Wednesday, April 7, 2004

30 years of Good Fridays

Homemade pasta and baked fish keep Covedale family nourished - in body and spirit

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jim Pfirrman gets up early every morning this week to make fresh fettuccine
Photos by BRANDI STAFFORD/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill and Lynn Bradley of Covedale and June Lobono (far right) of Dent will join the Pfirrmans for the Italian holiday meal on Friday.

If it smells like frying garlic, it must be Good Friday at the Pfirrman home in Covedale.

More than 30 years ago, a short, dark-haired Italian-American woman named Angie Iacobucci began the Good Friday tradition of serving her family a meatless meal of aglio e olio (fried garlic and olive oil with pasta) and simple baked fish. And even though Iacobucci (yak-o-BUCHI) died seven years ago, her daughter Linda Pfirrman and Pfirrman's husband, Jim, continue the tradition.

"We always have ravioli on Easter Sunday," Linda says. "But that's for the immediate family. On Good Friday, we get to see everyone."

More than 30 people now come to the Pfirrmans' home late in the afternoon on Good Friday - aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors. This year, Linda's sister, Jamie Iacobucci, will fly in from Chicago for the meal, and her brother, Marc, is coming from Texas.

They sit at long tables in the basement, lit by candles in wax-covered chianti bottles and surrounded by Italian posters, whimsical figurines and a 2-foot-tall, head-swiveling Dean Martin doll that croons "That's Amore" on cue.

The guests eat, drink homemade wine and then enjoy anisette-spiked coffee and pastiere, a sweet rice custard flavored with cinnamon and lemon.

They talk for hours, sometimes until midnight. Conversation is just as important as the pasta and fish at the Pfirrmans' Good Friday dinner.

"Mostly, it's a time for everyone to catch up," Jim says.

A passionate cook and son of a German-American father and an Italian-American mother, Jim, who works downtown as a civil designer, prepares everything for the special meal.

This is the first in an occasional series about how Greater Cincinnatians celebrate special occasions with good things to eat. Tell us about your holiday parties, family meals, grill-outs and other long-held traditions. Include a phone number and send to Food Traditions, the Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202 or
For the aglio, he makes fresh fettuccine, getting up at 4:30 every morning the week of Good Friday to crank out the pasta. He learned to make the noodles and other Italian dishes from his wife's family - her mother; great-aunt, Jenny DiSalvo; and grandmother, Livia Ionna.

"Livia told me when it smells like this," he says, offering a whiff of the sweet, yolk-yellow pasta dough, "it's ready."

The Good Friday tradition began not long after Catholic sisters Jenny and Livia started walking the steps up to Mount Adams with others to pray at Holy Cross-Immaculata Church. Angie always stayed home to prepare the family meal, setting the table with her best china and linens. As a teenager, Linda would walk the steps with her great-aunt and grandmother, and then come home, legs aching, to smell the fragrant garlic.

"I didn't like it (the aglio) then," she says. "But maybe by the time I was in college, I learned to like it."

About a dozen people came to eat, but then more would come for dessert and coffee, leaving the children to wash dishes. The sisters, who immigrated to Cincinnati from a little town named Chiauci near Naples, would sometimes speak and joke in Italian.

Livia died in 1995 and Jenny in 1998. A year before that, doctors diagnosed Angie with cancer and she wasn't able to cook on Good Friday. Her husband, Frank, wanted to cancel the dinner. But Jim and Linda offered to do it at their home, only a few blocks away.

"Frank is one of those who will say, 'No, don't bother,' " Jim says. "But when we did the dinner, you could see the gleam in his eyes. You know it's important to him."

Angie died later that year (1997), and the Good Friday tradition moved permanently to the Pfirrman home.

Day begins early

On Friday morning, Jim gets up early to set the tables and put everything in place in the basement. Even though the fettuccine is cut and ready, there's plenty more to cook - cheesy zucchini Parmesan casserole and dozens of asparagus spears, to be tossed cold in vinaigrette.

Jim's son, 8-year-old cherubic Vinny, whose favorite part of the meal is his father's crispy, vanilla-flavored pizzelles (wafflelike Italian cookies), stands by to help. Later in the afternoon, Linda and her daughters, Maria, 16, and Anna, 12, return home from walking the steps to the Mount Adams church. But Jim will wait nearly to the last minute to bake the orange roughy fillets, dusted with bread crumbs and lemon pepper. Next comes the boiling of the pasta and frying of the garlic, which imbues the house with its familiar fragrance.

After draining the fettuccine, Jim returns the pasta to a big stockpot and folds in the golden slivers of garlic and oil. Like their mother when she was young, the Pfirrman children don't like the aglio, so Jim holds out a few "white" or plain noodles for them.

When the pasta and the rest of the meal is ready, Jim finally takes off his red and green apron and carries the food to the buffet line in the basement. Before the guests load their plates, Jim says grace, giving thanks for those guests who could come, and asking for the safekeeping of those who couldn't, including another son, 21-year-old Scott, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

And later, sometime during the meal, they will all raise a glass of giaconucci (Pfirrman's homemade wine) to Angie, Livia and great-aunt Jenny - the women who started it all.

The man with the German name who married into the Good Friday tradition says he'll keep cranking out pasta and frying garlic as long as he can. And he hopes his children will one day have the same urge in the spring.

"I think one of the kids will pick it up," Jim says. "One would be enough. Two would be great."


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