CELEBRATE LIKE AN ITALIAN

How Italians Celebrate Spring Holidays

Every year, on January 6, my father reminded us: “Pasqua Epifania tutte le feste porta via” (Epiphany carries away all the holidays). In Italy, the holidays don’t end on New Year’s Day (Capodanno): we celebrate Epiphany, or, to be precise, la Befana, the old lady wrapped in a shawl who rides a broomstick and fills children’s socks with candies or pieces of coal. Schools reopen on January 7, and Christmas tree decorations and nativity scene figurines are put away until next year.

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via Natalie Rae 

The saying my father recited had a second part, which varies based on geographic location. In his native village (north of Rome) it was something like: “poi revè Sant’Antognetto e ne reporta ‘n saccoccetto” (then comes Saint Anthony and brings a pocketful). The feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot, patron saint of domestic animals, is celebrated on January 17.

I never traveled with my father to his village for the feast, but I remember he always brought back some of the local traditional ciambella all’anice, a ring-shaped, lightly sweetened yeasted bread flavored with anise seeds that was first boiled then baked. My father loved to end his meal with a piece of the ciambella dipped in wine.

The pocketful of holidays mentioned in the saying refer to Carnival, a festive period that ends on Martedì grasso (Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. The exception to this is the archdiocese of Milan, which follows a different calendar where Lent starts the following Sunday, so people in Milan and surrounding areas hold the big end-of-Carnival party on Saturday.

Frappe (also called chiacchiere, cenci, bugie, crostoli and other names, depending on the region), strufoli, castagnole, tortelli di Carnevale are just a sample of the traditional sweets made during Carnival. They are all rather rich, fried and doused in honey or sprinkled with powdered vanilla sugar (zucchero vanigliato). Carnival is traditionally a time of indulgence before the somber 40 days of Lent. It is also the time when children and adults dress up in costumes, which can be lavish, as in the famous Carnevale di Venezia.

When my father was a teenager, he and his friends had to make the best of Carnival parties, because dancing was not allowed during Lent. Events held in the local school were easy to attend. A party in another village meant figuring out how to get there and back without public transportation or a car. Often, they walked for miles late at night to get back home.

One feast I looked forward to as a child occurred during Carnival but was not related to it. On January 29 my hometown of Perugia smells sweet due to pastry shops and people baking the traditional torcolo di san Costanzo, a ring-shaped yeasted cake studded with raisins, candied citron and pine nuts, and lightly flavored with anise seeds. Perugia has three patron saints, including Saint Constantius (probably the first bishop of the city). The torcolo di San Costanzo is so popular that some pastry shops bake it year-round. That did not diminish the pleasure of getting our fill of torcolo on its special day.

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via Wikipedia

The 40 days of Lent are an important period in the Catholic Church. By the time I came to experience it, fasting was no longer required and other precepts were relaxed. My family observed meatless Friday (abstinence) pretty regularly during the year, hence doing it during Lent was not much of a change. In Italy we call this “fare vigilia” (abstinence on the eve of a holy day).

My mother did not have specific Lenten dishes in her repertoire, but prepared variations of our usual Friday meals: spaghetti col tonno, which were a must on Christmas Eve, frittata wish seasonal vegetables, like artichokes, or hard-boiled eggs plus canned tuna and mackerel. Every now and then, she prepared baccalà (salt cod) with tomato sauce, prunes and raisins.

There are cookies called quaresimali in an otherwise rather bare landscape, since sweets by definition are to be eschewed during Lent. One exception is zeppole di San Giuseppe, pastries filled with custard that are made on March 19, the day the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Italy celebrates Father’s Day.

I remember Lent more as a passage, from the bright lights of Christmas and the other winter Holidays to the arrival of spring and the celebration of Easter. But that is a story for next month. In the meantime, enjoy days getting longer!

6a00d835508b1869e201a511871f44970c-150wiWith a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.


How Italians Fall in Love

 

With the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.

The international language of amore requires no translation, but how exactly do Italians fall in love?

