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Italian Easter Bread

This traditional Easter bread is topped with colored raw eggs, which cook as the bread bakes. It makes for a pretty centerpiece.




2-3/4 to 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup 2% milk

3 tablespoons butter, divided

2 eggs

1/2 cup chopped mixed candied fruit

1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds

1/2 teaspoon aniseed

5 uncooked eggs, dyed


1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 2 tablespoons 2% milk

Decorator candies, optional


In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In a large saucepan, heat milk and 2 tablespoons butter to 120°-130°. Add dry ingredients; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs; mix well. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down; turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in fruit, almonds and aniseed until blended. Let rest for 10 minutes. Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into a 24-in. rope. Loosely twist ropes together; place on a greased baking sheet and form into a ring. Pinch ends together. Melt remaining butter; brush over dough. Gently separate ropes and tuck dyed eggs into openings. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. For glaze, in a bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve desired consistency; drizzle over bread. Sprinkle with candies if desired. Yield: 1 loaf (20 slices).

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Springtime in Italy

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Saint Joseph Altar Celebration

The Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa will hold its 20th annual St. Joseph Altar celebration on March 18th and 19th, 2017.

Doors open at 5:30 PM on Saturday, March 18th with the blessing of the altar at 6:00 PM. Following the blessing, the children will present the “tupa tupa” (knocking) pageant.  A traditional Lenten meal will be served family style after the blessing.

Altar visitations will continue on Sunday, March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of families and laborers.  Visitation will begin at 9:00 AM. Refreshments will be provided during the day.  This year’s celebration will conclude with the incineration of petitions at 4:00 PM.

Both days are open to the public free of charge.  A free-will offering will be accepted.  All attending either of the celebrations will be given a gift bag containing a St. Joseph prayer card, St. Joseph medal, blessed bread and the traditional “lucky” fava bean.  All proceeds, as well as the fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries and financial contributions will be distributed to the St. Joseph Shelter, the Bidwell Center and the Catholic Worker House.

Family Altar Sponsorship Requests

The St. Joseph Altar Celebration is comprised of a main altar and additional family-sponsored side altars. Families who would like to sponsor an altar provide items which represent their family such as statues, linens, family pictures, etc. They have the option of decorating their altar themselves or providing the items for the committee to decorate their altars for them. The committee provides flowers and other traditional items to each of the altars. to request a family altar or for additional information, please feel free to call the chairperson at 244-4672 or 250-8804.


DSC01898 (Small)Several days are required for the baking of the traditional St. Joseph cookies and breads. Those who would like to come and learn the preparation of new kinds of sweets are invited to attend one of several baking sessions. There is a wide variety of cookies that are made. Volunteers will also be making several pounds of fresh pasta that will be served at both the dinner and the luncheon.

Baking will run March 8th, 9th, 10th,13th,14th,15th,16th and 17th at 9:00 am each day. 

For more information about baking for the celebration, please call the chairperson at 244-4672 or 250-8804.

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La Festa Degli Innamorati

From the country that gave us Romeo and Juliet, famous novels like “I Promessi Sposi”, and romantic gondola rides, there’s no doubt that Italy is THE country for lovers. Even the Italian language, which is so expressive and precise in thought and emotion, is considered one of the most romantic and beautiful of all languages. So how do Italians celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day? Logic would say that Valentine’s Day is a huge celebration, right? Italy does take its celebrations seriously, but current-day celebrations are not as extensive as you would think. Let’s look at the history of Saint Valentine’s Day, or “La Festa Degli Innamorati” in Italy:

Ancient Traditions The origins of Valentine’s Day lie in ancient Pagan fertility day celebrations. In 494 AD, Pope Gelasio I declared a Valentine Day celebration in honor of Saint Valentine to replace the Pagan festival, and the original Saint Valentine’s festivities were celebrated as a spring festival where lovers would gather outside in gardens or parks to listen to music and exchange poetry. One ancient tradition is for an unmarried girl to wake up early and stand by her window. Legend has it that the first man she sees that day will marry her within a year.

