Carnevale, from the Latin carne vale, meaning “farewell to meat” is one of the biggest festivals in Italy. Similar to our Mardi Gras, it marks the two to three weeks before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. Typically running from mid-February through early March, I enjoy stopping in Venice to indulge in the festivities on the way to our ski holidays in the Dolomites.
Venice is the home of the largest and most elaborate of Carnevale festivals in Italy. Lasting for nearly 2 weeks, the many parades, concerts, dinners, and costume balls attract visitors from across the globe. Extravagant costumes and masks are worn throughout the city, reflecting the long tradition of masks in the history of this mysterious city.
Verona, a favorite stop on our cycling and walking tours, has one of the oldest carnevale celebrations in Italy, dating from 1615. On the last day of Carnevale (Fat Tuesday) Verona has a huge parade with hundreds of floats.
The celebratory feasts of this period of course feature the rich foods forbidden during the Lenten period, so plenty of meat. There are a wide variety of dolce (sweets) that are part of the Carnevale celebration too. Frittelle, or fritters, are the most common sweet associated with Venetian carnevale. A quick bite enjoyed by party-goers as easy to eat indulgences before the austerity of Lent.
Here is a very unique sweet frittelle recipe from a cookbook on Veneto Cuisine published by Terre Ferma. When leading tours in Italy, I love to pick up these books on the local cuisine put out by the various regional organizations. They are the most authentic sources I have on regional cuisine.
This recipe uses one of the Veneto’s prized products, radicchio. There are many different varieties of radicchio grown in the Veneto, many more than we see in the US. The Radicchio Rosso di Treviso Tardivo is available from September to Carnevale. Its slightly bitter flavor pairs exceptionally well with the sweetness of the figs and apples. Enjoy with a bit more grappa, or a glass of dry prosecco.
Frittelle al Radicchio Rosso di Treviso
6 ounces butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup grappa
1 cup flour
1 apple, cored and shredded
1/4 cup dried figs, chopped and soaked in a little water, orange juice, or grappa
1 cup shredded radicchio
Zest of 1 orange
Oil for frying
Put the butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over high heat. Add the water and grappa, stir until the butter is melted and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the flour; stir constantly until the mixture pulls away from the pan and forms a ball, about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the dough to a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Beat in the eggs one at a time; beating until the mixture is smooth. Do not add the next egg until the one before has been completely incorporated into the batter. The batter will be smooth and glossy.
Add the shredded apple, dried figs, finely chopped radicchio and orange zest, and stir until additions are evenly distributed in the dough. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat 350F. Scoop the dough into a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip, or a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off. Drop about 1 tablespoon of batter for each fritter into the oil. Fry in batches, avoiding overcrowding. They will puff up as they cook, so allow adequate room. Cook until golden all over, turning occasionally, until puffed and ready to burst – about 7-9 minutes. Allow enough time for the inside to cook through. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar and serve immediately.