The Celebration of Pasqua in Italy

Julie Jurden

Easter is one of the most important holidays in Italy, and one that incorporates religious symbolism as well as traditions and customs celebrated by even those outside of the Christian faith. As is the heart of this culture, Holy Week is another reason to embrace family, friends, great food, and plenty of celebration.

Easter is known as Pasqua in Italy and it falls on April 1 this year. Festivities across the country typically begin on Good Friday with church service attendance and continue through Easter Monday, or Pasquetta.


Vatican in Italy on EasterThe most famous celebration takes place in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The sitting Pope conducts evening mass, which is then followed by his walk with a large candlelit procession that starts at Palatine Hill and continues to the Colosseum, making 14 prayer stops along the way. These coordinated stops mirror the last walk of Christ. Religious or not, there is a lovely harmony that is experienced with onlookers lucky enough to participate in this sacred tradition.

Over the course of the weekend there are celebrations across the country in the form of parades and festivals. You’re more than likely to see a procession of people carrying statues of either Jesus or Mary with olive branches in hand as they make their way through town.

Most Italians are spending Pasqua Sunday enjoying large meals with those they love. Traditional meals include some sort of egg dish in the morning such as a frittata. The egg represents new life and new beginnings, symbolic of the resurrection of Christ. And while you won’t see the Easter Bunny hopping around Italy, they do color eggs and indulge in chocolate hollowed eggs filled with small treasures. If you walk the streets to browse shop window displays, you’ll likely see some very intricate and beautiful chocolate eggs created by the many master chocolatiers in Italy. These small works of art tend to make their way to the Easter table, along with the colored variety.

Intrecci basket with candy eggsWe have our own tradition to incorporate spring on our Easter table with the addition of our favorite handmade Italian dinnerware. These Intrecci handmade ceramics filled with candy egg treats and paired with spring plantings inside our Primavera flowerpots definitely make the table feel like Easter.

Beyond all the sweet treats, Italians feast on lamb for their main Pasqua meal. Every region may prepare it in their unique way, but at the center, lamb is the meal of choice. Roast lamb, lamb stew, grilled lamb, lamb skewers, lamb with sauce – it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s lamb.

Artichokes are also common across the country given spring is when they are harvested, but they are definitely a significant tradition in places like Rome. There are even artichoke festivals in some areas to celebrate the harvest season. A grouping of raw artichokes in a large Intrecci basket would be beautiful on the spring table!

Other traditional foods include Easter soups, rice balls, sweet breads, as well as specialty cakes like the dove-shaped treat called colomba. We’ve shared a recipe for the most popular Easter bread, or Pana di Pasqua, below along with a nice wine suggestion for your Easter meal.

After a full weekend of quality time with the family, Easter Monday is typically the time Italians spend with friends. Since it’s the first opportunity for a spring outing, the Pasquetta tradition is to find a favorite outdoor destination and have a picnic. You’ll find Italians flocking to seaside beaches, mountains, vineyards, parks, and country villas to celebrate the start of the season steeped in Mother Nature.

Whatever your plans this Easter, we hope you can spend it with those that mean the most to you. Don’t forget to fill the table with the bounty of the spring season and embrace the intended spirit of renewal and new life. 

Happy Easter!





Recipe | Pana di Pasqua

Makes 6 breads

Easter breadThis recipe is from one of our favorite bloggers, The Italian Dish Blog. It’s an easy version of this traditional Italian sweet bread and we think your family will really enjoy. You can either follow the instructions below, or visit Elaine’s site and see more photos along with the instructions to help you along.


Ingredients: 

  • 1 package Rapid Rise (instant) yeast, about 2-1/4 teaspoons
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour (approximate)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
  • 6 dyed Easter eggs *
  • sprinkles or pearl sugar

Instructions:

* Tip:  the Easter eggs do not need to be hard-boiled. They cook when the bread bakes. So just dye the eggs uncooked, but be careful they don't crack.


In a small saucepan, warm the milk and butter together, till butter melts. In a large mixer bowl, combine yeast, salt, eggs, and sugar.


Add the warm (not hot - it will kill the yeast) milk and butter. Add about half the flour and beat until smooth with dough hook. Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough. Don't worry about how much flour it ends up being, just keep adding until the dough is not sticky anymore. 


Knead until smooth with either dough hook attachment or turn out on floured board and knead. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.


Punch the dough down and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1 inch thick rope about 14 inches long and, taking two pieces, twist to form a braid, pinching the ends, and loop into a circle. (See Elaine’s images for visual instructions.)


