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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stresa: Carnevale -- Martedi Grasso Polenta



The second part of the Carnevale celebration in Stresa (the first part having been the procession of King Falcett and his court on Sunday) is the traditional meal served in the piazza on the Tuesday called martedi grasso, the day we call Mardi Gras. This Tuesday was a gloriously warm early spring day, which brought even more people outside to enjoy the festivity. In earlier times, the ragu prepared on this day would have been a tapelucco, which is a ragu prepared with donkey meat. It had been on the schedule of events for today, and I will admit a bit of disappointment that ultimately it was not offered. I had been curious to try this. However, the menu, shown above, was traditional, warm, and very filling nonetheless. 
The preparation of the polenta began earlier in the day. A row of large cooking vats placed over heated barrels were lined up on one side of Piazza Cadorna. Each was filled with polenta and carefully watched by volunteer cooks who stirred it with large wooden paddles until the consistency was perfect.


This batch of steaming polenta is ready, and the cook asked me if I liked it. You bet I do.


On the other side of Piazza Cadorna the serving table was getting organized as well. Here we have the sausages and ragu, which had been cooked elsewhere, the cakes, beverages, and all of the serving dishes.


The vats of polenta were carried over, each by two strong men, when they were ready. Dishes were served assembly line style, starting with a huge helping of polenta. I had it all. Polenta, sausage, and ragu. 


I took mine inside and ate there. The tables and benches set up in the piazza were completely filled with many eating lunch at noon in the sunshine.


I can understand why polenta was such an important staple of the region's mountain populations. It is hearty and so filling; I could eat only a small portion of the amount in my dish. Later, when the polenta had cooled and hardened a bit in the fridge, we compressed it, sliced off some blocks, and reheated them in a pan with a drop of oil, making what looked a bit like large french fries. These were also very, very good.


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