Monday, February 8, 2010

Carnevale, Viareggio, Cenci!

In Italy, the celebration of carnevale has started. Carnevale (or carnival) is the weeks long celebration before the start of lent. It is celebrated by parades, costumes, masks, confetti, and fried sweets. A couple of weeks ago, I started to notice confetti all over the streets every night. I asked Lella what it was from and she told me that Carnevale had started. Then on the weekends, we noticed kids running around the piazza, dressed up like it was Halloween. Now, wherever I go in Siena, I can't help but notice streets sprinkled with confetti, stores selling masks, and bakeries frying all sorts of sugar coated dough.
While it is a fun time in Siena, there really isn't any sort of public festival or huge celebration. For that, we headed to Viareggio this past weekend. Viareggio is a small resort town just north of Pisa on the Mediterranean coast that is famous for its Carnevale celebration. As soon as we arrived, we saw buildings with flags and people in costume. We made our way to the parade area on the seafront boulevard and realized that we were in for quite a celebration. Most of the people there were in some sort of costume, mask, or crazy wig, there were people selling confetti or silly string, there were stands set up where you could buy any type of sweet imaginable, music was playing; it was going to be a fun day. Since we had arrived quite a bit early, we took our time looking around at all of the stalls and also spending quite a bit of time people watching and checking out all of the costumes. Finally at 3:00 the parade started. By this time, the crowd had grown and there were a lot of people. It was such a festive atmosphere. There were huge floats that made their way around both sides of the boulevard. These floats were amazing! Most of them had moving parts, lights, music, and a group of people dressed in costume dancing and singing. The parade lasted for almost 3 hours, ending just in time to catch the sunset over the sea. Here are some pictures:
Like I said, Italians like to eat fried sweets for Carnevale. One of the most popular in Siena are called cenci. This literally means rags. They are just little pieces of sweet pastry dough that are fried and then covered with powdered sugar. Here is the recipe:

300 grams of flour
50 grams of sugar
2 eggs
50 grams of melted butter, not hot
maybe a half glass of Vin Santo
zest of an orange
a pinch of salt

This dough is made like a pasta dough, not really like a typical pastry dough. Combine the dry ingredients on a flat work surface. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, vin santo, and butter. With a fork, mix these together, gradually mixing in the dry ingredients to form a dough. Bring everything together and knead for a minute or 2 to form a smooth dough. Cover this with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. After refrigerating, roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin. Use a knife or a pasta cutter to cut into diamond shapes. Fry immediately in hot oil (peanut oil works the best for this). Turn them and let them fry until they become nice and golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oil and let them drain for a minute on paper towel before transfering them to a sheet where you can sprinkle them generously with powdered sugar. These are only to be eaten during carnevale!

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