A Priest-Deacon Cooking Team in Wisconsin, With a Prize-Winning Recipe for ‘Sausage in Cream Pasta’

The two winners of a cooking contest in the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, this year were Father Chris Gernetzke and Deacon Michael Pipitone

Father Chris Gernetzke (l) and Deacon Michael Pipitone
Father Chris Gernetzke (l) and Deacon Michael Pipitone (photo: Father Chris Gernetzke)

Ever since Julia Child started her TV cooking show, the public has been drawn into watching chefs cook. These later shows include Chopped, Top Chef and MasterChef. These must have inspired Catholic communities to join in on cooking competitions, such as Rectory, Set, Cook; St. Augustine’s Holy Cooking Contest and Cooks with Collars. While not all are televised, most contests are filmed and, like Cooks with Collars, posted on the company’s website.

Last year, in the Catholic Diocese of Madison Foundation’s (CDMF) Great Mercy Match, four area priests battled it out in a baking contest to raise funds for the works of mercy. In early summer this year, the CDMF sponsored again The Great Mercy Match, which was an Italian cook-off. The local bishop, Bishop Hying, chose Italian dishes to honor the Italian saint, Padre Pio, because of his many acts of mercy. The CDMF thus can bring in money to support food pantries, homeless shelters and the St. Vincent de Paul councils.

The two winners this year who cooked together were Father Chris Gernetzke, pastor of St. Peter Parish, Ashton, and St. Martin of Tours, Martinsville, both in Wisconsin, and his colleague, Deacon Michael Pipitone, principal of the parish school. Before the competition, the two vowed to donate to a new ministry supporting pregnancy loss at St. Peter’s parish. Of course, what they whipped up — salsiccia e crema, or sausage in cream sauce pasta — came out the winner!

A native of Wisconsin, Father Gernetzke grew up in the small town of Evansville in a devout Catholic family. He noted that by the 8th grade, he had considered the priesthood, but by the time he went to college, his focus shifted. “When I was in college,” he said, “I studied nursing and dated a bunch of girls. Finally, I said ‘Okay, Lord, what do you want me to do.’” He admitted that he had not really been practicing his faith, but after that, he went back to Mass and prayed the Rosary daily.

“I was taking the time to pray,” he said, “and after a lot of wailing and grinding of teeth, I was praying one night before the Blessed Sacrament, and I put it all on the table. The Lord said, ‘Go to seminary,’ and I went to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota.”

He attributes his cooking skills to both his parents, whom he said were good cooks with delicious meals of meat and potatoes. “In seminary and as a priest, I assisted Bishop [Robert] Morlino, who could have been a five-star chef. I learned a lot from him. My parents taught me the basics, and the bishop took me to the next level. … I was his sous chef and that was certainly helpful in culinary formation.”

His cooking buddy, Deacon Michael Pipitone, grew up in Rockford, Illinois, went to a Catholic high school, and then attended the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. He discerned a different vocation and became a permanent deacon. He then moved to Wisconsin at the invitation of Father Scott Jablonski, who invited him to the Diocese of Madison to be the principal at Blessed Trinity. However, as Pipitone said, after a few years, he became the principal at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Middleton, Wisconsin, with Father Gernetzke as the pastor.

“A lot of my cooking knowledge I gleaned from my grandparents,” he said. “When I was growing up, I was always with my grandma in the kitchen and even when I went to high school and to college, I was always working in a restaurant or cafeteria part time. My uncle owned a pizzeria in Rockford that inspired me.”

With his Italian cooking background and his admiration for (and inspiration from) Italian chef genius Lidia Bastianich, it is no wonder that Father Gernetzke and Deacon Pipitone enjoy the kitchen time together and even putting together Italian meals. As the deacon said, “I have worked with Father Chris and we are very much foodies and enjoy cooking. We both decided to cook a big Italian meal for parishioners this past spring at our annual benefit dinner, and people loved the food.”

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Salsiccia e Crema (Sausage in Cream Pasta)

As the cooks said, “Never wash noodles for pasta or add additional oil to them. The starch is what makes the sauce stick to the noodle.”

Serves 6

  • 1-1/2 pounds Italian sausage, browned and drained of any grease
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One small to medium onion, peeled and diced
  • Sprinkle of pepperoncino flakes, toasted
  • 1 pint half-and-half
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound pasta, Mostaccioli-style noodle, unrinsed
  • Freshly grated black pepper

Brown the sausage in a skillet and remove when cooked. Add the olive oil, and heat over medium heat. Cook the diced onion until incandescent. Add the pepperoncino flakes to the half-and-half and heat the cream over medium-low heat. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Continue to stir thoroughly, then stir in 1 cup Parmesan cheese, and keep stirring. The sauce will thicken quickly.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring to boil a pot of salt water, and add the pasta. Once the sauce is thickened, stir in the Italian sausage and diced onion. When the sausage is heated back up, add the noodles and serve. Add the remaining Parmesan cheese on top of the serving bowl, sprinkle a little bit of black pepper, and serve.