutlet gently into flour (shake off excess), then dip into the egg and lastly coat with the bread crumbs. Place on a tray.

3. Cover the bottom of a large, heavy skillet with olive oil and place over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chicken cutlets (you will probably have to do this in batches) and fry for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Place finished cutlets on a layer of paper towels to absorb excess oil.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour half of the tomato sauce into a 9-by-13 baking dish. Place chicken over sauce, sprinkle with half the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese then and cover with remaining sauce. Top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

 

NONNAS OF ST. ROCCO'S EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds total)

4 eggs

2 cups flour

3 cups seasoned bread crumbs

6 tablespoons to ½ cup olive oil, for frying

2 cups tomato sauce (homemade preferred)

2 cups shredded mozzarella (fresh preferred)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Peel eggplant and cut horizontally into ½-inch-thick slices. Beat eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Place flour on a wide flat plate. Place bread crumbs on a wide flat plate. Dip eggplant rounds into flour (shake off excess), dip into egg and then in bread crumbs. Place on a tray.

2. Cover the bottom of a large, heavy skillet with olive oil and place over medium heat. When oil is hot, add eggplant slices (you will probably have to do this in batches) and fry for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Place finished cutlets on a layer of paper towels to absorb excess oil.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour half of the tomato sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer half the eggplant slices across the sauce filling the baking dish. Sprinkle on mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Layer on remaining eggplant slices and again sprinkle on mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, reserving ¼ cup mozzarella. Top with the remaining tomato sauce. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, 30 to 35 minutes. Lastly sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top and place in oven for an additional 5 minutes or until mozzarella is completed melted. Makes 8 servings.

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