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Piazza Italia: Taste authentic foods from Italy at Kings supermarkets

Piazza Italia food purveyors represent Italy with style, suited up beneath their aprons for the Short Hills opening of the 8-day Italian foods tasting event at 12 Kings supermarkets. (Photos by Kimberly L. Jackson)Piazza Italia, an 8-day event that brings foods and goods from Italy to 12 New Jersey Kings supermarkets,  opened today at Kings in Short Hills with music, folk dancers, a flash mob of opera singers and delicious bites of foods from several regions of Italy.

The Italian marketplace was already set up at Kings in Garwood, where the event moves tomorrow, April 1. Tastings go from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the store, with live Italian music at 2 p.m. The event moves to various Kings stores through April 9. There will be other Piazza Italia events at the Short Hills store from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 6. See the full event schedule at

For the event's Short Hills opening ceremony, Francesco Genuardi, the Consul General of Italy in New York joined Judy Spires, Kings chairman and chief executive officer, and Cecilia Ercolino, owner of Italian Products USA, the Elizabeth-based food import company behind the event. 

Genuardi called Italy a "superpower for food," noting that ItaTop, Cecilia Ercolino, owner of Italian Products USA, demonstrates hands-on leadership in setting up products for the Piazza Italia at Kings in Short Hills. Above left, Judy Spires, Kings chairman and CEO. Right, Italian Consul General Francesco Genuardi. lian products are often imitated and that the Piazza Italia showcase will give shoppers a chance to sample authentic Italian foods made by small artisan purveyors, often family-owned companies. 

Yes, that means pasta (Apulia), prosciutto (San Daniele) and pesto (Liguria), but also much more. Spires described the event as an "eating extravaganza" where Kings customers will have an opportunity to explore new artisanal foods and flavors. "Our customers travel to Europe, they know all these things, but they don't have to jump across the pond to try these products."

Ercolino, a New Jersey resident, has been importing Italian foods for more than a decade to supply big-name food service distributors such as Chefs' Warehouse and Sysco, and retailers such as Dean & DeLuca, Whole Foods, and Di Palo's and Zabar’s in Manhattan.


She has been working with Kings for a little more than two years to increase the supermarket chain's assortment of artisanal Italian foods. Kings also carries private label pasta, gelato and other store-branded products from Italy.


Italian Products USA, formerly based in Clark, imports handmade egg pastas, yellow or red Datterino tomatoes, award-winning balsamic vinegar, Nocellara olives, olive oil, coffee, truffles and other products.


"People want better, they want authentic, and that's what we are trying to deliver," Ercolino said.


Piazza Italia will allow Kings shoppers an opportunity to meet some of the people behind these foods,  Ercolino said. And for the purveyors of the approximately 75 featured products, some of whom are traveling to the U.S. for the first time, the event represents and opportunity to "make their American dream come true," she said.

The foods featured at the event won't necessarily become permanent offerings in Kings stores. Buyers will be evaluating how the products sell over the 8-day event to possibly make room for the best sellers.

Tarallini, a petite version of the Italian taralli snacks, are priced well at $2.99 for an 8.1-ounce bag. These looped treats from Puglia are like a cross between breadsticks and a savory cookie. Try the Chocolate taralli is a favorite taste from Piazza Italia, an Italian foods showcase at Kings stores through April 9."Classico" before you fall for the sweet chocolate variety, called Chocoralli. Tarallini also come in onion, fennel and other flavors.

On the high-end, but worth it, are Fragola Fabbri wild strawberries or cherries in syrup. From Emilia Romagna, the fruits are simmered for days in their own sweetened juices, cooking in large copper vats to produce the syrup. They come in heavy ceramic jars with decorative printing. These are made for reuse. The cherries are $19.99 for the 21-ounce container. Delicious, but I say spend the extra $5 and go for the strawberries, as their flavor is incomparable. Good enough to savor just one, as the brand representative noted.

Alicos organic sauces from Sicily have the clean, yet rich flavor of a sauce made of the freshest vine-ripened tomatoes. They are not pumped up with spices and have the taste of a simple recipe that allows the highest quality ingredients to shine.

