Cannoli Siciliani – Everyone’s Favorite Sicilian Dessert

Le "chiacchiere" di Carnevale

Last Friday I tempted you with some of Italy’s Sweet Treats for Carnevale. But don’t worry if you missed the Carnival celebrations in bella Italia this year. Italy has an endless selection of delightful desserts you can enjoy any time of the year. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the fun stories behind some of the most popular traditional Italian desserts. This week, let’s start with one that was originally prepared only for Carnevale—just like chiacchiere and castagnole are today—but has since become one of Italy’s most famous desserts. Known (and enjoyed!) around the world, we are—of course—talking about the divine cannoli siciliani (Sicilian Cannoli).

The Sicilians have used their unique and vibrant touch to create some of the most beautiful and extravagant desserts in Italy. But the king of all of the island’s delectable desserts is surely cannoli, crunchy fried pastry tubes open on each end and traditionally filled with sweet fresh ricotta cheese and a mixture of chocolate and candied fruit pieces. Although most people around the world—particularly in America—call a single tube “a cannoli,” only one of these treats is actually called a cannolo – a name that refers to the tube shape of the pastry. The linguistic corruption is easy to justify, though. After all, who can just eat only one!?!

The origin of cannoli is now covered by a haze. (Or is that powdered sugar?) Food historians suggest it was probably first made in a now forgotten convent or monastery near Palermo during the period of Arab rule of Sicily. We do know that they were originally a sweet prepared during Carnevale. There are even stories that suggest—in keeping with the practical jokes and festive spirit of Carnevale—a cannolo would sometimes be stuffed with something unpleasant inside and covered with cream on both ends as normal. The unsuspecting victim would bite into the scrumptious looking cannolo to find the surprise inside!

Whatever the true story may be, cannoli have long since lost their connection to Carnevale, and can now be enjoyed throughout the year. This is, of course, good news for cannoli lovers traveling to Sicily and Italy! You will find them in a variety of sizes, from the tiny cannulicchi or cannolicchi (no bigger than a finger) to cannoli of gigantic proportions made near Piana degli Albanesi near Palermo. Every year this town hosts the Sagra del Cannolo (Festival of the Cannolo) from January to February, which carries on the tradition of celebrating Carnevale with cannoli. What a perfect opportunity to indulge in true cannoli siciliani!

Although most people around the world—particularly in America—call a single tube “a cannoli,” only one of these treats is actually called a cannolo – a name that refers to the tube shape of the pastry. The linguistic corruption is easy to justify, though. After all, who can just eat only one!?!

Traveling around Sicily you’ll find countless different regional and family variations on the classic cannoli filling. Some bakers will add little bits of chocolate or different types of candied fruits. Sometimes you’ll find bright red candied cherries decorating each end, which is a typical decoration in Palermo, while in the eastern part of the island you might find the bright green of chopped pistachios from the town of Bronte sprinkled on each end. Cannoli shells are even sometimes dipped in chocolate before being filled. In Sicily the filling is flavored with vanilla extract or sometimes with Marsala wine, and the final touch is the dusting of powdered sugar.

Cannoli are one of the staples of the Italian-American household and, like so many things, everyone remembers Grandma’s cannoli as the best. The dessert has even more variations in America, although the cannoli you’ll find in most Italian-American bakeries are still commonly filled with the traditional sweetened ricotta. Sometimes you’ll also find mascarpone cheese or a sweet custard in place of the ricotta, though. Vanilla is the most common flavoring, but it’s still possible to track down a good cannolo made with a touch of Marsala at a traditional bakery. Just as in Sicily, you’ll find candied cherries and citrus peel, pistachios and chocolate pieces decorating the tops of the cannoli.

Now that I’ve got you heading to the nearest pasticceria or bakery, don’t forget to stop back by The italyMONDO! Blog next Friday as we travel from Sicily up the coast of Italy to Naples where we’ll discover the traditional Babà Napoletano.

Buon appetito!

