Italian word of the day

The Italian word PREGO is very versatile.

Can you guess in how many situations you can use this one simple word?

Do you need help? Here there are the many things you can say with just this one parola (word).

PREGO =

  1. You are welcome
  2. Come in
  3. Please sit down
  4. Make yourself comfortable
  5. After you or you first
  6. May I help you?
  7. Go ahead
  8. Help yourself
  9. By all means

Italian, what a beautiful language!

Dante. The Father of the Italian Language

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Chiacchiere di Carnevale e Sanguinaccio. Fat Tuesday with a recipe from my hometown, fried sweet dough and chocolate pudding.

Carnevale in Italy is not only about the fancy masquerade ball of Venice, it is also the happiest children’s holiday. In every Italian city, big or small, during the time of Carnevale the children dress up in costumes, stroll in the streets and greet each other exchanging handful of coriandoli and stelle filanti (confetti and streamers). It is a joyous time marked by the colorful masks, the horsing around, and the laughing.

Carnevale is also associated to some culinary traditions and the epitome in the kitchen is reached on the last day of Carnevale, Fat Tuesday. In anticipation of the austere season of Lent, the food of Carnevale is markedly rich.  The sweet treats were traditionally fried in lard and the king of the savory dishes was the pork.

Typical sweet treats of my Region, the Campania, are the chiacchiere. On the savory side, the lasagna napoletana (Neapolitan lasagna) is the most traditional dish of Carnevale and, it will be on  my table tonight!

The chiacchiere are strips of dough fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Classic accompaniment to the chiacchiere is the sanguinaccio. It is a thick chocolate cream, originally made with fresh pig blood cooked with chocolate and spices, and thickened with potato. Since 1992 the sale of pig blood to the public has been banned. It is, however, possible that in rural communities, where peasants still slaughter the pig, the sanguinaccio may still be prepared according to the original recipe.

In the peasant tradition, indeed, Carnevale also coincided with the pig slaughter. The pig was then the Re di Carnevale (King of Carnival) and, a party followed the event to celebrate the abundance of meat before the fasting of Lent. When I lived in Italy, I was once invited to participate to the pig slaughter and the afterwards party. I have to confess that, to avoid being unkind and refusing the invitation, I lied and pretended to be ill.

But not more talking, here it is, I am sharing the recipe of my chiacchiere and sanguinaccio, and do not worry, no blood required! I also do not use lard and,  I substitute it with butter.

Ricetta Chiacchiere di Carnevale

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour,

5 tablespoon of unsalted butter (My preference is European butter) or lard

4.5 tablespoon of sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsp Marsala

1-pinch salt

lemon rind from one small lemon

¼ teaspoon yeast dissolved into a little bit of milk

powdered sugar

peanut oil to fry

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor combine the sugar and the lemon zest.

Add the butter and the eggs.

Add the flour and salt and keep working while slowly adding the Marsala.

Lastly add the yeast and work the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl.

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead few minutes.

Form a ball, wrap in film and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out, one half at the time, with a rolling-pin. Make sure that your surface is dusted with flour as well as the rolling-pin.

Your sheet of dough should be 1/8 inch thick.

Use a toothed wheel to cut diamonds or triangles. One of the characteristic of the chiacchiere is to have irregular shapes, so don’t seat trying to make them all perfect.

With the toothed wheel make an incision in the center of each piece of dough.

Gently remove each chiacchiera, open the incision, through which you will pass a corner to  form a knot.

Fry in plenty of Peanut oil or lard if you prefer. The oil should not be very hot ( 338 degree) or the chiacchiere will burn easily. Quickly flip the chiacchiere and as soon as golden remove from oil.

Transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper to drain the excess oil. Transfer to a serving dish and when they are completely cool sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar.

Ricetta del Sanguinaccio

Ingredients

2 cups of milk

1.5 cups of sugar

1 cup of cocoa

2 oz. of bittersweet chocolate chip

half stick unsalted butter

2 oz. of starch (potato starch or corn starch)

1 / 2 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch of salt

candied orange (in small pieces)

Directions

In a pan mix the starch, cocoa and sugar.

Slowly add the milk, stirring to dissolve the dry ingredients.

Transfer the pan to the stove over low heat.

While constantly stirring, cook until the mixture has thickened  about 20 minutes).

Remove from heat and immediately add the cinnamon, dark chocolate, and butter. Mix energetically until smooth.

Lastly add the candied orange and give one more stir.

Transfer to a serving bowl cover with film and let it cool.

Serve alongside the chiacchiere.

You still have time to make your chiacchiere for Mardi Gras but you can enjoy this bontà (delicacy) any time.

Enjoy!

