This year Mardi Gras falls the day before Valentine’s Day. That means observant Italians will be torn between eating chocolate and aphrodisiac foods with their significant other, and rubbing ashes on their forehead in self-examination, prayer and repentance.
Also known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, or Martedì Grasso in Italy, today’s Mardi gras holiday marks the last hurrah before the the Christian Lenten fasting period. Before the forty days of fasting, the period of merriment known as Carnevale falling before Lent is replete with indulgent foods, zany costumes, and pranks. The saying, a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale means “During carnival season, all practical jokes are allowed.”
During Carnevale the best looking costumes are traditionally celebrated by tossing a handful of coriandoli which owe their name to coriander. In ancient times the coriandoli were sugar coated coriander seeds otherwise known as ‘confetti’. For a few weeks the streets of Italy will look like this:
Carnevale, and Martedì Grasso in particular, is celebrated all over Italy, but Venice is the city where this holiday puts on the biggest show. Known for the elaborate 1700s costumes and masks worn throughout the festivity, the world renowned Carnevale di Venezia first took place in the year 1162.
Italians celebrate the last period before the impending start of lent with very rich, indulgent dishes. The word “Carnevale” derives from the latin carnem levare or “farewell to meat.” Think meatball and sausage-studded lasagna; or frappe, chiacchiere and castagnole (fried dough topped with sugar) or the delicious cream-filled zeppole and bigné. In southern Italy, and in Naples in particular, Mardi Gras is celebrated with slices of Migliaccio, a semolina and ricotta pie.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.