The celebration of Carnevale is one you will find all over Italy. The dates of these festivities will vary depending upon the town or region. Some areas start right after Epiphany on January 6th, but most areas, especially in Venice which is one of the most famous Carnevale ends on Fat (Shrove) Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lenten season.
|The day that Lent begins depends on the date of Easter, which is determined by the spring equinox, so that these festivities can be observed up until around March 11th. Carnevale is made up of elaborate masks, costumes, elegant horse races, and enormous feasts. It is a time of laughter and merriment and recreations of events which are historically significant to town and cities throughout Italy and Sicily.|
No celebration is complete without food. And as we of Italian heritage know food is a celebration in itself. The simplest of foods can be turned into a work of art. I hope you enjoy these recipes taken from Celebrating Italy by Carol Field, Harper Perennial, 1990.
By Hand: Set the flour in a mound in a large bowl or on a work surface and make a well in it. Set the butter, sugar, liqueur, eggs, salt, orange zest, and vanilla in the center and mix them together.
Slowly incorporate these ingredients into the flour, a little at a time, adding whatever amount of milk is necessary to make a dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and firm, 10-12 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and leave 45-60 minutes.
By Mixer: In the mixer bowl with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, butter, sugar, liqueur, egg, salt, orange zest, and vanilla, adding enough milk to get a dough that is firm enough to roll out very fine. Cover with a tea towel and let it rest 45-60 minutes.
With a rolling pin roll the dough out very fine on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Using a ravioli cutter or a knife, cut the dough into ribbons about 4-5 inches long and 1-1 1/4 inches wide. In some places it is customary to tie a knot in the center or twist the ribbon twice and pinch it closed in the center. Elsewhere bakers cut the dough into rectangles and make two parallel short cuts in the center.
Heat abundant oil in a heavy deep-sided pan to 350 degrees F and fry a few of the ribbons at a time very, very quickly - 20 seconds at the most. Drain on plates with absorbent paper towels and sprinkle well with confectioners' sugar. (Makes 70-80 ribbons)
(These are also known as "nastri suore, nuns' ribbons." Other regional names for this dough are: "chiacchiere" (gossips in Lombardy), "chiacchiere di suora" (nun's gossip in Parma), "bugie" (lies in Piedmont), "lattughe" (lettuces or "sfrappole" from Emilia-Romagna, "cenci" (rags and tatters in Tuscany), "crostoli" from the Trieste and Fruili areas, "galani" (Veneto), and "frappe" (Umbria).
Baking: Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Just before setting the loaves in; the oven, brush the tops with the egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. and continue baking until the loaves are done, about 25 minutes. Cool on racks. If you baked the bread in loaf pans, turn out immediately onto a rack. (Makes 2 loaves)
Warm 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed casserole, add the onions and salt, and cook over very low heat 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the onions have cooked, they will be somewhat browned and reduced in quantity; stir in the broth and scrape up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you are using sausages, prick them with a fork and add to the onions after 45 minutes. Cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Mix the 2 cheeses together.
Assembly: If you use sausages, cut each into 3-4 pieces. In a high-sided earthenware tureen make a layer of cabbage leaves, strew several pieces of sausage, then put a layer of bread over them and season with grindings of fresh pepper and a sprinkling of ground cloves.
Sprinkle additional Parmesan cheese lightly over the top. Bathe the layers with a couple ladlefuls of broth and onions. Continue with the layering process until you have used up all the ingreients. Finish with cheese, then add the final ladlefuls of broth.
Baking: Heat the overn to 375 degrees F. Bake until the broth has largely been absorbed and the cheese on top has formed a golden crust, at least 2 hours. The trick is to be careful that the crust doesn't burn or get brown too quickly; if you find that it is, simply set a piece of foil over the top of the pot. Serve the soup in warmed bowls, being sure to divide the crusty cheese topping among them. (Makes 4-6 servings)
This is a thick rich soup which is cooked in a "tofeja," a squat four-handled terracotta pot, hence the name of the soup.
The night before, soak the beans in tepid water. Next day drain them and cover with fresh water. Finely chop the sage, rosemary, bay leaves, peperoncino, and garlic. Divide the mixture so that 1/3 is reserved for the pork fat and 1/3 for the onion. Take the pork fat and flavor it with cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Cut into strips about 2 1/4 by 1 1/4 inches.
Sprinkle a bit of the finely chopped rosemary, garlic, bay leaf, and sage mixture on each piece, roll the strips into cigar-shaped pieces, and tie them with string. Cut the pork ribs into 2-inch pieces.
Warm the oil in a skillet or earthenware pot and saute the onion until translucent. Add the larger portion of the chopped herb and garlic mixture and cook it slowly until golden. (Use the entire mixture if you decide not to do the pork rolls.)
Add the rolled pork fat, the ribs, and drained beans. Cover with broth or water and salt lightly. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and cook over a very low flame until the beans are done, 2-3 hours. You may also start the tofeja in a 350 degree F oven and cook slowly by reducing the temperature over the next 2-3 hours.