Carnevale di Venezia – Venetian Carnival

Carnevale di Venezia

Many of you may already know that Venice is not only known as one of the most unique and romantic cities in Italy, but also for its Carnevale.

The Carnevale (carnival) is a holiday that is celebrated in countries of Christian tradition, especially Catholic. The word Carnevale comes from the Latin “carnem levare” (remove the meat), as it originally indicated the banquet that was held immediately before the period of Lent, during which, according to tradition, Catholics must abstain from eating meat for forty days as they prepare for the fasting before Easter.

The official date that opens the festivity of Carnevale is the 3rd Sunday before the First Sunday of Quaresima (Lent). Therefore this year, the period of Carnevale started on February 5th. The last day of Carnevale is the so-called Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras). This year, Martedi Grasso  falls on Tuesday February 21, the day before Mercoledi delle Ceneri (Ash Wednesday), which is precisely the 40th day before Pasqua (Easter). When you count the 40 days you don ‘t have to count the Sundays which are not considered days of fasting.

Although a Christian tradition, the peculiarity of the celebration of the Carnevale originates in more ancient times. Carnevale is the Christian adaptation of ancient Pagan customs such as the Bacchanalia, in honor of Bacchus, and the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn. These festivities took place along the streets of the city and included the use of maschere (masks). During the celebrations the servile barriers were set aside; social slaves became masters and vice versa and the Re della festa (king of the party), elected by the people, organized games in public places.

In the late Middle Ages the disguise became widespread in the Carnevale of the cities. The masks allowed the exchange of roles and allowed  making fun of hierarchical figures. In the Rinascimento (Renaissance) the festivities during Carnevale were also introduced in the European courts and took on more sophisticated forms, linked also to the theater, dance and music.

The Ballo in maschera (masquerade ball), introduced by Pope Paul II, gained popularity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries through the influence of the Commedia dell’Arte (Comedy of craft). With the actors of the Commedia dell’Arte, at the end of ‘500, some of the traditional maschere (characters) of the Carnevale took shape: PulcinellaArlecchino, Colombina, Pantalone, Dottore Balanzone, Brighella.

These have become the very symbols of Carnevale.

The tradition of Carnevale has been preserved so that each Italian region has its own originality. Although the Venetian Carnival and the Viareggio Carnival are well known, other deserve to be mentioned, such as the Carnevale di Ivrea (Piemonte), Putignano (Puglia), and Cento (Emilia Romagna)

The Carnevale di Venezia has ancient origins. The Senate of the Serenissima Republic officially confirmed the existence of Carnevale in 1296, with an edict declaring a national holiday the day before Lent. Since then, the festivity has accompanied the life of the city. During the Venetian Republic the festivities lasted nearly six weeks, from December 26th until Ash Wednesday.

In the eighteenth century, Venice officially earned the reputation of  “Citta` del Carnevale” (City of the Carnival). Its festivals, events, masks, theaters, and public gaming house, make the city a tourist attraction throughout Europe, welcoming thousands of visitors.

The Carnevale saw a time of stasis after the fall of the Republic of Venice, because of the temporary occupation by Austria and France.

The tradition was, however, preserved in the islands, Burano and Murano, where they continued to celebrate.

The Carnevale di Venezia was officially reinstated in 1979 and since then, every year for two weeks, among the calle (narrow streets) of this wonderful city, all in masks, it is a celebration of a world of dance, theater, concerts and exclusive galas.

This year the theme of the Carnevale di Venezia is “La vita e` teatro. Tutti in maschera” (Life is theater. All in mask).

The celebrations include,  performing arts, music, masquerede parades, and the traditional volo dell’angelo (flying angel).

It is not surprising that Carnevale is also associated with some traditional culinary delicacies. From the North to the South of Italy every region has its own specialty. They all have different names, Cicerchiata (Abruzzo), Castagnole (Lazio), Fritole veneziane (Veneto), Cenci (Toscana), Friciò (Piemonte), Bugie (Liguria), Cattas (Sardegna), Chiacchiere (Campania) but, they all have one thing in common: they are deep fried! Oh. . .I forgot, they all are buonissime!!!

Now, be patient and come back to my blog on Monday morning. You will be rewarded with the recipe of my Chiacchiere napoletane, the way my mom used to make them.  In the meantime I hope you will enjoy some of my pictures of Venice.

Torta Caprese for Valentine’s Day

I am back! I can’t believe this is my first blog in February. Time really flies! I have been busy preparing for the classes that I will be teaching at the end of the month, I have been away with my family for a weekend to celebrate my son’s 21st birthday and . . . I am back on a diet!

What a better occasion to get back on my blog than Valentine’s Day?

San Valentino, “la festa degli innamorati” (the holiday of lovers), this is how in Italy we refer to this holiday. So, forget the diet and let me share with you a decadent dessert that would make your Valentine’s Day even more special.

