The days before Ash Wednesday are eagerly awaited throughout Italy and every village and town will be deep in preparations to celebrate this annual event known as “Carnevale”.
Each “Carnevale” has a very distinct character because it celebrates that town or village’s own historical connections. Many of the larger cities are very well known and attract visitors from all over the world.
Venice is probably the most popular. The entire city will come alive with masked and costumed merrymakers parading and dancing through Venice’s maze of streets. The Gondolas will be festively decorated and the music of the gondoliers can be heard as they wind their way through the canals. Carnevale is a huge celebration and the last over-indulgence before the fasting and restrictions of the 40 days of Lent.
In the Piedmont area where my maternal heritage hails from a favorite celebratory meal is a bean stew called La Fagiolata and a dish prepared for us by my maternal Grandmother, Nonna Giovanna!
- 1 ¼ lb dried borlotti beans
- 1 lb pork belly – cut into cubes
- 1 large onion – diced
- ½ cup butter
- 3 tb olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lb plum tomatoes – roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves – sliced
- 1-2 sprigs of thyme
- salt & pepper – to taste
- Soak beans overnight and rinse once or twice.
- Put soaked beans, pork belly and onions in a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Simmer until the beans are soft.
- In a frying pan, heat the oil, garlic (do not let the garlic burn) and butter.
- When sizzling, slowly add the tomatoes, bay leaves (I always add bay leaves when in a recipe but really don’t know why???) and thyme. Cook for a few minutes.
- Drain the beans and return to the pot and add the tomato mixture.
- Simmer for another 20-30 minutes and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
- Serve hot with polenta (which is traditional) or bread.
- NOTE: Cotechini (Italian sausage) can be added to the stew, if you wish to add a meat. However, meat would never be added on Ash Wednesday which is always meatless. Boil the cotechini separately, slice and add to the stew in the last 10 minutes of cooking.