Last May, after a blitz tour of the beautiful Cinque Terre in the rain, I hopped on a train to Sarzana with my friends Ann and Robin to find the STREEAT food truck festival. The festival highlights food from various regions of Italy and select foods from other countries. It felt like a foodie tour of Italy, all wrapped up in a bow on Piazza Matteotti. I’ve always loved the Ape microtrucks seen throughout Italy. These “tricked out” Apes in the food truck festival are brilliantly designed to showcase their specialty food. We took turns retrieving a different Italian dish or dessert from the trucks then sampling and critiquing it. Of course, we enjoyed everything, accompanied by some Italian Spritzes.
Sarzana is at the foot of the less touristy Lunigiana area of southern Liguria. Located between the famed Cinque Terre and Tuscany, the Lunigiana are hills filled with villages, thirty castles and of course, fine food. It takes its name from Luni, an ancient Roman town that no longer exists except for a few remaining ruins. One of the highlights in the city of Sarzana is the Fortezza Firmafede, referred to simply as La Cittadella. Built in 1249, destroyed in the “War of Serrezzana” by Lorenzo de Medici and the Florentines in 1487 then re-built, it’s only a short walk from the train station and worth a visit if you are interested in historic fortifications.
Fortezza Firmafede, Sarzana, Italy
@travelwithlisa Lisa Vogele at Fortezza Firmafede, Sarzana, Italy
Today is the first day of the 2016 European food truck tour throughout Italy. It begins at Torre Quetta in Bari and will continue on to Langhirano, Mantua, Udine, Padua, Milan, Verona and Genoa on various dates in April – June. The remainder of the schedule, which will continue into fall, has not yet been announced.
Photo Credits: All Photos by Lisa Vogele at the STREEAT Food Truck Festival in Sarzana, Italy May 2015 @travelwithlisa ; Author of the forthcoming book: Food and Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals, available Summer 2016.
La Festa di San Giuseppe (Feast of Saint Joseph) is celebrated throughout Italy on March 19th each year. Wherever you are, you’re sure to find some sort of celebration. Traditional dishes and desserts on this day honor the husband of the Virgin Mary. In the Lombardy region it’s traditional to eat tortelli. If you’re in the Molise region you’ll sit down to a 13-course meal. In Apulia you’ll have a similar 13 course meal, but with a peppery twist. In Sicily platters of food are served alongside special breads. As tantalizing as the thought of these large Italian meals are, it’s the desserts that are my main attraction.
Zeppole, Fritelle or Bigne di San Giuseppe, an Italian donut by any name and I’ll line up to buy some. What’s the difference? Depends on where in Italy you are. If you are in Rome, Tuscany, Umbria and points north, they are called fritelle, made with rice and filled with custard. Further South in Naples, Campania or Sicily, its zeppole you’re looking for. Each have a base of flour, egg, butter and sugar. Bigne di San Giuseppe are deep fried, filled with custard and then rolled in sugar. Zeppole are deep fried balls rolled in sugar or drizzled in honey.
Zeppole in a Cone
Zeppole in a Donut Shape
The variety of zeppole in Southern Italy vary even further by region. In Campania they are sprinkled with powdered sugar and use cherries in syrup for decoration. Near Lecce, they may have some grated lemon and are fried or baked. Sicilian zeppole are fried and dressed with orange honey and powdered sugar with cinnamon. In Reggio Calabria they are small cream puffs stuffed with ricotta. The bottom line is if you like sweets, you’ll find them at a Festa di San Giuseppe. Mangiare dolci!
Rapini is a vegetable with multiple identities. It’s a green, leafy vegetable with buds that resemble broccoli, but aren’t broccoli. In the United States it’s on produce shelves as both rapini and broccoli rabe. In Italy it varies by area of the country. In Rome it’s broccoletti and in Naples friarelli. If it’s a favorite of yours and you are in Puglia ask for cime di rape (direct translation: ”turnip tops”).
View of Lake Bracciano from Anguillara Sabazia
This Sunday is the 15th Broccoletti in Piazza at Anguillara Sabazia’s Piazza del Molo. A lakeside medieval town on Lago di Bracciano, Anguillara Sabazia is 19 miles northwest of Rome by car or 40 minutes by train. Named after the Anguillara family that ruled the area until 1488, the name was changed in 1872 to add Sabazia, after an ancient city located near current day Trevignano Romano.
The food stands will be serving broccoletti deliciously prepared by blanching then cooking in frying pans with some local sausage. Planted last fall, this feast is held on the first Sunday in March to capture the broccoletti at peak harvest time and promote it. Year-round agricultural production in the area includes: pumpkin, peppers, tomatoes, beans, peas and squash.
If you didn’t make it to Mardi Gras in New Orleans to celebrate Fat Tuesday, hop over to the Tuscan Coast of Italy for one of four remaining carnival parades. Multiple carnival celebrations take place throughout Italy at this time each year. What makes the 143 year old #CarnevalediViareggio special is its size and artistic pageantry. Over 200,000 spectators attend the month-long series of events showcasing fabulous floats along 3 kilometers of the palm-tree lined promenade by the sea.
