Carnevale, yet another reason to eat in Italy
I’m still not used to the Italian holidays that don’t have a direct correspondence to those I grew up with in Wisconsin. Christmas is on my mental map, but The Feast of St. Steven (December 26th), Epiphany (January 6th), and Carnevale (the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and Lent) sneak up on me, even after almost 20 years.
This year I was reminded it was Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) when I met my friend Franco for a drink, after work, at the Galleria Umberto Sordi in Rome. The usual plate of chips and snacks was followed by an arrangement of frappe (read on to find out) and fruit.
I am told that there is a religious importance to Carnevale, and that the Catholic Church has set aside the two weeks and two days before Lent for spiritual reflection. The truth is that in most of Italy, the sacrifice of Lent is preceded by an excuse to party. Carnevale isn’t just an Italian affair, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the best known celebration in the United States, and Carnival in Rio de Janiero usually makes the nightly news.
In Italy, the costumes and events of Venice’s Carnevale have been famous since 1296. Satiric floats are paraded out in Viareggio in Tuscany, as well as in Francavilla al Mare here in Abruzzo. The day of the festivities is sometimes different. In most places Giovedì Grasso and Martedì Grasso are big, but the traditions around Milan put the big day the Saturday after Lent begins. What is common everywhere, however, is that kids dress up in costumes and people get together and eat. Every town has a special pastry or two, ranging from special cookies to soft cream or chocolate-filled fried dough. The most amazing is the cicerchiata – a cake made from hundreds of bead-sized fried dough balls stuck together with lots of honey. And, then there are frappe.
Frappe, aka chiacchere (which means “gossip”), or cenci (“rags”), or bugie (“lies”), or galani and nastrini (“ribbons”). Like so many culinary treats in Italy, the names and exact recipes vary enormously from city to city. In essence, frappe are crunchy, fried or baked fritters, usually shaped like ribbons and covered with honey, powdered sugar or even melted chocolate.
It’s not easy to watch what you eat with all these holidays. And this year, to make matters worse, Carnevale was wrapped around Valentines Day. Just add chocolate. Lots of it.
– Joshua Lawrence
For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com