Follow by Email

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pasqua in Italia: traditions and memories!

Cari amici,
Next Sunday it will Pasqua “Easter”.

I have so many wonderful memories of this Holiday and of this period of the year, where we all are full of energy, so alive since the Spring finally there after the long winter.

Easter is known as "Pasqua" in Italy, and as any holiday tradition it is a must that it is celebrated at the table amongst family members, relatives and friends. Actually there is an Italian saying which says: "Natale con i tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi" which translated means: 'Christmas with your family and Easter with whoever". In my family it was always a great time to spend with family and extended family, indeed family friends. It was also the time that I was going with my parents to my paternal grandparents near Rome.
As in most formerly Catholic countries, Easter in Italy is a sacred season, accompanied by several traditions and cultural customs. Easter Sunday remains a special family time, and even those families that do not attend Easter services still get together for family dinners. For those that attend Mass, new clothes in the latest spring fashions are often the norm. It was always fun to go shopping with mom and dad for the Easter clothes and shoes and I will never forget the great joy of knowing of all the great time that was coming ahead: those great times with my family that has a precious and unforgettable place in my heart forever and that have created unforgettable and precious memories!!
This most holy week begins for many Christians on Palm Sunday, “La domenica delle Palme", where we receive palm fronds at Mass. Traditionally, a Sunday before Easter. The palms are artistically woven and decorated with red ribbons, the olive branches are spray painted gold or kept their natural color. Many of the people who receive palm weave the fronds into crosses to wear, or to place on the graves of there departed loved ones. A visit to cemetery is traditional, and purchased palm ornaments, or spring flowers, are also used to decorate the graves.

On Good Friday, the day that Christ was crucified, many communities in Italy, from large cities to tiny villages, remember the day with Passion processions. In some places, the Cross is carried, in others, people reenact the Stations of the Cross, la Via Cruces. In Rome, the Pope himself, leads a procession that begins at the Coliseum.
Easter celebration in Italy is marked by many rites observed throughout the country that have their roots in ancient pagan rituals.
Among the myriad of Easter traditions in Italy, Scoppio del Carro in Firenze, meaning explosion of the cart, is the most spectacular one. For over 300 years the Easter celebration in Florence has included this ritual, during which an elaborate wagon, a structure built in 1679 and standing two to three stories high, is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands.
A huge explosion will be detonated Easter Sunday in front of the magnificent green– and white–marbled neogothic church in Florence's centro storico. Instead of running in fear from a terrorist's bomb, though, thousands of spectators will cheer the noise and smoke, for they will be witnesses to the annual Scoppio del Carro—explosion of the cart.

The pageantry ends in front of the Basilica di S. Maria del Fiore, where Mass is held. During the midday service, a holy fire is stoked by ancient stone chips from the Holy Sepulcher, and the Archbishop lights a dove–shaped rocket which travels down a wire and collides with the cart in the square, setting off spectacular fireworks and explosions to the cheers of all. A big bang ensures a good harvest, and a parade in medieval costume follows. If you ever are in Firenze for Easter, you will love it!!

Tradition and ritual play a strong role in Italian culture, especially during celebrations such as Easter, the Christian holiday based on the pagan festival called Eostur-Monath. No matter what date Ester falls on, there are many ceremonies and culinary customs that are religiously upheld.
At Vatican City there are a series of solemn events that culminate in Easter Sunday Mass. During the spring holy days that center around the vernal equinox there are also many other rites practiced throughout the country that have their roots in historic pagan rituals.
Some traditions are regional. Here a few I’ve been lucky to experience so far:

