I came across a poem today about cannoli, and I thought it was fitting for Carnevale.
As you know, Carnevale comes 40 days before Easter, kind of like a last fling before Ash Wednesday. Let’s just say it’s one big party, a last hurrah full of rich foods and sweet desserts.
Carnevale comes from the words “carne,” which means meat, and “leavare,” which means to remove. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and you fast from eating meat and overindulgence.
Carnevale is celebrated throughout Italy, especially in Venice, where people don masks and costumes to party through the streets.
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In the Emilia-Romagna region, Carnevale is most extravagant. Supposedly the carnival in the town of Cento is connected with the famous carnival held in Rio de Janeiro, with floats, costumes, music and dancing throughout the street. Platters of pasta and homemade tortellini laden with butter, Parmigiano and cream are served to celebrate.
Rome’s Carnevale dates back to the Middle Ages. To this day, fireworks displays, street artists and jousting, along with parades and lavish banquets, attract almost 1 million visitors in the Piazza Navona.
In Tuscany, parades are common. They feature famous local people and floats similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, especially in the coastal town of Viareggio. Throughout Tuscany, butchers slaughter animals to cook for hundreds and hundreds of people. Sweets are on the menu, and cenci (fried dough) is the most popular.
In Naples, lavish banquets go on for days, and a very rich lasagna called Grande Lasagna di Carnevale is prepared. It is a pasta casserole filled with many layers of pasta, sauce and sliced meat balls along with creamy Italian cheeses.
In southern Italy, especially Sicily, the tradition of Mardi Gras dates back to the 17th century, especially in the city of Palermo. The first carnival chariots were hand-made out of papier-mâché and represented Neptune surrounded by mermaids. Street theater is very popular, and people wear masks to hide themselves, including servants who could take revenge on their masters. Everyone indulges.
The city of Acireale, near Catania, Sicily, has one of the most elaborate parades and celebrations. Long ago people threw eggs and vegetables at each other during the carnival celebration. Even today, wild hats, masks and costumes are still part of the tradition.
Homemade macaroni with pork sauce and soups are prepared with lard and are very popular. But the biggest and most famous dish is the Italian salsiccia sausage. Sausages were made during the wintertime because they did not have refrigeration and the sausage could be stored easily. It also was a celebration to slaughter the pig and prepare different styles of sausage in each village
Street food is popular in Sicily during Carnevale. That includes grilled Italian sausages, arancini (rice balls) and, of course, gelato, even in the wintertime. The most popular of all desserts is the famous cannoli.
It has been written that the cannoli is the most famous dessert of all because it can be held in hands and eaten as party goers walk through the streets in the villages, enjoying parades and donning costumes to celebrate. Now that is what I call one hell of a way to celebrate.
Enjoy this poem written by an unknown poet in the 17th century and, of course, make yourself some cannoli with the easy recipe provided. As a matter of fact, make many and pass them out.
Perhaps you’ll want to don a mask or costume, and celebrate throughout the streets, because remember: For the next 40 days it’s a time to fast before Easter.
Beddi Cannola di Carnalivari
Megghiu vuccuni a la munnu ‘un ci nn’è:
Sú biniditti spisi li dinari;
Ogni cannolu è scettru d’orgni Re.
Arrivunu li donni a disistari;
Lu cannolu è la virga di Moisè
Cui nun ni mancia, si fazza ammazzari,
Cu li disprezza è un gran curnutu affè!
Beautiful are the cannoli of Carnevale,
No tastier morsel in the world:
Blessed is the money used to buy them;
Cannoli are the scepters of all kings.
Women even desist (from pregnancy)
For the cannolo, which is Moses’ staff:
He who won’t eat them should let himself be killed;
He who doesn’t like them is a cuckold, Olè!
— Anonymous 17th-century poet
Jasper’s Mirabile’s Sicilian Cannoli
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup powdered sugar (plus more for dusting)
1/4 cup candied oranges and cherries (diced)
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
2 drops cinnamon oil
6 Cannoli shells
Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and fold in the powdered sugar. Add the candied fruit, chocolate and cinnamon oil, and mix gently to combine. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving. To serve, fill the shells with the cheese mixture and dust them with powdered sugar.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.