On Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Carnevale, Italian families traditionally gather for a large meal which includes meats, sausages, cheeses and desserts that are avoided during Lent.
In the south of Italy and especially around Naples, the day is celebrated by eating Lasagne di Carnevale or Lasagne alla Napoletana. The lasagna is made with little meatballs or polpettine, prosciutto, sausage and various cheeses. Some recipes also include other types of meat and hard-boiled eggs.
The recipe for Pasticcio di Maccheroni or Macaroni Pie, is credited to Pellegrino Artusi, the father of Italian cuisine, who says, “The cooks of Emilia-Romagna are usually very good at making this difficult and expensive dish, which is excellent when well made, a thing that’s easier said than done. Maccheroni pie is a Carnival dish and during that period of year there isn’t a luncheon or dinner in Romagna that doesn’t begin with it.”
Gather the whole family to enjoy these traditional Italian Carnevale recipes.
Lasagne di Carnevale
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tsp
½ lb beef brisket, ground
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly-grated
2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 cup beef stock
1 lb lasagna
1/4 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ dice
1/4 pound prosciutto cotto, cut into 1/4” dice
In a 10 to 12-inch braising pan, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over a high flame until hot, but not smoking. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meat, egg, parsley, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Using a wooden spoon, mix until well combined. Using your hands, mold the meat mixture into small balls, a bit larger than a golf ball. Continue making the meatballs until the mixture has all been used. Add the meatballs to the pan and cook until they are browned on all sides, about 7 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and let simmer until the meat is tender, about 45 minutes. During this time, the pan will begin to dry out. Add the beef stock bit by bit when necessary to keep the pan moist.
Bring 6 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook the lasagna until tender but al dente. Drain and lay gently aside.
Remove the saucepan from the heat. Remove the cooked meat and set aside until cool enough to handle. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Using the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, lightly grease an 8-inch lasagna pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of cooked lasagna. Cover with half of the chopped mozzarella, half the prosciutto, half the meatballs with some sauce. Sprinkle with half the remaining Parmigiano. Repeat this layering process using the remaining ingredients, ending with the Parmigiano. Place in the oven and cook until the lasagna is heated through and the Parmigiano is brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.
Pasticcio di Maccheroni
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound parmacotta; cut into ½” cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1 carrot, 1/4″ dice
1 onion, 1/4″ dice
1 celery stalk
1 cup dry red wine
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
1 ½ lbs ziti
1 lb fresh ricotta
8 oz caciotta or hard provolone; diced
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano; grated plus extra for garnish
In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over a high flame until smoking. Add parmacotta and brown for 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add carrot, onion and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the red wine and bring to a boil. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until the wine reduces by half.
Add the tomato sauce and return to a boil, then turn the flame to low and cover. Cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until meat is almost falling apart. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat to an extra-large bowl.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease a casserole dish with olive oil. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the ziti for 1 minute less than the package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, ladle a small amount of water into a bowl of ricotta cheese. Stir the water with the cheese to warm and melt it slightly. Stir in caciotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and tomato sauce to combine.
When pasta is ready, drain and add to the bowl with the meat. Combine with the sauce and cheese mixture before transferring to the prepared casserole dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed bowls with a garnish of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
As one of Italy’s most famous festivals, the party before Ash Wednesday can take on stupendous proportions. During the Carnevale season, bakery shops are filled with delicious treats, whether covered in powdered sugar or filled with nuts, fruits, cream or sweetened cheese, mouthwatering indulgences abound! Along those lines, we bring two desserts to indulge in.
Perhaps the best-known of the Carnevale pastries are Cenci, whose many aliases include Frappe, Chiacchere, Lattughe and Nastrini. It is simple to make, but it does require deep frying.
1 ¾ cups flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon brandy
a pinch of salt
more confectioner’s sugar for dusting
oil for deep frying
Make a fairly stiff dough with the above ingredients, kneading it thoroughly and adding more flour if the dough is too soft. Once you have a firm consistency, flour the dough and let it rest, covered tightly with plastic wrap, for about an hour.
Roll the dough out into an eighth-of-an-inch (3 mm) thick sheet and using a serrated pastry wheel, cut it into strips as long as your palm and two fingers wide.
Make a cut down the middle of each cencio (so as to obtain two strips joined at the ends), twist the side strips without breaking them.
Fry the strips in hot oil until golden. Remove and place onto a paper towel to absorb the oil. Dust the cencio with powdered sugar once cooled.
Another of the traditional desserts is Carnevale Cake, featuring the citrus and nutty flavors of Sicily.
Schiacciata alla Fiorentina
1 ½ cup flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
zest of a fresh lemon
1 tbsp lemon extract
1 cup chopped candied lemon peel (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting
Grease a 9” spring form pan. Place the whole almonds through a food processor to grind them finely. Mix the flour, ground almonds, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Once thoroughly mixed, add olive oil and milk and mix until batter is consistent, then add the extract and lemon zest. Mix well.
If you want to use the optional chopped candied lemon peel, this is the time to add it! Mix (for the final time) and the batter is ready. Pour into your greased pan and bake at 350°F until golden and set in the center, about 35 minutes. Release and remove the side of the spring form pan and cool. Dust liberally with sifted powdered sugar.