Getting Ready for Carnival in Milano

Did you know that Carnival lasts longer in Milano?

A typical Catholic and Christian celebration, Carnival involves parades, parties, masquerading and sweet treats. Once a year, the world is turned upside down as a few days of follies and eccentricities precede the forty rigorous days of Lent that lead up to Easter. Everybody has heard of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, of course. In Italy, Venice and Viareggio hold masquerades and parades just as beautiful (and there are many others, each one different, all over the country!). Around the world, festivities culminate on Mardi Gras, which is the last day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins.

Locals celebrating Carnival at the DuomoAll over the world, except in Milano.

That’s because a slightly different liturgical rite, called the Ambrosian Rite – the Rito Ambrosiano named after a fourth century bishop of Milan – is followed here and in the surrounding areas. As the legend goes, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was away on a pilgrimage; when he announced he’d be back in time for Carnival, the people decided to wait to celebrate with him, so that now it lasts four days longer than any other Carnival – until Saturday, called appropriately sabato grasso (or Samedi Gras). Then, Lent starts on Sunday instead of Ash Wednesday.

As a consequence, Samedi Gras is the hottest day in Ambrosian Carnival, when the biggest events are held and confetti colors the whole city. Of course, the main events take place downtown all around Piazza del Duomo – all you’ve got to do is go in centro on Saturday afternoon to find yourself surrounded by masks, traveling entertainers, music and party noise!

This year, Samedi Gras will take place on Saturday 8 March, which also happens to be International Women’s Day.

So, to start off the festivities, here’s what to do. First of all, make sure you try out the most famous Carnival dessert, chiacchiere. Find out more about this delicious tradition.

And don’t forget, you’ll need a costume! Check out this information on Halloween costumes (all stores included in the article will be all decked out and supplied with Carnival costumes in the days leading up to the final day of celebrations).

Make Vegetarian Lasagne at Home

The classic recipe for lasagne al forno (baked lasagna) calls for just a few basic ingredients like the long, flat pasta, a meat ragù sauce, béchamel sauce and cheese. But since we’ve posted some very non-vegetarian dishes, this time we’re publishing a recipe for a dinner with lots of veggies and absolutely no meat: vegetarian lasagne.

So, what’s the story behind lasagna? Besides being Garfield the cat’s favorite food, it’s a food that was eaten way back in Greek and Roman times. The name of their very similar dish, lagane, was probably derived from the word for the pan needed to cook it in the oven. For any food historians out there, note that this dish is technically not considered pasta since the lagane weren’t boiled in water but rather cooked in the oven with sauce. Traditional pasta, the most famous food item in Italy today, wouldn’t come to Italy until it arrived in Sicily by way of the Arabs.

To make this traditional food at home, try out this recipe for vegetarian lasagne, which features mushrooms and zucchini. But remember that any combination of spinach, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, either with or without tomato sauce would be nice, depending on what you like and what’s available in the fridge or at the market.

And if making béchamel sauce on the stove top sounds worse than studying for a hard microeconomics exam, all supermarkets sell ready-made béchamel sauce (just look near where the cream is stocked).

Cooking time: about 40-50 minutes

Ingredients (for 4-6 people)

  • 500g of fresh lasagne
  • 20g dried mushrooms
  • 175ml warm water
  • 100g butter
  • 350g zucchini
  • 1 diced onion
  • 300g fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 500g tomato sauce
  • 100g grated parmigiano-reggiano or grana cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for béchamel:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 40 g flour
  • 900 ml milk
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  1. Soak dried mushrooms in warm water. Remove them after about 20 minutes, squeezing out any liquid, then sift the water to get rid of any grit or dirt. Chop the fresh mushrooms and set them aside.
  2. Chop the zucchini into small pieces. Heat half the butter or olive oil in a pan, then cook the zucchini with some salt and pepper for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Sauté onions, garlic and mushrooms with the rest of the butter and a little salt for a few minutes, then set aside.
  4. Now prepare the béchamel sauce: first melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the flour gradually while stirring. Cook this mixture for 2 minutes on medium heat, then add warmed milk little by little. This final mixture should be whisked until it becomes a creamy sauce, then add salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  5. To prepare the final dish, layer tomato sauce, veggies, pasta and béchamel, until all the ingredients have been used up, making sure to finish with a nice layer of béchamel covering the last layer of lasagne. Sprinkle lots of parmigiano cheese on top and bake for 25-30 minutes at 200° C.
  6. Dig in and enjoy!
  7. (optional) One of the few dishes that’s just as good (if not better) the day after, this is great to have as leftovers!

Variations: Use only fresh mushrooms and no dried. Add or substitute spinach, eggplant and/or artichokes for the other vegetables. You can also substitute the tomato sauce with more béchamel or extra cheese like mozzarella or ricotta for a “white” lasagne dish.