Not so fast though, first let me tell you something about my Valentine’s Day.

The festivity of San Valentino also coincides with the festivity of San Modestino, which is the Patron Saint of my hometown Avellino, so to me, for many years, february 14  just meant one thing: NO SCHOOL. Hey, I am not saying I didn’t like school, still, who doesn’t like a day off?

Then, I was in love. . . . my first date with my future husband was the second Sunday of February 1980. No specific date, it was simply the second Sunday. One thing I know, it was too soon to celebrate Valentine’s Day. And, it was too conventional for us.

It wasn’t until we moved to the United Sates that Valentine’s Day has taken a different meaning. In the United Sates, this holiday expands to include all your loved ones and I like that. Throughout this past 21 years, I had fun helping my little boys writing countless Valentine’s cards, baking heart shaped cookies, packing Valentine’s gift boxes to my son away in college, sharing chocolates with my coworkers and still. . . my husband and I had not celebrated Valentine’s Day. The second Sunday in February has been our day for the past 32 years.

Yet, something is different this year. My husband has been working out of town and any occasion is good for me to take the three hour trip to see him and so, this February 14, 2012, we will have our first Valentine’s night out!

But now enough with all the nonsense, time to share my recipe, the Torta Caprese (no, it is not the tomatoes-mozzarella salad!).

La Torta Caprese is a typical chocolate cake from the beautiful island of Capri.

It appears that this cake originated in the 1920s in a local bakery, where the pastry chef forgot to add the flour to the almond cake he was baking for three American gangsters that were on the island to buy bulk of gaiters for Al Capone.

The peculiarity of this rich cake is precisely the lack of flour and yeast (a perfect option for people suffering from celiac disease). The main ingredients are chocolate and almonds. The “segreto” (secret) is all in the process which must create as much air as possible, so not to have a dry and hard final product. To enhance the almond flavor I have added to the recipe some Amaretto liquor. The Caprese has a crunchy texture on the outside with a soft, moist heart.

The Torta Caprese is typically served simply dusted with powdered sugar but, for the occasion (My second Sunday in February!) I served mine with a raspberry sauce that I prepared cooking the raspberry in Amaretto liquor. Oh, and I baked my cake in a heart shaped pan!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Buona festa degli innamorati!

RICETTA DELLA TORTA CAPRESE 

My Torta Caprese with Raspberry Sauce

Ingredients 

1-3/4 cup  10.5 oz. almonds (not peeled)

1-3/4 cup 8.8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips

1-3/4 cup  8.8 oz. butter (softened)

1 cup granulated sugar

5 eggs (white and yolks separated)

1 pinch of salt

1 tablespoon Amaretto liquor (Optional – My personal touch)

Powdered sugar for decoration

Directions

Preheat the oven to 360 degree. Butter and dust with flour a baking pan or line with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer or food processor combine the egg yolks and the sugar.

Process until the sugar is dissolved, the color is light yellow and the consistence is smooth and silky.

Add the softened butter and process until all is blended together.

In the mean while melt the chocolate chip in a water bath or on the microwave (I used the defrost setting of the microwave).

Grind the almonds. The almonds should be finely grounded, it is however preferable if some roughly chopped pieces are in the mix, this will give texture to the cake.

Add the melted chocolate to the eggs, sugar, butter mixture and process slowly to blend. Add the almonds and blend. Lastly add the Amaretto liquor.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt. With the electric mixer, whip until the egg whites are firm then incorporate few spoonful at the time into the chocolate mixture. It is important that you work slowly with a bottom to top motion, this will help to create air into the cake.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven let rest in the pan for few minutes. Flip the pan over a cooling rack and the cake should slide right out of the pan and on the rack.

It’s not a broken heart! The pan was just not tall enough.

Let it cool for 1 hour before dusting with powder sugar.

I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to make a paper template to make the heart in the center of the cake.  I then used the  cookie cutter to fill the center with cocoa.

RASPBERRY SAUCE

Ingredients

1 pint fresh raspberry

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon cornstarch

½ cup Amaretto liquor

Directions

In a small pan add the raspberry, the butter, the sugar, and the Amaretto liquor .

Heat to boiling and cook slowly until the raspberry have come apart.

Remove from heat, strain to a fine sieve to discard the seeds. Use a little of the juice to dissolve the cornstarch. Transfer the strained juice back into the pan, add the dissolved cornstarch and cook slowly for few minutes until it thickens a little.

Remove from heat ad transfer to a gravy bowl.

Drizzle the cake with the warm sauce.

I hope you will enjoy it . . . we sure did!

What is your favorite Valentine’s day dessert? Let me know!