On Valentine’s Day, many couples will gift each other baci, a chocolate “kiss.” But every other day of the year? Here is how Italians do love- from dating, to meeting the family, and saying “I Do”:

Coffee

Ask for directions:  While you will still hear calls of “ciao bella” down the street, a more popular pickup line is to ask for directions.  Online dating has yet to become a popular way to meet future beaus in Italy, so asking for a bit of help gives you an excuse to approach the object of your affection and strike up a conversation. Once you have the directions you probably didn’t need in the first place, you can offer to buy him/her a caffè.

First date: Forget the cinema, most Italian first dates involve a walk and a bit of conversation.  Inviting your crush on a passeggiata, and maybe a gelato, means you don’t have to commit to a fancy dinner or drinks up front. If things go well, you will eventually become “fidanzati,” or boyfriend and girlfriend.  However, if you want to continue to woo your beloved, you better download Whatsapp.  The popular messaging service is how friends AND lovers keep in touch through out the day.

Meeting the parents: If things are getting serious, you will have to take a deep breath and meet the family.  When dating, you go to the parents, rather than waiting for them to come to you. While it might be more comfortable to meet on neutral ground like a restaurant, more often than not you will be driving out to mama’s house to eat a home cooked meal.  Praise your beloved to his or her parents and clean your plate of all you’re served if you want to make a good impression.

Vineyard wedding

Next come marriage: Italian weddings begin with the civil ceremony, but only after announcements have been made in newspapers and other public forums to allow time for any objections to be aired.  For many couples, the city hall wedding is the main service, while others will plan for a large church wedding days or even weeks after. Regardless of the ceremony type, the meal is the real event. Think multi-courses, with food and wine flowing all night.  At the end, send the happy couple sends guests home with even more treats – confetti (sugar coated almonds).

 

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_n Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


10 Italian New Year’s Resolutions to Make in 2016

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  1. Make pasta by hand: A true cornerstone of the Italian diet, fresh pasta does not have to be intimidating or require special machinery. All you need is some water and flour, plus enough patience to pull and push until the dough is just-right-sticky.  Grab a rolling pin or even a bottle of wine to flatten the dough and cut with a knife.  Congratulations- that is casarecce: homemade, free-form pasta! In 2016, conquer this kitchen staple.
  2. Toast to a Tuesday: Italian living is about enjoyment, not excess. Rather than saving up all those lovely bottles for a special occasion, pop one open for lunch.  Italian meals almost always feature a glass of wine, to help with digestion of course! There is no reason not to raise a glass, savor the little things, and toast to a regular Tuesday. Cin cin!
  3. Break out your fancy underwear: On New Years Eve in Italy, it’s traditional to wear new red underwear for good luck. Italy gave the world famous lingerie brands such as La Perla, so luxury underthings remain in style beyond December 31st. This is the year to ban the boring briefs.
  4. Speak your mind: Everyone has an opinion, and Italians are not shy about sharing them. If you are making your tomato sauce wrong or wearing too few clothes on a brisk day, your neighborhood nonna will be sure to let you know. In 2016, express your self with confidence.
  5. Call your mother more often: Put that new iPhone to use and ring mama. Staying connected to family and friends is one of the best ways to start off 2016 on the right foot.
  6. Explore your hometown: You don’t have to hop on a plane every time the travel bug bites. Italians are embracing slow travel and staycations and you can resolve to do the same this year.  Imagine the familiar streets with new eyes and seek out the hidden gems in your own hometown.
  7. Start an herb garden: You don’t need a green thumb to add a bit of spice to the kitchen. Hearty herbs like basil can be grown on any windowsill through spring and summer. Plan to create a small kitchen herb garden to add fresh homegrown Italian flavors to any dish you whip up in the coming months.
  8. Save electricity, save the world: You would be hard pressed to find an Italian home with a dryer. Electricity is too expensive, making fancy clothes dryers a luxury that most Italians skip.  Cut down your bill and embrace green living by doing laundry the Italian way: hang it out!
  9. Dress up the dog: Man’s best friend is truly a part of the family, so why should puppies be left out when it comes to fashion? Doggy sweaters, boots and raincoats are all in heavy rotation in Italy during the colder months. Resolve to take the dog on more walks (in his new puppy outfit).
  10. Make your house a home: Home is a sanctuary and a place to welcome friends and family throughout the year. Most Italian homes are brimming with personality to mark the space.  Make a resolution to add small touches that will transform even the most basic apartment into a refuge to enjoy every day of 2016.