Place on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or Silpats. Cover and let rise until double, about an hour again.  Brush each bread with beaten egg wash. Add the sprinkles or sugar on the top. In the middle of each bread ring, gently place an Easter egg, making an indentation with the egg.


Bake at 350 degrees until golden - about 20 minutes. Cool on rack. You can eat the eggs, but if you leave the bread sitting out for a few hours, don't eat them. Common sense.

Wine Pairing


For an easy wine pairing, we suggest this Italian Pinot Grigio made by the Candoni De Zan family in the Veneto region of Italy.  


Their tasting notes suggest it’s “Crisp, well-structured and sophisticated. It has a rich, pear-like nose, which is followed by crisp acidity, a medium body and a delicious mouth feel.”


Sounds like the perfect pairing to your Easter meal and our Pana di Pasqua recommendation. You can usually find it for less than $14, so why not pick up a few bottles.



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Renew and Refresh: The Spring Table

Julie Jurden

spring or easter table setting

“And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.” 
― Percy Bysshe Shelley


Spring is almost here and the promise of renewal, new growth, and a fresh perspective blissfully come with it. There’s joy in the softness of the warmer weather and sweet smell of the air. Trees are erupting with young growth and flowers break through the hardened ground of winter. You can almost hear the song of birds in musical harmony.  


The season of change gives us the opportunity for something fresh. Our Primavera collection is just that. It’s classic spring in a symphony of soft pastels and playful patterns. This handmade Italian dinnerware is the perfect guest at your spring table.

In the beautiful setting above, we’ve complemented our Primavera pieces with several of our soft and sophisticated accessories. We love the idea of layering to bring both depth and drama to a setting, and even with a serene and muted palate it works.


The addition of texture with Biancheria linens balances the subtle tone of the table. We’ve chosen a neutral selection in ivory and pale beiges so the dinnerware doesn’t contrast too harshly. This allows us to top it off with a pop of natural color in the yellow Paperwhite Narcissus planted in our Intrecci Cachepots. These handmade ceramics are woven to mimic traditional baskets, perfect for spring.


With the new season comes the promise of fresh fruits and vegetables. We enjoy serving up colorful carrots straight from the garden. Below we offer a quick and easy way to prepare the bounty of your own garden, or what you might pick from the local farmer’s market. Get your veggie on and get dinner cooking.


Recipes

roasted carrots on handmade ceramic plate


Roasted Spring Carrots

In this photo, we’ve used a mix of thinner carrots in a variety of colors. Feel free to use what you have access to. So if simple orange carrots from the grocery store are all you have, that works perfectly.

  • 8-10 carrots (feel free to use more based on number of servings needed)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of good virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Fresh dill sprigs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If your carrots are on the thinner side, you can keep them whole or cut them down the middle. If you’re using thicker carrots, you can quarter them into long strips. Note that carrots shrink when you cook them, so ensure they aren’t too thin or you may overcook them.


Lay the carrots across a cookie sheet and cover with the olive oil. Add the salt and pepper and then use your hands to toss ensuring full coverage. After you toss them, lay the carrots across the sheet in a single layer.


Cook for 15-20 minutes, depending on the texture you like -- testing for softness or the level of al dente you prefer. You should see the carrots slightly caramelizing, which enhances the sweetness of the dish.


Plate the carrots on our Primavera Oval Platter and sprinkle with a little chopped dill or dill sprigs and serve.

smoked salmon on handmade dinner plate

Smoked Salmon with Capers

This isn’t a recipe as much as a set of instructions. If you’ve ever had a wonderful smoked salmon appetizer at a restaurant but weren’t sure how to serve it at home, it’s incredibly easy. Smoked salmon brings decadence to any Sunday brunch or spring dinner.

  • 1 package smoked salmon
  • Capers, drained
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • A few radishes, thinly sliced

If you’ve never purchased smoked salmon before, ask your local market for help in deciding what’s best. You can get great quality options of Scottish, Pacific, and Nova Scotia versions at most grocery stores.  Depending on how many people you’re entertaining, you may need to purchase two packages. What you’re looking for is a clean, silky, buttery taste.


Tear the salmon slices into 2-3 inch pieces and lay out on a nice platter. Sprinkle the salmon with capers, as many as you like, sliced red onions, radishes, and lemon.  


Serve your salmon platter with your best crusty loaf of bread and watch it disappear.

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Villa Medici With A Side Of Pea Soup

Julie Jurden

Villa MediciOne of our favorite Modigliani collections is our Villa Medici handmade dinnerware. The simple elegant look means it goes well with everything, for just about any occasion. It’s classic yet modern. You can dress it up, or you can dress it down. On the holiday table or with Tuesday night takeout, its versatility is limitless.

