Today it’s Ferragosto, Italy’s traditional midsummer holiday and families up and down the boot will be preparing for their celebrations – menus for huge Ferragosto meals will have been decided upon and the food will be ready to transport to the nearest beach, park or mountain!
Now that most Italians no longer disappear on holiday for the whole month of August, Ferragosto (celebrated on August 15th) is really the only time that everything stops in Italy and cities become ghost towns. Italians are particularly attached to this holiday and everyone’s summer plans will always take it into consideration. Many people choose to work up until the big day and then stay on holiday until the end of the month.
It’s all thanks to Augustus!
The Roman Emperor Augustus introduced the ‘Feriae Augusti’ (Augustus’ Rest) back in 18BC to bring together the many ancient Roman festivals that took place to celebrate the harvest and to provide a period of rest after a time of hard agricultural labour. The festivities included horse racing, a tradition which continues today in the form of the Palio, which takes place on August 16th in Siena.
Ferragosto is also a Catholic feast – the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, established in the 5th century making the day a bank holiday, but holding relatively little religious importance now.
The tradition of taking a few days holiday in the middle of August came about with Fascism. In the second half of the 1920’s the regime began organising trips and set up the cheap “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, allowing the masses to travel to the beach or visit another Italian city on August 13th, 14th and 15th.
Ferragosto in modern Italy
Today the much-cherished Ferragosto is all about family time, relaxing and eating! Pretty much everyone goes to the beach, occupying every last ombrellone and centimetre of sand! Despite the heat, large picnics will be organized with copious amounts of lovingly-prepared food.
Not for the Italians a limp and soggy sandwich, a few crisps and a flask of lukewarm coffee, but colourful trays of pasta al forno, fried zucchini flowers, croquettes and arancini, sweet tomato or rice salads, acres of pizza, huge water melons and loads of local wine. Families decamp to the beach armed with foldaway kitchens – all the chairs, tables and equipment they need to eat a serious meal under the 40 degree sun!
With the majority of the population at the beach, if you are thinking of visiting a city such as Rome and you don’t mind the heat, August is a great time to go. You’ll find very little traffic on the roads, most restaurants and tourist attractions will be open and many great summer events are taking place.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, if you are hoping for a break in the rain and planning a summer picnic, you might like to try our recipe for one of our favourite Ferragosto picnic foods:
Aubergine and breadcrumb croquettes (polpettine)
Ingredients for 4 people
150g stale breadcrumbs
25g grated parmesan
75g grated pecorino (substitute with parmesan if necessary)
1 clove of garlic (crushed)
5 basil leaves
Parsley (to taste)
Oil for frying
Peel the aubergines, cut them into pieces and cook in boiling water for around 10 minutes.
When cooked, drain the aubergines in a colander and squeeze out the excess water by pressing them with the palm of your hand.
Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Knead for a few minutes then add the egg and continue kneading until the mixture blends nicely together.
Shape the mixture into medium sized balls and fry in batches of 6. Use a large pan filled half full with very hot oil. Make sure that the oil is really hot before you start frying.
Drain well on kitchen roll and eat whilst hot.