Tredozio, in the Province of Forli-Cesena in the region of Emilia Romagna on Easter Monday the Palio dell'Uovo is a competition where eggs are the stars of the games.
Merano, town and municipality in the province of Bolzano: The Corse Rusticane are conducted, fascinating races with a special breed of horses famous for their blonde manes ridden by youths wearing the local costumes of their towns. Before the race, the participants parade through the streets of the town followed by a band and folk dance groups.
Barano d'Ischia, a municipality in the province of Naples, on Easter Monday the ‘Ndrezzata takes place—a dance which revives the fights against the Saracens.
Carovigno, a town and municipality in the province of Brindisi, Puglia, on the Saturday before Easter is a procession dedicated to the Madonna del Belvedere during which the 'Nzeghe contest takes place: banners must be hurled as far as possible.
Enna, a city and municipality located roughly at the center of Sicily: religious rites dating back to the Spanish domination (fifteenth through seventeenth century) take place in this Sicilian town. On Good Friday, the different religious confraternities gather around the main church and over 2,000 friars wearing ancient costumes silently parade through the streets of the city. On Easter Sunday, the Paci ceremony takes place: the statue of the Virgin and that of Jesus Christ are first taken to the main square and then into the church where they stay for a week

All of these religious events lead up to the celebration of the Resurrection with High Mass and family gatherings on Easter Sunday. You must know by now that we love our food and for Ester we really cook some great dishes.
When Easter Sunday arrives we wake up early to get to the stove and start preparing elaborated meals. Lamb is a common meal along with various types of breads. The most important dish is Agnellino, roasted baby lamb. Eggs feature prominently in the day's dishes, in both soups such as Brodetto Pasquale, a broth-based Easter soup thickened with eggs, and various kinds of breads, both sweet and savory. But on the Pasqua table are special stuffed or layered pasta dishes such as lasagna and manicotti. Salads, fruits and desserts will follow the main course.
Also here the menus are different accordingly the region you are.
The minestra di Pasqua, the traditional beginning of the Neapolitan Easter meal, or anyway more on the south of Italy, indeed also at my paternal grandparents.
Other classic Easter recipes include carciofi fritti (fried artichokes), a main course of either capretto o Agnello al forno (roasted goat or baby lamb) or capretto cacio e uova (kid stewed with cheese, peas, and eggs), and carciofi e patate soffritti, a delicious vegetable side dish of sautéed artichokes with baby potatoes, all recipe I was enjoying in my family of my father side, down in Rome where I got to spend most of my Esters.
A holiday meal in Italy would not be complete without a traditional dessert, and during Easter there are several. We children finished our dinner with a rich bread shaped like a crown and studded with colored Easter egg candies. La pastiera Napoletana, the classic Neapolitan grain pie, is a centuries–old dish with innumerable versions, each made according to a closely guarded family recipe. Another treat, and the most eaten in my family, is the Colomba a sort of sweet bread covered by crystallized sugar and almonds shaped in one of the most recognizable symbols of Easter, the dove. The Colomba cake takes on this form precisely because la colomba in Italian means dove, the symbol of peace and an appropriate finish to Easter dinner.

Although we do not decorate hard–boiled eggs nor have chocolate bunnies or pastel marshmallow chicks, the biggest Easter displays in bars, pastry shops, supermarkets, and especially at chocolatiers are brightly wrapped uova di Pasqua—chocolate Easter eggs—in sizes that range from 10 grams (1/3 ounce) to 8 kilos (nearly 18 pounds). Most of them are made of milk chocolate in a mid–range, 10–ounce size by industrial chocolate makers. Le Uova di Cioccolata con sorpresa that we children very much liked!! Perugina or Kinder eggs are the most popular.
Some producers distinguish between their chocolate eggs for children (sales numbers are a closely guarded secret, but the market for these standard quality eggs is said to be shrinking with Italy's birthrate) and expensive "adult" versions. All except the tiniest eggs contain a surprise. Grown–ups often find their eggs contain little silver picture frames or gold–dipped costume jewelry. The very best eggs are handmade by artisans of chocolate, who offer the service of inserting a surprise supplied by the purchaser. Car keys, engagement rings, and watches are some of the high–end gifts that have been tucked into Italian chocolate eggs in Italy.
When Easter is over, we are not done celebrating. The Monday following Ester is called "Pasquetta" alias "Little Easter" and is a day we spend outdoors celebrating the mild temperatures and the natural wonders of spring. We will head towards the beach or the country, pick- nicking, roasting meats on charcoals and enjoying fresh green salads.
Traditions vary greatly from place to place, for instance very popular in the south are the pani pasquali, Easter breads funny enough almost not consumed in the north of Italy. These are not the standard breads one buys day-to-day in Italian bakeries, but rather something more: Breads that contain cheese, breads that contain sausage or salami, breads that contain hard-boiled eggs...
They're regional, nothing of this sort is made in Tuscany, for example, or in Venice.
Practically every family in Italy has a variation of this recipe, traditionally baked shortly before the holiday .
Sweet and festive, Italian Easter Bread serves as an attractive circular nest for colored Easter eggs, and is sometimes topped with colored sugar or sprinkles.
Serve at Easter breakfast with coffee, or after the holiday dinner meal with round of espresso or a dessert wine.
Here below is a recipe I love to make, and that remind me of my paternal grand mother Maria.
Italian Easter Bread Recipe

