The Epiphany

dsc05091The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th.  That historical date is rooted as the three Magi presented its’ three gifts to the baby Jesus twelve days after his birth.  The Feast of the Epiphany or “little Christmas”  is an important holiday in

Italian culture.  Aside from the religious significance, the fabled “Befana” features prominently in Italian tradition.

If one is not familiar with La Befana, the translation is a witch.  She is more or less an old woman who flies on a broomstick on the eve of January 6th delivering gifts and sweets to all the good children in Italy.   The bad children receive lumps of coal in their stockings.  According to legend, the three Magi stopped at the old woman’s house asking for directions.  The Magi invited the old woman to join them on their journey however the old woman replied she was too busy.  The old woman has since regretted it and now visits all the children of Italy once a year.

As in large festivals across Italy, La Befana has regional celebrations. The Befana is also interpreted as a symbol of discarding negative experiences of the past year and bringing in the new. For example, Veneto holds a symbolic bonfire called the “panevin.” In other northern regions, bonfires are held and glasses of mulled wine and Panettone are served. Venice holds gondola races dressed in Befana costumes. Residents in Rome and Florence display a puppet in the window. Let’s not forget Christmas markets all over Italy partake in the celebration by selling toys (giocatolli), nuts, fruits, and cheeses. However way you celebrate La Befana…we leave you with a traditional poem.
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla “romana”
viva viva la Befana!!
Porta cenere e carboni
ai bambini cattivoni
ai bambini belli e buoni
porta chicchi e tanti doni!
[English]

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all broken
With a dress in Roman style
Up, up with the Befana !!
She brings ashes and coal
To bad nasty children
To the nice good child
She brings candies and many gifts!

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The Sweet Deal About Gelato

Want to know the difference between ice cream and gelato? Find out here!

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The Sweet Deal About Gelato

Source: The Sweet Deal About Gelato

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The Sweet Deal About Gelato

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Have you taken a vacation photo lately with a delicious ice cream in hand? Gelato is one of the great pleasures of taste and life. Italian gelato may be confused with imitations such as Italian ice, ice cream, or a cross breed of water ice and ice cream, which some may call “gelati.” If you have every eaten gelato in Italy or at an authentic gelateria anywhere outside of Italy, you know that imitators can never replace the true taste of gelato. What exactly is gelato? Ice cream uses heavy cream whereas gelato is made with whole milk resulting in a higher density and creamy texture.   In addition, the chemistry process of mixing, adding gas, and ratios all factor in.  It may not seem such a big difference however taste makes all the difference in the world once you sink your teeth into the sweetness.

Gelato has become serious business. Gelato masters have devoted their lives to the art of gelato and an art it is. Carpigiani Gelato University is located in Anzo D’Emilia, a short drive outside of Bologna. People from all over the world line up to hone their craft in gelato making by taking up courses. There is also a museum that offers historical origins of this sweet delicacy which is said to have originated in Mesopotamia.

Today, artisanal gelaterias offer exotic fruits and other unique flavors in season. If you happen to stop by a gelateria, the server may ask “coppa o cona?” Cup or cone? If you have a hard time choosing, take both.

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Cannolis!

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In honor of National Cannoli Day, what better way to celebrate than enjoying this delightful sweet treat?   One of the most famous references to the adored cannoli is of course in the movie The Godfather. The character Pete Clemenza infamously exclaims, “Leave the gun. Don’t forget the cannoli.”

If you are still unsure what exactly a cannoli is, well here is a brief explanation. A cannoli is a Sicilian pastry delicacy that is comprised of a fried dough outer tube shell with a sweet cream filling.   For this simple dessert, there are several variations.   Traditionally speaking, the cream consists of ricotta or marscapone cheese combined with vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, and other flavors. You may have seen a few with lemon or orange shavings or candied fruit.

