Italy has given the world many culinary gifts — pizza, spaghetti, fettuccine Alfredo, minestrone, ravioli, gelato, tiramisu — the list goes on.

To celebrate these and many other contributions, Utah's Italian community is hosting "Ferragosto," or the Italian Cultural Street Fair in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday.

In Italian, "Ferragosto" means "festival in August," said Jinger LaGuardia, one of the event's organizers. "In Italy, everyone takes a two-week vacation on Aug. 15," she said. "In America we can't shut down for two weeks, but we can recognize it."

Jinger and her husband, Ed, spearheaded the first Ferragosto last year. About 10 years ago they moved to Salt Lake City from California where they had experienced similar celebrations of Italian heritage.

"We thought, why not do it here?" Jinger LaGuardia said. "There are a lot of Italians here, but they're low-profile. They have different Italian clubs, but there wasn't one big festival to pull them all together and recognize them. So we tried it and were thrilled by the response of the community."

They chose Pioneer Park and the street to the north for several reasons.

"This used to be the Italian neighborhood of Salt Lake," said Tony Caputo, another organizer. "Also, we could draw off the Farmer's Market, which takes place on Saturday mornings." As a bonus, Caputo's Italian Market and Deli, Carlucci's Bakery and the new Italian Center are right there in the neighborhood.

This year Precious Cheese came onboard as a sponsor. "They sponsor Italian festivals in other parts of the country," Jinger LaGuardia explained.

Local Italian restaurants and organizations will sell food specialties, crafts, soccer equipment, jewelry and so on. Historic photos of some of Utah's early Italian families, Italian-made Ferraris and Vespas, and other Italian memorabilia will be on display. People can also try playing bocce ball on the courts at Pioneer Park. And, there will be musical entertainment — opera, accordion, mandolin and so on — for ambience.

LaGuardia says tomatoes top the list of Italian culinary contributions. Although tomatoes originated in the Americas, they were brought to Europe with the Conquistadors in the 16th century. "The Italians were the ones who figured out what to do with it," she said. (According to historians, the British thought tomatoes were poisonous, and that fear persisted among U.S. colonists until the early 19th century.)

She added that Italians did the same thing with pasta. "It may have come from the Chinese, but Italians are the ones who expanded on that idea and took it a lot further with all the different shapes."

Tony Caputo, whose grandfather immigrated from Italy to Carbon County in 1913, cites olive oil as the most important Italian culinary contribution.

"It is the oldest food product in the world, and it was used for many years as a sustenance," Caputo said. "It wasn't just a condiment, it was a large part of people's lives. In very bad times, olive oil and bread was a dinner. It was used as a balm for skin and for fuel. It was a large part of people's lives. The Greeks probably had it first, but the large influx of Italians to America popularized it."

Ferragosto celebrates these foods and all other things Italian.

If you go

What: Ferragosto, The Italian Cultural Street Fair

Where: Pioneer Park, 300 South and 300 West

When: Saturday, noon-10 p.m.

How much: Free

Phone: 236-6014

E-mail: [email protected]