Would you like to taste true Sicilian cannoli and find your family in Sicily? Contact us and find out how italyMONDO! can help you discover your roots in Italy and create a vacation of a lifetime for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “alifayre” at Flickr

Italian Wine Certification 101

Just felt like spoiling myself

Photo Copyright of “Azoome™” at Flickr

Before we begin our upcoming region-by-region Wednesday Wines tour of Italy, I would like to spend a few minutes to talk about the complex quality control certifications that regulate Italian wines

As with its other European Union partners, Italy operates a quality control system to protect both the reputation and integrity of certain types of wine as well as the livelihood of the many local producers that make them. As a result, there are a number of stamps on labels that give the prospective purchaser an indication of what can reasonably be expected from the contents within.

Generally speaking Italian wines can be divided into two main categories: table wines and “High Street” wines. Contrary to the United States, where the term “table wine” is often used as a definition to differentiate standard wine from stronger (for example, higher alcohol content) fortified wine or sparkling wine, in the European Union it is meant to designate the lowest quality level of wine produced – one that qualifies for neither an appellation (i.e. designation or title) nor even a broad regional designation.

The Italian vini da tavola (table wines) are generally less expensive red or white wines that are produced to be consumed in the easy-going atmosphere of an Italian-style family meal. They are sometimes sold in larger jug-like bottles and are a mainstay of an Italian dinner table. Table wines are often fruit-forward wines, which can lean a touch on the sweeter side. Some are sparkling, but most are light/medium bodied and are very compatible for first time wine drinkers. The Lazio region’s wine production focuses mainly on this type of informal low-cost table wine. The Frascati and Castelli vineyard areas, for example, represent the highest local output.

As with its other European Union partners, Italy operates a quality control system to protect both the reputation and integrity of certain types of wine as well as the livelihood of the many local producers that make them.

In contradiction to the presumed order however, exceptional table wines are an uncommon but important fact in Europe. Quite ambitious wines may be classified as mere “table wine” if they are made from non-traditional grapes or with unconventional wine making processes. Even wines made with every measure of care (such as low vine yields or hand harvesting) and grown on sites otherwise entitled to a prestigious appellation may be denied status.

The best-known examples are the wines called Supertuscans, which are made either with more than allowed quantities of international varieties (grapes not indigenous to Italy such as Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon) or without the once mandated inclusion of small proportions of local Cannaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano per the relevant Tuscan designation.

In 1992, Italy created the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), specifically to permit Supertuscans to leave the “table wine” classification and become quality wine. Still, wherever legitimacy in a given designation is stipulated by something more than a geographic boundary, one may find righteous producers willing to ignore limitations in pursuit of quality.

In short, Italy’s classification system has four classes of wine, with two falling under the European Union regulatory category “Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region” (VQPRD) and two falling under the category of “Table Wine.” The four classes in ascending order are:

Table Wine: Denotes table wine from Italy. It is not always synonymous with other countries’ legal definitions of table wine. The denomination indicates either an inferior quaffing wine, or one that does not follow current wine law. Some high quality wines do however carry this designation.

Vino da Tavola (VdT) Literally “Table Wine,” this designation denotes table wine from Italy. Not always synonymous with other countries’ legal definitions of table wine. VdT indicates either an inferior quaffing wine, or one that does not follow current wine law. Some high quality wines do however carry this designation. Ambitious wines may be classified as mere “table wine” if they are made from non-traditional grapes or with unconventional wine making processes, but can still be complex, delightful wines regardless.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) Literally “Typical Geographic Origin,” IGT wines are labeled with the locality of their creation, but do not meet the requirements of the stricter DOC or DOCG designations – generally intended to protect traditional wine formulations such as Chianti or Barolo. In wine terms, it is considered the rough Italian equivalent of the French vin de pays designation. IGT denotes wine from a more specific region within Italy. This designation was created in 1992 for the “new” wines of Italy, those that have broken the strict, old wine laws yet are still wines of great quality. Before the IGT was created, quality Supertuscan wines such as Tignanello and Sassicaia were ironically labeled Vino da Tavola.