3 cups flour 
1/4 cup sugar 
1 package active dry yeast 
1 teaspoon salt 
2/3 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons butter, softened 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup chopped mixed candied fruit 
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds 
5 colored Easter eggs
Recipe Instructions:
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. 

2. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and beat in milk and butter. 

3. Add 2 eggs and 1/2 cup flour; beat 2 minutes on high. Stir in candied fruit and aniseed and mix well. 

4. Beat in remaining flour to form a soft dough. 

5. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
6. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until double in volume. Punch down the dough and divide into two pieces. 

7. Roll out each piece into a 24-inch rope. Loosely twist ropes and "nest" colored eggs into openings. 

8. Cover and let rise until doubled.

9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown. 

10. Remove from pan and let cool before serving.
Serves 6-8.
Easter is a celebration of Spring, rebirth and the end of a long Lenten fast and a longer winter. In Italy or in America it is a time for peace, hope and joy. Eating good food, sharing the holiday with family and friends and enjoying the new warmth of the longer days is a wonderful way to mark the end of another winter.
So I can only wish you now to have a Happy Easter with your loved ones. Buona Pasqua a tutti cari amici.
And stay tune for my next week blog about a very special night that I had at the Annual Gala of the Cellini Lodge of the OSIA where I was honored last Friday.
 Love always,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

San Marino: a fairyland inside Italy!!

Dear friends,

Today I want to take you to The Republic of San Marino, I place I’ve visited several times and that I love. Well it’s in Italy … but it’s another country!!!!
The Most Serene Republic of San Marino (Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino) is a beautiful little country situated in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. It’s one of the European microstates along with Liechtenstein, the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra and Malta. It is a landlocked enclave, completely surrounded by Italy, on the border between the region of Emilia-Romagna and Marche. Its size is just over 61 km2 (24 sq mi) with an estimated population of almost 30,000.
The language spoken is Italian and the Emiliano-Romagnolo dialect is widely spoken, too.
Its topography is dominated by the Apennines mountain range, and it has a rugged terrain. The highest point in the country, the summit of Monte Titano, is situated at 749 m (2,457ft) above sea level. There are no bodies of water of any significant size. San Marino has no level natural land; 100% of the nation-state is built on top of the range: mountains and breathtaking views….which means comfortable shoes and a lot of walk to do!!!

