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The Press Democrat

The Pasta King

Art Ibleto's Kingdom

by Susan Swartz
Staff Writer

If Art Ibleto can hook Sonoma County on green spaghetti, he figures he can do the same with cornmeal mush.

So, on a Saturday morning he's pushing polenta at his Pasta King booth at the Santa Rosa Farmer's Market. Not just the golden brick of plain polenta, but a variation made with spinach, garlic and onion that he got up at 4:30 a.m. to make.

"What's this?" customers ask. "The polenta of the future," he answers and sticks a knife in to a slice and points it at them.

"Take it. It's free. Not for sale. Just try it."

Next week he'll bring another version. Maybe with potato or some cabbage. "When you work with food, you have to use your imagination."

Ibleto takes credit for introducing a generation to pesto at his spaghetti booth at the Sonoma County Fair. Not only did he offer marinara sauce but something that looked like chewed grass.

"The kids would look and say "What's that green stuff?" Now pesto is No. 1 with the kids."

Anyone who's attended a pasta feed fund-raiser is Sonoma County in the last two decades probably would have found Ibleto in the kitchen. A breakneck schedule of church, political and charity fund-raisers keeps him booked sometimes seven nights a week. Plus he's been at the Sonoma County Fair for 19 summers and the Farmer's Market for five.

"We cook so much pasta, it's unbelievable."

"Garlic is the oldest
medicine in the world.
It cuts down on
cholesterol you know.
You eat garlic,
no problem."

Art Ibleto  

How does he relax?

"I come here," he says, calling out "buon giorno" while he slathers pesto sauce on chunks of bread, enticing customers to buy his prepared sauces, lasagna and ravioli.

Ibleto grew up in Sesta Godano near Genoa in the Liguria region of Northern Italy, where food is a way of life.

"Every region in Italy has different food. It's according to what they grew in the backyard. Not everybody can raise a tomato in the backyard, so he lives on potatoes. The next guy lives on cheese."

In his part of Italy, they grew basil and garlic in the backyard. They'd grind it up with some slat and Parmesan cheese. They called it "pesto" because they pounded it.

"You can use it on anything. Baked potato. Salmon. You take a piece of dry chicken and you add a little pesto and it's a completely different world."

"It takes some time before people like something new. Then they drive you crazy for it."

Now he picks up a piece of polenta. "Polenta is Northern Italy. They take it up in the Alps, and it can last for 10 days in a pack. You warm it up on a flat rock over a fire. Put some cheese on top. Wonderful. You've got food for a week."

:"It's not like pasta which is no good left over. With polenta, it's the reverse. It gets better as it gets older and the more you warm it up."

It's another one of Ibleto's Italian contributions to Sonoma County, which he likes to say "was built by Italians."

Since being elected state president of the Sons of Italy in July, he gets to do his Italian boosting officially.

"I'm the chief," he says, beaming. He's also "the first guy from the North Bay and first Genovese to be president."

Ibleto is a full-blooded Italian even though he was born in Argentina. His father was working there for the telephone company and "my mother just happened to be there when I was born."

Ibleto is so Italian he eats pasta at least twice a day, often beginning with minestrone soup for breakfast.

At the Santa Rosa Farm Market, Santa Rosan Tim Simkins and 6-year-old son Joey are Saturday regulars. Simkins comes for the soup. Joey for the pesto.

"I don't think people realize how generous Art is. He's always giving food away," says Simkins.

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