Mangia! Italian cooking demos this weekend at Penn Valley festival |

Mangia! Italian cooking demos this weekend at Penn Valley festival

Chef Dawn Empson will lead cooking demonstrations at the Italian Festa this weekend in Penn Valley.
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What: Italian Festa

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Western Gateway Park, 18560 Penn Valley Drive, Penn Valley (take Highway 20 to Pleasant Valley Road south, follow to park)

More info: $10 admission at the gate for 12 and older; free for children and active military with ID

Food, wine, music, meatball-eating contest, grape stomp and games for children & grown-ups

Free parking

Hosted by the Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation; proceeds support NCICF’s scholarship fund.

More at

Demonstrations of Italian cooking will showcase two simple-yet-fabulous dishes Saturday and Sunday during the Italian Festa at Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley.

“It’s going to be delicious,” said demo host Steve Rosenthal, owner of Tess’ Kitchen Store in downtown Grass Valley. “We like to make food accessible to people. These recipes are things that people can do at home.”

Amatriciana is one of the most famous of all Roman sauces. It is believed to have originated in the town of Amatrice, in central Italy, and has been praised since at least the late 18th century for its spicy and pungent blend of tomato, olive oil, garlic and red pepper. Traditionalists use cured pork cheek, but Americans are more likely to add pancetta or even uncured bacon.

At the festa, amatriciana sauce will be paired with home-made sweet Italian sausage — visitors will learn to make that, too — and orecchiette pasta, shaped like “little ears.”

Arancini are a Sicilian favorite that may have originated as long at 900 years ago. Meaning “little oranges,” arancini are balls of cooked rice, stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, cheese or peas, covered in bread crumbs and deep-fried. The festa demo will use mozzarella cheese, Rosenthal said.

Traditionally, arancini were made to celebrate the feast of Santa Lucia.

Chef Dawn Empson will teach these classic dishes from 2 to 3 p.m. daily at the festa. Before becoming an instructor at Tess’ Kitchen Store, Empson worked at high-end wineries in the Napa Valley and at the former Julia’s Kitchen in Napa, a restaurant blessed by Julia Child herself. Empson also is a wine aficionado on her way to certification.

“Her food is always terrific,” Rosenthal added.

To learn more about Empson’s cooking classes, visit

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