 

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_n Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


The Ultimate Gift Guide for the Italophile in your Life

Ah, the holidays.

As the end of the year and the festive season approaches, December is the perfect time to gather around the people that are dear to us.  If one of those people in your life loves Italy, well, we have the perfect tips on how to surprise them with a small gift from the bel paese.

1. Moleskine:

The choice of Hemingway (an Italy-lover himself), these small notebooks are now manufactured by a publishing house in Milan. High quality, ageless design and lightweight, these books are perfecting for jotting down to do lists, daydreams and trip itineraries.

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via Moleskine  

2. Moka Pot

A great Italian coffee does not require a plane ticket to Rome, or even a fancy espresso maker. All you need are some good beans, a few instructions and a classic stovetop coffee pot that is found in every Italian home. The most trusted is Bialetti, and this small gift can deliver great espresso for years to come.

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via Natalie Rae

3. Passport holder:

What better way to get excited for future travels than a beautiful passport holder? The dual purpose holders can protect documents while pretty-ing up a necessary piece of identification. There are hundreds of designs out there for any personality, but our favorites are timeless and made of Italian leather, of course.

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via Gigi New York

4. Classic stemware:

Add a touch of sophistication to annual gift giving with wine glasses that can be used and treasured for years to come. For a made in Italy touch, check out the glasses from Luigi Bormioli, which offers stemware that will enhance the full flavors of your Italian wine.

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via Luigi Bormioli

5. Biscotti cookbook:

With so many occasions calling for a special treat in the coming weeks, biscotti recipes straight from Rome can come in handy. This lovely little cookbook shares the history of Italian cookies, with well-tested recipes that can be recreated in any kitchen.  These biscotti go well with everything from morning coffee to nightcaps.

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via Amazon.com

6. Lemon zester:

If it is already getting cold outside, simply imagine summer on the Amalfi Coast, with vibrant blue waters and hills covered in trees weighed down by citrus flowers. You can bring the taste of Amalfi anywhere with a simple lemon zester. Perfect for cakes, cookies, and even pasta, a bit of zest adds a new brightness to the winter holidays.

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via Amazon.com

7. Vintage map of Venice:

There are always new designers, artists and creative foodies innovating in Italy, but some things never change. The perfect example? Venice. This unique city is so hemmed in by canals that the streets have not changed in hundreds of years. A vintage map can be an inspiring piece of home décor, but it can double as a nearly usable map on your next trip!

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via BlueMonaclePrints

8. Taralli:

What goes perfectly with any glass of wine? Taralli. These simple snacks are served across Italy to tide you over before dinner.  They make an authentic and delicious hostess gift, and will keep crowds happy while you open another bottle of wine and put the finishes touches on your holiday feast.

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via Amazon.com

Happy Holidays!

 

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_n Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


How Many Italian Christmas Songs Do You Recognize?

Are you ready for the holidays yet? We’ve had so much fun preparing for the festivities right along with you – we’ve taken you on a tour of some of the best European-style Christmas markets in the U.S., we’ve cooked up a holiday meal, and we’ve shared how to celebrate the holidays like an Italian.

In the whirlwind of shopping, cooking, and wrapping, sometimes it’s hard to slow down and enjoy the holidays. So this week, we’re encouraging you to sit down, relax, and enjoy the company of those around you.22

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In Italy, relaxation time often involves music (and wine, of course!), so this week we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Italian Christmas songs to accompany your holiday parties. Take a listen and sing along! (more…)



Grape harvest in Italy has begun!

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Above: Sangiovese grapes like those that will go into the Mazzoni Toscana Rosso.

Grape harvest has begun in Italy!

Even thought late rains and a cold spring have delayed the harvest with respect to previous years, most are predicting a great vintage for 2013.

They began harvesting grapes in southern Italy a week ago and some have begun this week to pick white grapes in central Italy.

At the Tenuta Il Poggione, where the grapes for the Mazzoni Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot are grown, harvest is still a few weeks away.

But the fruit and the conditions are looking great.

Stay tuned for more harvest updates from Mazzoni!