 

Where did the cannoli exactly originate from? Well there are a few theories that the cannoli originated in Palermo and the surrounding areas. At one time, Sicily was ruled by the Arabs , which is theorized that desserts such as cannolis, gelato, and other sweets were born during that period in time and evolved into traditional Sicilian desserts. Another theory is the cannoli was a symbol of fertility during Carnevale and the Lenten season.   Naturally this delectable pastry was brought to other parts of the Western world from Italian immigrants. There have been a few modifications however don’t be afraid to create your own traditional filling. The good thing is the cannoli can be celebrated during any time of year!

Recipe for cannoli cream

  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 1 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese,strained
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips (Optional)

Whip the cream in the bowl or use a stand mixer until stiff peaks form. Place the cream into a small bowl and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl, add the ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Fold in the whipped cream and chocolate chips.

Chill the cream for at least 2 hours before filling the cannoli shells.

 

 

 

 

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Destination – Italian Wedding

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Wedding season is already here and June was voted the number one month of wedding ceremonies. Since we love all things Italian, we’re focusing on what a dream wedding inItaly is really like! Hint: much more than you dreamed of! Incredible food -check.   Incredible atmosphere-check. Incredible fashion- done and done. Here is the real secret. It’s not as difficult as you think, seriously.

Imagine! A destination wedding surrounded by gorgeous mountains or the Mediterranean sea, out in the country, in a small town church, or even a civil ceremony in one of the great Italian cities.   We have seen glamorous couples like John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and of course honorary Italian citizen George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. However, you don’t have to be a celebrity or pay the bill like one in order to host a wedding in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.

Just like anywhere else you would plan a wedding, the time of year is important.   Statistically speaking, June is by far the most popular month of the year for weddings and October following a close second. For Italy in particular, the month of August is dicey as it is generally hot and most Italians take their vacations. Many stores and companies actually close down.

If you’re considering an Italian destination wedding, here are a few things you will need in advance. For U.S. citizens, you will need a valid U.S. Passport.   If you were never issued a passport, call your nearest passport office for proper guidelines.   If you have a passport, make sure it is up to date or you have ample time for renewal. Prior to your wedding ceremony, you must have your birth certificate translated into Italian and notarized with the “Apostille” stamp in accordance with The Hague Convention. This can be done with your nearest Italian Consulate office. Your best bet is to call the domestic office and make an appointment prior to your departure. If you were previously married, you will also need to have a divorce decree and/or death certificate translated and notarized also.   For non U.S. citizens, it is best to check with your country’s embassy or general consulate office.

There are innumerable locations which a manager or professional can organize the ceremony for you. Universities or former abbeys are becoming very popular venues even for Italian citizens. If you plan on marrying on hotel grounds, a concierge professional can organize all of the details for you. If you are enamored with the charm of local churches, you will need to have a civil ceremony prior. Generally speaking, two witnesses in front of the town clerk with the proper paperwork is required. This can be a bit tricky if you’re not familiar with local customs however there are professional websites that can do the work for you.   Once the legalities are in line, then it’s time for some fun!

You may have attended large feasts but no feast matches that of an Italian wedding. It is not unusual to have eight to nine courses of every imaginable seafood, pasta, and meat dish. Typically in North America, a guest is asked to choose a main dish and a second course. In Italy, they’re all included! There is no choice and no selection but it is presented after each course. You may wonder, how can one eat so much food? That is something where a little pacing will have to come into play. The best part of your Italian wedding is that local chefs prepare meals of local fare and in season. You may even get a surprise or two. Wines are plentiful and usually already factored in the overall cost.   Three types of Italian wedding cakes are Crostata di Frutta, Pan di Spagna, and Millefoglia. They can consist of anywhere from three to six layers. Yes, pizzelle, cannoli, and biscotti trays are bountiful. That’s if you have enough room in your tummy. So time to think about how you can make that dream wedding into a reality. The land of la dolce vita will have you exclaiming “now that’s amore!”

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Italian Easter Bread Tradition

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Bread.   During the Easter period, there are few symbolisms that embody life other than bread.   Easter Sunday is celebrated throughout the Christian world celebrating the life and death of Jesus Christ. In John 6:35, Jesus quotes “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry again.” It is only fitting that one Italy’s most well known traditions’ is Easter bread.

