By Tony Leodora
NORTH COVENTRY, Pa. – The Columbus Cup, an all-day celebration of golf, bocce, music, food and wine, returned to Chester County on Columbus Day.
From 2004 to 2019, the event turned Bellewood Country Club into a huge Italian festival that attracted many of the county’s business leaders as well as celebrities such as Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, former St. Joseph’s University basketball coach Phil Martelli and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.
The COVID pandemic that raced around the globe shut down the Columbus Cup in 2020. Doubts about the resumption of the event in 2021 heightened after a majority vote of the Montgomery County Commis-sioners put an end to Columbus Day as an official holiday.
But organizers of the Columbus Cup marched forward with new resolve, and the event is back, bigger and better than ever.
“Once we determined it would be safe to hold the event this year, we moved forward at full speed. We have increased our prizes, added live music during the evening wine-tasting and selected a very special Featured Dish for our ‘Old World’ feast after golf. This could be our best Columbus Cup yet,” said Al DeGennaro, president of the Americans of Italian Heritage Society.
This year, Montgomery County Commis-sioner Joe Gale addressed the assembled golfers at noon.
“This is a landmark year for us,” explained Frank Arcade, dinner and golf chairman for the Columbus Cup. “We wanted to continue the effort to remind people of all the good things associated with our Italian heritage. There are a lot of people in the cancel culture world who have been attacking Christopher Columbus. He was emblematic of a society that existed more than 500 years ago. None of the accepted actions from that time would pass muster under today’s moral code.
“But one thing has not changed. Columbus, of Italian heritage, had the courage to go against conventional wisdom and set out on a historic journey in three tiny boats. That journey resulted in the discovery of America. We proudly honor that world-changing accomplishment, and our Italian heritage, every Columbus Day.”
Part of that effort is the announcement of a Featured Dish – spotlighted in the day-long procession of Italian “Old World” culinary delights. This year’s Featured Dish is pasta e ceci … a cousin of the more widely recognized pasta e fagioli (Americanized pronunciation – pasta fazool). It uses chick-peas instead of cannellini beans as the main ingredient.
And this year’s Featured Dish has a special local tie.
For years, pasta e ceci has been the signature dish at the annual St. Francis (San Francesco di Paola) feast, held during the first week of June in Ambler. St. Francis of Paola was named the official patron of Italian seaman in 1943 by Pope Pius XII. It is quite fitting that this dish would be featured at an event honoring Christopher Columbus.
“We have a number of different foods for sale each year at our feast,” said Carmine Ciliberto, president of the St. Francis Society in Ambler. “But we give away a cup of our famous pasta e ceci to everyone who attends. Friends come every year to eat our traditional pasta.”
Other traditional favorites on this year’s Columbus Cup menu included roast pork, greens and beans (minestra), pepper and egg sandwiches, breakfast pizzas, escarole soup, Italian hoagies, cannoli and tomato pie.
INGREDIENTS 2 14-ounce cans chickpeas 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup) 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon if you like a kick 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes 2 ½ cups vegetable broth ¾ cup (3 ounces) ditalini or other small-shaped pasta 3 cups finely chopped fennel shaved pecorino cheese, for topping METHOD • Drain chickpeas, reserving liquid, and blend liquid and about quarter-cup of chickpeas on low speed until smooth (don’t puree it too much or it’ll be too frothy). • Heat olive oil in a medium heavyweight saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel and sauté until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, Italian herbs and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. • Add crushed tomatoes and stir until starting to bubble, about 2 minutes, then add blended chickpea liquid, remaining chickpeas, and vegetable broth and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop and the broth to thicken slightly. • Add ditalini pasta and simmer for about 8 minutes or until almost al-dente (double check package instructions if using a different kind of pasta – it’ll likely take a minute or two longer than the package says in this case). About 2 minutes before the pasta is done, add escarole and stir into hot liquid until wilted. • Spoon into serving bowls. Top generously with pecorino cheese and serve hot.