So after today, Shrove Tuesday, Carnevale will close, and all of the floats and costumes will go to sleep for another year. Although it is celebrated in many places, Venice is traditionally a hot locale for parties, games, parades, and fun. Why not take a peak into the most famous of such observances – Carnevale di Venezia! To properly prepare for this affair, check out the March Recipe of the Month at Linda’s Italian Table for my version of the famous drink of Venice, Sgroppino <Click here for your last lovely indulgence before the party is over.
For those who are not familiar with this 3-4 week celebration of merriment, Carnevale is a colorful and festive display of masks and costumes – many in the Commedia Dell’Arte Style which takes place just prior to Lent. In Venice, special party tickets are sold for a mere fortune. There is a Doge’s Ball where everyone wears masks and no one knows anyone. However, most of the fun is free and takes place in the streets of Venice, and in particular, at the Piazza San Marco, where the wine flows in seemingly endless abundance. This is the time when partiers release their innermost “Pagliacci” from the bondage of propriety only to dance, sing, drink wine, and eat glorious food until Lent brings it all to a screeching halt. During the days of the ultimate “party pooper”, Mussolini, the masks were banned – only to be revived again as late as 1979.
This year, Carnevale, for me, was more than the usual Polenta. I was so fortunate as to join the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina at Pricci Restaurant for their first annual Carnevale Di Venezia – Serata in Maschera. (Carnevale of Venice – Evening in Mask) What a privilege it was to celebrate with this honorable group at my very favorite Italian restaurant! The food, the service, the company, the ambience – Fantastico!
The Accademia Italiana Della Cucina began in Milan, Italy, in 1953 at the Hotel Diana. It was formed to protect the integrity of Italian food and to preserve its authenticity for future generations. Those in attendance at its inception were considered the cream of the cultural and artistic crop at the time. The national secretariat of the organization still resides in Milan. The Atlanta delegation was founded in 2002 by Angela Della Costanza Turner, the Honorary Consul General of Italy in Atlanta, pictured here.
Ms. Turner, who holds the office of Delegate of the Accademia in Atlanta, generously welcomed all in attendance and wore a beautiful mask , as seen below, to promote the festive nature of the evening.
The Delegate is appointed by the Presidential Council and is commissioned to lead and guide the delegation. There are approximately 213 delegations in Italy alone and 79 in other areas of the world. Each year they choose a theme, and this year it is fruit based cuisine. The Accademia publishes “L’Accademia Magazine” 11 months of the year and edits a guide to the restaurants of Italy.
Paolo Raugei, a good friend from the Tuscany region of Italy who has served as Treasurer and Vice-Delegate since 2003, rang the bell to call the evening to order and to begin the festivities. In explaining the role of the Accademia in the realm of Italian cuisine, he mentioned humorously that it is thought to be that of the “Food Police”.
I can attest to the weight of this bell that Paolo stuffs with a ball of foil to keep it from ringing at will – as I examined it myself. It was quite heavy.
We were serenaded by two extremely gifted violinists from Emory University – whose lilting and sometimes haunting notes set the perfect tone for the evening. They offered a special interlude between courses that was so astounding as to almost set the room ablaze! BRAVO!
The tables were beautifully adorned in gold streamers with masks at each place setting.
Pricci and the renowned and charming Chef Piero Premoli, originally from Milan, really went over the top with a superbly prepared menu of authentic dishes, wines, and the famous Cipriani Classic White Peach Bellinis of Venice.
After experiencing this menu, it is easy to see why Chef Premoli received the Recognition of Excellence from the Accademia. Meet the extraordinary Chef Premoli!
The amazing array of courses began with an appetizer/salad, a beautiful dish, given considerable substance with Borlotti Beans, red and lovely, which literally melted in your mouth. The crisp crostini of Pane Nero were laced with the essence and flavor of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and herbs. AND OH – the Pricci “house cured” Pancetta – which must be tasted to fully appreciate! As salads go – this one was really memorable.
The First Course was my favorite part of the meal, and I simply cannot say enough about it. It was a pasta course of Bigoli, made with Porcini mushrooms, in a succulent Salsa d’Anatra – an authentic and well known Duck Sauce of the Veneto region. With advance notice, I might have to say that if I were to leave this earth any time soon, this would be my “last meal” of choice – just amazing.
Bigoli is a Venetian pasta, not easily found outside the Veneto region, the eighth largest of Italy’s twenty regions. It looks like spaghetti only thicker, somewhat like Bucatini only without the hole. Bigoli is a thick substantial pasta which requires a very special tool to make. The Bigoli tool, generally not found in the US, was loaned to Pricci Restaurant by Elisabetta, one of the Accademia members who is from Vicenza. It was originally sent to her by her father.
Chef Premoli gave us a demonstration in the set-up of this very special instrument.
It was the sole responsibility of Jose, pictured here with Chef Premoli, to make the Bigoli – masterful!
The second course was a beautiful, light preparation of Branzino, a tender Mediterranean fish, with White Asparagus and Clam Brodetto which melted away on the tongue.
Last, but hardly least, was an extraordinary WARM Chestnut Mascarpone Tart with Zabajone Gelato, topped with Bubble Sugar, which looked like shards of free form glass. It was fanciful and just as delicious as it was picturesque. I noticed how unusual it was to see most of the dessert plates totally empty when they returned to the kitchen. I couldn’t leave a morsel! This was paired with Moscato di Noale, light, sweet and from possibly the oldest grape variety in the world.
The whimsical evening of elaborate imagination came sadly to a close, but not before the attendees posed for the “roving photographer” in their stylish and unusual masks.
How we look forward to next year’s Carnevale di Venezia! We salute the good work of the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina and congratulate Pricci Restaurant for providing another splendid and delicious evening of superior and cutting edge Italian regional dining.
PARLA COME MANGI!
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography