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Italian-American social club talks, eats their way through Italy

Created date

May 22nd, 2012

Why do non-Italians join Maris Grove s Italian-American social club? One reason, says club president Russ Lombardo, is the excellence of its programs. Boasting 125 members, the club provides opportunities to socialize and share Italian heritage, language, food, and history. Programs range from films about famous Italians to aspects of Italian culture to presentations by Italian-Americans who live at the Glen Mills, Pa., Erickson Living community. This year s March program featured a film about Carrabba s Italian Grill and highlighted a sumptuous assortment of finger foods provided by the restaurant. Therein lies an equally important reason that non-Italians join, says Russ: When the program is over, we have a table set with biscotti and pizzelles, wine and cheese, pepperoni and crackers. A first-generation Sicilian-American and retired DuPont divisional manager, Russ is a font of knowledge about everything Italian. He gave a club presentation about Italy earlier this year and teaches occasional Italian language classes at Maris Grove. When Russ talks, he can take you back centuries. It s like traveling to Italy yourself, says Rita Montanaro. When I joined the club, I felt a closeness to the country and the language that I d never felt before. Rita, along with other members, bakes authentic Italian treats for nearly every meeting. She specializes in anise-flavored pizzelles. She also bakes zuccherini, or little sweet, plump round cushions of vanilla-scented cookies topped with lemon icing and capped with jimmies.

Jackson-style home

She bakes in the large, sunny eat-in kitchen of her two-bedroom Jackson-style apartment home (see the full view of the Jackson floor plan on back page). She rarely cooks except for the club. However, I have to have a big kitchen because it s my background. Italians need big kitchens. Down to her patio, Rita s home is a carbon copy of the one her sister and brother-in-law, Rosemary and John Robinson, have at Maris Grove. Rita had visited them so often when she lived in Broomall that moving into her own Jackson apartment felt like home. Fellow baker Joan Trevisan loves having her big kitchen on the same level as the great room, den, bedrooms, and bathrooms of her deluxe Wyeth apartment home. Coming from a six-level house in Springfield, this is heaven, she says. Joan is known for her double-chocolate biscotti, confections chock-full of mini chocolate chips and dried cranberries. When she slices the baked biscotti, she saves and grinds the crumbs. She dips the biscotti into chocolate icing, then into the crumbs, then into more icing. Bellissimo! Joan also cooks for neighbors who are under the weather, making ricotta-filled raviolis from crepes instead of traditional dough. Belonging to the club is heartwarming, she says. She never learned to speak Italian but loves listening to club members who can. She and Rita might get a baking reprieve this month when the club holds its annual picnic. Maris Grove s catering department will prepare the food. Russ describes it as picnic fare with an Italian accent.