Pennsylvania Priest and Italian Cook (With a Recipe for Castagnole)
Father David Cappelloni is known in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, area for his love of Italian cuisine
In the spring of 2022 on Fat Tuesday, the Diocese of Scranton held it first virtual fundraiser, featuring 25 local priests in a cook-off competition called “Rectory, Set, Cook.” The participating priests shared their own videos that showed off their favorite recipe, hoping that friends would make monetary donations as a vote for the pastor or a team. One well-known participant was Father David Cappelloni, pastor at Sts. Anthony and Rocco parish in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, who made Italian donuts (castagnole). The competition raised $14,000 for the parish and $171,000 for the Diocese’s Catholic Social Services anti-hunger campaign.
Of course, Catholicism and Italian cooking are part of his heritage. Born in Scranton and raised by devout Italian parents, going to Mass was always part of their Sunday tradition. “We went to Mass at the 8am service,” he said. “There were six children, including four brothers, one sister and me. Most live close by now and we see each other a lot.”
Their local pastor at the time, Msgr. Anthony Marra, would often ask Father Cappelloni’s mother if her sons could help in the parish. As he recalled, “We would have an annual pasta dinner and serve 5,000 dinners,” he remembers. “It was a sit-down dinner in the church hall and people would wait for 1 1/2 hours to be seated. We served homemade pasta, meatballs, cannoli and drinks. That was back in the days when women were housewives and would take weeks to do all the cooking.”
And Msgr. Marra, who came often to his family home to play cards at night, eventually inspired Father Cappelloni to enter the priesthood.
“He was a regular to guy to me,” he said. “I had an attraction to church and on Good Friday, I would sit in church and be moved by being there. He saw that in me and took me to visit a seminary one day — St. Pius X in our diocese. I went there and was impressed by the young men there. … I was captivated, and I said to Msgr. Marra, ‘Let’s try it.’ And it was done.”
When he told his parents of his decision, they were proud of him and encouraged him in his vocation. He took a year off before seminary, and took a job in New York City after his senior year in college. He worked in a department store selling women’s sportswear, and after one year, he realized something was missing from his life. “I realized that not what I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “I went back to the seminary and became a priest.”
As for his love of Italian cooking, he attributes that to his mother.
“My mother was a fabulous cook,” he said, “and I always liked to cook … and when she got older, she needed help. We always made ravioli stuffed with meat, 1,000 to 2,000 [of them], and she couldn’t’ mix the meat anymore. I learned how to make the dough. And I still make ravioli for family Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. I don’t do it alone, as the family all gets together. We have a nice lunch and pack leftovers in this freezer for the next holiday meal.”
Although he loves to cook, Father Cappelloni does not cook for parish events, though it holds regular festivals and dinners. “I cook for family, friends and other priests,” he said. “Every Sunday, I cook for my family — yesterday we had chicken cutlets, broccoli and pasta shells and a salad and for dessert, an apple cake and brownies.”
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Recipe for Castagnole (Italian Fried Dough Balls)
Italian doughnuts, or castagnole. Traditionally served on Fat Tuesday. Mix a batter with eggs, ricotta, lemon rind, lemon juice, whiskey and baking powder to rise quickly and drop in hot oil to make a ball — then flip, strain and pour honey or powdered sugar over top. Very light, but people eat a lot of them.
- 4 eggs
- 1 pound ricotta
- 6 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 3 cups flour
- 2 shots whiskey and 2 shots rum
- Juice and rind one lemon
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Powdered sugar and honey
Beat Eggs with sugar. Add ricotta, vanilla, liqueur and lemon. Sift baking powder and flour — add to mixture.
Drop by teaspoon into hot vegetable oil (350 degrees) and deep-fry until golden. Dip in honey or powdered sugar. Best served immediately. Makes about 80.
Note: Traditionally, these castagnole were made with liqueur because that was easier to get than other flavors. If you choose not to use the liqueur simply increase the vanilla and or lemon.