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What you need to know for 08/19/2017

Weekend festivals spotlight food, cultures

Weekend festivals spotlight food, cultures

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be part of a big, boisterous Italian or Greek famil
Weekend festivals spotlight food, cultures
Roie, rear, and Angela Angerami work on preparing 420 pounds of cavatellis for this weekend's Little Italy Street Festival at Civitello's in Schenectady on Wednesday

Little Italy Street Fest

WHEN: Noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, rain or shine

WHERE: North Jay Street

WHAT: Italian food, live music, craft vendors, games, raffles, Italian Cultural Tent

COST: Free

St. George Greek Festival

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine

WHERE: Hellenic Center, 510 Liberty St.

WHAT: Greek food, live music, folk dancing, arts and crafts, church tours, historical displays, raffles

COST: Free

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be part of a big, boisterous Italian or Greek family, head to Schenectady this weekend.

Downtown, you’ll get a taste of the hospitality those Mediterranean cultures are famous for. There will be music, dancing and, of course, enormous amounts of delicious homemade food.

The festivities will kick off Friday with the St. George Greek Festival, which runs through

Sunday. Saturday, the Little Italy Street Fest will turn North Jay Street into one big party.

The festivals are within walking distance of each other, so delicacies ranging from spanakopita to spumoni will be within easy reach.

St. George Greek Festival

The kitchen of the Hellenic Center on Liberty Street was packed Tuesday with volunteers making tray after tray of stuffed zucchini for the Greek Festival.

“You think it smells good now? Imagine when it’s cooked and how good it tastes,” exclaimed Gladys Paravalos, a lively, silver-haired volunteer who was assisting with the effort.

Food preparation for the festival has been going on for quite a while. In fact, if you count grape leaf-harvesting, it’s been in the works since June. About 5,600 grape leaves had to be collected for the dolmades — stuffed grape leaves — served at the festival.

Festival chairman Evan Euripidou said they are all picked locally.

“We have our hidden spots,” he said, noting that volunteers search out only leaves that grow in the shade, because they’re more tender when cooked.

From the pork souvlaki to the pastries, every dish served at the Greek Festival is made with patience and care. Many menu items take hours or even days to prepare, said Chris Euripidou, who is head of the kitchen for the event.

Lamb shanks are marinated for a day, then braised for three or four hours, cooled and allowed to sit a little longer in a braising sauce. Octopus — a new dish this year — is braised for four or five hours in olive oil and seasonings and then marinated in lemon, garlic and oregano.

“All the pastries are excellent because us little old ladies here, we make them,” pointed out Paravalos with a grin. “The young people want everything out of a box. Everything we make here is from scratch.”

The extensive festival menu also includes loukaniko — Greek sausage seasoned with orange rind and herbs. Moussaka — layers of eggplant, potato and seasoned ground beef topped with cream sauce — will also be served.

“We cook for the people here like we cook for our families at home — with love and pride,” said Evan Euripidou. “When you’re here, you’re part of our big, Greek family.”

Live music, dancing, church tours and presentations about Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Christianity will also be part of the weekend’s festivities.

Little Italy Street Fest

Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shop goes through about 400 pounds of cavatelli during the Little Italy Street Fest. As of Tuesday, 270 pounds were in the freezer. The short, squat noodles are being produced more quickly this year, thanks to the recent motorization of the shop’s old-fashioned cavatelli machine.

“It goes right along,” said co-owner Roie Angerami.

That time-saver is a welcome one, since there’s so much to do to get ready for Saturday’s festival, not only at Civitello’s but at several other restaurants that serve Italian food street-side during the event.

Other food vendors include Babcia’s Kitchen at JoJo’s, Cornell’s Restaurant, Perreca’s Bakery and More Perreca’s.

Angerami and her sister, Angela, bring in family from all over the country to help make enough food to satisfy the thousands of patrons expected to attend the fest. Relatives arrive from New York City, Long Island, Texas and Florida to lend a hand with the calzones, meatless tomato sauce, fried dough, eggplant Parmesan and meatballs.

“It’s amazing how many people we can put back there,” said Angerami, eyeing the shop’s modest kitchen.

Dressed in a black cover-up dusted with flour, she spoke with enthusiasm about all of the cooking she’ll do over the next few days and of the festival where the food will be consumed.

“The food is authentic; it’s made from scratch. It’s delicious, and you know what? It reminds us of our families,” she said. “It feels like a lot of Italia that day. Our heritage is really here.”

Doreen Ditoro, chairwoman for the fest, agreed.

“There will dancing in the street and party lights and food all over. It’ll be great.”

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