Today’s Traditions Present-day Valentine’s celebrations are more commercialized than in centuries past, and many Italians consider it an American import. On this day, the exchange of gifts is usually only between lovers. Usually a couple will go out to dinner, or prepare a nice candlelit dinner at home. A popular gift is the Baci Perugina chocolate-covered hazelnut with a romantic poetic quote in 4 different languages hidden inside. And that is basically the extent of Valentine’s Day celebrations in Italy. But if you’ve traveled in Italy in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed lucchetti, or padlocks, attached to bridges, railing, and lampposts. While not an Italian invention, this “locks of love” tradition started in Italy in 2006 when novelist and screen writer Federico Moccia wrote a best-selling book called Ho voglio di te (I want you), followed by a movie by the same name. The story, about a pair of young Romans, includes a lie: the hero tells the young lady he desires of a legend (invented by him) in which lovers wrap a chain around the third lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio bridge (built in 206 BC), lock it, and throw the key into the Tiber River, symbolizing the unbreakable bond uniting them. Between the popularity of the story and the Italian tradition of not being shy about expressing true amore, before long thousands of locks and chains had piled up, and the lamps atop two of the bridge’s lampposts actually crumbled under their weight. City officials who tried to solve the problem were accused – and we all know this is BAD in Italy – of being anti-love: “The left is against lovers,” one rightist city official, Marco Clarke, charged. Finally a compromise was reached and official spots for the locks were built – six sets of steel posts with chains on the bridge – so lovers could declare themselves without damaging the city’s infrastructure. And so the tradition began, and now it has spread throughout the country, with couples writing their names or initials on the locks before affixing them to posts or railings.

In Italy, Saint Valentine’s Day is not about expensive gifts, but instead a day to show someone you care; a day to say “Ti Voglio Bene” (I love you). And isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about, anyway?

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Annual Columbus Day Dinner


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Italian Ambassador Visits Cultural Center


The Honorable Claudio Bisogniero with Cultural Center Director Patricia Civitate (left) and President Jo Anna Schmeling (right).

The Honorable Claudio Bisogniero, Italian Ambassador now serving in Washington, DC, was guest of honor at a reception held December 4th at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. Ambassador Bisogniero officially took the reins as Italy’s ambassador to the U.S. on February 6th.

Born in Rome, Italy on July 2, 1954, Claudio Bisogniero earned a degree in Political Science from the University of Rome in 1976, and served as an officer in the Italian Army in 1976 and 1977. He then entered the Italian Foreign Service in May, 1978.

Late in 1992 Bisogniero was posted for the first time to the U.S. to serve as first counselor for economic and commercial affairs at the embassy in Washington, D.C., with special focus on financial issues, the IMF and World Bank, and defense industry co-operation. After four years in Washington, he moved north to New York, to serve at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nation, with primary responsibilities for political affairs and UN reform. In 1998 he returned to Rome to serve at the Foreign Affairs Ministry for the next 8 years.

Ambassador Bisogniero with board members of the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa.

Ambassador Bisogniero with board members of the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa.

From 1999 to 2002, Bisognero served in the Personnel Department and later at the Office of the Secretary General, as direct collaborator with the Secretary General. In February 2002 Bisogniero was appointed deputy director general for political multilateral affairs, responsible for NATO, the United Nations, G8, disarmament, OSCE, anti-terrorism and human rights issues. In June 2005 he became director for the Americas, with responsibility for the relations with the nations of the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S. In October 2007 Bisogniero was named NATO Deputy Secretary General, serving in Brussels until late 2011 when he was named ambassador to the U.S.

Ambassador Bisogniero with Polk County Supervisors (L-R) Angela Connolly, Tom Hockensmith and John Mauro.

Ambassador Bisogniero with Polk County Supervisors (L-R) Angela Connolly, Tom Hockensmith and John Mauro.

Consulate General of Italy Marco Gracioso, whose office is in the Consulate in Chicago, accompanied Ambassador Bisogniero while visiting the mid-west. Also in attendance at the reception were members of the Des Moines City Council, the Polk County Board of Supervisors, members of the Board of Governors of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa as well as representatives from the Society of Italian-Americans, the Societa Vittoria Italiana and ladies of their auxiliaries.

Ambassador Bisogniero expressed his extreme pleasure of being at the reception and during his visit to the Cultural Center and told those in attendance that he was impressed with the manner in which the Italian Culture and Heritage is being displayed at the Center. He also congratulated the Board for not only preserving but also shared their Italian heritage with generations both old and young alike. Click here to view the letter from the Ambassador.

