Carnival in Italy has typically been a time of decadence, a storm before the calm if you will. The time of Lent was traditionally a time for Catholics to abstain from meat, eggs, milk and dairy for 40 days. Carnival was created in response as a celebration of pleasure and abundance — so too was carnival food.
Since Lent was a frugal period, Carnival food allowed people to stock up on their fats ahead of time. Carnival dishes were developed with a tendency towards those fatty, tasty, full-bodied dishes. Think a lot of succulent pork dishes and many fried sweets. No wonder Carnival is an easy festival to want to celebrate.
Italian celebrations of Carnival vary all over Italy. From the elegant masquerades of the Venice Carnival to the extremely messy Battle of the Oranges in the Carnival of Ivrea, no two places celebrate alike. The same is the case when it comes to food, each part of Italy has its own favorite Carnival cuisine.
These dishes are not only seasonal, sometimes they’re timed down to the day. Genoa celebrates the final day of Carnival with a special dish of ravioli filled with meat and vegetables. The ravioli is then topped with tocco, a regional meat sauce made from beef and sometimes also pork.
In the northern city of Ivrea you might find yourself working up an appetite after washing off pulp, rind, and juices from attending Italy’s largest public food fight. During the festival, you can find served “the fat beans of Ivrea” — a rich local dish made from beans and pork. Historically served to the city’s poor, today you can find large pots of the dish being served to people all over Ivrea.
Perhaps you find yourself in the south during Carnival season. Take a trip to Irpinia, where you can sample the frittata di bucatini. This omelette is served as quick street food that contains sheep’s ricotta, eggs, and the namesake bucatini pasta. If it’s not rich enough for you as it stands, you can ask the street vendor to add some cubed mozzarella or hot salami. It’s delicious quick bite to have in the midst of drinking, carousing and celebrating.
During Carnival, Italy saves the best for last — dessert! Carnival season has its whole own category of fried sweets called dolci di Carnevale. Not to be outdone by the savories in terms of richness, these desserts are often fried in strutto (pork lard).
While there are a wide variety of Carnivale dessert,s the most common is known by many different names across Italy. Vendors stretch a thin sheet of dough, fry it in hot oil and cover it in icing sugar. In cities like Naples they may be covered in honey and coloured sugar to add to the vibrance of the festivities. Regardless of where you are, you’ll know why the celebration is sometimes known as Fat Tuesday. Make sure you don’t have to check out the next morning, so you can sleep off that Carnival decadence from the night before.