Italian Carnival: Tradition, Spectacle & Feasting!

Venetian Carnival (Photo by Roberto Vicario)

Italian Carnival (‘carnevale‘) festivities are at their most impressive in the cities of Venice and Viareggio, where often this time of year hotels must be booked a year in advance! Yet Italians throughout the rest of the country will also be observing the pre-Lenten season with a variety of traditional sweets, costumes and masks, music and other street entertainments.

Carnival’s arrival coincides with the appearance of cenci at Tuscan bakeries, roughly-cut strips of deep-fried or baked pastry coated in icing sugar and whose name translates to something like ‘rags’.  (See recipe below). In Venice, streets fill with elaborately dressed fun-seekers–young and old, locals and visitors–while music fills the air, street performers dazzle onlookers, and extravagant parties light up the night. The Venetian Carnival represents a grandiose and utterly magical time to be in this majestic city.

Meanwhile, in Viareggio, Tuscany’s glamorous beach-side village, Carnival takes place along the famous art-deco-esque boardwalk, in a very different style–colorful float parades, often political or satirical in nature, stun crowds and onlookers with their artistic and comical flair.

Here is a recipe for cenci from Twelve: A Tuscan Cook Book, by Artviva friend Tessa Kiros.

Cenci (or ‘Chiacchere’) – Deep-fried pastry ribbons

Ingredients for about 35 small pastry strips
280 g plain all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter (melted)
grated zest of ½ a lemon and ½ an orange
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
2 tablespoons Vin Santo or port
light olive oil or sunflower oil for frying
icing sugar for sprinkling

Sift the flour, a pinch of salt and the caster sugar into a wide bowl or onto your work surface. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Begin mixing with a fork to incorporate the eggs into the flour. Add the butter, the zest, vanilla and Vin Santo. Begin working the dough with your hands, kneading until it is smooth, adding a little more flour if it seems too wet. It should be a soft, workable dough.

Dust your work surface with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and beginning with one, roll it out with a rolling pin to thickness of about 2 mm. Cover the dough you are not using with a cloth to prevent it drying.

Cut into strips of about 10 x 5 cm. Keep them on a lightly floured tray while you roll out the rest. The pastry strips may also be rolled out in a pasta machine to the final setting, and cut.

Pour enough oil into a frying pan to come to about 3 cm. Heat the oil on a medium heat and when it is quite hot, fry the cenci on both sides until they are crisp and golden. They should not become too brown, so lower the heat if it seems necessary. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and put a few onto a serving plate with a small pile of orange salad to eat with the cenci and a small bowl of crème anglaise to dip the cenci into. Alternatively, serve them plain as they are.

Keen on seeing Venice for yourself? We have a great discounted Venice tour packages available either as private tours in Venice, or small-group prestigious Venice tour discounted package including a guided tour of St Mark’s with expert Venice tour guide, a gondola ride, guided Doge’s palace tour, and a boat ride along the Grand Canal.

You could also opt for a hands-on cooking classes in Italy to learn to make delicious Italian recipes in Florence.

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