Tuesday, 21 February 2012

La Vita é un Carnevale!

Carnival time is here again amici miei! :-) Italian towns have been taken over by revellers in costume, spectacular street parades and merchant stalls selling every kind of Italian delicacy. The official date of 'Carnevale' this year is the 21st February which is the traditional 40 days before Easter, however many towns have been celebrating for weeks already. Carnevale is the final celebration before the restrictions of Lent - in fact the term is widely recognised as originating from the Latin words 'carnem levare' or 'take away the meat'.

The festival itself is thought to have derived from the ancient Roman 'baccanali', celebrations during which drunken revellers would walk around the city with their faces painted whilst singing, yelling and performing pranks. Tricks and pranks are still an integral part of Carnevale, hence the saying 'a carnevale ogni scherzo vale', meaning that during carnival time any kind of mischief can be expected! The 'Carnevale di Misterbianco' is famous for its wonderful costumes such as that in the image below - modelled on the Amazon Rainforest!

The large colourful floats are also thought to have taken root from ancient Roman times when citizens would hold a festival called Saturnalia to honour the god Saturn, in the hope of achieving a fruitful harvest. During this festival parades of floats carrying masked girls and boys would go along the streets and this tradition is still evident throughout Italy. The 'Carnevale di Acireale' in Sicily is world famous for the colourful paper maché floats that pass through the town and each year there is a competition for the best and most original. For those of you who have never been to a Sicilian 'Carnevale' here is Acireale's promotional video for this year to give you an better idea :-) -

Buon Carnevale a tutti!! Enjoy. A presto,

Debra :-)

Friday, 3 February 2012

Viva Sant'Agata!!

Buona sera a tutti  :-) So much has happened in Italy since my January blog post. First, news travelled quickly throughout the world of the Costa Concordia disaster just off the Tuscan island of Giglio. This was such a tragic incident and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. The Italian peninsula was then hit by some of its coldest temperatures in decades. Northern and Central Italy are still suffering from heavy snowfall and even many of the higher towns in Sicily have not been spared this rare occurence.

On a more positive note, we are now entering February which is one of the most festive months in the Sicilian calendar and hopefully the sun will return in preparation for the wonderful Sicilian 'primavera'! Today marks the beginning of the annual three day 'Festa di Sant' Agata' in Catania - a world-famous religious festival which celebrates the city's patron saint and attracts almost a million devotees each year. St. Agata is also the patron saint of fire, earthquakes and Mount Etna eruptions and is buried at the Chapel of Sant' Agata within the majestic Duomo di Catania.

The Saint was martyred in the year 251 aged only fifteen and during the celebration the statue of St. Agata which houses her relics is carried through the streets in a silver carriage, or 'fercolo'. This carriage weighs 40,000 pounds, or 18,000 kilograms. and is pulled by 5,000 local men who are welcomed back to the Duomo with a spectacular firework display.

The traditional festival food for 'La Festa di Sant'Agata' are the delicious, sweet 'Olivette di Sant'Agata'. Here is the recipe for those of you who won't be attending this year's festivities.......Enjoy!

Servings: 6-8
Ingredients: 200 grams almonds, shelled
200 grams sugar
1 tablespoon rum 
sugar for coating
green food colouring
Remove the skin from the almonds after immersing for a few seconds in boiling water, and grind together with 100 grams sugar.
Place the remaining sugar in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water, and heat until it starts to melt. Remove from the heat, and add the almond mixture, rum and a small amount of the green colouring.
Knead until the mixture is smooth.
Rub small balls between the palms into the shape of olives. Coat each “olive” by rolling it in sugar.
Leave for a few hours before serving.

A presto amici,

Debra Santangelo