Ash Wednesday takes place 45 days before Easter and ends on the night before Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are in themselves very sacred days in Italy with much, sacrificing and church going ceremonies. From Ash Wednesday until Easter morning you will never utter the word “alleluia” as a way of recognizing the solemnity of the season. Also the Gloria is not recited during mass. In some Italian homes meat is not eaten at all during Lent.
Italy is still very Catholic country and while the younger generation does not adhere as strictly and are far more secularized, their parents and most certainly their grandparents still follow the order of the Pope. The elderly who are exempt because of age however are the very ones who take these 40 days very seriously. A lot of fish and meatless pasta is consumed.
Growing up in our house the custom was to not eat meat on Wednesdays or Fridays, give up something that we would really miss and try to do one good deed a day. I grew up during war time, so meat was not plentiful anyway, so soup, polenta and pasta were our main meals. On Ash Wednesday, we all received our ashes and I remember that my Little Nonna would make what we called “Little Nonna’s Bread Soup”. She was a sweet little grandmother who made everything with love and it was delicious in its simplicity and we never felt that we were sacrificing. This is my version which I make on Ash Wednesday. Canderli is sort of a dumpling soup!
(The Italian Knodel)
10 Oz VERY STALE BREAD – cubed
1 CUP MILK
3 EGGS – lightly beaten
½ CUP FLOUR
3 TBS ITALIAN PARSLEY or BASIL – minced
7 OZ FONTINA – diced
3 TBS BUTTER – unsalted
1 ½ BS OLIVE OIL
1 ONION – finely chopped
½ TSP SALT
¼ TSP PEPPER
1/3 TSP NUTMEG – or to taste
12 CUPS BROTH
Put the stale bread into a large mixing bowl and add the milk, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and then let it rest for at least 2 hours, covered in the refrigerator. Stir occasionally to make sure that the mixture is absorbing the liquid.
In the meantime, fry the finely chopped onion in oil and butter, slowly, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set them aside to cool.
Remove the milk mixture from the refrigerator and add the flour, parsley or basil and cheese. Mix gently and then add the cooled onions. Let this mixture rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.
Using your hands, form the canderli by pressing together enough of the mixture to make little balls the size of lemons. You should be able to produce about 20 little balls
Heat the broth in a large pot and bring to a boil. Using a kitchen spider, carefully lower the canderli, a few at a time, into the stock and cook for about 12 minutes. To serve, ladle a few in bowls and cover with broth. Pass some extra grated cheese.