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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ferragosto: dolce far niente!!

Cari amici,

How are you?
Sunday, August 15, it was Ferragosto.
Well Ferragosto in Italy is many things: is a day off from work, a day of relax, a day of food, sun, and fun. Ferragosto is a great time to spend with family and friends, a day when most retail, commercial, industrial and governmental offices are closed. Ferragosto is also religious processions and many towns celebrate Ferragosto with communal fairs, fireworks and dancing in the square. Ferragosto is allegria!! And I have so many wonderful memories of it with my family and friends!!

On a history side Ferragosto is an Italian holiday. Originally, it may have related to a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labor in the fields. The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the “Assunzione della vergine Maria” Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”—the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body, into Heaven.
However, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire even before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence. It was a celebration in honor the gods—in particular of Diana , and the cycle of fertility and ripening. In fact, the present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti ("Holidays of the Emperor Augustus  "). Almost the entire month of August was taken as a holiday and leisure time in Italy in honor of this feast day.
In the 30s, Mussolini made Ferragosto a national holiday and initiated the process of vacationing in August. Italian workers earn 6 weeks paid vacation for every year worked. In the 60s, the Italian economy was in full swing of its industrial revolution. The make-up of the workforce had moved from agricultural to heavy industry. This created a serious problem during the hot month of August. The working conditions in the plants were unbearable because of the heat. The Unions and Industrialists got together and decided to close the plants for 3 weeks during the hottest days of August and required the employees to use part of their paid vacation for this purpose.
Beach at Ferragosto
Ferragosto's Fireworks in Padova

Although changes in the Italian economy from Industrial to high-tech and the implementation of air conditioning have made obsolete the necessity to close the plants, the tradition still exists. We still love to take our vacation in August!! 


Presently companies rarely shut-down for more than the 4 days surrounding Ferragosto and the vacations are now spread out from June through late September, however they do run on limited personnel as most Italians prefer vacationing in August. Don’t plan to contact any Italian company around this period….nobody will be there and if there will not be able to help you till September! Actually For an Italian, it is truly offensive to work on this day I guess this is also Italian: we take our vacation seriously!!! We work hard but we like to enjoy life too! And to keep tradition alive…especially when they have to do with vacationing!!

The city where I'm from at Ferragosto
Again a quiet shoot of my city at Ferragosto
If you happen to be in Italy, let’s say around the 25 of July and September 1st you will be able to see some unusual quiet atmosphere in cities like Firenze, Roma and Milano!! The cities are empty, it only takes about 15 minutes to drive from one side of Milan to the other. If you wonder where everybody is just take a ride to any cities along the coast:  you will find here millions of people gather increasing the local population of at least 10 times. Everyone is at the beach, preparing for the night’s feast, fireworks, and camp-out under the stars.
And to be more specific on the 15th of August, Ferragosto indeed, whether in the city or along the sea, the streets are empty until well into the afternoon. Well half of us Italians are in Church to Celebrate the Assumption, that is when the Madonna was allowed into heaven, and the other half of the Italians will be sleeping in!

Family Ferragosto lunch
My cousins  grilling for the 
Ferragosto lunch


And after Church or sleeping in Ferragosto is also an occasion for a festive meal, a culinary breath of winter in the midst of summer: We fire up our ranges and make rich hearty dishes along the lines of pasta or lasagna. In my family in Italy we also always had one of my favorite dishes, Vitello Tonnato, easy and so delicious!!


With my nephew Alex
Alex having fun around his pool


Ferragosto at my godparents
The swimming pool waiting for the after lunch's fun

So Ferragosto, no matter how you look at it, it's an occasion to get together with friends and enjoy a fine meal, relax on the beach or on the hill and have fun under the sun and under the stars!! I was in NYC Sunday for Ferragosto but I didn’t’ wanted to skip the tradition to have a day off and have some fun!! 


So I went to Central Park for a stroll, then did some fun shopping: since I will go to Italy in September and I was missing my family, with whom I'm always normally for this feast day, I thought to use the day for buying souvenirs for them. 



Then I called my family and some friends that were having fun all together in Italy to wish them a great Ferragosto and I close the day with a nice romantic dinner with my favorite Ferragosto dish: Vitello Tonnato indeed!!

At the NBC's Store






Well I wasn't in Italy and I wasn't with my family this year, so no barbecue and water games around someone swimming pool, , but I managed to have anyway a very great and relaxing day!!

And here is the recipe of one of my favorite dishes for Ferragosto in my family: Vitello tonnato, chilled veal in tuna sauce. Since is cold dish to serve and it takes a while to get it ready, what I normally do, I cook the meat the day before and I prepare it to serve the day of the dinner-party!!
(For 6-8 people):

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours

Ingredients:
FOR POACHING THE MEAT:

2 1⁄2 lbs. lean veal roast, preferably top round, 
   
firmly trussed
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, without leaves, chopped
1 medium onion,
chopped
4 sprigs Italian parsley


FOR THE TUNA SAUCE:

1  7-oz. can imported tuna, packed in olive oil

5 flat anchovy filets

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed

3 tbsp. capers, soaked and rinsed

1 1⁄4 cups mayonnaise ( My mom makes also the Mayonnase, super delicious but it can get tricky so I almost always skip that!!)
A few more perfect capers, some lemon slices, and sprigs of parsley for garnishing

Preparation:
1. For poaching the meat: Put veal in a deep, heavy pan. Add carrots, celery, onions, parsley, and enough water to cover. Remove meat and set it aside. Cover pan, bring water to a boil, then add veal. Return to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer for 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Remove from heat, set aside, and allow meat to cool in the stock.
2. For the tuna sauce: Drain tuna and put into a food processor with anchovies, olive oil, lemon juice, and capers. Process until it becomes a creamy, beige-colored sauce. Fold sauce gently, but thoroughly, into mayonnaise. If made ahead of time, refrigerate.
3. When meat is cool, transfer to a cutting board. Remove the strings, and carefully cut into uniformly thin slices.
4. Spread some of the tuna sauce on bottom of a platter. Over it, lay a single layer of veal slices, edge to edge, without overlapping; cover with sauce. Repeat layering, ending with sauce.
5. Cover veal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. (It will keep for at least a week.) Bring to room temperature before serving. Use a spatula to smooth the top, and garnish with capers, lemon slices and spring of parsley.

If you like it less salty, like I do and what to have it lighter and still very tasty, skip the eggs, and the anchovies for the making of the sauce!! Still very delicious!!

If you like wine: White wines are the perfect wines to accompany this dish!!

Buon appetito and stay tune for my Friday Blog for more about my life, music, Italy, food, travel, fashion…and fun stuff!!

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