The climate is Mediterranean with continental influences, having warm summers and cool winters.
I visited San Marino several times since it’s only a few hours driving from Venice. And I enjoyed every time the wonderful serene and quiet atmosphere of it.
San Marino is the oldest recorded sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, having been founded on 3 September 301 by stonecutter Marinus of Rab. According to tradition, Saint Marinus left the island of Rab in Croatia with his lifelong friend, Leo, and went to the city of Rimini as a mason. After the Diocletianic Persecution following his Christian sermons, he escaped to the nearby Monte Titano, where he built a small church and thus founded, what is now the city and the state of San Marino. By the mid-fifth century, a community was formed; because of its relatively inaccessible location and its poverty, it has succeeded, with a few brief interruptions, in maintaining its independence. In 1631 its independence was recognized by the Papacy.
The advance of Napoleon 's army in 1797 presented a brief threat to the independence of San Marino, but the country was spared its liberty thanks to one of its Regents, Antonio Onofri, who managed to gain the respect and friendship of Napoleon.
During the later phase of the Italian unification process in the nineteenth century, San Marino served as a refuge for numerous persons, who were persecuted because of their opposition to the unification. In memory of this support, Giuseppe Garibaldi accepted the wish of San Marino not to be incorporated into the new Italian state.
The nation's small population also ensures that it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP (per capital). San Marino is considered to be in a highly stable economic status, with the lowest unemployment rate in Europe, no national debt and a budget surplus and the world's highest male life expectancy (81 years).  And I think it has to do with a very relaxed life they lived in the mountains and the fresh and clean air their breath!!

The City of San Marino, also known simply as San Marino, is the capital city of the Republic of San Marino. The city is on the western slopes of San Marino's highest point, the impressive beautiful Monte Titano. And it is very beautiful!!
The urban heart of the city is protected by three towers/fortress, which are also very important tourist attractions. They are located on the three peaks of Monte Titano in the capital and they are depicted on both the Flag of San Marino and its coat of arms. Guarita, the oldest of the three, it was constructed in the eleventh century. Some rooms in the fort were used to keep prisoners. To the entrance's left, stands the beautiful Chapel of the Rocca, consecrated to St. Barbara.
The Cesta Fortress dates way back to the 13th century is very beautiful too and it’s located on Mount Titano's high peak. The Montale fortress is like a watchtower, but it still is privately owned and you can only see from a distance.

Beside San Marino City there are other eight minor municipalities: Acquaviva, Borgo Maggiore, Chiesanuova, Domagnano, Faetano, Fiorentino, Montegiardino and Serravalle.
The largest town of the Republic is Dogana, which is not an autonomous castello, municipality, but rather belongs to the Castello of Serravalle.
The main economic activities were stone extraction and carving. Today, there is a more varied economy, including tourism of course, commerce, sale of postage stamps, and a small agricultural industry, although the last is in decay. San Marino imports goods, such as food, from Italy.
There are also more than a thousand retail outlets in San Marino, where you can find a great variety of products. It’s a very quiet and beautiful little country and I always enjoy strolling in San Marino. It’s like time stand still there and you feel like you are back in the middle age in the so many little shops!

The town is known for its long, winding cobble stoned streets; so don’t think about wearing high hills there. San Marino is also notable in that cars are prohibited in much of the town center. Be prepare to walk a lot, wear comfortable shoes…the panoramas all around are beautiful!!
Main sights worth a visit in San Marino City are Palazzo dei Capitani, Palazzo Pubblico, The Three Tower of San Marino, Piazza del Titano, Piazza Garibaldi, Monastery of Santa Clara.
Shopping in San Marino would be incomplete without a visit to Serravalle where you can find more big modern malls, still build in the middle of the middle age village. Very nice combination of old and new!!
Borgo Maggiore is one of the 9 communes or “castelli” of San Marino and it’s the second largest town of San Marino, after Dogana. I went there from San Marino City with their aerial tramway. There is a 1.5 km (0.93 mi) aerial tramway connecting the city of San Marino with Borgo Maggiore. Two aerial tramway cars, gondolas, operate in opposition on a cable, and a service is provided at roughly every fifteen minute throughout the day. The views are out of this world!! This is always one of my favorite trips there!!!
San Marino became a member of the Council of Europe in 1988 and of the United Nations in 1992. It is not a member of the European Union, but it is allowed to use the euro as its currency by arrangement with the Council of the European Union; it is also granted the right to use its own designs on the national side of the euro coins. Before the euro, the Sanmarinese lira was pegged to, and exchangeable with, the Italian lira. The small number of Sanmarinese euro coins, as was the case with the lira before it, is primarily of interest to coin collectors.

