Monday, February 2, 2009

Carnevale Di Venezia

Written by Andrea Scalici
February in Venice means so much more than candy hearts and boxed chocolates. February in Venice means indulgence, revelry, and lavishness, complete with fancy disguises. It means the “Carnevale”.

While this carnival of all carnivals certainly features some incredibly intricate costumes and extravagant soirées, what is really important is the food. Carnevale translates to "Farewell, meat!", and
it was born as an excuse to use up all the meat, butter and eggs in the two weeks before Ash Wednesday and the religious formality of fasting for Lent. Almost every Italian town and region has some specialty in recognition of Carnevale, though in Venice, the specialty is frittelle. These fritters are fried to golden brown perfection and filled or topped with a variety of treats, bursting with sweet or savory flavors like chocolate, jelly, fruit, or meat. The rich smells waft through the city and can be found in the cichéti stalls along the streets where it is easy to pick up these “small bites”. In the other regions, similar fare can be found under different names, like the Lombard chiacchere, Tuscan cenci, and Roman frappe. But under any name, they are all the highlight of the season, warming the hearts of Italians and visitors alike. Other sumptuous Venetian carnevale foods include “Pasticcio di Maccheroni” (a baked pasta, ricotta, meat pie), “Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta” (filled, rolled baked dough), "Migliaccio di Polenta" (polenta and sausage), and steaming plates of lasagnas and pastas, filled with smokey pancetta, sweet prosciutto, salty salami, and buttery sopressata.

Carnevale Di Venezia was first recorded in 1268 with mention of masks, parties, and decadent food. In the height of the masquerade, mascherari (maskmakers) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and guild. Masks made the Venetian carnival unique as it took away social status and inhibition. In this way, the social order was temporarily non-existent. But as these things usually go, the party couldn’t last forever. When Venice fell under Austrian rule after Napoleon’s Treaty of Campo Formio in 1798, the city and all its culture went into decline. This pre-Lent celebration didn’t enjoy a revival until almost 200 years later when, in the 1970’s, a group of Venetians decided to revive the tradition. The modern mask shop synonymous with the festival was again established in the 1980’s, and they had succeeded in bringing back the fête we know and love today.

The annual event boasts traditions and legends enough to fill up the Venice waterways. The only way to truly soak in the sights and sounds is to go, February 13-24th, 2009 or February 5-16th, 2010. But, if like me you can’t make the trip this year, celebrate with your loved ones by making your own festival treats as an alternative to the normal Valentine’s Day cupcakes. It is a sure way to fill your kitchen with the divine smells of Carnevale Di Venezia.

Frittelle di Dichi e Arance Candite (Fig and Candied Orange Fritters):

2⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1⅓ cups sugar
½ cup whole milk
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons
unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces candied orange peel, chopped into ¼-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
6 ounces dried figs, chopped into ¼-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
About 3 quarts vegetable oil

In a bowl, whisk together flour, ⅓ cup sugar, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, baking powder and salt until smooth. Whisk in candied orange and figs. 

Place remaining 1 cup sugar into a large shallow bowl. 
Heat about 3 inches oil to 375° in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Drop teaspoonfuls of batter into oil, about 10 at a time, and fry until puffed and dark golden, turning once, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer puffs to paper towels to drain. Immediately roll in sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Anonymous said...

I love vermicelli and masks, the more uninhibited the better.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Venice? I'm going to have to dig through my notes now to recall mine, thanks for sharing.

Andrea said...

I would love to hear your favorite restaurant! that way when i finally get over there I can check it out (sadly I haven't had the time and money at the same time to be able to go yet, the life of a student...)
Thanks for reading!

bricogirl said...

Similar to what is served for Mardi Gras in France, although your recipe sounds a bit more tasty.