WHAT’S GOING ON… FLORENTINE NEW YEAR

In Florence we celebrate the New Year twice, on 1st of January and then again on the 25th of March.  The 25th of March celebration originated in the Middle Ages in remembrance of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation of Christ – as it is exactly nine months before the 25th of December, the birth of the Jesus.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1437-46 – Convent of San Marco, Florence, Italy

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In the Kitchen… Cenci

Two weeks ago we were talking about Carnevale and I teased everyone with the idea of a special treat only available this time of the year.  Well here it is!  These light pieces of fried dough with a hint of vin santo and lemon then covered with a sprinkling of sugar are most commonly known as Chiacchiere (other names being: frappe, bugie, frappole, galani, frittole, or crostoli), but here in Florence we call them Cenci ‘rags’ due to their rectangular shape.

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WHAT’S GOING ON… CARNEVALE

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A carnival feast was traditionally the last opportunity for peasants and common people to have a nice meal.  There was generally a food shortage toward the end of winter as stores would run out of meats, dairy, and fat, or they would begin to spoil.  People were then restricted to eat only when necessary until produce was available again in the spring.  The timing coincides perfectly with the somber season of Lent.  The six weeks before Easter are known as the Lenten period of the liturgical calendar and is historically marked by fasting.  During Lent people refrain from parties and celebrations along with consuming richer foods made of meat, dairy, fat and sugars.  Even today many families will avoid meat and other treats during the weeks leading up to Easter.  All the more reason to indulge in the sweets that are typical for this time of the year are available everywhere.  Frittelle di riso – little balls of dough with rice that’s fried and rolled in sugar, Chiacchiere or ‘Cenci’ as they are called in Tuscany – Flat pieces of dough that are fried until crisp and dusted with sugar. [More on these next week when we learn to make them!]

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IN THE KITCHEN… Ribollita

With the drop in temperatures here in Florence, I need a soup I can eat for days that will keep me warm and fill me up.  Thankful for traditional Tuscan cooking, Ribollita should be just the dish I’m looking for!

Ribollita is a hearty Tuscan soup that is enjoyed during the cold winter months and comes from the ‘cucina povera’ (literally meaning the poor kitchen).  It is the making of really good food with simple, cheap, yet high quality, local ingredients.  Ribollita directly translated means ‘reboiled’ and that is exactly what happens.  This dish comes from ancient times when peasants would prepare a basic vegetable soup; using specifically cannellini beans, kale (variety), and ‘pepolino’ a local fragrant thyme, in large quantities to be eaten over the course of several days, hence reboiled.  Stale, saltless, bread was added to the soup in the following days to add consistency to the simple dish.

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