We’ve showcased this sophisticated Italian dinnerware with a wonderful spring soup—the recipe is shared below.


This collection was named for one of the most historically significant locations in Rome – The Villa Medici.

Not far from the Spanish Steps, this 16th century building was named for one of its first owners, Ferdinando de' Medici.

It’s an architectural complex with beautiful gardens that connect to the larger Borghese gardens nearby on the Pincian Hill. One of the first of the Medici properties in Rome, it later housed the French Academy of Rome, thanks to the instruction of Napoleon Bonaparte, in order to house the winners of the Prix de Rome. The competition was later interrupted during World War I when Mussolini confiscated the Villa, forcing the Academy to withdraw until it was restored in 1945. The competition was eventually eliminated entirely in 1968.

With its grand gardens, sweeping city views, ancient Roman sculptures, and peaceful fountains, many have called this historical treasure home, by choice or by force. The Villa's most famous resident was Galileo, who was imprisoned here in 1630 during his trial for heresy. But even the likes of Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones and famous Italian actress Anita Pallenberg stayed here in the 1960s.

Today, the Academy has continued its program by inviting young artists, musicians, and performers to spend twelve months in residence exhibiting their work. Known as pensionnaires, these young and gifted individuals are given room and board to pursue their many talents and to eventually showcase them to the public.

When these artists or other important guests aren’t using the number of rooms on the Villa premises, the space is open to the public for guided tours and numerous events. For the right price, interested parties can even spend the night in the Villa.

And if tourists get a bit hungry as they walk the grand halls or intricate gardens, there's a cafe on site that serves plenty of Prosecco with a delicious Panini lunch. They won’t have our stunning Villa Medici dinnerware to serve it on, but no one’s perfect.

 

Recipe and Wine Pairing

pea soup in Villa Medici dinnerwareOur fresh springtime soup was adapted from an original recipe on Epicurious. We decided to eliminate the dairy here, but it was still satisfying without all the extra calories. We think you’ll enjoy this herb and pea infused version, however, if you’d like to try the original, here’s a link to the recipe.

 

RECIPE: Minty Pea Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • 6 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 6 pounds of pods) or frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Preparation

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned—about 6-8 minutes. Add 2 cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Add the peas, reduce heat, and simmer gently until tender, about 5 minutes for fresh peas and about 2 minutes for frozen.

Remove the pot from heat. Add the parsley, mint, and the remaining 2 cups of broth to the pot. Purée the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender, thinning with water if soup is too thick, until nice and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You can top with fresh chives or another complementary herb of your liking. Or you can add the dairy back in by topping with a little dollop of crème fraiche. 

 

WINE PAIRING: Ruffino Pinot Grigio

white wineFor this recipe, there’s a mix of flavors. You have the stronger mint combined with a more earthy flavor from the parsley. Then you have the sweet of the peas combined with the onion, vegetable broth, and salt and pepper components. While it’s a simple spring soup, it still has a complexity of flavors coming together. But the dominant flavor is the aromatic mint.

If you prefer a red, we’d suggest your favorite pinot noir. But if you like white, we suggest a good Italian Pinot Grigio.

Perfect for pairing with a medley of fresh herbs and veggie options, Pinot Grigio's often laid-back style allows a variety of foods to steal its spotlight. At less than $15 a bottle, Tuscany’s Ruffino Pinot Grigio bouquet is fresh and complex, showing refined notes of sage and mint accompanied by an elegant minerality typical of Pinot Grigio. It is medium bodied, lively, and elegant. A touch of minerality lingers in the finish, with notes of lemon peel. Perfect for pairing with our Minty Pea Soup.

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Special Carnevale Recipe | Jasper Mirabile’s Zeppoles

Julie Jurden

We’ve been talking about Carnevale for the past week. By now you may be wishing you were there, but missed your window to book the trip this year.  

Well, if you can’t make it to one of the many spectacular events throughout Italy, celebrate your own Carnevale at home.

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Carnevale: Masked Balls, Orange Throwing, and Paper Maiché – Oh My!

Julie Jurden

carnevale person wearing a mask in veniceCarnevale in any country is a brilliant experience, filled with theatrics, vibrant pomp and circumstance, and maybe a little mayhem. There are colorful and exuberant celebrations all over Italy, but a few stand out as the ones not to miss. Each has its own traditions making them memorable and something to try at least once.

VENICE
As the most well-known and beloved Carnevale in all of Italy, Venice hosts a two-week long festival under the freedom of le maschere, or the masks. About 3 million people travel to Venice every year just for Carnevale.


