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Cooks' Exchange: Celebrate Madison's Italian immigrant community with these recipes

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There have been many great pleasures and experiences in life to celebrate one’s ethnicity, one being my father’s arrival from Palermo, Sicily, and settling in Madison in 1911 with his parents, Salvatore and Caterina Tripolino, in the old Greenbush neighborhood, to join uncles Angelo and Dominic DiMaio, who were at work rebuilding the state Capitol.

The Italian Workmen’s Club, a mutual aid society founded in Madison on Jan. 18, 1912, continues to preserve its ethnic past with an outdoor festival season presenting Festa Italia 2022 following a two-year absence. What began as a small block party in the old Greenbush neighborhood has grown to become one of Dane County’s premier ethnic festivals with aromas of delicious food, refreshing beverages, great musical entertainment, games and activities for kids and wonderful tributes to Italian culture to fill McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg June 3-5.

Check out the full schedule of events at Tell your neighbors and friends to come out and enjoy all things Italian.

Insalata di Patate (Italian Potato Salad)

Proud members of our Italian community have shared some of their longtime favorite Italian recipes beginning with Ross and Penny DePaola. Both of these recipes appear in the June 2022 Fra Noi and the DePaola cookbooks.

4 medium red potatoes

¼ medium red onion

1-2 teaspoons dried oregano

Salt, to taste

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Boil potatoes with skin on for 18-20 minutes, or until tender. Do not overcook. Drain, cool slightly and cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Slice onion into ¼ inch strips and add to potatoes. Add oregano, salt and olive oil and stir gently to mix all ingredients. Add a little water if needed to moisten. Add more seasonings to taste if desired. Chill.

Serves: 4

Insalata di Pomodori e Cetrioli (Italian Tomato and Cucumber Salad)

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed, then cut into ¼ inch slices crosswise

¼ large red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped or torn into small pieces

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¼-½ teaspoon salt (to taste)

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Combine tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to release juice of the tomatoes. Serve with fresh Italian bread.

Serves: 2-4

Chicken Spiedini

Steve and Sherie Sasso found this recipe a few years ago regarding spiedini that are quite small, eaten off the skewer or removed from skewers and added to pasta.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 20 pieces and flattened with a meat mallet to about ¼ inch thickness (for even cooking).

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

¼ cup grated cheese: parmesan, asiago or pecorino romano

¾ tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour melted butter and lemon juice into a small shallow dish. Mix breadcrumbs in a small to medium mixing bowl with chopped parsley, grated, lemon zest, minced garlic and salt and pepper. Coat chicken with butter and roll or toss in breadcrumbs. Thread 5 spiedini onto each skewer with a tiny bit of space in between so meat cooks through. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked through and breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Notes: For even more flavor, marinate chicken in the butter mixture for up to six hours prior to breading. Add an extra teaspoon of lemon juice to the butter mixture for even more lemon flavor.

Garlic Sauce

Gene and Nancy Urso received this recipe many years ago from their friend, Donna Wrend, and it has been a favorite since then.

1 pint of crushed tomatoes

2 cloves of crushed tomatoes



1 teaspoon oregano

Pour olive oil slowly into the ingredients until it rises to the top of the container; warm a bit. Best made ahead. This is great if poured slowly over Italian sausages and can also flavor steak, etc.

Orzo Pasta Salad with Watermelon and Feta Cheese

This is a favorite pasta salad recipe using watermelon and feta cheese shared by Gene Urso’s sister, Judie.

1 cup of Orzo pasta according to package directions, then rinse and cool.

2 cups diced seedless watermelon

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix and let stand in refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

Quick Tomato Sauce

Growing up on homemade spaghetti sauce that had simmered for hours caught the attention of my cousin Joe Tripalin and his wife, Deb, when it was described as being thick and delicious served over freshly cooked pasta. It makes 4 cups in 20 minutes with ingredients that assured them of how delicious it was in such a short period of time.

16-ounce can crushed plum tomatoes, undrained

8-ounce can tomato sauce

½ cup tomato paste

¼ cup dry red wine

2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon dried basil, crumbled

½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Serve hot. (Can be prepared 1 month ahead and frozen in airtight container.)

See you at McKee!

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at

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