A Taste of Italy at Carnival-Time

Traditional Italian Carnevale-time foods to sweeten the holiday. Learn about regional differences in authentic Italian Carnival sweets.

By Sara Porro
Fri, Feb 19

tagAlt.Carnival Treats Masks Venice Cover

FEAR NOT A CARNIVAL INDULGENCE (OR THREE)
 

Raise your hand if you find the expression “the odd overindulgence” annoying, with its punitive implications and direct genesis from Diet Culture.  Why should the enjoyment of rich, caloric food automatically imply guilt and negativity?  From a historic perspective, the days when this very philosophy was a way of life and not just a metaphor are not so long ago:  the Biblical deadly sins include gluttony, and a frugal diet has long been viewed as part of a pious way of life.

Excesses then, in following this pattern, had to be rigidly framed in a religious context and calendar - this is why Italian Carnival sweets, as part of feasting times preceding Lent, are amongst the most generous in their influence on Italian culture.
 

 

WHAT'S THE COMMON LINK AMONGST TRADITIONAL ITALIAN CARNIVAL SWEETS?

The Latin proverb, semel in anno licet insanire, loosely translating into “once a year you can go mad,” reminds us of the link between Carnival and  the Roman tradition of Saturnali.  In short, both cultures were giving their consent to go a little crazy once a year, but added to that statement should also be that it’s acceptable to also “knead” and “make bread” once a year, as the common underlying element of these Carnival traditions is indeed, making dough, and gloriously deep-frying it. Following classic Italian traditions, the fried dough is often dusted with sugar, or drizzled with honey.
 

 

ITALIAN CARNIVAL SWEETS DESCRIBED - YOU HUNGRY YET?

Many of these traditional sweets resemble each other closely - even if their names are different, relative to their region of provenance.   

In just about all nooks and crannies of Italy, we can find chiacchiere - each region has its own name for them.  Lombardy goes with chiacchiere, Tuscany opts for cenci, Emilia-Romagna  instead calls them frappe, Trentino refers to them as cròstoli, Piedmont opts for bugie, and the Veneto area has nicknamed them instead as galani.  They’re all the same sweet, but as Shakespeare wrote:  a rose by any other name….Each region clearly believes their rose smells the sweetest!
 

 

ARE CHIACCHIERE REALLY THE SAME FROM REGION TO REGION?

The basic recipe for chiacchiere is the same from place to place:  thin strips of dough made with flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and sometimes a drop of liqueur.  The dough is then fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar, a most delicious treat.

The most dedicated chiacchiere devourers might be able to identify small differences: Veneto-area galani, for instance, could be be thinner than Milan-style chiacchiere from Milan. And in order to meet client preferences, the Sartori pastry shop in Erba (a charming small town nestled  between the shores of Lake Como) prepares both versions.

Whatever the contemporary presentation, chiacchiere are at heart an ancient Roman sweet, called Frictilia, prepared in preparation and celebration of Saturnali.
 

 

WHAT DO CHIACCHIERE LOOK LIKE TODAY?

Today’s options are more frequently extravagant versions, involving rich chocolate coatings.  Alberto, Farinelli, master of the Perugina School of Chocolate, has created a particularly decadent version for this year: Chiacchiere Golose, a crumbly pastry dipped in chocolate cream, in a combination that recalls the classic churros of Spanish tradition.

The squiggles that characterize chiacchiere, running alongside the edges of the dough actually have a purpose beyond simple decoration and regional identification.  The shells created along the edges of the dough actually let air escape during cooking, and avoids air pockets and bubbling from forming during the cooking process.  Without the squiggly edges, chiacchiere would have a more pancake-like appearance.
 

 

CASTAGNOLE - NOT AN ACTUAL CHESTNUT

Throughout the country, we find another Carnival delicacy, aptly called Castagnole for their shape and size that immediately recalls the classic chestnut.  These treats are small, round pancake-like sweets rolled in granulated sugar while still warm so the sugar coats the Castagnole most deliciously.  The treats can be left empty inside, or can be filled with fruit jam or pastry cream, or in a particularly decadent version, filled with dark chocolate cream.

