South Philadelphia: Italian Family Celebrates Special ‘Pasta Fest’

The Panetta children joked while enjoying their pasta.
The Panetta children joked while enjoying their pasta.

Marlene Panetta stood in her tiny kitchen in South Philadelphia stirring a pot of sauce and tossing the antipasto salad. In her backyard on the 600 block of Pemberton Street, dozens of Panetta’s family members gathered around sipping homemade wine while children played ball outside in the street.

This wasn’t just an ordinary Sunday dinner for the Panetta family. It was this family’s Fifth Annual Pasta Fest. This family tradition started during the fall of 2008 as another way to keep the family together.

“We have some holidays together and celebrate birthdays but it is very rare that the entire family is together. This house has been in my family for almost 80 years so it’s nice to bring everybody together to enjoy some good Italian cooking,” Marlene Panetta said.

From pulled pork and penne to crabs and mussels, each family member brought their own dish to the Fest in hopes of impressing Marlene Panetta, but no dish at the Fests can measure up to her meatballs and special sauce.

“It tastes just like how my grandmother [Marlene’s mother] used to make it. We all try and make it the same exact way but it never tastes as good,” Panetta’s son, Bryan, said. “It must be the love.”

The love vibrant at this Fest was visible in more than just the tasty sauce. The large family’s children had dirt under their fingernails after playing all day long and the adults reminisced about the good-old days. Everybody, young and old, was already looking forward to next year’s Pasta Fest.

“This is what life is all about. It’s about family,” Marlene Panetta said.

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