If you add cotechino sausage, prick its skin with a skewer, wrap it in cheesecloth, and cook in slowly boiling water to cover 1-2 hours. Drain, slice, and add to the tofeja about 5 minutes before you are ready to serve it. Serve very hot with country bread that has ben rubbed with garlic. (Makes 6 servings)
Warm butter in a heavy pot and saute the carrots, onions, and celery until they are soft. Remove to a plate. Film the pan with the olive oil, prick the sausages, and add them to the pan along with the ribs. Saute until brown.
Drain off the fat. Add the cloves and bay leaves. Add the vinegar, raise the heat, and let it bubble until it evaporates. Add the tomato paste diluted in 1 1/4 cups water. Return the vegetables to the pot, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook over a medium-low flame 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning the sausages and ribs every so often.
You may need to add water if it gets dry. Add the potatoes and cook another 1/2 hour, turning them over so that they absorb the sause and cook evenly. This dish tastes even better the next day. (Makes 6 servings)
Whisk the eggs and sugar together over low heat until they are tepid. Remove from heat and keep beating in a mixer or with a whisk until the mixture is thick, lemon-colored, glossy, and can hold a ribbon for 3 seconds.
You'll know it is thick enough when you can write your initials and they stay there for 3 seconds. Pour the mixture - it will pour in ribbons - into wide-mouthed bowl, so you can sift in the flour without delating the dough.
Sift together the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Return to the sifter and gently sift them over the egg mixture in 3 additions, folding them in very carefully, trying to deflate the mixture as little as possible. Add the raisins and candied orange peel and when they are well incorporated, the honey, melted butter, rum, and the lemon and orange zests or flavorings.
Butter a 9 1/2-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and coat the sides with cornmeal or with polenta. Gently pour the better into it. Baking: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until the cake is lightly golden, 35-40 minutes. (Makes one 9 1/2-inch cake)
Note: You will find this wonderful tasting cake in just about every bakery and pastry shop in Ivrea and will be found in many different sizes ranging from bite-size cookies to a large 2 pound cake. Variations may include this cake being scented with vanilla, or with lemon, or as in the recipe above, the rum-soaked raisins.
Press the ricotta through a sieve or whirl in a food processor with the steel blade until smooth. Beat in the goat cheese and cinnamon. Sift in the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth. Refrigerate at least two hours or up to 24 hours.
In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the lard and slowly add the wine until the mixture comes together and is no longer dry, although it may be a bit dimpled and lumpy. Be especially careful not to get the dough too wet. Gather into a ball and knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes.
Shaping: To roll to 1/32 inch, you can use a rolling pin, but it is much easier to use a pasta machine. Cut the dough into 4 pieces and cover the ones that you are not working on with a towel. flour each piece, flatten it, and run it through the pasta machine with the rollers set at the widest opening.
Dust the dough lightly with flour, fold it in thirds like a business letter, and pass it it through the machine again at the same position until the dough is finally smooth enough and elastic, about a dozen times.
Gather into a ball, set it on a lightly floured surface, cover with a towel, and repeat with the other pieces of dough. Let the dough rest 1-2 hours.
To roll the dough to its ultimate fineness, take each ball, dust it lightly with flour, and roll it once again through the pasta machine with the rollers set at the widest position. Now begin decreasing the width of the rollers, so that the dough becomes progressively finer, until you reach the second narrowest setting; it that seems just too difficult, the third narrowest setting is acceptable.
Set each ribbon of dough on a lightly floured work surface and using a 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles. Save the scraps, reroll, and cut them in 4-inch rounds. Roll each circle out to a slightly thinner and larger oval, about 5-6 inches.
Center a cannoli form (*) lengthwise on a disk of dough, roll one end of the dough over the top of the tube, lightly brush the far edge of the dough with water, and gently roll up so the edges overlap. Press lightly to create a good seal so the shell won't open during the frying. Repeat with the other disks.
Frying: While you are rolling the dough on the cannoli tubes, set the oilin a deep Dutch oven or heavy saucepan and start heating it to about 375 degrees F. You probably won't have enough tubes for all the dough you have made, so you can fry the cannoli shells a batch at a time. That way the tubes will have some time to cool briefly and be ready for use again. Do not wash the tubes; just wipe them off and use them again.
Gently lower no more than 3-4 shells into the hot oil, being very careful not to crowd them. They will puff up and turn golden brown in about 3 minutes. Pick them up with tongs, allowing any excess oil to drain back into the pan, and set them on a platter lined with absorbent paper.
Let them cool briefly, then very carefully remove the cannoli shells by grasping one end of the tube with a potholder or wodden tongs (be careful, they are very hot!) and use the potholdeer or a towel to hold the pastry and gently work the tube loose. Finish frying the other shells and let them cool to room temperature.
Assembly: About 20-30 minutes before you plan to use it, take the filling out of the refrigerator, sieve it again by hand or in the food processor, and stir in the candied orange peel and chocolate chips.
Scoop the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe the filling into each end of the cannoli shell. Finish by sprinkling a little of the chopped pistachio nuts at each end and dusting a little confectioners' sugar over the top. Serve immediately.
Until you eat one, you can't believe how wonderful freshly made cannoli can taste! Cannoli shells keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days and freeze well.
It is interesting to note here that Cannoli is considered to be an essential part of Carnevale food celebration. And as you can see from the above recipe, this is a much lighter version than what we are used to enjoying here in America. * Cannoli tubes (the metal variety) can be found in most kitchenware stores.