Recipe for Milanese Veal Cutlet

Disclaimer: This recipe is NOT for vegetarians!

The Milanese veal cutlet, or cotoletta alla milanese, is a Milano classic, and it’s not too expensive for anyone on a budget – like college students – since a little bit of meat goes a long way. It’s traditionally made with veal, but if that’s too pricy for you, the veal can easily be substituted with beef, pork chops or even chicken.

The word itself comes from costoletta, meaning cutlet or “rib,” because the meat is cooked with the rib bone still in. The cotoletta is always breaded and usually fried in butter, but it can also be baked in the oven for a lighter version. It’s traditionally served with a lemon wedge to squeeze on top.

Variations on the theme of the traditional dish can be found in many South American countries and the Austrian Wienerschniztel is said to be derived from it as well. No one’s quite sure whether the Austrian dish comes from the Milanese version or vice versa, but people here in Milano usually think it originated here! Either way, the Milanese cotoletta is said to date back to the Middle Ages.

 

Cooking time: about 20-30 minutes

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 4 veal cutlets with the bone
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g flour
  • 250g bread crumbs
  • 400g clarified butter (better than normal butter because it can cook at higher temperatures)
  • salt
  • lemon wedge for garnish
  1. Make clarified butter: Melt unsalted butter over low heat until three layers form. The top layer will be a white foam (whey proteins), which you should remove with a spoon. The milk solids will drop to the bottom of the pan and form a layer of sediment. In the middle there will be a yellow liquid, which is the clarified butter. Skim off all foam and when it stops bubbling remove it from the heat. Let the butter sit 2-3 minutes to allow the milk solids to further settle to the bottom, and then strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Set aside the strained liquid for use in frying the meat.
  2. (optional) If cutlets are thicker than about 3cm, try to flatten them with a meat tenderizer (hammers always work too, if that’s all you have handy, but make sure it’s clean and/or that you cover up the meat when pounding!). Rinse and dry the cutlets.
  3. Coat veal cutlets, first in flour, then slightly beaten eggs, then the breadcrumbs, then again in the eggs, then breadcrumbs. You can salt the meat before the breading if you want, but some people prefer to add the salt after frying to avoid drying out the meat.
  4. Heat clarified butter at medium heat and fry the breaded cutlets. (If you have a cut of meat with the bone still in, you should cover the bone with aluminum foil so it’s easier to pick up.) Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side. The finished product should be golden brown and crunchy.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and serve with a side of steamed vegetables or salad and a lemon wedge. And enjoy!

Great Tiramisù Recipe

Probably the most famous Italian dessert (maybe after the ubiquitous gelato), tiramisù can be found at Italian restaurants in Italy and abroad.

It’s considered a semifreddo layer cake because it uses ingredients you might find in gelato, but without the freezing preparation and the zabaglione cream is whipped up, then spread over layers of ladyfinger cookies. The origins of this classic are a topic of great debate, many people claiming it to be a recent invention, with even the place of origin disputable, either in Tuscany or Veneto. Its name literally translates to “pick me up,” probably because of the pretty high caloric content, the presence of caffeine in the coffee and chocolate and a bit of sweet liquor in the cream.

And, guess what? It’s actually pretty easy to make at home! Just follow the recipe below and you can be enjoying delicious tiramisù at home in no time!

Cooking time: 15 minutes (plus at least 2 hours for chilling)

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar (100-120 grams)
  • 500 grams mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ cup sweet Marsala wine (rum, port or brandy can also be used)
  • Around 400 grams savoiardi cookies (Pavesini brand cookies also work)
  • ½ – 1 cup any kind of coffee or espresso
  • Sprinkling of bitter cacao powder
  1. Make the zabaglione cream. First whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar until the yolks have lightened in color and expanded in volume. It’s very important to whisk enough because the eggs undergo a transformation during this process. Then mix in the rest of the sugar and the mascarpone cheese. Lastly, add the Marsala. (It’s a good idea to make the cream by hand so the eggs stay fluffy.)
  2. Prepare the first layer of cookies in a cake pan. Lay cookies flat in one layer covering the pan, then spoon just enough coffee or espresso to wet the tops of the cookies, making sure not to soak them in coffee!
  3. Spoon a hefty layer of zabaglione over the cookies, covering them completely. Continue with 1-3 more layers of cookies and cream (depending on the size of the pan), just make sure you have enough cream to completely cover the final layer of cookies.
  4. Generously sprinkle cacao powder over the top. It’s important to use bitter cacao to provide a nice contrast to the sweet cream.
  5. Put in the fridge to chill for a few hours.
  6. Arrange candles and sing happy birthday to a lucky birthday boy or girl. (optional)
  7. Si mangia! Enjoy your homemade tiramisù with your friends!