San Marino's postage stamps, which are only valid for mail within the country, are mostly sold to philatelists and are a source of income.
Other key industries are banking, electronics, and ceramics. There are quite a few local products available in the country of San Marino, and wine is one of them. Wine production in the country has increased quite considerably in present years. This has primarily been possible for the “designation of origin label.” Tessano Riserva and Brugneto are fine red wines and many wine lovers buy these wines. Oro dei Goti is a popular raisin wine manufactured by the San Marino Winegrowers. There are also some liqueurs typical of San Marino like the truffle flavored bitter Tilus and the herbal Duca di Gualdo.
There are 220 km of roads in the country, the main road being the San Marino Superhighway.
There are no airports in San Marino, but there is an international heliport located in Borgo Maggiore. Most tourists, who arrive by air land at Federico Fellini International Airport close to the city of Rimini, make then the transfer by bus.
San Marino has limited public transport facilities. There is a regular bus service between Rimini and the city of San Marino, popular with both tourists and tourist industry workers commuting to San Marino from Italy. This service stops at approximately twenty locations in Rimini and within San Marino, with its two terminus stops at Rimini railway station and San Marino coach station, respectively. There is also a bus going from Borgo Maggiore to Dogana, the other big “castello” worth the visit.
There is also a limited licensed taxi service operating nationwide in San Marino. There are seven licensed taxi-operating companies in the republic, and Italian taxis regularly operate within San Marino when carrying passengers picked up in Italian territory. But be aware that in San Marino to walk is the best way to move around!!

The Republic of San Marino as the same public holidays we have in Italy for the exception of two public holidays March 25 Festa delle Milizie (Feast of the Militants), and on September 3rd the National Feast of San Marino, celebrating the Republic dating back to 301.
Well being myself a daughter of a Police Officer I’ve always find interesting to know more about those men in uniform. And I can assure you will love them for other reason too: some are quite good-looking men!
San Marino has one of the smallest military forces in the world. I very much enjoyed while visiting the beauty and diversity of their uniforms.
They have different branches that have varied functions including: performing ceremonial duties; patrolling borders; mounting guard at government buildings; and assisting police in major criminal cases. The entire military corps of San Marino depends upon the co-operation of full-time forces and volunteers’ militants.

They have the Crossbow a ceremonial force of approximately eighty volunteers. Its uniform is medieval in design, and although a statutory military unit, it has no military function today.
The Guard of the Rock is a front-line military unit in the San Marino armed forces, a state border patrol, with responsibility for patrolling borders and defending them. They are responsible also for guarding the Palazzo Pubblico in San Marino City the seat of national Government. In this role they are the forces most visible to tourists, and are known for their colorful ceremony of changing the Guard. The uniform of the Guard of the Rock is a distinctive red and green.
The Guard of the Council or locally as the 'Guard of Nobles' is another volunteer unit with ceremonial duties who provide a ceremonial bodyguard to government officials on festivals of both state and church. Due to its striking blue, white, and gold uniform, it is perhaps the best-known part of the Sanmarinese military, and appears on countless postcard views of the republic. You can’t miss them.

The Army Militia is also largely ceremonial. It is a matter of civic pride for many San-Marinese to belong to the force, and all citizens with at least six years residence in the republic are entitled to enroll. The uniform is dark blue, with a kepi bearing a blue and white plume. The ceremonial form of the uniform includes a white cross-strap, and white and blue sash, white epaulets, and white decorated cuffs.
The Military Ensemble formally is part of the Army Militia, and is the ceremonial military band of San Marino. It consists of approximately fifty musicians. Military Ensemble music accompanies most state occasions in the republic. I was able to be part of the celebration of the Militants a few years back and it was a delight to hear the Military Ensemble and to see all the different militants march with their beautiful uniforms.
The Gendarmerie, is the only militarized law enforcement agency. Its members are full-time and have responsibility for the protection of citizens and property, and the preservation of law and order.
The cuisine of San Marino is strongly similar to Italian, especially that of the adjoining Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions, but it has a number of its own unique dishes and products. In the cuisines of San Marino, though the impact of Italian cuisines is quite clear, the influence of Mediterranean tastes cannot at all be denied. As you start tasting them, you will be amazed in experiencing an altogether different kind of cooking tradition.
And one of the most favorites of the San Marino Cuisines is the ‘fagioli con le cotiche’, which is actually the blend of Christmas bean and bacon soup. Once I tasted this preparation, I felt the urge within to know the recipe of this dish and when I went back home, this dish become a regular preparation for me. But other dishes I tasted here include the ‘nidi di rondine’ and ‘pasta e ceci’. These are actually very unique preparations and quite favorites both among the tourists as well as to the local residents.
Also the Piadina popular across Romagna, Passatelli, romagna spaghetti like mixture eggs, bread crumbs and parmigiano reggiano cheese, 'strozzapreti' pasta and a new dish called 'lasagnette' with lamb ragout and taleggio cheese are all delicious dishes you can taste in the different restaurants!!