Milan offers its own take on the Castagnole, locally called Tortelli or farsòe in Milanese dialect when prepared as indicated above.  The Milanese take it a step further however:  by adding diced apples to the soft dough, the treats transform into laciaditt.  For the first time in history, the famous pastry shop Martesana offered this variation to great success.
 

 

THE TRADITION OF CARNIVAL SWEETS BEGINS HERE

Carnival sweets and the tradition of preparing and enjoying them harkens back to a celebration of Saint Joseph, the Biblical father of Jesus and husband of Mary.  The traditional celebratory date where sweets are consumed en masse is March 19th, with a wide array of different sweet treats.

Food historians Lydia Capasso and Giovanna Esposito, in the fascinating Santa Pietanza (Guido Tommasi Editore), a book with recipes dedicated to the traditions and celebrations behind the Saints nominated each day on the Italian calendar, report Joseph’s situation as being a bit in difficulty when faced with visitors, so much like our own selves with an unexpected dinner party on the horizon.

According to Capasso and Esposito,"there are those who say that Joseph, awaiting a visit of highly respected guests, the Three Kings, found himself without everything necessary to honor them traditionally.  In order to receive them with some dignity, he prepared some improvised pancakes.  Others narrate that the holy man, reduced to poverty, and having to maintain his family during the flight to Egypt, made a virtue of necessity transforming himself from a carpenter into a skilled pancake maker.”

Whatever the actual story, poor Joseph does share this wealthy tradition with the arrival of Carnival, which does come just before his own feast.  All the glorious frying and sugaring provided people with the perfect occasion to break their Lent.  As a result, in Naples, we find the infamous zeppole di San Giuseppe already in full swing during the Carnival period:  fried soft doughnuts covered in granulated sugar, or, even better, filled with vanilla pastry cream and preserved black cherries - as tasty as they are attractive visually!
 

Reading about classic Italian Carnevale treats is bound to get anyone’s stomach rumbling.  If you’re looking to make some amazing Carnival treats in your own kitchen, be sure to check out the Mamablip recipe for Schiacciata alla Fiorentina, a genuine treat served in pastry shops across Florence only at Carnival time.  And don’t forget the wine:  check out the Mamablip wine selections and recommendations for your best wine treats as well!
 

Don't forget to register for Mamablip's weekly newsletter for updates on all the exciting newest Mamablip Blog articlesrecipes and other wine news from Italy.



All About Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

An ingredient used daily, have you ever given its origins much thought?

11/08/2020
By Nina Bernheim

Regional Italian Food Basics - Part 1

Regional Italian Cooking - What Exactly Are We Talking About? Part 1

26/11/2020
By Elaina Borer

Aromatics and Herbs - Spice Things Up Part 1

How does something so small make such a big impact?

27/11/2020
By Nina Bernheim

Italian Vegetables Part 1 - All about Seasonal Eating!

Learn what makes the Mediterranean Diet a successful eating style. A closer look at the vegetable side of things as we learn to cook like real Italianos.

30/11/2020
By Nina Bernheim

Italian Vegetables Part 2 - Cultivation & Freshness

Farming is fundamental to Italian culture. Where are vegetables grown and why use only fresh seasonal ingredients? The importance of the Mediterranean Diet.

30/11/2020
By Nina Bernheim

A Journey in Food-telling: Lexicon

How do we define the world of culinary lexicon? Learn what’s on the gastronomic frontier of culinary vocabularies, and how we communicate tastes via words.

07/12/2020
By Lele Gobbi

Do Sustainable Panettones Exist? Yup, wanna know where?

Where are sustainable authentic Panettones sold? Where to find local Italian specialty shops famous for their ethically-produced Panettone and desserts.

15/12/2020
By Francesca Ciancio

Christmas Food Trends for 2020 - What’s New this Year?

What was the biggest food trend of 2020? Did it live up to the hype? What do our team of food experts think about this year’s this food trend?

16/12/2020
By Sara Porro

Rantan - a Restaurant to Get Away from It All

How can you leave those city blues behind? Learn about getting some R&R in the Piedmont countryside. how can the Rantan farmhouse work for you?