Please note: The recipe calls for raw eggs, so you should be aware of the salmonella risk involved with eating raw egg products. It’s best to make sure the eggs are as fresh as possible (the date of when it was harvested is usually printed on the packaging or directly on the egg itself) and that they come from a trusted source.

Italian New Year Culinary Tradition

Every country has its own New Years’ traditions especially when it comes to food – black peas and bread in United States, beans and legumes in Brazil and Argentina, boiled cod and preserved fish in Scandinavian countries, grapes in Mexico, soba or buckwheat noodles in Japan, fish and challah in Israel, and pork in countries like Spain, Hungary, Cuba, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Italy. Pigs are traditionally thought to represent progress, development and wealth.

Italy is well known for having very different traditions in different regions of the country during Christmas and New Year, but one of the few that is generally followed in the country is that of having lentils for New Years dinner. Lenticchie e cotechino is one of the rare Italian dinner traditions that is unanimously celebrated all over the country.

Cotechino is a special type of pork sausage originating from Modena that is 3 inches in diameter and 8 inches long. The lentils represent coins and therefore wealth. The more you eat of them, the better it is. They will bring prosperity to the coming year. If you are planning on cooking the dish for your dinner party, click here for a sufficiently simple recipe.

Having lentils at New Years especially at midnight is said to bring good luck and money, and we can all do with some more luck and fortune for the next year. Don’t forget to combine the meal with a glass of prosecco or red wine!

Italian Christmas Sweets

For those of you who are spending their first Christmas season in Milan, the traditional Milanese Christmas desserts of panettone or pandoro are a must to be tried out.

Panettone is a spongy fruitcake usually filled with butter, eggs, raisins, candied orange bits and orange and lemon zest and can be purchased in any supermarket or pasticceria in the city during the holiday season. Panettone, meaning “big bread,” got its origins here in Milano and has been around since Roman times. There are several industrial brands, such as Alemagna, Bauli, Motta and Tre Marie, which are cheaper than their handmade counterparts and may come in variations to the traditional panettone.

There are several legends behind the creation of the panettone, one of the more popular ones concerns a young Milanese nobleman, a member of the Atellini family, who fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. To impress the girls father, the young man disguised himself as a baker and invented a sweet, bread of an unusual size with a top shaped like a church dome. This new, fruitcake-like bread enjoyed enormous success, with people coming to the bakery from all over Italy to purchase the magnificent Pan de Toni (Panettone).

Pandoro is a specialty from Verona and is similar to panettone, but without the fruit bits and is generally topped with icing sugar and vanilla powder. The recipe follows closely a production formula in the Venetian tradition. Tall, distinctive and shaped like a Christmas tree, it is topped with powdered sugar reminiscent of snow, or a twinkling star. And indeed, if cut horizontally, each slice is a star.

Want a Home Cooked Meal? Why Not DIY?

Autumn is here already and before you even have time to realize it you are right back into a busy semester. Don’t we all have those days where you just want to go home and stay in for the evening? If you ever feel like having a relaxed evening at home while still wanting to eat Italian food, why not try cooking something yourself? It might seem like a daunting process at first, but fear not! With a few ingredients and some simple instructions, you can prepare a tasty home cooked Italian meal for yourselves and even call your friends over to try some.

To keep up with the autumn traditions in the country, we suggest you try cooking risotto with funghi porcini. Risotto with funghi porcini is a well loved classic Italian dish, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.

 

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • Italian risotto: 180g to 200g
  • Porcini mushrooms (dried): 50g
  • Vegetable broth: about 1 litre
  • White Wine: ½ glass
  • White onion: ½
  • Garlic Clove: ½
  • Butter
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Parsley (either fresh or dry)
  • Parmigiano reggiano (grated)

Soak the porcini mushrooms in water before starting the cooking. Do not throw the water away, as it can be subsequently added to the risotto. In the meantime, prepare the vegetable broth and make sure that it is hot.

Then, in a saucepan heat a bit of oil and butter together. Finely chop the onion and garlic and sauté them for a few minutes until the onions are cooked. Drain the mushrooms from their liquid and squeeze them well. Chop into chunks and add them to the saucepan. Cook together for a few minutes with the sauce.

As soon as the mushrooms start becoming soft, add the rice to the pan. Let the rice cook in the sauce, use the white wine to mix all the ingredients together and stir well. Lower the heat slightly and add the vegetable broth to this mixture slowly when the risotto looks dry. Also, at this point add some of the water in which the mushrooms were soaked. This will help give an added flavor to the risotto. Make sure to keep mixing the rice and sauce together without keeping it still.

Once all the water is evaporated, turn off the heat. Add a little more butter and plenty of grated Parmigiano cheese and mix well together. Let it sit for a few minutes before garnishing it with finely chopped parsley and serving it.

We recommended to serve the risotto with white wine.