Wild strawberries or cherries in syrup from Fragola Fabbri, since 1905.Also, seek out the Marabissi panforte from Siena. These offer an innovative spin on the classic Italian dessert paste of candied and dried fruit, nuts, honey and spices. Panforte is said to date back to the Middle Ages. This gourmet take is delightful with cheese, earning appreciative comments from several customers who were introduced to it that way. Marabissi panforte is also suggested for dicing into salads. The company also is offering two flavors of biscotti for sampling. 

On opening day, some shoppers were surprised by costumed dancers leaping and twirling near the cheese cooler and a prepared food bar. The dancing was to southern Italian folk music by Alessandra Belloni. Most shoppers were good natured, enjoying the show. Some even joined the dance near the end of the performance. Belloni will perform again at 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at the Verona store.

For those who missed the operatic flash mob, the singers will make a 2:30 p.m. appearance Sunday, April 2 at the Hillsdale Kings store. Morristown customers will have an opportunity to meet James Beard Award-winning cookbook author  Julia della Croce at 6 p.m. on April 3.Dancers perform to music by Alessandra Belloni for the March 31 opening of Piazza Italia at Kings in Short Hills. (Kimberly L. Jackson)







NJ rose experts to prune, offer growing advice March 18 at Colonial Park 

Rudolf W. van der Goot Rose Garden showcases 3,000 roses of 325 varieties. Rudolf W. van der Goot Rose Garden to host volunteers with expertise in growing roses

It will be worth a drive to Franklin Township on March 18 when teams of expert rose growers from across New Jersey will help with pruning at the Rudolf W. van der Goot Rose Garden at Colonial Park.


Volunteers from the Jersey Shore Rose Society and the Penn-Jersey Rose Society will join the staff of Colonial Park Gardens from 8 a.m. to noon for the annual spring pruning for the garden's more than 3,000 roses.


Visitors are welcome to stop in to observe and learn correct rose pruning techniques while having their rose questions answered by expert rosarians who also can share rose growing tips, techniques and other related information. While donations are appreciated, access to the gardens and the rose pruning event is free of charge. The gardens will have just opened for the season, and the suggested donation is $3 for adults and $1 for seniors and children.


The one-acre Rudolf W. van der Goot Rose Garden represents 325 rose varieties, including popular modern hybrids and various classes of old garden roses. The garden was named in honor of Rudolf W. van der Goot, who designed and led the garden's development as Somerset County Park Commission's first horticulturist. Only roses that thrive in central New Jersey are kept in the garden's rose collections, and all rose types are clearly labeled. The rose garden presents a kaleidoscope of color, form and fragrance from late spring through fall.


Enjoyment as well as public education are goals of this garden, and a visit offers an exceptional opportunity to learn about the many available varieties that will thrive in this part of the state. Visitors can see the color, size, form, and quality of various rose varieties and choose those most suited to their home gardens.


The rose garden, honored with the 2015 World Federation of Rose Societies' Garden of Excellence Award, is located at 156 Mettlers Road (parking lots A and F) in the East Millstone section of Franklin Township. It is part of Colonial Park's more extensive arboretum, which includes the Fragrance & Sensory Garden, the Ornamental Grass Collection, the Perennial Garden and the Shrub Collection. Call (732) 873-2459, Ext. 21 or visit for additional information.


Bonnie Plants wants third graders to grow free giant cabbage plants 

For nearly 20 years, Bonnie Plants has been supplying free cabbages for kids to grow at home.

Vegetable gardening teaches kids where food comes from, encourages them to eat their veggies and gets them outdoors, engaging with nature.

Since 1996, Bonnie Plants has been helping to get kids started in the garden with its national Third Grade Cabbage Program. In the free program, Bonnie's O.S. Cross cabbage seedlings are delivered to any third-grade classroom in the country's 48 contiguous states.

The O.S. in the name stands for "oversized," and the prospect of growing a super-size cabbage makes the program not only educational, but engaging and fun for kids.  Cabbages were the first successful crop sold by Bonnie in 1918, so a cabbage was a natural choice when Bonnie Plants began cultivating young growers in schools 19 years ago.

Each spring, Bonnie Plants trucks 2-inch cabbage seedlings to every participating third-grade classroom. Teaches distribute the plants, with instructions provided by Bonnie, for students to take home and grow.

Third-grade teachers can register for the cabbage program now to participate for the 2017 growing season. Register at Lessons from the cabbage program can be incorporated into a variety of subjects, including science, mathematics and writing.