After hours of walking through the streets showcasing their costumes and graciously posing for all photo op requests, participants are likely attending one of the many masquerade balls hosted across the city. These festive balls are hosted by most of the higher-end hotels, which means they can get expensive and also require booking a reservation well in advance. But events are hosted in every sestiere, or district, with the main events centered in the Piazza San Marco or nearby Piazzetta.

The actual date of the Carnevale is the last day of the festival, Shrove Tuesday or the day before Ash Wednesday. During the entire two weeks, there are all sorts of events and entertainment every day and night, and the costumes aren’t reserved just for the final evening; they are front and center throughout the carnival.

If you plan to bring the kids, they will love the parades along the Grand Canal with all sorts of boats and gondolas decorated and filled with those in costume. Or head to the Carnevale created just for children in the Cannaregio district.

And on the very last night, there’s an incredible fireworks display shot from the waterfront near the Piazza San Marco, making it visible from just about any spot you choose.

If it’s the food you’re most interested in, you have to try the frittelle, or fritters. These irresistible fried pieces of dough can either be served plain or filled with something decadent like custard, chocolate, or, heaven help us, nutella. And they won’t be hard to find – street vendors will be selling them all over town.  

IVREA

ivera men in orangeIn a small city in the northern part of Piedmont, they host one of the more unusual events. In the town of Ivrea they celebrate with what is called the Battle of the Oranges.

According to legend, a miller’s daughter named Violetta refused to spend the night with the duke and instead chopped his head off which sparked a civil war. So now on the last day of the carnival festivities, a young woman is selected to play Violetta and lead the townspeople in a parade through the city center where her triumph is celebrated by orange throwing at the end of the parade.

If getting knocked about with a sticky citrus ball is not on your bucket list, you can don a red hat letting participants know you won’t be throwing oranges and hopefully can steer clear of any collateral damage. Instead, you can cheer them on from a comfortable distance.

At the end of the battle, they erect and burn a scarli, which is a big pole covered in dry bushes, to mark the end of the carnival season.


VIARREGIO

If pummeling fruit at one another isn’t your thing, you can make your way to Viarregio in northern Tuscany for one of the biggest Carnevale celebrations in all of Italy.

On several days throughout the entire month, they host parades that feature enormous animated floats with huge paper maiché caricatures that depict political and cultural figures of both past and present. A feast for the eyes, these incredible and artistic displays are quite imposing as they drift across the skyline one by one.

Apparently, they are so serious about their famous event that they start planning for next year’s floats the day after.

The town is filled with a variety of cultural and entertainment events, music concerts, masked balls, and an enormous fireworks finale. Restaurants offer special menus just for Carnevale, and street vendors provide specialty items such as fritters and custard to satisfy the sweet tooth.

Have we enticed you to book a trip for next years Carnevale?

See more of our series on Carnevale:
Shake off your Inhibitions, It's Carnevale

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What the Heart Wants: The Romance of Italy

Julie Jurden

Florence Italy BridgeThe Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi wrote, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”

With Valentine’s Day just weeks away and the inevitable inundation of red roses, chocolate boxes, and big romantic gestures, here at Modigliani, our hearts return to Italy.

What is it about Italy? What makes it such a romantic destination? Why does it move us in a way no other place can? How it transposes us to another time or how it somehow manages to turn us into gushing teenagers, smitten with our very first love. It’s as if there’s something in the air, or maybe in the wine. Whatever it is, it leaves an indelible mark that consistently makes this country one of the top destinations for romance.

To begin with, Italy is simply one of the most beautiful places to experience. From the architecture to the art, and in the food and wine, it inspires the heart and feeds the soul.  With its evocative landscapes and impassioned people it stays true to the many stories unfolding in literature and on film. Whether you’re lost in a Shakespearean play or entranced by a Fellini film, Italy becomes the main character in any narrative.

With so many picturesque locations, refining the choices seems almost cruel. But the reality is, you simply can’t go wrong no matter where you go.

 

Venice Italy BoatVenice is considered one of the more romantic locations in all of Italy. With its narrow streets, winding canals, and scenic bridges, it’s the perfect spot for love’s embrace. Take an evening gondola ride or get lost in the modest lanes, only to wind up in the Piazza San Marco every time. Surrounded by water, escape seems inconceivable. And then the romance of the moment captivates and you never want to leave.

And then there is Verona, best known for Romeo and Juliet, earning its nickname “City of Love”.  It’s no surprise that the most visited attraction here is the Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House, where you can see the famous balcony and imagine the star-crossed lovers exchanging verse and poetry. Nearby, there’s a small wall in a narrow alley where legend says if couples write their names and add them to the wall, Juliet will give them eternal love.

