At the same time every year during Carnival festivities, every town in the Emilia-Romagna region is awash with masks, confetti, light and colour. The streets are filled with festive spirit that brings a smile to the faces of adults and children alike, whilst home kitchens are busy making piles of heavenly sweets.
This is just one of the many traditions associated with this festive period, which historically marked the start of Lent, encouraging people to indulge, celebrate and break the norms, not only in life but also in what they ate.
Although nowadays, traditional Carnival desserts are made in many countries around the world, Italy's tradition uses the widest variety of ingredients. Emilia-Romagna in particular proves to have one of the most extensive collections of recipes, passed down from generation to generation to offer delicious versions of classic Carnival fare.
These are perhaps the best-known of all traditional Carnival sweets: as the equivalent to the pastries in America known as ‘angel wings’, these scrumptious pastries are fried in oil and lard and sprinkled with icing sugar and are a favourite amongst adults and children alike.
Also known by other regional names in Italy (chiacchiere, bugie, frappe, cróstoli...), the Emilia-Romagna version is still the traditional strip shape and is easy to make at home.
With origins in the peasant cooking of the rural areas of Romagna, some say that these pastries are typical of the area around Ravenna. Accounts suggest that at one time in this area, rice was cooked in milk, and what was left over was used again later to make these delicious little delights. Crunchy on the outside, and soft in the middle, frittelline pastries may be fried in lard or oil, with a splash of grappa liquor or Marsala wine if desired.
Even a traditional pasta dish like tagliatelle can be transformed into a delectable dessert with a bit of imagination. Peasants in the Apennines knew this all too well, and during Carnival festivities would usually make this simple yet tasty recipe. These days, you will find this special sweet version of tagliatelle pasta just about anywhere, in a variety of different versions. Forget about the meat sauce; icing sugar and orange peel are mixed into the pasta dough, which is then rolled and sliced into the classic ribbon-like pasta shape before being dunked into a deep-frying pan of seed oil.
A traditional treat from Reggio Emilia, intrigoni (also known in local dialect as intrigòun) are not unlike the fried sfrappole pastries from Bologna. You’ll find these baking in every oven and in every kitchen in Reggio Emilia and beyond during Carnival season. Intrigoni are made from sweet puff pastry, rolled out to be around ⅔ mm thick, with jagged edges that are created using a little wheel, and can be shaped into strips, rings or twisted ribbons.
Castagnole are one of Emilia-Romagna's most traditional sweet treats. Although the origins of these little round pastries are not known for sure, and they can be found in many culinary traditions across Central-Northern Italy, the best-known version is the one included in Artusi’s famous cookbook, "La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene" [Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well], which gives rise to these moreish pastries with a soft, melt-in-the-mouth centre, that are made with eggs, sugar, flour and butter.