Carnevale, which is Italy’s version of Mardi Gras, begins February 6th, 2010! This is a two-week period of festivities before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the spiritual renewal period of Lent, the 40 days before the Holy Day of Easter. The name Carnevale means to ‘remove meat’ — carne levare, which is the Lenten tradition. This is because Carnevale used to take place only on the night before Ash Wednesday, but it slowly extended to two weeks in duration.
In Venice, Italy, an historical and traditional festival begins next week, the first week of February. This very old tradition, dating back to 1296, is a celebration of winter transitioning into springtime.
In Northern Italy where my relatives still live, it is quite cold, especially up in the mountains. The cold winds blow down from the Alps and Appenine mountains. Similar to our northern American winters, there is very little sunshine during the often times frozen temperatures. Br-r-r-r-, it just sounds way too cold for me. If I every move to Italy, I’ll have to be seaside after getting used to living in southern USA! So in combination with celebrating prior to the Lenten fast, Italians, who are known for their intense and passionate love of life, have CARNEVALE!
Anyone can participate in the festivities, no matter what his or her background is, in which elaborate masks and costumes are worn in the public squares, parties and balls. Daily and nightly events take place and include all types of merriment: street performances everywhere, along with extravagant costume balls, masquerades, parties, sumptuous dinners, parades with spectacular floats, music, gondola parades, and games for children. Beautiful fireworks conclude the festivities on the final evening.
There are Carnevale celebrations THROUGHOUT Italy, however, the largest and most elaborate of all the festivals take place in Venice, Verona (the oldest), Viareggio, and Cento.
So during this festive time of year in Italy, I felt it most appropriate to focus on and share some very traditional Italian recipes that are prepared, enjoyed, and passed down from generation to generation. As an American-Italian, I’ll also include recipes associated with the American Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana, that has the same (but not quite as elaborate) focus on celebrations prior to Lent.
Of those recipes, Lasagna recipes of all varieties are served, especially La Grande Lasagna di Carnevale from Naples, and Calzone . . . all the way to simple but delicious pastries such as Cenci from Tuscany that are very fun to eat. Now I do have a very favorite version of lasagna that I developed, but to remain true to tradition, I am going to prepare the recipe(s) associated with Carnevale.