Friday deadline to enter June pasta sauce cook-off for bragging rights |

Friday deadline to enter June pasta sauce cook-off for bragging rights

Submitted photo by Trina Kleist for the Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation

Nonna’s recipe for pasta sauce will be the star of a cooking contest set for June 2 to benefit the Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation.

Cash prizes will go to the winners of Little Italy’s Pasta Sauce Cook-off, a new event set for noon to 5 p.m. June 2, in the patio of the Gold Miners Inn-Holiday Inn Express at 121 Bank St., downtown Grass Valley. Entrance is free, and entertainment includes a strolling guitarist.

Friday is the deadline to enter the cook-off, and the cost is $50. Ingredients may be pre-cut, but the sauce must be made on site; cooking starts at 9 a.m. and judging starts at noon June 2. Volunteers are welcome. For details, visit and download the application or pick one up at Bear River Pasta Co., 109 Bank St., downtown.

For $7, guests can buy a tasting bowl, including pasta, fork and four tasting tickets toward the People’s Choice awards. Bowl tickets are on sale now on the foundation’s website (; additional tasting tickets may be bought at the event for $1 each.

Family honor aside, the event also kicks off an effort to brand the area along the 100 block of Bank Street as Grass Valley’s Little Italy. The moniker harks to the Italian immigrant community that resided there during the Gold Rush and reflects today’s tenants: Bear River Pasta Co.; the new Trattoria Milano (formerly Villa Venezia); Augustine Tassone’s law office; Michael Gallego’s dental office (Gallego’s mother was Italian); The Alcove (the kernel of a future Italian Cultural Center inside the Holiday Inn); and the hotel itself, whose co-owner Nick Hayhurst is part Sicilian.

That conversation started a year ago among Bear River Pasta owners Theresa McGuire and Carl Brenner (McGuire is of Italian descent) and Hank and Karen DiPillo of Grass Valley.

“There’s North Beach in San Francisco,” noted Brenner. “We want to educate people about the rich cultural history of Italians in Grass Valley.”

Making and eating pasta sauce traditionally is a family event that unites generations, emphasizes community and evokes fond memories, organizers said. The cook-off honors home cooks and professional chefs continuing that tradition with a version of the sauce that grandma – nonna or nana in Italian – brought from the old country.

All sauces must be tomato-based, but ingredients are expected to cover the Italian map, said Karen DiPillo, who is coordinating the event with foundation board member Erin VanDyke. In addition to the People’s Choice award, anonymous judges tasting blindly will select a winner in both the home cook and professional chef categories, Brenner said.

Fusilli – corkscrew-shaped pasta – will be used for tasting, donated by Bear River Pasta, Brenner said.

“The ridges give more surface area to absorb sauce,” he explained.

“The curls will hold more flavor. If there are a lot of big chunks, the fusilli will hold it… And it will stand up to the more robust tomato sauces people are making.”

Grass Valley resident and freelance writer Trina Kleist may be reached at or 530-575-6132.

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