Happy Florentine New Year, Dante
“Buon Capodanno / Happy New Year” could be heard again in the streets of Florence last week. The traditional Florentine New Year always has been celebrated on March 25, the feast day of the Annunciation.
To add to these festivities, last year, the Italian government announced the establishment of a National Dante Day or “DanteDi” to be observed annually on March 25. Dante Alighieri is considered the father of modern literature and perhaps the greatest poet of all time. He was born in Florence (Tuscany) in 1265 and died in Ravenna (Emilia Romagna) in 1321, making this year the 702th anniversary of his death. This week’s menu takes inspiration from both regions that were home to Dante.
A blend of Riesling, Malvasia, and Chardonnay that is pale straw yellow. Aromas of grapefruit and yellow melon. Very balanced between freshness of citrus fruits and the softness of exotic fruits. Powerful and elegant with a refreshing minerality and a slightly aromatic finish given by Malvasia.
Chef Travel Notes
“Buon Capodanno / Happy New Year” could be heard again in the streets of Florence last week. The traditional Florentine New Year always has been celebrated on March 25, the feast day of the Annunciation, the moment when the Archangel Gabriel manifested himself to the Virgin Mary to inform her of her divine pregnancy exactly nine months before the birth of Jesus on December 25. So, in honor of Mary, this date was then decreed the beginning of the civil year in Florence that also coincided with the Spring Equinox. When the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 1500s the Florentines refused to change and it took 200 years before they would concede that the year started on January 1.
Despite this change of calendar, the city of Florence continues to celebrate its New Year on March 25 with its epicenter the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata. There is a legend that in 1252, the artist working on a fresco depicting the scene of Mary and the angel was exhausted from trying to capture the Madonna’s expression and fell asleep. When he awoke, her face was miraculously completed, the work of angels, representing a miracle to the church and the city. Since 2000, March 25 has returned to be part of official celebrations, parades, cultural events, and a grand fair in the Basilica’s piazza.
To add to these festivities, last year, the Italian government announced the establishment of a National Dante Day or “DanteDi” to be observed annually on March 25. Dante Alighieri is considered the father of modern literature and perhaps the greatest poet of all time. By choosing to write in the Italian vernacular, using the Tuscan dialect, rather than in Latin, Dante influenced the course of literary development and the Italian language. He is best known for The Divine Comedy, “La Divina Comedia”, an epic poem that is one of the world’s most important works of literature. The poem, which is divided into three sections, follows a man (Dante) as he visits Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. According to scholars, Dante’s journey to the afterlife began on March 25, during Easter week in the year 1300.
Dante was born in Florence in 1265. Florence at the time of Dante was a city corrupted by the lust for power and money and was fraught with battling political factions. He was forced to flee to the city of Ravenna, in what is now the region of Emilia Romagna, where he lived the remainder of his life in exile until he died in 1321, making this year the 702th anniversary of his death. This week’s menu takes inspiration from both regions that were home to Dante.
Insalata Toscana is a flavorful salad using some of Tuscany’s most popular ingredients - kale, pecorino cheese, toasted sunflower seeds with shaved brussels sprouts and apples.
The entire region of Emilia Romagna is rich in natural resources and fertile agricultural soil. It is famous for its fresh egg pasta, but also for its rice dishes. In our Risotto del ’Orto we use imported Vialone Nano rice together with a rich assortment of spring vegetables, finishing with the region’s most famous culinary star, Parmigiano Reggiano.
Tuscany and Emilia Romagna share a border and a propensity for “cucina povera”, simple country cooking. Pollo alla Cacciatore, Hunter’s Chicken is an example of a dish prepared in both regions, though most likely prepared by the hunter’s wives rather than by the hunters themselves. The chicken is carefully seared with red peppers and onions before the addition of white wine and plum tomatoes.
Crème Caramel is a favorite dessert in Emilia Romagna, especially now during Easter season. It is simply a dessert of milk, vanilla, egg yolks (many, many egg yolks) and sugar. We prepare it in individual ramakins to be overturned revealing the clear caramel sauce on the bottom.
Our featured wine, Ribellante, a Tuscan white, is directly inspired by the Divine Comedy. In his poem, Dante explains why Latin poet Virgil wasn’t allowed in Heaven by having him say "Because I was rebellious against God’s law." In naming their wine “Rebellious”, the producers, husband and wife team, Pakravan & Papi rebel against the notion that Tuscany cannot produce great white wines. Theirs is a powerful yet delicate wine with hints of grapefruit and acacia blossom.
So Happy New Year, Florence. Let us all stay strong a little bit longer. As the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, Dario Francheschini stated, “Dante reminds us of many things that hold us together. Dante IS the unity of the country. Dante IS the Italian language. Dante IS the very idea of Italy.”