When in Rome, there are couples at every turn. Town squares are important for social exchange and you’ll always find lovers gathered at nearby fountains, like Trevi Fountain. Spend a few hours with your special someone gazing upon Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The enforced silence as you’re awe inspired demands quiet contemplation, but best shared with another. Get lost together as you walk the sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum and then on to the Pantheon where in the evening the subtle glow of the lights sets the mood.

In the city of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, you can get lost in art museums soaking up as much Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and da Vinci as your heart desires. Take in the city view from the top of the Duomo or gaze down the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. End your evening at a quiet café enjoying an espresso or sharing a carafe of wine over candlelight. The romance of Florence is undeniable.

If a more intimate experience is what you crave, try the Gulf of Poets, Golfo dei Poeti, made popular by the romantic poets such as Byron and Shelley. Tourists tend to stick to nearby Cinque Terre, which is less busy and more romantic at night, making this the perfect spot for privacy and amour.

The Amalfi Coast and Lake Como are always lovely options. Both have their share of sparkling waters and breathtaking views. And both are top destinations for honeymooners of all ages.

No matter which location you select, bustling city or countryside village, every nook and cranny seems to evoke the ambience of romance. It never feels out of place or unwanted, and it always feels as essential as breath. Ask any Italian and they’ll probably agree and tell you that life without love has no reason for breath – it is that necessary. Or maybe they’ll say that romance is breathing.

Italians are serious about having a good life, but do not take life too seriously. They believe in living the best they possibly can, which for them means embracing those things that make them most happy. Meals are, by design, long and social. Food is not simply for fuel but instead a sensual experience, where every bite is to be tasted and enjoyed. Wine is not for intoxication but for the palette and pairing with food, heightening the experience. Art is to be shared, with as many as possible as often as possible. Architecture is to be preserved so that generations to come can live amongst the beauty and history, embracing their past, while still creating and innovating for the future.

If at home or lost abroad, we hope you find a little romance this Valentine’s Day. There’s no need to dine out – cook a great meal together at home. Italians even shop together first, extending their romantic experience. Light some candles, put on some music, embrace the moment, and enjoy the company of the one you love.

 

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Death By Chocolate, Italian Style

Julie Jurden


This past week has officially introduced the inevitable arctic cold that comes with the New Year. The “bomb cyclone” and the brutal cold that follows is enough to drive us all indoors, prisoners to our heaters and blankets. I’m okay with the cold weather and bouts of snow—don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of lounging through the evenings and weekends in cozy sweaters, squishy socks, and curled up with a good book in front of a crackling fire. But the combination of the icy blast and the post-holiday blues may require a bit more incentive to get one excited for the wintry months ahead.

Well, Valentine’s Day is just weeks away. And that means love… and chocolate…and love of chocolate. Okay, I admit it. I’m more excited for the chocolate.
The impact to our brains and the elevation of our mood when we indulge in this little pleasure is simply unmatched. The sweet, creamy, sometimes bitter, decadence of a luscious piece of dark chocolate melting across the tongue is nirvana. The better the chocolate, the greater the experience. The anticipation, the heavy smell of cocoa, and then the moment you bite into a rich and silky piece of chocolate is the trifecta of our senses kicking in and we feel instantly happy.

Across the world, chocolate is a unifier. It takes prominence during holidays, festivals and family celebrations. In every country, it evokes the same response – pure joy and delight. You simply cannot be sad when eating a good piece of chocolate.

You may not know this, but Italy takes chocolate and chocolate making quite seriously. As a matter of fact, it’s reported that in the Piemonte region of Italy alone, there are more master chocolatiers than in Belgium and France combined. And in the area between Florence and Pisa, the concentration of fine chocolate makers is so high that it’s been named the Chocolate Valley. 

A few of Italy’s most famous chocolate brands include Perugina, maker of Baci chocolates, and Caffarel, inventor of Gianduiotto, chocolates shaped like an upturned boat made with a mixture of cocoa and hazelnut paste, a specialty of Turin.

Hazelnuts are quite common in a lot of Italian chocolate. It began with Napoléon’s reign when he prevented British goods from entering European harbors, which made access to cocoa more difficult. A Turin chocolatier mixed hazelnuts with his chocolate to make it go further and now you can buy sweet chocolate spreads like Nutella at every grocery store in America.

If you’re a country with this level of chocolate talent, then it’s only appropriate that you host multiple chocolate festivals for chocoholics near and far to indulge in the most delectable innovations.