The cuisines of San Marino do contain also a great collection of sweet dishes. As for the typical products, mention must be made of the Torta Titano and the Torta Tre Monti, my favorites, and also DOC products of San Marino, but also Cacciatello and zuppa di ciliege. All these dishes are especially famous for blend of many types of sweet ingredients and all of them are incredible delicious!!
As I said, my favorite is Torta Tre Monti ("Cake of the Three Mountains" or "Cake of the Three Towers"), cake made of layers of thin waffled wafers cemented together by chocolate or hazelnut crème. The final product is covered in chocolate fondant. You can buy a full-size cake but also the snack-size version. It is always an addiction for me to have in my bag while strolling in San Marino!

During one of my many visits at San Marino I stayed at the beautiful Titano Hotel. I was lucky to get a room with a balcony with a view on the Montefeltro Valley.

I went for dinner at a one of the oldest restaurant of the Republic called “La Terrazza” also in the Hotel Titano, in the Contrada del Collegio in the heart of San Marino.It’s an enchanting restaurant where you can enjoy view of the Mount Appenini and the most delicious dishes, a mixed of traditional dishes of the near regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche. Their homemade pastas are great and they serve delicious grilled meets. In the months of May and June, when I was there, I was lucky to enjoy the spectacular view at sunset from the restaurant and my room: breathtaking.
For a quick bite and a cold drinks I went to "Il Terrazzino", that face the center of the city, and it was a perfect romantic place!!
But there are so many wonderful little places where you can eat or stop for a caffee or a cold drink and everywhere the food is just delicious!!

The Public Palace is one of the many interesting places to see in San Marino. The Romanesque building was constructed in a style, which is Neo-gothic. Some of the other places to see in San Marino are National Museum, San Francesco Museum-Picture Gallery, Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery.

If you do not go for visits to the places like Malatesta Castle at Serravalle, Borgo Maggiore, Valdragone and fort at Pennarossa then your tour is bound to remain incomplete. The place is surrounded by quite a few numbers of tranquil streams, pinewoods, springs, lakes and fishing reserves. One of the most relaxing and quiet places I’ve ever been to.
The most important places of San Marino, which you cannot miss a visit to, include the places such as the Government Palace, the State Museum and Art Gallery, the Basilica, St Francis’ Church, the Capuccin Friars Church of St Quirino and the Exhibition Center of San Marino Handicrafts.
Among the most important tourist spots of San Marino, you will find numerous evidences of medieval architecture and side-by-side you will also find several masterpieces of modern architecture. Just walk around: you will be surprised of what you find!!
The country is almost like a fairyland, scattered with ancient forts, museums, and palaces.

Something very interesting I have learned is that the government of San Marino made United States President Abraham Lincoln an honorary citizen. He wrote in reply, saying that the republic proved that "government founded on republican principles is capable of being so administered as to be secure and enduring."
I hope you will have the chance to visit this Country inside Italy!! I’m sure you will love it as much as I do!! Only to write about it made me dream about going back!!!
Stay tuned for my next week blog dedicated to the “Easter in Italy” “la Pasqua in Italia!!

Love always,