Carnevale. Yeah, a big deal when I was growing up in Italy (and still today of course). But never as big as I would have personally liked. Because my family always had to be different, while I, as a child – then a teenager – wished to conform to the habits of current society. I’m talking about the costumes. Infatti, every child would be donning a festive outfit on that Tuesday, be it one of the eccentric characters of La Commedia dell’Arte – multi-colored Arlecchino, pretty and flirtatious Colombina or our very own Pulcinella,the symbol of Naples – or fairy-tale princesses and knights. They would go to school with it, walk around and be admired, recite the special Carnival poems or plays in it, and just about spend the day parading as someone else. But not us Di Sandro kids. My father deemed it a waste of money to purchase costly costumes and elaborate accessories for one day, so we skipped that part, showing up at school as the only students dressed in ordinary apparel. However, I did have an extensive collection of paper masks. Yes, the plain, cardboard ones, depicting fairies, princesses, renaissance ladies or modern actresses, the kind you placed in front of your face, with holes for the eyes and (some) for the nose, and then you stretched a rubber band around your head to keep it in place. Yes, I loved them, eagerly deciding which one to wear. At least for a while. So, I suppose, I’ve always yearned to fully participate in that exciting holiday, and, especially as I got older and more discerning, to be invited to a glamorous masked ball in an elegant 18th century palace (preferably off a canal in Venice), where the lighting would be provided solely by candles and gas lamps, and no one would be allowed to remove those sexy little masks adorned with peacock feathers and lace. Candid/wicked fun in the dark, electrifying entanglements, secrets and slippery semi-truths. For one mad night only. Delicious episodes to lock up in your memory box till needed. Allora, it still goes unfulfilled, that desire. There were also special Carnival foods, closely associated with that holiday. Le Lasagne di Carnevale of course, rich, over-indulgent pasta meant to fully satisfy your appetite, whose memories would have to last for the dreary forty days of Lent to come. The word Carnevale derives for the Latin and it literally means farewell to meat, which used to bewhat you did during Lent, until it was mercifully changed to abstaining only on Fridays (no, no vegetarian tendencies on my part). A dish closely associated with the Neapolitan Carnival for me is the (in)famous Sanguinaccio. If you know Italian, you will immediately deduce that the name has something to do with sangue, blood. Indeed it does, Sanguinacio is a velvety, chocolate-infused, creamy pudding, delicately spiced with cinnamon and candied fruit…and pig’s blood. Really. Sold at all the pasticcerie in little white paper cups, or made at home by some sturdy soul, it has always been a traditional sweet for this holiday. I’ll hastily report that I have never tasted it. An appalling, primitive concoction, I always considered it, even though it did enter my house in Portici, and my brother consumed large quantities of it with gusto. Well, it was supposed to taste delicious (or so I’m told), but I never got over my disgust for the main ingredient (update: these days, Sanguinaccio is still popular, but made without blood of any kind). But I sure loved the frappe , the delectable, crispy ribbons of dough that my mother used to make, slightly sweet, egg and brandy-flavored, generously dusted with vanilla powdered sugar. I make them every year, and sometimes they sort of become dinner, as everyone consumes them non-stop as quickly as I fry them. So, these I surely recommend, my friends, made with simple, honest (and palatable!) ingredients, rich and satisfying, pretty and festive. And they will have to do for my Carnevale celebration, until an engraved invite to a Venetian Masked Ball arrives in the mail (paid airfare and luxury accommodations included). Yeah. Buon Carnevale a tutti!