A painting of Fr. Caserta by artist Cecilia Brendel, who painted interiors of St. Boniface Church in Piqua, Ohio, and Incarnation in Dayton, Ohio.
It’s not too many priests who have the opportunity to serve for over 70 years, and even fewer who live to be over 100 years old. Even fewer are known for their secret Sicilian pasta sauce that comes from an over 100 year old family recipe. Some say the sauce is even better on pizza than pasta. That is the legacy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s oldest priest, Fr. Angelo Caserta, who passed away yesterday at 100 years, five months. But, for someone whose life was devoted to serving, there are really no secrets. He lovingly shared his recipes (below) for the sauce, meatballs, and other delicious recipes for which he was famous.
The secret to his sauce: white zinfandel – the needed sweet acid so many forget to add. And, the secret to his meatballs: Old Bay seasoning, anise seeds, and Bob Evans spicy sausage.
Fr. Caserta rolling the meatballs.
Angelo Caserta grew up in a very Sicilian, very devoutly Catholic family, with 10 other siblings, son of Charles Caserta and Nunciatina “Nancy” Cipriano. When Caserta’s father, Charles came through Ellis Island from Messina, Sicily, they told him to change his first name from Carmello to Charles. He met his wife, also from Sicily (Palermo), in Piqua, and in 1916-ish they started the Charles Caserta Restaurant, still in business in Piqua, Ohio, at 331 South Roosevelt, two blocks from their ancestral home on Wood Street.
After graduating valedictorian in 1936 from Piqua Catholic High School, he worked for his father’s restaurant, store, and catering business. Here he learned the art of dealing with people, and how to make the wonderful Sicilian dishes he shared with thousands of people over his 70 years.
Charles Caserta’s Restaurant in Piqua, Ohio, today.
He was called away from the sauce in 1937 and spent four years studying philosophy at St. Gregory Seminary in Mt. Washington, and then four years of theology at Mt. St. Mary in Norwood. The Archbishop of Cincinnati chose him to study two more years in Rome, where all classes were taught in Latin, and he was ordained a diocesan priest by Archbishop McNicholas, on February 24, 1945, only a few months before World War II ended.
He first taught math to students at St. Gregory Seminary, and then served administrative duties, until becoming Dean. He was assigned pastor in 1970 of St. Lawrence Church in Price Hill until 1984, and then was back at his home parish of St. Boniface in Piqua, where he served until he ‘retired.’
A record of someone’s healing through prayer with him in life has been recorded. Another record of healing attributed to him in life or after life, could make Fr. Caserta eligible for sainthood. He was out of town and he and a female parishioner, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer, prayed together on the phone after her second operation for God’s healing. She remembers, “I broke out in a sweat and I felt like I was talking to God. Father said that he would not be surprised if the cancer was gone.” The doctor was amazed to find out that the cancer was completely gone.
Fr. Angelo Caserta will be remembered by the thousands of parishioners in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – from Piqua to Price Hill – whom he fed with his counsel and his pasta sauce.
Fr. Caserta’s Italian Supreme Pasta Sauce
Everyone who makes pasta sauce feels that he or she has the best recipe. The difference lies in the kinds and amounts of ingredients used in making the sauce. This is Father Caserta’s secret:
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
3 tbsp. garlic powder or minced garlic
3 tbsp. onion powder
3 tbsp. basil
2 tbsp. oregano
1 cup fresh parsley
1 diced medium onion
6 oz. extra virgin olive oil
6 oz. of a semi sweet wine (like zinfandel)
Cook on low to medium low heat for at least 4 to 6 hours. (Diced green peppers and sliced mushrooms are optional, but highly recommended. If using mushrooms first sauté them in olive oil for 15 minutes.) Use of mixed Italian spices not recommended!
Meatballs could be ½ pork sausage and ½ ground round or sirloin, or all-beef, or all-sausage; the all sausage meatballs seem to many the best! yet to others the ½ and ½! yet to others the all-beef. When using sausage (hot or regular) Bob Evans is highly recommended. For best results:
2 lbs. of one of the above meat options
10 oz. (by volume, not weight) parmesan cheese
2 tsp Old Bay spice
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
½ tsp pepper
(Optional 2 tsp anise seeds or powder)
No bread crumbs used (the Italians used bread because of the high price of meat!). Before putting meatballs in the sauce, bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 350°; place in sauce about 1 hour before serving (by cooking any longer meatballs lose much of their flavor). Enjoy!
If you make your own pizza or if you buy frozen pizza, try some of the above sauce on it!