VQPRD: (Vino di Qualità Prodotto in Regioni Determinate) Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions, strict regulatory council-approved wines, made exclusively with local grapes.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) Literally “Controlled Origin Denomination,” the DOC designation refer to zones and regulations which are much more specific than the IGT designation. DOC wines are produced in specific well-defined regions, according to specific rules designed to preserve the traditional wine making procedures of the individual areas. Each region generally has at least one DOC wine, for example, Puglia has 25 DOC wines while its neighbor Bascilicata has only one. A given DOC defines the permissible grape or grape varieties as well as numerous details about the grape growing and wine making procedures. About one fifth of Italian wine is classified DOC or better.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) This top-of-the-line official status literally translates to “Controlled and Guaranteed Origin Denomination.” The DOCG designation is much like its DOC counterpart, but more stringent. DOCG wines, in fact, must be created under even stricter standards and legal requirements as well as pass a blind test evaluation by a tasting committee before they can be bottled. For example, the rules for making Barolo (in photo) differ noticeably from those for making Chianti Classico. Allowable yields are generally lower, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined. In addition, the winery can declare the vineyard that the grapes came from, but cannot name the wine after a grape type, because doing so would cause confusion.

Next week’s Wednesday Wines appointment will take us on a tour of the vineyards of Southern Italy, where we will be exploring the wonderful wines of Il Mezzogiorno. Until then– salute!

Would you like to taste some authentic IGT, DOC and DOCG wines in Italy and even have the chance to uncover your family still living there in the process? Contact us and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime for you and your family!

Italy’s Sweet Treats for Carnevale

Le "chiacchiere" di Carnevale

Anyone who has enjoyed the pleasures of a big, family-style Italian meal knows that, no matter how much you’ve eaten, no proper meal is complete without a little something sweet. The traditional meal for Carnevale—a day dedicated to rich foods and celebrations—is certainly no exception to the rule. The Italians love crafting beautiful and delightful desserts for holidays. In fact, many holidays have sweet treats that are specially-made only around the time of the holiday. This makes the dolci (desserts) of Carnevale and many other holidays a much-anticipated treat!

So are you wondering what special desserts you’ll find in Italy during Carnevale? Let’s take a look at a few traditional ones enjoyed during this time of year. The most common are different shapes and varieties of fritelle (fritters), but—in keeping with the spirit of Carnevale—there might just be a surprise in store for you!

Chiacchiere
The most popular Carnevale dessert—one that you will find throughout the Peninsula as well as in Sicily and Sardegna—are the thin, fried ribbons of sweet pastry dough topped with powdered sugar or honey. In much of southern Italy they are often called Chiacchiere, a fun Italian word meaning “chatter” or “chitchat,” but most Italian Americans will know them by their older name – guanti (pronounced by many as “e wands”). That’s not the only two names by which you’ll find these delightful treats, though! Few desserts in Italy can boast quite so many names as this one, and as you travel around the boot region-by-region you’ll often find this same dessert called by many different names. In Rome they’re called frappe, while in the Piemonte area you’ll hear Bugie (lies), and traveling down through the Abruzzo and Marche you’ll find them in the pasticceria (pastry shop) as cioffe and sfrappe respectively (and the list goes on and on)!

While the name changes, the dessert is essentially the same regardless of where you find it. Although Chiacchiere connoisseurs will notice subtle differences in the flavor from the north to the south, most often the different regional of family variations depend on what type of wine or liqueur is added to the batter. Sometimes it will be a few drops of the intense grappa, vino bianco (white wine) or regional specialties like Marsala in Sicily or Vin Santo in Tuscany. On the Sorrentine Peninsula in Campania, home to two special varieties of lemons, you might just find a drop of the locally made limoncello and lemon zest.

Castagnole
Another Carnevale favorite in southern Italy are the small spoonful-sized fried dough balls called Castagnole. The name comes from their small, round shape, which is reminiscent of a castanga, or chestnut, rather than for a chestnut flavor as you might expect. You’ll often find piles of these sweet treats dusted with powdered sugar appear on the table after the grand Carnevale meal, although they can (and are!) enjoyed anytime of the day!

