The “Infiorata Festival” is an Italian tradition that sees the streets paved with flowers during the month of May and June, from North to South, they are held in various Italian towns where these festivals take place. Individual artists display their talents on side streets and the public is invited to browse the “street gallery”. Three festivals in particular are worth noting: Noto – Sicily, Genzano – Lazio and Spello – Umbria.
The word “infiorata” literally means “decorated with flowers” and this is exactly how the paintings created for the occasion are made, using flower petals, earth and, sometimes, even beans or wood cuttings. Tracing its origins to the 13th century, the Infiorata flower tradition, as we know it today, dates back to the seventeenth century.
The infiorata artists use flower petals of varying colors to create both simple and elaborate designs on the streets leading up to their churches and abbeys. After months of work on the actual designs, the next step is to sketch them on the floor in chalk and mark each line with soil or coffee grounds. Then comes the job of filling in the designs with flower petals, using individual petals the way painters use the colors on their palette. Some tapestries also use entire flowers and other greenery, making for three-dimensional scenes.
One of the most famous infiorata festivals is in Noto and takes place between the 16th and 18th of May. Noto is a beautiful town in southeast Sicily and, over the three festival days, the city is quite literally covered in flower petals for the “Infiorata di Noto”. This event has taken place since 1980 and it’s a celebration of Spring and a chance for local artists to display their skills while using the most natural materials possible: flower petals, earth and, sometimes, beans or wood cuttings. The entire town of Noto takes part in the design of these unbelievable creations that have a maximum life span of 48 hours – since they are prepared between a Friday and Saturday and are showcased on Sunday. The main viewing area is in the Via Nicolaci, where people can look down to enjoy the flower images.
June is really a beautiful time of year in Genzano di Roma. This small town is located about 18 miles (29 kilometers) away from Rome. The tradition of making flower carpets along the route of the Corpus Christi procession started in 1778. In 2014, the infiorata will be held on the 22nd and 23rd of June. During this festival the whole Italo Belardi street is covered with flower carpets. In the past there were carpets dedicated to women, ecology, the late Pope John Paul II, Italian history, etc. In the 1990’s, several Italian fashion designers, for example Gianni Versace and Laura Biagiotti, participated in the festival.
Spello’s Infiorate takes place every year on the occasion of the Corpus Domini feast. On that night, thousands of people work nonstop to create carpets and pictures made of flowers along the narrow town’s streets. The floral creations cover the streets throughout the historical center in preparation of the passage of a religious procession by the bishop on Sunday morning. The result is a unique mile-long carpet path of beautiful floral creations.
The custom of throwing flowers or creating flower compositions is a dateless event in many areas of the world. In Spello this tradition, which has gone from first throwing flowers, then to placing them in art forms on the pavement, is documented in the Municipal archives for the first time in 1831. As techniques evolved, what was once a long uninterrupted carpet of flowers characterized by a relatively simple design, morphed into sophisticated and larger compositions. Distinct groups of creators emerged, focusing on improving artistic execution and addressing more complex religious and social messages. Spello’s Infiorate creators compose their carpets using only flowers collected in the wild. While the use of other parts of the plants, like leaves and berries is allowed, the preference is given to the use of petals only, either fresh or dried. The use of wood and any kind of synthetic material is prohibited.
From Sicily to Liguria, these Italian artistic carpets with flower petals are the pride of the citizens and local artists, who make use of local resources in their designs. During the course of the events, there are artistic and educational workshops, thematic conferences and many musical events.
Sampling the Cuisine of These Regions:
The only landlocked region in Italy, Umbria is located almost in the center of the country and there are no metropolitan cities in the region. With the Apennine Mountains to the east and Tuscany to the west, Umbria’s terrain is a mixture of pastureland, hills and forests. Wheat, spelt, pearl barley, grapes, olives, lentils, red potatoes, sunflowers and fruits and vegetables of all kinds grow well in the fertile lands of Umbria and provide the basis for hearty Umbrian cooking. Abundant, as well, are forest animals like deer and wild pigs, providing game meats and venison as hearty elements to many Umbrian dishes. Pork products in particular are the reason chefs worldwide seek out meats from this area. Prosciutto di Norcia is made exclusively from the meat of pigs fed only acorns to give the meat a distinctive woodsy flavor.
Minestra Di Zucca, Farro E Verdure
(Squash And Farro Soup With Greens)
Farro is a member of the wheat family and is related to emmer, spelt and similar grains. It has a nutty taste and a chewy texture. Farro tolerates poor soil and high altitudes, which is why it has been grown for centuries in the mountains of Tuscany, Umbria and Abruzzi. Farro labeled “semiperlato (partly pearled)” will cook faster than ordinary farro and farro labeled “perlato (pearled)” will cook even faster. If you encounter completely untreated farro, soak in water overnight before cooking.