Let’s start with the largest and most well known, EuroChocolate. This annual festival is held every mid-October in Perugia, the capital of Umbria. Now attracting more than a million visitors each year, this year will officially mark its 25th anniversary.

You’ll see representation not only from Italy’s most recognizable chocolate brands, but also individual artisans and chocolatiers alike.
Stroll the streets and sample chocolate concoctions of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. Lose yourself in a liquid heaven with chocolate liqueurs or cioccolata calda, an Italian style hot chocolate. And while you’re gorging on your favorite treat, don’t forget to learn from the masters themselves with chocolate classes, tastings, and cooking demonstrations. You can even soothe your soul in a chocolate spa if you like.

The chocolate in Modica is slightly different than the creamy, smooth consistency we Americans are used to. This Sicilian method draws from the Spanish influence using a cold technique that doesn’t allow the sugar to melt instead creating a grainy texture to the chocolate. Modica has it’s own chocolate festival as well called Chocomodica which is held in December.

Other top Italian chocolate festivals to add to your bucket list include Turin’s CioccolaTÓ in November, Cioccoshow in Bologna, also in November, and the Fiera del Cioccolato Artiginale held in Florence each February, which coincides quite nicely with Valentine’s Day.

But no matter which festival you choose, or where you travel in Italy, you must try a decadent cup of cioccolata calda. This Italian hot chocolate is nothing like our American watered down version. This irresistible cup of heaven is thicker, and with the addition of cornstarch, has more of the consistency of a pudding making it the perfect dessert. Sip it while it’s steaming hot or spoon it to the bottom to get every last drop.


The wonderful thing is, even if you don’t plan on being in Italy anytime soon, you can make this luxurious ambrosia at home. You simply need to get your hands on the best Italian cocoa you can and follow the recipe to the letter. In less than 30 minutes, you can cozy up to the fire with the one you love and transcend yourself to the great chocolate festivals of Italy.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, try this recipe for Cioccolata Calda from Domenica Cooks, one of our favorite Italian cookbook authors. After growing up in Italy and sharing this chocolate treat with her own children for the first time while in Umbria, she created the perfect recipe to make it at home whenever the kids needed to come in from the cold.

http://www.domenicacooks.com/2011/01/bribery-hot-chocolate-italian-style/

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Italian Christmas Markets Create the Magic of the Season

Julie Jurden

Christmas MarketsWhen most of us think about the Christmas markets, we tend to conjure images of the German influenced Christkindlmarkets. You can find one of these during the holiday season in most major U.S. cities as well as across Europe.  However, Italy also has it’s own magical markets known as Mercatino di Natale.

The markets of Italy are also grounded in German and Austrian roots, but Italians have adopted this tradition and made it their own.

Typically much smaller, and by default, more intimate than their German counterparts, Italian Christmas markets are quintessentially community events. These street markets are commonly open for business as the Advent is ushered in, and close out in line with the Epiphany in early January. They are a festive and fun way to introduce yourself to an area, while sampling the local delicacies, and supporting resident artists and artisans.

 

Christmas markets are structured much the same, but creative twists on decoration, lighting, themes, foods, and even activities can make certain markets more popular. Generally you’ll find the holiday market in a central location within a town or city. Officials will reserve locations such as large piazzas where locals and tourists alike come to socialize and open space is at a plenty. Streets are lined with small wooden huts or tents where various merchants bring their best representation of local goods and fare.

chestnutsMarket organizers will play to the senses with spectacular light shows, festive Christmas music, and the aroma of food and drink wafting through the air. If you’re lucky, there’s a merchant with a full cart of freshly roasted chestnuts and another with a hot cup of vin brulé, or mulled wine. Incorporating grand carousels and towering Christmas trees in the center of it all, organizing workshops and family games, all aimed at enhancing the social experience for every visitor.

Whether you’re looking for the best in shopping, or a food lovers paradise, or simply a fantastic evening for the entire family to enjoy, one of the many Christmas markets of Italy has what you need.

If it’s the food that’s driving your interest, the Bolzano market in South Tyrol is a good start. It’s one of the largest markets in Italy and mirrors the German markets with foods like apple strudel and hot biscuits. The medieval setting makes it truly a unique experience. In Florence, they too host a German influenced market filled with bratwurst and more, but also incorporate the Italian market for a cultural balance.

When you need to get the Christmas shopping done and are looking for something unique, markets like the Marché Vert Noël in Aosta fit the bill. One of the most popular markets in Northern Italy, this small town converts into an Alpine village and hosts more than 40 chalets filled with handmade gifts, food, wine, and more.