Sanguinaccio
This dessert for Carnevale is not for the faint of heart. Sanguinaccio is a rich chocolate pudding flavored with cinnamon and, yes you guessed it, sangue (blood)! It was traditionally made in southern Italy, especially Campania, after the annual pig slaughter that happened in the cold winter days leading up to Carnevale – as we talked about last week here on The italyMONDO! Blog. Today it is rare to find the pudding made with pig’s blood. (But perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing after all?) The cinnamon pudding is often served with Chiacchiere – often considered an inseparable pair for many people!

These are just a few of the traditional desserts prepared each year for Carnevale. You’ll find many others as you travel through different regions of Italy during this time of year. Wherever you’ll be celebrating Carnevale this year, why not add an Italian touch by trying your own hand at making Chiacchiere. Here’s a helpful video with instructions for making Chiacchiere in the Neapolitan tradition.

After all, it’s not Carnevale without at least a little bit of extravagance!

Would you like to learn how to make chiachiere, castagnoli and sanguinaccio while visiting the village where were ancestors were born in Italy – and even meeting living relatives in the process? Contact us and find out how italyMONDO! can help create a vacation of a lifetime for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “DIGISEA” at Flickr

Abruzzo - The Enchanted Region

Castel del Monte

“Abruzzo is a fascinating region. It lies 70 miles east of Rome, between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea. This mountainous region of Italy, covering 700,000 squared miles, has a population of 1.3 million. An astounding variety of flavors and aromas, with the products of the unspoiled mountainous areas, added to the rural tradition of its hilly pastures and the abundance of freshly caught fish along its sandy coastlines make Abruzzo a rich and generous land.”

…at least that’s what the guidebook says.

But I learned to love Abruzzo the hard way. Culture shock hits when you first arrive and are met by the austere landscapes, the severe mountain backdrops that circle valley towns, and when the proud Abruzzesi first lay eyes on you. In the Abruzzo, nature is as untamed as its tradition is undiluted. Only here, and in the snow-white marble peaks of Tuscany, do the Apennine massifs assume truly alpine proportions. It is a land of silent valleys, vast upland plateaus and forest-cloaked mountains. Wolves, wild boars and bears still roam. You feel the rugged terrain will be inhospitable. You fear the unforgiving climate. You can’t see warmth beyond that first inquisitive stare. And you are virtually cut off from the rest of Italy, away from loved ones, frozen in time and scared of the constant aftershocks.

And then suddenly it happens.

You wake one crisp morning, and a bird chirps its buon giorno!, and your gaze loses itself in the veil of fog shrouding the valley below. You are won over by Abruzzo’s stark beauty and the simplicity of life. The friendly smile of the Signora making breakfast downstairs and inviting you to join her for coffee adds to the infatuation. The gentleman tipping his hat as you stroll by on your way to work. The total absence of traffic on the cobblestone alleys, the adopted stray dog that comes up to you like an old pet, the sound of my footsteps as I climb millions of stone steps to meet friends for dinner in some exquisite tavern. Not to mention the bold and towering line of jagged peaks with snow-capped tips and the starry skies above, the winding country roads and steep hills, which close in to form sheer-sided gorges; the explosion of autumnal colors – Abruzzo’s auburn Fall welcome; and the magical silence that each night would ring loud in my ears as I closed my eyes under the covers. As I think back to Castel del Monte, as well as Sulmona, Cocullo, Calascio and Santo Stefano di Sessanio, I clearly recall images of tendrils of smoke curling up from the houses. Arches and narrow flights of steps leading to welcoming doorways high up, and odd-shaped courtyards squeezed in small tan-colored stone churches.

You wake one crisp morning, and a bird chirps its buon giorno!, and your gaze loses itself in the veil of fog shrouding the valley below. You are won over by Abruzzo’s stark beauty and the simplicity of life.

Above all I associate my personal Abruzzo experience with an aroma. I cannot forget the evocative smell of burning wood that permeates the cold mountain air. Some of my clothes, yet to be unpacked from working 9 weeks on location, still smell of log-fire. I don’t think I will wash them out just yet. I like to let the olfactory memory of those peaceful days in the quiet of my own private Abruzzo paradise linger on my jumper, as I slip it on and reminisce of fireplaces reflected in ruby glasses of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

I’m back on board the Wednesday Wines column, and I ask forgiveness for my long silence. The assignment in Abruzzo–my new love–has absorbed far more time and energy than I had predicted, but I am once again Roman now. And I am eager to continue sharing my wine stories and knowledge with you.