Since 1873, when the parade began with decorated carriages along the Via Regia, this carnival parade entertains with effigies of (in)famous people, sports athletes and politicians who are sometimes in attendance to view the spectacle. There are a total of five masked parades; the next three Sundays and the first Saturday in March are the remaining dates in 2016. In addition to the parades filled with larger than life floats, there are daytime and nighttime festivities including parties and masked balls. On the final day judges award the best floats and cap off the event with a large fireworks display.
Preparing for this $5 million event involves a lot of planning and preparation. “La Cittadella” is a building and event complex housing 2 museums and 16 warehouses; the warehouses are utilized by masters of paper-mâché to create the gigantic floats. One museum displays the history and pageantry of the carnival celebration, the other, ”Carnevalotto”, displays a collection of valuable works of art.
Burlamacco: Symbol of the Carnevale
Viareggio is located north of Pisa on the Tyrhennian coast and is a relatively short train ride from Pisa, Lucca & Florence. Daily tickets are 18 Euros for 12 + over, 13 Euros for ages 7-12 and children under 7 are free. Reserved seating is available for an additional 10 Euro per person.
Oranges are the ammunition of this battle royale in the northern Italian town of Ivrea. Referred to as the “largest food fight” in Italy, the Battle of the Oranges engages over 5,000 participants inflicting pain by hurling 60 tons of blood oranges at each other. Ivrea, north of Turin and west of Milan, imports an entire train full of oranges from Sicily each year for the event.
The Battle is based on stories of real people from the rebellion 900 years ago. At this period in time, the “right of the first night” or jus primae noctae allowed the local Lord to sleep with a bride the night before her wedding. As the story goes, the mugnaia (miller’s daughter), went to the castle the night before her wedding, wielded a knife, murdered the Lord and cut his head off. The locals then started a three day rebellion which is represented by the throwing of the oranges.
Activities for this Carnival period celebration started in January and culminate in the coming week with historical parades, feasts and of course, the famous orange fight. Aranceri (orange handlers) on fifty carts battle the aranceri from the nine pedestrian teams. Spectators are strongly advised to purchase and wear at all times the beretto frigio; this red stocking cap identifies the innocent onlookers hoping to escape errant oranges. Nets are strung throughout the parade route with designated areas for spectators to gather beneath for protection. The orange throwing spectacle can be seen on Sunday and Monday nights before dinner, refer to the full program schedule below for parade map and times.
This weekend there is more than skiing to draw you to the Aosta Valley. Aosta is an old Roman town in northwestern Italy with a dramatic mountain backdrop that includes the spectacular Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), Cervinia (the Matterhorn) and Monte Rosa. Starting about the year 1000 the Fiera di Sant’Orsowas created to honor an Irish monk who began distributing clothing and sabot (wooden shoes) to the poor. Today the tradition continues with over 1,000 artisans and stands distributed throughout the town the final weekend of January.
Early morning until late at night on Saturday and Sunday artisans will display intricate wood carvings, sculptures baskets, ceramics and other forms of fine & folk art. Though this festival has been a showcase for the wood carving craftsment that display their wares, there is also a food and wine tent showcasing every local delicacy you can imagine: cheese, meat, jams, wines and more. The specialty “L’Atelier” tent has over 80 vendors selling a wide variety clothing, furnishings and housewares.
Sabot – Traditional Wooden Shoes
Wood Carving – Woman
Wood Carving – Horse
At night, stroll the streets while sipping warm, mulled wine and listening to spontaneous folk music and singing. Participate in some local food tastings or buy a grolla and share it with friends. La grolla is essentially a friendship cup; it’s carved out of wood, has 2, 4, 6 or 8 spouts and is intended to be filled with coffee, grappa and sugar. You might be able to spot one of these in use at a rifugio on the mountain or during apres ski. Buy one from a wood artisan and take it home with you, the perfect souvenir to bring with you to your next party.
The Venice Carnival festivities begin this weekend. Over a period of two weeks there will be costumed parades, masquerade balls and costume contests. There are more than 50 related events in Venice and nearby providing entertainment, live music and theater. The 2016 Carnival theme is “Creatum -introducing Arts and Traditions”; honoring the craftspeople that have kept traditions alive. The amazing colorful costumes and elaborate masks are a feast for the eyes. Traces of the festivities we see today began as early as 1192. The modern-day Venice Carnival was instituted in 1979, after many periods of stop and start, including being banned by the fascist regime of Mussolini in the 1930s.The mask-makers, called “mascherari”, traditionally had their own craftsmen guild and set of laws. One of the main highlights is the beautiful mask contest “la maschera più bella”. Held the last weekend of the carnival celebrations, entrants are judged by a panel of international fashion and costume designers.
Venice will play host to over 3 million visitors during the Carnival period. Depending on the size of your wallet, you can choose how much or how little to participate. Spending only your time, you can view the costumed boat parade through the Grand Canal, great people-watching, and mask or costume contests. Tickets were still available to some of the masqueraded ball events next week; they range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on which ball and which level of ticket you purchase. Costumes and accessories are rented by the day and range from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars depending on the type of character you want to portray, how fancy you prefer to be and if you want to pay for professional makeup.
If the Venice Carnival is on your bucket list, you will feel transported back in time to an age when putting on a dress took more than one person and your position in society was literally worn on your sleeve.
This weekend there are numerous feasts and religious celebrations throughout Italy honoring Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals. Each celebrates with their own local spin but many have several things in common: blessing ceremonies for animals and pets, great food and bonfires. In the northern Lazio province of Viterbo, the town of Tuscania will celebrate Saint Anthony and hold its 46th “Sagra della Frittella” this Sunday, January 17th.
The day begins at 10:30 in the morning with a procession of cowboys, horses and animals brought by farmers to a blessing ceremony at the Church of Santa Maria del Riposo. Then it’s time for the frittelle. “Frittelle” are fritters that can be made up of a variety of foods. The frittelle at this feast are battered chunks of fried cauliflower (frittelle al cavofiore in Italian). A large frying pan will be set up in the old town center on Piazza Italia and local cauliflower will be fried up and served with salt or sugar while singers perform throughout the town. After the sun sets at 6:00 pm, a traditional bonfire is held at the edge of town, rooted in pagan tradition.
Photo credit: Pelagiodafro4 (Giuseppe D’Emilio) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Tuscania also has an Etruscan museum, Romanesque Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore and the Fontana delle Sette Cannelle, a roman fountain made of medieval materials. Tuscania is about 2 hours by car from Rome and 3 hours by car from Florence, very close to the Tyrhennian coastline.
Zafferana Etnea is a town on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna in the Catania province of Sicily. Etna is Europe’s highest active volcano and dominates the landscape of Eastern Sicily. This weekend the hamlet of Sarro within Zafferana Etnea is hosting their 25th annual wine and chestnut festival as part of their Feast of San Martino. Wine and chestnuts are the ritual food and drink to celebrate St. Martin and during Roman times chestnuts were eaten by shepherds and referred to as “Jupiter’s acorns”.
There is an established tradition of this festival that offers all attendees free pasta and chickpeas but the offerings don’t stop there. On Piazza Padre Russo, the heart of the festivities, from 6:30 pm into the night there will be opportunities to purchase roasted chestnuts, sausage and homemade cakes. In addition, organized games and evening entertainment along with a raffle organized by a non-profit with proceeds benefiting the poor during the upcoming holiday season.
The Zafferanesi are resilient, rebuilding their town multiple times after angry eruptions of Etna over several hundred years. The town is a popular stopping off point for tourists on their way to the Park of Etna. Etna’s eruptions have provided very fertile agricultural land that supports the cultivation of grapes, almonds, citrus fruit and a variety of vegetables.
The nearby town of Sant’Alfio has a huge 2,000-4,000 year old tree called “Castagno dei Cento Cavalli” (the chestnut tree of 1,000 horses). Legend has it that this tree protected Queen Jeanne d’Anjou, Queen of Aragon, and her retinue of 100 knights during a terrible thunderstorm. It is the subject of various songs and poems and had a circumference of 190 feet when its measurement was recorded back in 1790.
Introdacqua is a town in the Abruzzo Region of Italy, Province of L’Aquila, situated on a hill between the Contra and Sant’Antonio valleys. It dates back to medieval times and has a medieval tower dominating its landscape. The tower was used as a watchtower between Abruzzo and Naples in the medieval period when it was a fiefdom of the Trasmondi family. Loosely translated as “where the water comes in”, Introdacqua is a member of the “Borghi piu belli d’Italia” club (Most Beautiful Villages in Italy) and has been lucky to escape the major earthquake damage befallen its neighbors in recent years.
Thanksgiving begins with a blessing of the crops and tractors followed by a parade of floats and musical groups throughout the village. Though it is an ancient tradition of tribute to the land and crops that sustained them, the festival has been rediscovered and is now in its 10th year. Thousands will descend upon the town this Sunday, November 8th to sample the authentic local food, watch the folk musicians, and discover the local flavors of the area. Food carts will be set up to display local products such as: extra-virgin olive oil, salami, cold pork meats, cheeses, red garlic, chickpeas and a multitude of sweet desserts. If you are not lucky enough to be staying in Introdacqua, it can be easily reached by car in about two hours from Rome.
If you’ve ever been to an Italian wedding, chances are you were greeted at your place setting with a small tulle bag of confetti; not the paper type, the almond type. Used to celebrate significant unions and births, the candy coated almond treats are used as a thank you to guests and come in many different colors, each with its own meaning. Casa Pelino has been making confetti in nearby Sulmona since 1783 but the family got their start in Introdacqua.