18/12/2020
By Sara Porro

Pasta - Where Would We Be Without It? - Part 1

Italy is famous for a lot, including Pasta. Pasta is in Italy’s culinary DNA, while its roots are foggy. Expand your Italian know-how with Pasta history!

30/11/2020
By Nina Bernheim

Christmas Strenne: History of the Year's Best Gift

Explore the world of Christmas gifts here in Italy. Stuck for ideas on gifts this year? Learn from the best, and give a truly unique gift this year.

23/12/2020
By Francesca Ciancio

Pasta - Fundamentals of the Italian Diet - Part 2

The magic of pasta continues in our discovery of this essential Italian ingredient. Where does Pasta come from and what role does it play in Italian cuisine?

30/11/2020
By Elaina Borer

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, in my Heart and Kitchen - Part 1

What is Extra-virgin olive oil? How is extra virgin olive oil made? Learn the full history of EVOO, and loads more about a favorite Italian ingredient.

31/12/2020
By Elaina Borer

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is in my Heart, Always - Part 2

Keep learning about the benefits of Italian extra-virgin olive oil. Test some tricks and taste your way to your favorite authentic extra-virgin olive oil.

31/12/2020
By Elaina Borer

Italian Cured Meats Win the Day - Part 1

Everything about Italian Cured Meats - how to shop for the best, how to enjoy Italian cured meats, and how to keep your salumi in prime condition.

02/01/2021
By Alexandria O'Keefe

Italian Cured Meats for the Win - Part 2

A deeper look into speciality Italian charcuterie. Learn more about how Italian cured meats are produced, and why Italian salumi are a cut above the rest.

02/01/2021
By Alexandria O'Keefe

Italian Citrus Fruits - Rays of Sunshine - Part 1

Everything about Italian Citrus, and how Italians cook with it. Learn about beautiful Italian citrus, and what role it plays in regional Italian cuisine.

04/01/2021
By Nina Bernheim

Italy's Rays of Sunshine - Classic Citrus Fruits - Part 2

A look at Italian citrus fruits and why they're important in classic Italian cuisine. Learn more about how Citrus fits into traditional Italian cooking.

04/01/2021
By Nina Bernheim

The Delicious Breads of Italy - Part 1

Check out Italy’s finest breads across the land. Discover genuine Italian bread and find inspiration to make classic Italian bread shapes.

06/01/2021
By Elaina Borer

Ruché of Castagnole Monferrato: Piedmont's Outsider Grape

Learn about Piedmont’s rebel grape, Ruché. Let’s investigate Piedmont’s exciting vines in Castagnole Monferrato, resulting in a glorious local wine. 

14/01/2021
By Lele Gobbi

Florence: 100% Art and Culture, but with a wine-spin

What makes Chianti wines so special? Learn where Chianti is born and how its labels were developed. Know more about the wines you love to drink!

15/01/2021
By Lele Gobbi

San Brite, a Welcome Gourmet Return to Nature's Bounty

Get inspired to live each day to the fullest. San Brite’s the place for a superb meal reflecting your cooking philosphies in a beautiful mountain setting.

21/01/2021
By Sara Porro

The Consumer Brand - Hear about this EU food movement?

How is The Consumer Brand unique in farm-to-table services? Investigate how you can be part of this consumer-driven food and wine requests movement.

25/01/2021
By Francesca Ciancio

Home Bartending - Dry January is Over!

Aperitivo Time in PJs is within grasp, so learn what you need to add to your home bar. All the secrets of home bartending success at your fingertips! 

02/02/2021
By Sara Porro

Borgo di Fizzano: A Stunning Chianti Landmark

How a classic Tuscan family winery has expanded visitor services. New generations in storied Tuscan family reshape and redefine classic Tuscan wine-making.

04/02/2021
By Francesca Ciancio

Survivalism in the kitchen

Learning about Italian food foraging, and how to forage successfully. Recent trends in Italy's food foraging, and if this trend is doable for you.

22/02/2021
By Andrea Grignaffini

What is Mindful Eating? How to Be at Peace with Food

Learn how to practice Mindful Eating and techniques for stress-free living. How Mindful Eating makes your healthy eating lifestyle more productive psychologically.

26/02/2021
By Francesca Ciancio