Ciao!

Would you like to find your relatives that are still living in the Abruzzo and throughout Italy? Contact us today and found out how italyMONDO! can help connect you with your Italian roots!

Photo Courtesy of “gigi62” at Flickr

Celebrating Carnevale in Southern Italy

Carnevale in Cicciano, Napoli

Carnevale in Cicciano, Napoli

It’s just about Carnevale time in Italy, the fun days of celebration for Carnival leading up to the 40 days of fasting during Lent. Already the traditional coriandoli, or confetti, are being strewn about the old stone streets of small towns. Behind closed doors, excited voices can be overheard as the large, colorful floats that appear in the parades are receiving their final touches. Around the corner a group of locals are rehearsing the traditional music for the big celebration on homemade instruments. These are the winter days before Carnevale in southern Italy.

While Venezia is the reigning queen of Carnevale in Italy, with its famous masked characters, celebrations and masquerade balls, Carnevale is a holiday celebrated across the country. Even the smallest villages will have parades of carri, or floats, often featuring oversized figures made out of cartapesta (papier–mâché). Viareggio, located on the coast of Tuscany, may host one of the most famous Carnevale parades, but the carri and other festivities found in the mezzogiorno (Southern Italy) will not cease to amaze. Capua, one of the most storied cities in the region of Campania, offers an enchanting (and wild!) night of celebrations complete with scenes of world-class carri back-dropped by medieval monuments and buildings. Each region has its own unique traditions as well. In Sicily, where the warmer climate brings flowers earlier in the year, the local custom in many cities and towns is to decorate the traditional horse carts with brightly colored floral decorations.

Yet, like so many things in Italy, if you want to experience the true spirit of Carnevale, it is often easier and more intimate in the smaller towns and mountain villages located in southern Italy and Sicily. Even smaller towns, such as Cicciano in the province of Napoli, spare no expense when it comes to carri and other Carnevale festivities. So, while seeing the grand Italian celebrations for Carnevale in the cities of the north is quite an experience, to truly immerse yourself into la vera carnevale, skip the cities of the north and head south. While the coriandoli will still fly and the carri will circle around the piazza, you’ll also see children dressed up in cute costumes and maybe even catch a glimpse of the deep religious roots of this century-old holiday.

Carnevale, like many holidays in Italy, has ancient traditions and religious roots deeper than one might expect. Behind the parades and costumes is the reminder of the Roman Catholic traditions leading up to the Easter holiday. The period of Carnevale lasts two weeks and ends on Martedì Grasso, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, the final and biggest day of celebrating before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of la Quaresima (Lent). The 40 days of Lent before Easter commemorate the Passion of Jesus, and is a period traditionally associated with sacrifice and fasting in the Roman Catholic faith.

While the religious significance, elaborate floats, parades, confetti and candies are a thrill—especially for kids and kids at heart—what really defines Carnevale for many Italians is the food. In fact, one thing you can count on when celebrating a traditional Carnevale is a grand, Italian family meal. (As is so wonderfully the case in Italy, it always comes back to food)!

One thing you can count on when celebrating a traditional Carnevale is a grand, Italian family meal. (As is so wonderfully the case in Italy, it always comes back to food)!

The traditional Carnevale meal often begins with a rich lasagna made with salsiccia (sausage) and cheese, usually mozzarella and sometimes also with ricotta. After the lasagna, which is a meal-in-itself for most, the secondo (second course) often includes more salsiccia, more cheese and winter vegetables, such as broccoli rabe. As Carnevale is the last hurray before Lent, the Carnevale meal is often full of rich foods and sweet desserts.

