Feasting on Flowers

Italians love any excuse for a party.  There are feast days in Italy for everything from food to religious figures to holidays. If you’ve traveled to any small Italian town, chances are you’ve found yourself becoming part of the singing, saint toting crowd parading to the feast where everyone celebrates with tables laden with pasta, sausages, and cannoli.

One such feast is the inspiration behind the pasta I chose for my lip smacking vodka sauce.  Gigli (Jee-lee), Italian for lily, is a pasta shaped like the venerable flower.  The feast, “La Festa Dei Gigli” or “The Festival of the Lilies” is in honor of St. Paulinus.  Every year in Nola, Italy, near Naples, seven days are set aside to party like its 409 A.D.


 The celebration is held the end of June, when San Paolino returned from captivity, having been held by the Huns in North Africa. As the tale goes, after negotiating the release of all the Nola men, good ol’ Pauli was freed and sailed back to this Neapolitan town, greeted by the overjoyed and grateful townspeople, who were carrying armfuls of lilies picked from the fields.   Shortly after his death, people from the town of Nola, started to carry bouquets of lilies to the church’s altar in the center of town.  Gradually the faithful started to mount their lilies on poles in decorative arrangements and marched them to the center of Nola each year on San Paolino’s feast date. The festival has happened for over a thousand years and features 82 foot high, 5,000 lb. obelisks in the form of lilies, transported on the shoulders of hundreds of men to the sounds of Italian music—and the cheers of adoring spectators. Crazy, no?  Maybe, but a great pasta came out of all this frenetic tradition.


Gigli pasta is one of my favorites.  It’s conical, sensual shape captures the sauce and charms your dinner guests. As promised, I am going to cover it in my vodka laced, creamy red sauce.  Yes, there really is vodka in the recipe but I won’t worry about serving it to the Jr.s, because the alcohol burns off when cooked. If you don’t have a bottle of Vodka hiding in your sewing cabinet like my great Aunt Giussepina, borrow a cup from your neighbor!

Pasta Alla Vodka

1 pound Gigli or any shape pasta

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 whole Medium Onion, Chopped Finely

2 cloves Garlic, Chopped

1 cup of Vodka

1 can (About 14 Oz.) crushed tomatoes

1 cup Heavy Cream

1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

¼ teaspoons (to 1/2 Teaspoon) Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper, To Taste

1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese


Cook pasta according to package directions, al dente please.


My little flower bouquet.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and butter. When butter is melted, add in chopped onion and garlic. Stir and allow to cook until onion is translucent. Pour in vodka. Stir and cook for three minutes. Add in crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and stir. 

Reduce heat to low and stir in cream. Allow to simmer, being careful not to overheat.


Yum…Cream…ignore my green spatula, blame it on William Sonoma

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water in case sauce is too thick. Add cooked pasta to the sauce, tossing to combine. Use a little cooking water if it needs it. Stir in Parmesan cheese.

Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and more freshly grated parmesan cheese.


Now this is worthy of a feast for any Saint.

Now, don’t forget, you are celebrating sacrifice and honor, so place a bouquet of these lovely, creamy covered lilies on your plate, put on some Frank Sinatra, make yourself a Vodka Negroni, and then go ahead, lick the plate, its ok, I wont judge you.

P.S.  Campanelle is another name for this shape of pasta.  It means “little bells” in Italian.  It is the exact same shape as gigli, just has a different “ring” to it.

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