Carnival – the very name excites the imagination. Carnival as celebrated in Venice, Italy is a six week pageant of costumed revelers wandering throughout the city, glimpsed crossing the picturesque bridges that traverse the canals. Masks, flowing costumes, characters from the Comedy of Arts, feathery hats, mysterious cloaks-all are part of carnival. It is, in essence, a six week party that takes place in many parts of Italy but most spectacularly in Venice.
Carnival occurs immediately before the Church season of Lent. Lent is approximately 6 weeks before Christmas and, in 2011, begins on Wednesday, March 9th. The Lenten period was traditionally observed to remind the believers of the time Christ spent fasting in the wilderness prior to his entry into Jerusalem and his ultimate crucifixion. This period was observed with fasting and other pious practices, including refraining from eating meat and rich foods.
Carnival was, as legend as it, begun as a stop-gap celebration before the rigors of Lent. Its very name-carnival-is thought to derive from either Italian or late Latin and to mean “leave meat”. Carnival is marked by its indulgences and ends with Fat Tuesday. This is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
One of the desserts most often served to celebrate the period of Carnival is a type of fritter called “chiacchiere”. They are delicious and easy to make. Combine 2 ½ cups flour, 2 Tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 eggs. Mix well. Add 1/4 cup dry white wine and 6 Tablespoons cream. Mix well. At this point, you may add the zest of a lemon or an orange if desired. Knead lightly and form into a ball. Allow to rest one hour. On a pastry board lightkly coated with flour, roll out the dough into a thin sheet. Cut into rectangles approximately 2 inches by 4 inches. Cut two slits lengthwise in the center of each rectangle. Drop into very hot extra virgin olive oil and cook until golden brown. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.
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