Italian Easter Bread, sweet bread made with milk and sugar, uses yeast to rise like bread. There are variations, which a dyed egg can be placed in the middle but usually is glazed with a confectioners sugar and sprinkles. So how did Easter Bread come to be? One legend is that Easter Bread originated in the region of Lombardy.   The people celebrated their victory over the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa by making an Easter dove known as a Colomba Pasquale. A Colomba Pasquale was a type of dough similar to panettone. The religious context is that the egg represents rebirth.

Easter Bread is a delectable dish rich in sweets especially after a long Lenten season. Christians refrain from luxuries and of course meat on Fridays to represent the suffering of Christ. Particularly in Italy, church services are somber and re-enactments of the Stations of the Cross can be found practically everywhere.   Whichever your tradition, it’s a time to celebrate spring, nature, and rebirth in all of it’s glory.

Traditional Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua) Recipe

1 packet of active dry yeast or Rapid Rise

2/3 warm milk

3-5 cups of flour

½ cup of sugar

2 medium size eggs

2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

1 egg (for eggwash)

By using a hand mixer or even by hand:

Add the yeast, 1 cup of flour, sugar, and salt.

Add in the milk and butter or olive oil. Continue to beat until combined.

Add in eggs one by one and slowly add the additional flour. Continue to beat until reaching consistency

Add in the rest of the flour until a soft dough forms. Continue to add the flour until the dough no longer sticks.

Form a ball and place in a greased or buttered bowl and cover with towel. Place the bowl in a warm place until the dough rises. This may take from 1-1 ½ hours long. The dough should rise to about double your size.

For egg wash: beat one until smooth and lumps have disappeared

Once the dough is ready, either roll and cut to two pieces in order to braid the dough or just leave in an oval shape. Brush the eggwash on the dough and place multi colored sprinkles all over the loaf.   Place the dough in the oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until baked. Easter bread with have a nice brown texture from the eggwash. Most of all enjoy and Buona Pasqua!

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Springtime Travel Tips in Italy

DN237Traveling to Italy in Springtime?  Here are some tips to guide you during your Italian vacanze !

  1. Weather can be unpredictable- You always hope for sunshine filled days as you walk Via Condotti or stroll through Vatican square however rainy days can be commonplace. Northern Italy especially experience more showers and temperatures are generally cooler.  Not to fret, pack a rain coat and carry an umbrella as back up.  Also, have a backup plan on indoor sight seeing if the weather does not compromise.
  2. Easter Liturgical Services- If you find yourself in Rome, opt to attend Easter Mass in Vatican City. This once in a lifetime experience will allow you to experience the wonder of Christianity right at its epicenter.  Also we think it’s pretty cool to hear and hopefully see a sitting Pope serve Mass.  Papal Audience tickets are free however it is suggested that a fax be sent to the Prefecture of the Papal Household.  Sending a fax is the only means of obtaining tickets as they receive requests worldwide.  Churches in all of the major cities and towns usually have their doors open.  Remember to dress appropriately as admittance is denied if not in proper attire.
  3. Easter Holiday- the Easter Holiday lasts for a full week if not more. Traditionally, native Italians may be off from work and school as they travel to their loved ones during this festive holiday.  It also means a time of festivals and outdoor markets are in full swing all the while mingling with locals.  What better way to get the best tips on restaurants, wine, and food? Verona is host to Vinitaly,a wine festival and the region of Lazio celebrates their Artichoke festival or “Sagre di Carciofo Romanesco.”
  4. Saints Holidays- April 25th is the Feast of St. Mark in Venice, the city’s patron saint. It is also Liberation Day in Italy which is a holiday marking the liberation of Nazi Occupation. Saints holidays consist of what Italy is famous for- food and wine festivals, and perhaps a fireworks display.
  5. Smaller Crowds- Of course the real benefits of traveling in Italy during spring time are smaller crowds and beating the heat. You can always call your hotel concierge in advance to assist you in making reservations to a popular restaurant, booking a sightseeing tour, or purchasing tickets to a special event.  You can always (kindly) ask for a free upgrade of course depending on availability.
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