Want to add a little Italian culture to your life this spring?
Interestingly, the population of Italy is over 85% Catholic. What that means this year, is that for the vast majority of Italians, a period known as Lent started on Ash Wednesday March 1st, and ends on Easter, Sunday, April 13th.
The season of temperance between Ash Wednesday and Easter is taken quite seriously in Italy. Preceded by the rich meat sauces and cheese-filled pastries of Carnivale, the period of Quaresima (the Italian word for Lent) is a time where culinary indulgences are traditionally forbidden.
Though the Catholic Church has relaxed fasting requirements in the modern era, tradition dictates that meat, sweets, dairy, and chocolate be avoided. If you travel to Italy as a visitor this spring, or just want to honor the period in a more Italian way, let us help guide you.
Delicious, But Not “Indulgent”
Whether you wonder what to expect on menus abroad, or you aim to create an authentic culinary experience at home, rest assured that you can still eat well!
Though it may seem like the exploitation of a loophole, Quaresima calls for abstinence from only those foods deemed luxuries. Certainly, an individual may decide to abstain from additional foods or activities as a matter of personal piety, but fresh seafood, ripe vegetables, flavorful herbs, and rich olive oils are all on the sanctioned menu during Lent.
One Fish, Two Fish, Grilled Fish, Stew Fish
With the elimination of meat during Lent, seafood is high on everyone’s list of favorite foods and it’s the featured attraction of many meals this time of year.
A favorite grilled fish preparation in the Piemonte region of Italy, is arctic char prepared with blood orange and a hazelnut vinaigrette. If you yearn for something heartier to satisfy your craving,, fish stews are another popular main dish. This aptly named recipe for “Italian-Style Fish Stew” from The New York Times is relatively low labor – the most arduous task involved is the dicing of two white onions – but its high-impact presentation can help convince guests that you’ve risen to a level of enviable fanciness.
Eat Your Vegetables
Believe it or not, the Catholic Quaresima has pagan roots as a festival of rebirth. In Southern Italy, the end of winter marked the Greek goddess Persephone (“Proserpina” to the Romans) arising from the soil in the form of vegetation. It makes sense then, that the Lenten menu may be interpreted as much as a celebration of fresh fruits and vegetables as a renunciation of meats and cheeses.
March is the last month for fresh winter vegetables like pumpkin and radicchio, and the first month to find lots of other green goodies like broccoli, asparagus and brussel sprouts. Leeks also grow in abundance in Italy this time of year.
Italian cuisine is about making the most of what’s in season, so fill your table with these delicacies. Try this recipe for torta di porri (leek pie) as a main dish, courtesy of “Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen.” It does contain heavy cream and eggs, but is Lent-approved by the Sisters of the Community of Jesus, and their delightful food blog!
What other vegetables should you incorporate? In Southern Italy especially, red onions have a multi-faceted use during Quaresima: In addition to the flavor they add to the meal, their skins are collected and saved in order to dye eggs during the upcoming Easter holiday.
Quaresima is a time when people throughout the world adhere to culinary traditions, but it’s also a great time to experience the immense variety of seafood and produce that is inherent to the coastal towns throughout Italy.