Panpepato, pangiallo and frappe and it is immediately holidays time.
In Rome, special sweets are prepared during the traditional holiday periods. These add flavor and warmth to the festivities. Some are of ancient origin, in fact, for them we can find the recipes in the Classical era’s Culinaria, which enriched the Ancient Romans’ large banquets.
Christmas is the most beloved period. Every single Italian region has its specific sweet and so does Rome, which shines and enchants with the lights and decorations for the festivities that start on Christmas Eve and end on January 6th, on the Feast of the Epiphany.
One of the most appreciated sweet is the panpepato (literally peppered bread). The sweet is available also in other parts of Italy, even in the North as for example in Ferrara given that, as per other recipes, the territory’s ingredients are tied to the seasons and have been passed for centuries. Panpepato is a sweet rich in spices that give it a specific flavor. The history connected to this simple product is millennial.
Panpepato is a mixture of spices, honey and chocolate enriched with walnuts and almonds. These are all ingredients from the territory and, only the abundant spices that characterize the Roman panpepato, betray the very ancient origin of this sweet, back when Rome, center of the Empire, dominated the Orient’s spices market.
The Christmas table is also enriched by the pangiallo (literally yellow bread). Its golden yellow color gives the sweet its name, it is a mixture created with walnuts, almonds, honey and dried fruits added into a dough that, once it is rightly worked, is put into the oven and then ready to decorate the festive tables.
The Christmas period ends on January 6th, a date that in Rome carries great importance and history. In Italy, it is the day in which the Wise men visit the child, day named by following the Greek etymology, Epiphany, and in turn is transformed by assonance in “Befana”. She is a small old woman, ugly and who loves flying on a broom, recalling magical figures and witches that have always enthralled children. She carries with her a pack basket filled with toys and sweets and…. Black coal as well, for those children who have not behaved well.
In Rome, in Piazza Navona there is, for the whole Christmas period, a street market with stands that display sweets, Christmas tree decorations, and the inevitable befane that come by at night through the chimney, putting gifts and coal in the stockings that had been prepared on the evening of January 5th.
To be in tune with the times, the coal that is now found in the stockings is a sweet that perfectly imitates the mineral. A mixture of sugar and food coloring give the aspect of coal that can never be missing in the Roman, and more generally Italian, children’s stockings.
Another period in which one could taste some traditional sweets is definitely Carnevale, to be more precise the Roman Carnevale. A few cities in Italy are famous for this festivity where the most famous one is Venice. Nonetheless, even Rome has a centuries-old history of fun.
Parades cheered the days of “folly” during which, as the ancient Romans stated “semel in anno, licet insanìre” (at least once a year we are allowed to lose our head). The Carnevale festivities are very ancient, they are tied to the Saturnalia rituals in Ancient Rome , as well as to the “world upside down” custom of the Medieval era. Women would ask men to dance and the judges were judged.
It was a period of great debaucheries, so much so that the State of the Church had issued special sanctions. The masks with which one could hide, the dances that were assigned by the Aristocratic families, and the characters of the commedia dell’arte (literally art comedy), characterized Carnevale. Amongst all the characters one could mention Arlecchino, with his multi-color checkered costume and a black hat, and Rugantino, in Rome, a commoner that expresses the people’s voice against oppression.
In Rome, there are many sweets for the period of Carnevale. The most famous ones are the frappe, which are present all over Italy, but have many different names – some of these are chiacchiere and cenci. Frappe are made with a dough of eggs, flour and sugar that is then formed into strips that are then modelled into ribbons.
They can be made golden in the oven or fried in a pan; they are ultimately sprinkled with powdered sugar. They can be found in every pastry shop or bakery in Rome during this period. You cannot miss tasting these treats.
Another canevalesque delicacy are the castagnole.
Little dough balls are formed that are then fried and ultimately sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Cinnamon’s aroma fragrantly fills the air. After the Carnevale festivities, the days of penance start with Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the ashes, or dust, on the head, which recall the Biblical sentence (from dust you came, to dust you shall return).
For the entire Christian population, after all the revelries, starts Lent. It is a period determined by the Catholic Church, and are the 40 days that come before Easter. It is important to lead a moderate life in this period, but could there be a sweet missing characteristic of this period? Here come the quaresimini or pazientino quaresimale (From Quaresima, the Italian word that means Lent and pazienza, which means patience). These have the shapes of the alphabet. It is a sort of a merengue with chocolate flavor. Small and light, as food should be during Lent.