The traditional connection between salsiccia and Carnevale tells an interesting story about rural life in much of Italy. Before refrigeration, which is some areas didn’t arrive until the 1970s, the cold winter months of January and February were the time of the pig slaughter, especially in southern Italy. Salsiccia, therefore, was only eaten during these cold winter months when it was possible to produce and store it for a short period of time. Fatty and rich, it was also needed to help survive the harsh mountain winters of the snowy regions such as the Abruzzo and Molise. Over time the tradition of serving salsiccia on Carnevale became the norm, and it continues despite the fact that sausage can now be bought any time of the year. While Martedì Grasso is the big feast before the fasting of Lent, you might be wise to do a bit of fasting in preparation for the Carnevale meal itself!

So get your costumes, coriandoli, and bombolette of silly string ready – Carnevale is almost here! But, of course, no Carnevale celebration would be complete without a few sweet treats. Stop by The italyMONDO! Blog next Friday to read about the traditional and special desserts of Carnevale in Italy.

Would you like to celebrate carnevale in the village where your ancestors came from in Italy? Contact us and found out how italyMONDO! can help create this vacation of a lifetime for you!

Saturday Spotlight: Michele Carbone

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Welcome to a special Saturday Spotlight here on The italyMONDO! Blog where we are turning the floor over to Michele Carbone, author of Venerdì Sera, Friday Evening: Creating La Dolce Vita, one bite at a time. Michele was pleased to sit down and answer a few of our questions and share with italyMONDO! readers about her love of Italy, travels in the bel paese and how she plans on bringing La Dolce Vita in her home for this Christmas season. Welcome, Michele!

What is the Italian connection in your family? What part of Italy does your family come from?
My husband’s family live in the Val di Non near Trento in Trentino/Alto Adige (his grandmother and grandfather on his mother’s side emigrated to the US) and in Piana degli Albanese outside of Palermo in Sicily (his grandmother and grandfather on his father’s side emigrated to the US). We have a family tree that goes back many generations on both sides, and includes the Italian-American descendants here.

Where have your travels in Italy taken you? And do you have a favorite place to visit?
We have been to Milan, Venice, the Val di Non, Florence, Rome, Sicily. I think if I would come back to Italy to live I would pick somewhere in the north, perhaps the lake country or the Italian Riviera. I like to be near water. I love Florence and Venice because of the history, culture and art. I would like to be a few hours away from our relatives. But Rome, all roads lead there…

How have the different landscapes, regional cooking and travels in the bel paese inspired your cooking?
One of my most inspirational moments is when I asked my cousin what kind of cheese we were eating, and he answered, “Our cheese, from here.” It really made me realize that Italian food tastes so incredible because it is always fresh; it doesn’t need to travel anywhere but directly to your table. Once, I saw a open pickup truck filled with lettuce driving in the hot sun. I thought to myself, “I can’t believe they are not using refrigerated trucks.” They didn’t need to preserve that lettuce; they were going to eat it that night! The other thing is, they take the time to make things from scratch, so their food is always better. We asked where could we get a good bottle of Grappa to bring home, and they told us, “You can’t buy good Grappa, you have to make it.” Here, in the States, we are tending to buy everything prepared. (Not me, of course.) The quality is always sacrificed if it is made ahead of time.

What aspects of la cucina Italiana are the most important part of your family cooking?
Striving to create perfection…making the dinner an art form…spending time at the table with my loved ones, sharing great food, a glass of wine, a cold piece of melon, and stimulating conversation…and chocolate.

How will you bring la dolce vita into your daily life and for your family for the Christmas and holiday season?
In a nutshell, enjoy fewer things, but make them of the best quality we can. We will give up some of the frenetic pace items that we often feel compelled to do even though we don’t want to do them. We will slow down, take long walks, catch up with our younger daughter who is returning from college. We will spend more time in conversation, bake something together, enjoy popcorn, prepare many feasts and savor them. Use the crystal and the china.

How would you describe the perfect venerdì sera?
The perfect venerdì sera starts at 8:15 am with friends and dogs; followed by a trip to the farmer’s market, the butcher, cheese shop and bakery. Around 3 pm, I’ll start prepping the food, with anything roasted being slow cooked in the oven. When everyone else arrives between 5 and 6:00 pm, I’ll pour them a glass of wine, too, and I’ll start preparing the antipasto. We’ll sit at the table around 7 pm, starting with soup, a pasta course, the piatto principale, insalata, and finally the dolce…Somewhere around 10:00 we will leave the table and I’ll start the dishes; luckily, I can see the TV from the kitchen. Some Grappa, Porto, or Vin Santo



Tante grazie, Michele!


To purchase your copy of Venerdì Sera today, please visit Pentola Press.

italyMONDO! Book Reviews…
Venerdì Sera: Creating La Dolce Vita, one bite at a time

One chilly venerdì sera (Friday evening) not long ago, the mailwoman with her friendly yellow Labrador helper buzzed at my gate. She had a special delivery for me that evening, which I eagerly unwrapped. I couldn’t help but smile as I read the title of Michele Carbone’s book: Venerdì Sera, Friday Evening: Creating La Dolce Vita, one bite at a time. It couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time.

Beautifully illustrated, Venerdì Sera is just as much as mouth watering to look at as the menus described within. Before you think you already have a stack of cookbooks in your kitchen, read on. Rather than a list of recipes to follow, perhaps with a bit of commentary thrown in, Venerdì Sera is a book sharing Carbone’s unique way of bringing La Dolce Vita into everyday life. It isn’t for those looking for detailed recipes and it doesn’t pretend to be your one stop Italian cookbook. It is instead something else entirely, which is both the book’s strength and also what makes it a delightful read.

Rather than one recipe after another, Venerdì Sera introduces us to the Friday evening family meal in the Carbone family. The book was born out of a tragic upheaval in the family when Michele transitioned from a corporate engineer to a full time caregiver for her daughter. Life dramatically and suddenly slowed down for Michele, and soon cooking became both a creative and nurturing pastime for her and her family. She tells us: “I decided to write down what I’ve learned. My hope for you is that no matter what your kitchen is like, and no matter how busy your lifestyle, you’ll realize that living La Dolce Vita is an achievable reality, not just reserved for dreams and vacations.” By sharing her family’s Friday evening meals over the past years, she shows how she creates La Dolce Vita for her own family by focusing on the hallmarks of Italian cooking – freshness, simplicity and family meals surrounding the dinner table.

“My hope for you is that no matter what your kitchen is like, and no matter how busy your lifestyle, you’ll realize that living La Dolce Vita is an achievable reality, not just reserved for dreams and vacations.”

Michele Carbone

A few chapters in, Michele’s inspirational writing starts to get inside you, bringing reflection on our own kitchens, shopping and cooking habits, and the role of food in our daily life. It is an inspiring read in numerous ways – encouraging us to think creatively when it comes to cooking. But above all to think! With family stories and beautifully crafted words and images, Michele encourages you to think about each meal you prepare. In today’s hectic lifestyle where multi-tasking is how we making it through the day, how could we possible have time to prepare a 7-course family meal? Think. How can we buy both the freshest, healthiest ingredients and create the least impact on our communities and environment. Think. Michele reminds us that being conscious of what we are preparing and the time we can enjoy on a daily basis with our families are the first steps to bringing La Dolce Vita into our lives.

Michele also inspires readers to think creatively as well. She tells us how her Venerdì Sera menus are based on the freshest ingredients picked up at the local markets, and when she can’t find what she’s looking for, she improvises! She encourages us to step outside our recipe boxes and take a look around the local market and pay attention to what is fresh. This is how people shop in Italy, but it doesn’t have to happen only in Italy. Michele also encourages us not to be afraid to substitute ingredients if some are not available or you have things waiting in your kitchen to be used up. The more you create and think creatively, the more aware you are of what you’re doing. For Michele, this is the secret to “cooking your way to the good life.”

La Dolce Vita comes quietly. It is in those moments when you enjoy the little things – a fresh mandarin shared with family members after dinner, the glass of wine with friends and the laughter. Venerdì Sera, Friday Evening: Creating La Dolce Vita, one bite at a time is truly an inspirational account of how food can bring people together and bringing La Dolce Vita into your own home.

To purchase your copy of Venerdì Sera today, please visit Pentola Press.