Venice also has a quaint market with the perfect opportunity to purchase hand-blown glass and lace from the nearby Murano and Burano Islands. Or you can score a few of the beautiful carnival masks for a truly unique gift.

Other popular markets are in Trento with more than 70 traditional huts selling merchandise, and in Turin where crafts and gourmet products are presented from 14 Italian regions and 8 foreign countries. Genoa hosts more than 100 artisans from all over Italy, and Naples is famous for their handcrafted precepi, or nativity scenes.

If you’re looking for a memorable family experience, numerous Christmas markets attract visitors far and wide because of their unique decorations and family activities.

In Le Marché, they are known as the medieval candle market. They periodically shut off all of their lamps all over town and then ignite only candles instead, a bewitching and captivating sight.

The Mountain Christmas in idyllic Selva in Val Gardena installs an old fashioned cable car of miniature wooden cabins that can be found hanging high above their magical Christmas village each year. Grab a cup of mulled wine and enjoy the direct connection to the legendary ski tour Sellaronda, with its 500 kilometers of perfectly prepared slopes. 

Vin BrulePlaces like Rome host several markets, but the most famous in the Piazza Navona takes on a different theme for their market each year. You’ll see spectacular lights, enjoy live music, and marvel at the street performers and acrobats. The entire market bustles with tourists, vendor stalls, a carousel, and festive balloons.

Merano’s market goes all out. The kids will never get bored with activities like pony rides, parades, ice skating, and carriage rides. And in Pisa, their market is solely designed for the kids in mind with the Father Christmas Factory, or Fabbrica di Babbo Natale. 

Across Italy, the Christmas markets host thousands and present a truly magical experience like no other. Enchanting small towns and bustling big cities alike, these special markets are an enriching way to experience the greatest Italy has to offer.

While we hope all of our followers will some day be able to experience a Christmas market in Italy for themselves, we also hope each of you will take advantage of the markets in your own local communities by attending one today. The fairytale settings will captivate and delight, awakening the Christmas spirit in us all – young and old.

Boun Natale!

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Christmas in Italy: Creating joyful traditions with the kids in your life

Julie Jurden

It’s finally December and the spirit of the holiday season is getting in to full swing here in the U.S. For most of us, Thanksgiving officially kicks off the festivities, and for some, it even begins as early as Halloween. But no matter when your family traditionally welcomes the season, it’s a magical and wondrous time for the little ones in our lives. 

Ask anyone you know and they’ll probably be able to spout out one tradition that their family has had or continues during the holiday season. While the origins of this special time are based on religious and spiritual beliefs, many traditions celebrated are born from families creating memories in their own way and then sustained for years to come. It’s something that brings us together in familiarity and comfort.

Italians also understand this and base many of their traditions on bringing family together and creating a meaningful experience their children will remember and share for the rest of their lives. They also celebrate within their own cultural timeline.

Italians may begin their winter holiday a little later than us, but they also extend the celebration well into January, creating massive excitement and extended anticipation for kids across the country.

The season typically begins on December 8 with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception. This is a national holiday with significant importance to the Roman Catholic Church, and also the official day when most put up their holiday decorations and Christmas trees. It’s a spectacle to behold with sights, sounds, and smells to heighten the senses of holiday revelers young and old.

In the Novena, or eight days before Christmas, streets are filled with carolers singing traditional songs. In Rome and other locations, you will see the zampognari or bagpipe players who travel from the nearby Abruzzi Mountains to play throughout the streets for the local children. At the same time, piazzas across Italy are enveloped with beautiful lights and decorations, including artisanal handmade presepi, or nativity scenes. You’d be hard pressed not to find one in any city or town.

Other Italian traditions include skipping meat on Christmas Eve as a way to purify their bodies for Christmas Day, often replaced with grand feasts and multiple courses of beautiful seafood instead. While many end the day with Midnight Mass, there are also those brave ones who ski down the Dolomites at the strike of midnight carrying torches to welcome Christmas – an incredible sight to behold.

Christmas Day of course is filled with large meals, loads of family and friends, and glorious Italian foods, including the traditional dessert of panettone, a sweet bread loaf filled with candied fruit and raisins that children love.

The feasting and celebration continues into the New Year, but comes to a crescendo January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas and the Day of the Epiphany. 

The night before, large meals are once again shared with family and friends to mark the end of the season, and La Befana, a witch who flies on her broom and brings good children treats and bad children coal, delivers her gifts and goodies. 

We delight in and appreciate all of the holiday traditions of Italy and hope that all of our followers are able to continue their own family traditions, or start some new ones. Focusing ideas and activities around the children in our lives is a great place to start, and often means these traditions are carried forward for generations to come.