At the end of the growing season, teachers select a class winner, based on the size, appearance and maturity of the young grower's cabbage. School submissions are then entered in a statewide scholarship drawing. The 48 state winners are randomly selected by each state’s director of agriculture, and Bonnie Plants awards a $1,000 savings bond for education to the winning student in each state.

Since the program began, more than 14 million kids have participated. The largest cabbage grown to date weighed in at 75 pounds. For a variety of gardening tips and more information on Bonnie Plants, visit

Cabbage-growing tips

Here are tips from Bonnie Plants for anyone who would like to grow colossal cabbage:

Keep things sunny: Cabbages need at least six hours of full sunlight, more if possible.

Make room: Bonnie O.S. cabbages need at least 3 feet on each side to spread out. If you don’t have that much space, use a large container.

Amend the soil: Work in some compost when planting; cabbages thrive in nutrient-rich soil.

Feed them well: Start your cabbage off right with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, then fertilize it every 10 days to keep it growing strong.

Water well: Cabbage needs at least one inch of rainfall each week. If it doesn’t rain, use a watering can or garden hose to gently water your plant at soil level.

Tend to trouble: Keep weeds out of the cabbage patch – they compete for the food and water your cabbage needs. Be on the lookout for brown or white moths – these come from worms that love to munch on cabbage. If you see any, get rid of them right away. Cold weather can damage your cabbage. If the weather drops below 32 degrees, cover your cabbage with a bucket or cloth.

Reap your reward: In 10 to 12 weeks, you should have a huge head of cabbage you can be proud of.





Things to do in Westfield: Make a seasonal pumpkin flower arrangement 

Pumpkins plus flowers equal centerpieces for petite to expansive tables.The Flower Shop will show how to arrange flowers in pumpkins


In November, when that uncut Halloween pumpkin on the porch is still going strong, you realize just how much of an investment piece the season's favorite orange gourd can be. Uncut, pumpkins kept outside under fall's cooler conditions can last two months or more.


On Nov. 17, instructors at The Flower Shop, 1120 South Ave. West in Westfield will show how to get even more mileage out of your pumpkin by turning one into the base of a seasonal floral arrangement.


From 7 to 9 p.m. this Thursday, learn to make your own floral arrangement in a pumpkin. The $35 workshop fee covers instruction and materials.


Class size may be limited, so call (908) 233-5413 for more information and to reserve your spot. The Flower Shop, a florist and gift boutique, also will make pumpkin arrangements and other holiday centerpieces for those who would  rather not get crafty in the days before the holiday feast.


Once cut, a pumpkin's lifespan is shortened. So while the workshop-designed pumpkin arrangements can't be guaranteed to last until the holiday, participants will take away skills to create other pumpkin arrangements of various sizes.


Imagine mini pumpkins with flowers as place holders at each setting around the holiday table. Keep a painted pumpkin outdoors until just before Thanksgiving, and it can be hollowed out for a centerpiece that's whimsical or artsy.


The Flower Shop held a similar pumpkin workshop last year at a Westfield senior housing complex. Participants created lovely fresh arrangements that can be seen on The Flower Shop's Facebook page. The Flower Shop's arrangements, named after local streets and local people, can be seen online at


The Flower Shop's holiday-related events begin this Sunday, Nov. 13, with a holiday open house from 1 to 5 p.m. Get to know the owners, enjoy refreshments, shop local and learn more about upcoming workshops.




Scotch Plains holiday event: Decorate a wreath or kissing ball 


Scotch Plains Garden Club to host wreath workshop


Scotch Plains Garden Club will host a wreath and kissing ball decorating workshop Dec. 1 at Scotch Hills Country Club, at the intersection of Jerusalem Road and Plainfield Ave. in Scotch Plains.


Bring your own bare wreath or kissing ball (fresh or artificial) to decorate for a $26 materials and instruction fee.


Decorating materials will be provided, and refreshments will be served. Participants may bring special ornaments or other decorations that they would like to incorporate into their wreath. To ensure your spot, please call (908) 616-2315 or email today.


The workshop runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and participants will be guided in their decorating by Scotch Plains florist Lisa Mohn of Apple Blossom Flower Shop. 


Participants also will learn about Scotch Plains Garden Club membership and upcoming activities.