Photo by lacucinaitaliana.it
Fritters, tortelli, castagnole, chiacchiere, fritole, graffe, Strauben: during the Carnival period, the scent of sugar and fried sweets is the undisputed protagonist in the streets of every village. The names resound in the local language, the dialect, to which are linked childhood memories and ancient stories, gestures used in the family and tales that enchant children. Like that of the Cremasque carnival, which every year fills the centre of Crema with one of the most famous pageants in Lombardy, the legacy of the great parades which, according to historical texts, were introduced in the distant 15th century, when the city was under the dominion of the undisputed queen of Carnival: Venice. The dances are led by the typical Cremasque mask, the "Gagèt", the farmer who used to come to the market to sell his goods. And in the pastry shops of Crema the counter is filled with chisulì, the sweet pancakes whose batter is enriched with sultanas and apples.
Carnevale cremasco - Photo by carnevaledicrema.it
Scorpelle of Molise
Among the hills of lower Molise, amidst fields of olive trees, vines and cereals, lies Larino, a village with an ancient history. There are several good reasons to go here, starting with the archaeological site with its forum, amphitheatre and thermal complex, as well as numerous churches and the Ducal Palace, now a museum. A good opportunity to visit the village is during Carnival: on the weekend before Shrove Tuesday, the streets of Larino are lined with a parade of "papier-mâché giants", allegorical floats up to six metres high and built with great care. Pastry shops prepare rosacatarre or rosachitarre, typical pancakes recognised as Prodotti Agroalimentari Tradizionali del Molise (Traditional Food Products of Molise) and prepared precisely for Carnival: flour, oil and eggs are mixed together and the resulting dough is rolled into strips to form the petals of a rose, then fried and dipped in honey. The custom is also widespread in nearby Basilicata, especially in the Pollino area.
"Giganti di cartapesta" - Photo by isnews.it
The Sicilian Pignoccata
Let's move further south to the kingdom of Sicily, an island where Carnival has a very old tradition and is still celebrated in an important way in several villages. If in Palermo, since the 17th century, Carnival has been synonymous with sumptuous processions with baroque costumes, masks and rich decorations, it is in Acireale that the Sicilian Carnival finds its greatest splendour. Considered one of the most beautiful in Italy, the Acireale carnival is the only one in the world to use, in addition to the flowered floats, allegorical floats with lighting systems built with thousands of light bulbs, as well as mechanical and hydraulic movements of great impact. Needless to say, gastronomy plays a fundamental role in Sicily, especially during the festivities: while Acireale is famous for being the home of the Sicilian almond granita, the typical dish associated with Carnival is the pignoccata, a pyramid made of small balls of batter fried and dipped in a mixture of honey and orange blossom water, then garnished with coloured sprinkles.
Pignoccata - Photo by viaggiamo.it
The fried cenci
Let's resume our journey northwards, passing through the Tyrrhenian side of Italy. We go to Tuscany, a region of hills and villages that take Carnival very seriously. Viareggio is the most famous, but we stop in Foiano della Chiana, in the province of Arezzo, home to one of Italy's oldest carnivals, dating back to 1539. Here, the town's four shipyards compete for the Carnival Cup, working over the course of the year to create the most beautiful papier-mâché float and enter the Albo d'Oro. Once again, there is no shortage of fried sweets: in Tuscany they are called cenci and are the regional version of chiacchiere, rectangles of sweet dough fried and sprinkled with icing sugar. For those who prefer fritters, a typical regional speciality linked to Carnival are rice fritters, often prepared also for St Joseph's Day. The Berlingozzo, on the other hand, is a completely different type of cake, a lesser-known Tuscan cake similar to the ciambellone and dating back to the 15th century.
Berlingozzo toscano - Photo by gazzettadelgusto.it