We’d like to help by offering tips and ideas for the table – more specifically, the children’s table.

Rather than setting up a small card table or relegating the little ones to a counter with stools, make their meal memorable by creating something colorful and unique to mark the occasion. Kids notice these things and love when they are singled out with something special just for them. And if you turn it into a tradition, they have something to look forward to each year.

 

Our children’s table shown here uses our bright and cheerful POP collection. Use these pieces as a backdrop for anything you’d want to add to make it even more festive for the kids. Involving them as much as possible in the party and the preparation makes it special for everyone!

Consider a few of these ideas to get your creativity flowing and to start some new family traditions.

  • Let kids create an ornament or other fun craft to designate their spot at the table.
  • Make a gingerbread house centerpiece and plan to decorate it together earlier in the day.
  • Ask each child to bring a dozen of their favorite decorated Christmas cookies for the whole family to enjoy.
  • Provide a special holiday dish just for them to have at their table. Maybe a frozen cranberry reindeer or Christmas tree crudité.
  • Provide an age appropriate table game like holiday trivia questions with a prize for the most correct answers, Christmas bingo, I Spy, or place a number under a plate later to be drawn for a prize. You could even fill a large clear vessel with candy and each child guesses the amount inside. When the meal is over they can count the contents and closest to the number wins a prize.
  • Lay out crayons or markers and a butcher paper tablecloth for creative drawings or thoughtful messages throughout the meal.
  • Place several disposable or digital cameras at the table and let the kids get creative with special shots from their point of view. Share the images in the coming days so everyone has something to look forward to.
  • Place pens and paper on the table and have each child write a few sentences that later get compiled into one story. Share the story with the family after dinner. Have them get creative and as silly as they like, these can be the best stories.
  • Share with us your favorites. What does your family do for the holidays? Do they plan something special just for the kids? Let us know your favorite traditions.

No matter what you have planned this season, we hope you all are lucky enough to spend just a small bit of time seeing the holidays through the eyes of a child and creating new traditions and memories for years to come. The pure joy, laughter, and whimsy children evoke is the most simple yet poignant way we can think to embrace and celebrate the season. 

Buon Natale!

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Winter Entertaining Series | Picture Imperfect

Julie Jurden

We hope you have enjoyed our fall and winter entertaining series. We know it’s a busy time for everyone and making it easier to entertain and spend time with friends and family is our goal.

italy at christmas time

 

Keeping it simple with quality, seasonal foods and floral elements layered with inviting and complementary dinnerware selections is our secret to success. 

As we head into this hectic time, I would like to share a segment from one of my favorite inspirational speakers, John O’Leary, speaking about what he learned during an attempt to get a multigenerational family photo:

“Love is a Verb.” As one parent ran to get a favorite toy for an upset child, another helped with a crying baby. As one cleaned up spit up, another brushed the hair of a child whose roughhousing disheveled it.

In love, there is no passivity, no sitting back, no waiting for others to jump in. Real love demands action. Love is the great motivator and compels continual forgiveness, persistent compassion and striving toward something even bigger than itself.

(“Love is a verb” is one of my favorite quotes from my recent Live Inspired podcast interview with Edie Varley. Edie shares her beautiful story of growing up one of 14 children – “life was a celebration!” She’s my personal coach, dear friend and you won’t want to miss her wisdom and energy)

2. Life requires adaptability. As more little ones came around their grandparents, everyone had to shuffle to make room and make sure everyone could be seen.

Most of us are creatures of habit and like things as they were. “The good ole days” isn’t just the beginning of a story our grandparents shared, but one now repeated by most of us! It’s critical to remember and celebrate that life is constantly in flux, otherwise we’re at risk to be driven toward protectionism and longing for a past that will never exist again.

3. Perfection is unattainable. The majority of Facebook posts and holiday cards are Photo-shopped or at least only THE BEST photo of hundreds taken before it. It also turns out when someone responds that everything is ‘just perfect’ in their work, finances, family and life: They likely aren’t telling the entire story.

  • Life isn’t perfect. It can be messy, sad, unfair and undignified. And yet, seasons of adversity are often followed by joy, with overlap between the two. Instead of pretending all is perfect, be okay with the mess life can occasionally be; instead of being disappointed at what you did not perfectly capture, be grateful for all that you did.

    For you see, in looking back, the best pictures, experiences and memories often aren’t the ones we envisioned, but the unexpected ones we were lucky enough to experience. 
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    From all of us at Modigliani, we wish you and your family a joyful holiday season, and we look forward to sharing and engaging more with you in the New Year.

     

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