Happy Valentine! - February News from Cultural Italy


Buon San ValentinoValentine’s day is here and although in most places exchanging chocolates, gifts, cards, roses is the best-known way of celebrating it, many countries have their own variations. In Vietnam couples wear the same style and/or color of clothes. The Japanese celebrate Valentine’s day, twice: on February 14th, girls give dark chocolate to the boys they like, and on March 14th, boys give cookies or white chocolate to the girls they like. In the US you can actually ask anybody you have an interest in “to be your Valentine”. It is interesting to notice that this expression may have been borrowed from St. Valentine himself. The story argues that while in prison awaiting execution, the saintly man fell in love with the blind daughter of the prison guard, Asterius. His faith had miraculously restored the eyesight of the girl and thus he signed his farewell message ''from your Valentine”, a romantic closing that clearly has lived long after the death of its author. In Spain and Italy, where love is taken very seriously indeed, only who is in love or in a relationship receives and gives presents, friends or family do not exchange notes or gifts. In Italy too, Valentine’ Day is commercialized to a great extent. We even have a particular type of chocolate that has been the symbol of romantic love for 40 years now, the “Bacio Perugina”; this is a small, chocolate-covered hazelnut wrapped up in a small slip of paper with a romantic poetic quote in four languages. Its name certainly evokes romantic love, and although they’re sold throughout the year, the sales of these “chocolate kisses” definitely increase around this time of the year. In Turin, betrothed couple used to announce their engagement on the Valentine's Day; also it is said that unmarried girls used to wake up before sunrise on February 14th and stand by their window to watch a man pass, as it was strongly believed that the first man they would see on Valentine's Day would marry her within a year.

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Live the tradition

CarnevaleIn Italy, the month of Februray is associated with Carnevale, the last celebration before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is that time before Easter when, according to the Catholic tradition, you should fast or deprive yourself of something enjoyable in order to, at least symbolically, recall Jesus’ hardships. The actual term "Carnevale" derives from the Latin "carnem levare" for “take away the meat”: indeed, in ancient times the term indicated the feast held the last day before the period of abstinence from meat, i.e. the Christian Lent. Carnevale meant a reason to party and celebrate with food in preparation of a period of repentance and moderation, and the masquerade costumes allowed everybody, in particular the poor people, to transform themselves into whomever they wished to be – at least for a few days.
To this day Carnevale in Italy is a huge winter festival celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, and parties. Just about every city is invaded with masks and confetti and the biggest parties are held between giovedi and martedi’ grasso or (fat Thursday and fat Tuesday). Pranks and tricks are also common during this time, hence the saying A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale, anything goes at carnival.
Frittelle & ChiacchereIn Italy the Carnival-esque culinary tradition mostly consists of cookies and pastries with  regional variations from region to region. Here we would like to share a couple of recipes of two of the most famous desserts, Le Frittelle di Carnevale (fritters) and Le Chiacchere di Carnevale (‘chatter’ in Italian), also called Cenci in Tuscany, Frappe in Rome, Bugie in Genoa and Galani in Veneto.  
How to prepare the Frittelle di Carnevale:
Ingredients: 1 lbs. flour - 4 eggs  - 5 Oz sugar - 2 pints of milk - 1 sachet of baking powder - 1 lemon - 1 small glass of aniseed liqueur - icing sugar to taste - peanut oil to taste.
Preparation: In a bowl, beat the eggs vigorously with whisk, add the sugar and continue to beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the zest of a lemon, milk, a pinch of salt and aniseed liqueur. Keep on stirring the mixture and, when it is homogeneous, gradually add the sifted flour and the yeast sachet. When the mixture is smooth, let it stand a few minutes in the bowl and then put to heat the oil in a pan with high edges. As soon as the oil is hot (it must reach at least 360°) with a spoon shape the dough into small balls and immerse them in the hot oil, turning them over from time to time, until they are browned on the surface. Place the Frittelle on paper towels to absorb the excess oil and arrange them on a serving dish. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve.

How to prepare the Chiacchere:
Ingredients: 14 Oz of flour - 1 ounce of sugar - 1.4 Oz of butter - 3 eggs - grated zest of one orange and/or lemon - a pinch of salt - Alkermes  liqueur (rose water or Maraschino cherry wine are also fine),  icing sugar, honey, or granulated sugar to finish - peanut oil for frying.
Preparation: place the flour and pour in the beaten eggs, sugar, salt, citrus zest and butter cut into small pieces. Work lightly with your fingers to incorporate the flour, liquids and gradually blend the mixture begin to slowly pour the liqueur. Continue working the dough vigorously until it is homogeneous. Form a ball and let rest for a few hours, covered, at room temperature. Then take the mixture and break it up into six pieces. Pull the dough very thin. Cut the dough with a notched wheel as to make lozenges or irregular strips but not too big. Heat the oil and when the temperature reaches 350 degrees, you can start frying (if you don't have the kitchen thermometer you can take the test by placing a bit of batter in the pan, if it sizzles it means that the oil is at the right temperature). After about 30-40 seconds, turn the lozenges over as they cook very quickly. When the Chiacchere turn light brown on both sides quickly remove and place them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Finally, place them in a bowl and sprinkle with icing sugar, granulated sugar or honey. They will taste good for a few days.
Buon Appetito!

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