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Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa Considers New Home

Story by Jeff Eckhoff, Des Moines Register, July 31, 2012

Ralph Marasco stands outside the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa, 1961 Indianola Ave. in Des Moines, earlier this month. / Rodney White/The Register

Ralph Marasco stands outside the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa, 1961 Indianola Ave. in Des Moines, earlier this month. / Rodney White/The Register

Ralph Marasco looks at construction equipment sitting on a triangular piece of property southeast of downtown Des Moines and sees possibility — or at least potential.

What if, one day, this storage space for scrap metal on Southeast First Street became a focal point for Italian culture? What if, one day, people flocked to cooking classes, language classes or fashion shows at what would then become a southern anchor of a newly revitalized Des Moines riverwalk?

“The goal is to create a focal point for the preservation, protection and promotion of the culture,” said Marasco, 70. “Obviously, everything is depending on the dollars.”

Ralph Marasco looks at land south of the Des Moines River that could be the future home of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. ROdney White/The Register / Rodney White/The Register

Ralph Marasco looks at land south of the Des Moines River that could be the future home of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. Rodney White/The Register / Rodney White/The Register

Marasco, the son of a Des Moines baker whose bread company once sat on the site of the current Italian-American Cultural Center in south Des Moines, now is the point person for a $165,000 study focused on finding that facility a new home.

The center, at 1961 Indianola Ave., has existed since the early 1980s as a combination south-side meeting hall, museum and genealogical library aimed at charting the progress of Italians through Iowa’s history. Wedding photos from across the state hang in the same room with displays commemorating, among other things, Iowa’s Italian entertainers, its Italian-owned businesses and its priests. But the museum over the years has become cramped for space. And the kitchen, where they still hold classes and prepare cultural dinners, is outdated.

The question is what anybody can do about it.

The $165,000 — money that includes $65,000 from a pot of gambling revenue controlled by the Polk County supervisors and $99,250 that the center raised, mostly, from what Marasco describes as a single anonymous benefactor — is slated to be spent over the next few months to study moving to the former home of Gillotti Construction. The Gillotti land, roughly 6.5 acres located south of the Des Moines River and just east of Mullets bar, would provide more than enough space for the cultural center.

The cultural center's museum has become cramped for space. Marasco is leading a study investigating the possibility of relocating to a spot on Southeast First Street and building a new center. / Rodney White/ Register photos

The cultural center's museum has become cramped for space. Marasco is leading a study investigating the possibility of relocating to a spot on Southeast First Street and building a new center. / Rodney White/ Register photos

Polk County Supervisor John Mauro said there’s probably enough room on the property to eventually develop an Italian restaurant, Italian bakery and perhaps an Italian market.

“I think it would be an excellent deal if they could do the entire project,” Mauro said. “To me, it’s a great thing. It’s got some life, and I’m going to push for it.”

The question is whether it will work.

Experts plan to spend the next few months studying things like the center’s environmental and architectural needs, Marasco said. They’ll also need to explore government grant options, such as a pot of federal money that might help officials build a new energy-efficient building. Lastly, there will be a marketing study to find out whether it’s possible to raise enough money to build it.

Polk County records show the center, a regular recipient of grants from Polk’s gambling-funded Community Betterment program, has received $90,000 over the past four years alone.

Mauro on Monday downplayed the possibility of specific future grants for land acquisition.

“I’m sure we’d like to be part of it, but we can’t be a big part of it,” Mauro said. “The Italian community’s going to have to step up also. It can’t just be everybody else.”

Exact details of what will be included in a proposed new building will be determined as part of the feasibility process. But Marasco said his thoughts are of a roughly 25,000-square-foot structure that uses geothermal heating. It would be regularly filled with classes, events and traveling exhibits showing Italian culture.

“If somebody’s 2 or 92, there ought to be something there for them to do two or three times a year,” Marasco said.

And plenty to look at, he added. Like maybe, for example, a borrowed Ferrari in the lobby? Possibilities are endless.

“You let this go,” he said, “and it just gets wild.”