Makes 4 servings
- 1 clove garlic, lightly crushed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1 to 2 sage leaves)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cups farro
- 1 medium butternut squash (or almost any eating pumpkin or squash), peeled, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 4 cups roughly chopped greens (cabbage, kale or escarole)
- 12 cups stock (meat, chicken or vegetable)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
In a soup pot, warm the garlic in the olive oil over low heat for a few minutes without browning the garlic. Discard garlic.
Add herbs, bay leaf, celery and onion. Cook, stirring, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are soft and just turning golden.
Add the farro and squash, turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Add the greens and stock and simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until the farro is tender, but still a little chewy. Salt and pepper to taste.
The region of Lazio is often seen as the center of Italian culture. Its mountain-to-sea terrain offers a rich variety of landscapes with growing and producing conditions close to ideal. Oxtail, veal, pork, lamb, spaghetti, gnocchi, bucatini, garlic, tomatoes, truffles, potatoes, artichokes, olives, grapes, buffalo mozzarella and pizza … the choices are overflowing.
Lazio has developed food that is a great example of how the simple dishes of the poor working classes influenced the cuisine of the country. Add to this a heavy influence of Jewish culture and delightful and unexpected combinations emerge: pork with potato dumplings or artichokes stuffed with mint. Very little is wasted in Lazian cooking. Almost any bit of this or that leftover – vegetables, herbs, oils, cheeses, cream, meats – can be combined with each other and with spaghetti for a delicious meal that can range from light to hearty.
Gnocchi alla Romana
6 first-course servings
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup semolina (sometimes labeled “semolina flour” and resembles fine yellow cornmeal)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/2 cups), divided
- 1 large egg
Whisk together milk, semolina and 1 teaspoon salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until very stiff, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter and 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Beat in egg.
Spread gnocchi mixture 1/2 inch thick on an oiled baking sheet and chill, uncovered, until very firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Cut out rounds from the gnocchi mixture with a 2-inch round cookie cutter (push scraps into remaining mixture as you go) and arrange, slightly overlapping, in a well-buttered 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Make a small second layer in the center of dish with any remaining rounds. Brush gnocchi with remaining 1/4 cup melted butter and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake in the middle of the oven until gnocchi are beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
The island region of Sicily is located in the warm Mediterranean waters right off the toe of southern Italy’s “boot”. The mountains and hills provide excellent locations for growing a wide variety of food products. The western part of the island is devoted to growing grapes and is rich in the winemaking tradition. Wheat grows well on the high plains areas. The southern tip of Sicily is known for almonds and the northern hills for chestnut and walnut trees. The citrus orchards are some of the most abundant on the planet. Swordfish, sea bass, cuttlefish and tuna are coastline staples. Deer roam wild and pigs are raised for pork and sausage dishes.
Cow, sheep and goat herding is a traditional practice, providing plenty of meat, as well as, milk for local cheeses. Caciocavallo (“cheese on horseback”), a cow’s milk cheese, gets its distinctive teardrop shape from being left hanging to dry in pouch-like bags. Many of the flavors introduced into Sicilian cuisine have taken influence from African trade coming through the region and so the additions of apricots, melons, pine nuts, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and saffron are not unusual in Sicilian dishes, including the more traditional Italian elements of tomatoes, olives, eggplants, beans and peppers. Sicily is home to many sweets the world has come to equate with Italian cuisine. This region is master of the well-known cannoli, fried pastry tubes most often filled with smooth and sweetened ricotta cheese.
Vinegar Chicken with Olives & Linguine
- 8 oz dried Linguine
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- 8 large cloves garlic
- 1 medium bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
- 1/4 cup pitted olives (Kalamata, green or other favorite)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, chives)
- 3/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Additional fresh herbs for garnish
Trim any excess fat and skin from the chicken and set aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken in the skillet; cook 2 to 3 minutes until browned. Turn the chicken; sprinkle with black pepper. Scatter garlic cloves around the chicken; cook 2 to 3 minutes until browned, stirring garlic as needed.
Add bell pepper and olives to skillet; sprinkle herbs over the chicken and peppers. Pour wine into skillet. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and place in a serving bowl or a platter.
Remove chicken and peppers from the skillet and arrange over the pasta. Stir vinegar into the pan. Bring to a boil and pour over the chicken and pasta. Garnish with fresh herbs, if desired.