Although this year Spring is bringing such strange weather both here and in Italy, it is still Spring. It is the time of new beginnings, new growth, and celebrations all over the world. Italy has wonderful events throughout the country, but some of my favorite are in Rome and all around Lazio. If you will be in Italy during this month make sure you check into some of these very special events.
April 21st is the day celebrating the founding of Rome – Rome was founded in the year 753 BC and the city’s birthday falls on the 21st of April. Each year, various special public events, music concerts, live performances and festivals take place in the city.
In Rome, on Sunday, April 24, beginning at 11 am the lighting of the ceremonial fire at the Circo Massimo, followed by a parade of Centurians, vestal virgins and other vestiges of the Eternal City, that winds around the Teatro Marcello, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Coliseum, Piazza Venezia and back to the Circo Massimo. Then there’s a re-enactment of the founding of Rome at the Circo Massimo, and a “great battle” between the Roman legions and the Barbarians from 3-6 pm. Admission is free. If you’ve never been to a festival in Italy it is an experience you will not forget.
World renowned artist William Kentridge celebrates the realization of Triumphs and Laments: A Project for the City of Rome (the dedication is April 21st this year). This frieze is 550 meters long, between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini.
The celebratory opening will include the premiere of a theatrical program created in collaboration with the internationally acclaimed composer Phillip Miller, and features a live shadow play and two processional brass bands preforming against the backdrop of the frieze. This is the first open-air space for contemporary art in the Eternal city.
The markets are filled with spring vegetables with the riotous colors lined up for the eye as well as the taste. Fava beans, spring artichokes (hurry before the end of the month when they disappear, white asparagus, puntarelle (if you get there, do be sure to taste this wonderful curly green), agretti (a tangled sea-weed looking green is slightly bitter and slightly salty grass that tastes like the spring marshes where it grows. There are many and well worth the trip for the veggies alone.
To really celebrate the food of Italy you can make some spring treats. I have been lucky enough to find a few fabulous cooking classes and meet some amazing chefs.
Luisanna Messeri is from Tuscany, a great teacher and She was on Alice TV with a cooking show that still runs all the time and is now on Rai Uno with a cooking kitchen show as well as writing columns and publishing a number of cook books (unfortunately, none in English).
Here’s a great spring recipe from Luisanna..
Crema alla frutta
1 liter of water – a little more than a quart
5 organic lemons
300 gr. of sugar – 1-1/2 cups
60 g of cornstarch (corn starch) 1/4 cup
mixed fruit to taste
In a saucepan fitted with the eggs and sugar . Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mixwith care the water and corn starch , so that no lumps are formed.
Combine the mixture to the saucepan with the eggs and sugar and mix well. Start to warm over low heat.
Then grate the zest of the lemon and the squeeze the juice into the cream. Then let the mixture cool in a bowl and put it in the refrigerator at least an hour . Cut your favorite fruits into cubes (she suggests berries, kiwi, apples and grapes and mix gently with the creme. Serve in cups or with a shortbread or cookie side. Fresh and tasty and very springlike.
I am also a huge fan of Stefania Apfel Barzini. We are so lucky that she will be teaching in a number of locations in the U.S. next month. You can check her website for more information: www.follecasseroula.com.
Biancomangiare – also called blancmange in France and Turkey, or in the past blanche Mangieri , balmagier , bramagére , derives its name from the white color of its main ingredients: milky / or ground almonds.
The blancmange was a dish already prepared in medieval times. Presumably imported by the Arabs, it spread to Italy mainly in Sicily, in the twelfth century, where it is found in many cookbooks of the time. It is still a very popular dessert in the south. This dish is often included in Stefania’s cooking classes.
Ingredients for 6 to 8 people (depending on the size of the molds):
1 liter of milk (about 4-1/4 cups)
250 gr. of sugar (1 cup)
75 gr. cornstarch (½ cup)
1 vial of almond essence. (This is different from almond extract) I bring it from Italy for clients
pistachio nuts for garnish
Sieve the starch, sugar into a saucepan.
Add the milk and the vial of almond essence, slowly stirring with a whisk so that no lumps are formed. Cook over low heat just until it bubbles quickly. Stir with a whisk until fluffy. Wet ramikins or molds with cold water and pour mixture into each. Let rest in refrigerator for at least three hours.
Stefania inverts the ramekins onto a plate and decorates with the chopped pistachios.
This might be a good time to mention the benefits and ease of using metric measurements when cooking. It is soooooo much easier and more accurate. Once you’ve weighed your flours, sugars, liquids you’ll never want to go back. Most bakers already use the metric system. I know it’s a tough sell, but do try it at least once.