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Iowans Receive Message from Mayor of Terravecchia, Italy

Mayor Mauro Santora of Terravecchia, Italy, has prepared the following video message for the 2011 Oelwein Italian Heritage Day.  The video also includes family photos of those who immigrated to Iowa from Terravecchia and their families.  Also included are photos of Terravecchia taken by Donna Debartolo from her recent trip there.

Below the video is the English translation of Mayor Santora’s message.

Hello, my name is Mauro Santoro, Mayor of Terravecchia.  Greetings to all of you who are originally from Terravecchia and  who now live in the United States.  I send you all my personal regards, along with the regards of my administration, the Vice Mayor, our City Council and all the citizens of Terravecchia.  All of us feel very close to all of you who have lived for many years in the United States of America.

In particular, I remember from my research, that there were many families who left Terravecchia  from the years 1901 through 1923 and emigrated to the United States. In particular, I cite the descendants of these emigrants who, even though they have never seen Terravecchia, maintain their connections to our city.   Above all, when they offer their contributions for our patron saint Madonna del Carmine’s feast day. This event is honored and celebrated each year on the first Tuesday after Easter. We celebrate her day with lots of great music and entertainment for one and all.

I would like to acknowledge some of the families who emigrated from Terravecchia, especially the  families Comite, Leo, members of the Pigneri family, Raiolo,  Pisano, Farago, the families Sposato, Baratta, Brufonaro, Rizzuti, Bisignano, Santoro, Alessio, Vulcano, Scigliano, Scorpiniti,  Liguori,  Pirillo, Filippelli, Ciangiaruso, Marasco and Amodeo. Surely I am forgetting some family names, but you must forgive me because these are some very old surnames and it is difficult to remember all of them. However,  I remember all of those fellow citizens who found it necessary leave Terravecchia for America. I send special greeting to the children, grandchildren and all the relatives of our emigrants.

I am very happy to hear that you all get together each year to celebrate and to remember your roots.  The community of Terravecchia feels very close to all of you. I want you to know that I, and the city administration, feel very close to all of you. We thank you for your monetary gifts, especially  those you sent to us after the World Wars.  These gifts helped to sustain the families here and helped them emerge from a disastrous situation.

I am happy  that many of you  and your family members, feel the desire and the need to rediscover your roots and come here to visit us.  I am very passionate about historical research and have written six books about Terravecchia.  It pleases me greatly when I am able to provide historical data which helps people connect to their roots in Terravecchia.

I invite all of you to come to Terravecchia. I, along with some of my City’s officials,  hope to visit all of you in America to participate in one of your reunions there so that you will feel even closer to the community of Terravecchia and shorten the geographical distance between us.

Terravecchia remains a very small town, but one that is growing economically. A town that keeps the old memories and traditions alive. For example, in the way in which we celebrate the feast of our Patron Saint Madonna del Carmine each Spring with great honor. This year  2011, in particular, we are having a party  to celebrate 90 years of our re-establishment as an autonomous  city.  In 1910 Terravecchia was assumed as a part of the City of Cariati, and then in 1921, Terravecchia was re-established as a separate city. We announce with joy that in August, our Church of Santa Maria will be named a Diocesan Sanctuary by our Archbishop, Santo Marciano. This is a great honor for us, to be recognized.  To know and understand our deeply religious history is a boost for the city as many pilgrims and visitors will come here to pray.

I renew my best regards to all of you, your families, and encourage you to maintain this connection.  And I, along with other city officials, hope to visit you all in America soon.   Again, I thank you for your attention.  Best wishes and prosperity to all of you. Have fun and our very best to you all.

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Cultural Center Receives Generous Gift

The Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa recently received a $10,000 bequest from the estate of Joseph D. Civitate, a long-time volunteer and generous financial contributor to the Center.

Donald, as he was known to family and friends alike, participated in all events at the Center – usually as a volunteer.  He was a generous contributor to previous fund drives.  Donald assisted monthly in the assembly and mailing of the Cultural Center Newsletter for at least 15 years and is still remembered when the volunteers gather and talk of days gone by.  He also enjoyed dealing cards at the Las Vegas Nights sponsored by the Center.  The steps and ramp from the south piazza were financed by Donald in memory of his late wife Leila.

Needless to say, the Board of Governors will always be grateful for his support.  Donald is gone – but not forgotten.

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