Dressing up and savouring Carnevale
Like Tim Parks, author of Italian Neighbors, I’m always a little bit jealous of my daughters and of most of the other kids growing up in Italy. One of the many reasons for this envy is that they get to experience two dress-up holidays: Halloween and Carnevale.
Halloween is a recent import to Italy, but the original Italian costume holiday is Carnevale (Carnival). The exact dates and traditions for Carnivale celebrations vary across Italy, as they vary the world over (the holiday is celebrated, mostly, in Catholic countries where romance languages are spoken). What all Carnivale celebrations have in common is a period of excess before the “going without” and piety of Lent; a day or more of eating; public celebrations; and dressing up.
Venice hosts Italy’s most famous Carnevale. Officially recognized as a public holiday since 1296, wearing masks and costumes has been big ever since. Venice’s Carnevale lasts over two weeks, with the big days stretching between Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) and Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. Today, adults usually only dress up at private parties, but children still run the streets in costumes throwing confetti and foam at each-other and bystanders.
And, of course, there’s the food. Coldiretti, an Italian agriculture and food industry association estimates that this year Italians will collectively put on 14 million kilos of weight due to Carnevale food.
Most of this food comes in the form of fried dough like frittelle, puffy rings or balls of dough, many filled with egg or chocolate cream, and frappe, crunchy drier strips of fried dough. Frappe, or Italian Carnivale Fritters, go by many names: chiacchere (which means “gossip”), cenci (“rags”), bugie (“lies”), galani and nastrini (“ribbons”). Usually cut and fried in ribbons, the shapes, forms and condiments (powdered sugar, honey or chocolate) vary from city to city, home to home. In our house we love smothering them with locally produced honey.
Here’s one recipe for Frappe that was given to me by a friend. It serves four.
- 350 grams of sifted flower (about three cups)
- 50 grams of butter (about three and a half tablespoons)
- 50 grams of sugar (a half cup)
- 2 eggs.
- 1 pinch of salt
Aromas and spices: most recipes call for a pinch of powdered vanilla (or a teaspoon of extract), and/or a few spoonfuls of rum or brandy. I’ve seen others with a touch of cinnamon
Powdered sugar or liquid honey
Mix the dough ingredients together until you get a smooth and elastic dough. Shape into a ball and place in the refrigerator. After an hour, take it out, roll it out as your would for thin Christmas cookies. Slice the dough into ribbons or the form you want. Heat the oil and slide the ribbons into it, one by one. Turn the Frappe immediately, so that they are cooked golden on both sides. Place them on paper towels to absorb the oil. When they are cool, dust them with powdered sugar or smother them in honey, to taste. If they are crispy enough they won’t absorb the honey.
Serve and enjoy ––with or without a mask!
PS: The most dangerous thing about frappe is that they take forever to go stale, so you keep eating them all through Lent
– Joshua Lawrence
For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com