LE FESTE – CELEBRATIONS
Southern Italy has this way of bringing visitors to a different time and place. That is never truer than on Carnevale, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. When Americans with Italian roots go home to the Boot, they experience a transportation of sorts. It’s like they step into their parent’s or grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s shoes but for a moment. The tower in the piazza that has stood in place for thousands of years, the way everyone knows everyone else’s name and business, old school traditions, and making everything from scratch are out of place in what we Americans see as modernity.
Carnevale Is a Kaleidoscope of Wonders
To go back to Italy for Carnevale is to both go back in time and shake things up. Up is down, down is up, and you can’t remember how you ever got to this place. I don’t mean to say you will get drunk. You might, but I never have. But even those who don’t imbibe, get tipsy on the joy of the day. People dress up in costume and indulge in decadent foods. When I was there a few years back, I felt as though I was thrown into a kaleidoscope that someone just kept turning to change the image. It was magical and a stark difference from the cold sense of suffering everyone experiences a day later on Ash Wednesday, when Lent officially begins.
Even though the dressing up is mostly for kids at school, who parade much like American ones do on Halloween, adults get in on the act. When my husband worked as a bartender, he would sport a costume. Sometimes, he was a pirate. Sometimes, he was Mickey Mouse (bought the hands in Orlando’s Disney World, in fact). I think he went as a mummy or something another year. The point is that in small towns and villages where everyone knows everyone, it’s exciting to think you might be mistaken about the person behind the mask. As you walk through the piazza and see the regulars dressed like someone or something else, the air of mystery sets the tone for what lies ahead.
Of course, a celebration in Italy would be incomplete without a special menu. This holiday has its staples. Discover what you might find on the table today:
- Spread of Antipasto – The works. Think prosciutto di Parma, an assortment of cheeses, other deli meats, marinated goodies such as artichokes or eggplants, and prepared appetizers, such as stuffed mushrooms or something more exotic and of the imagination of the chef in charge
- Lasagna – This is a must in my house, and it must be traditional and stuffed with ooey gooey ricotta and mozzarella cheese and smothered in Nonno’s Sunday Funday sauce
- Meatballs – Nonno’s meatballs are also must haves for Carnevale. In many ways, this feast is just Sunday on steroids. Some nonnas make the meatballs full of surprises, including pignoli (pine nuts) and raisins, but my family has simpler tastes, so we don’t go that route
- Desserts – My father favors migliaccio (a citrus ricotta pie), but many families (especially for the kids) go with cioffe (pronounced chohffee), fried dough strips
Like any Italian holiday, the true beauty of it lies in the time spent with family and friends. Still, what makes this one unique is the fact that you’re certain to see a different side of those you know best. You simply don’t know who will show up. That’s part of the fun. Well, that and the meatballs. Happy Carnevale!
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.