In some areas of Central Italy, there is still a custom of going from house to house adorned with garlands on the first night of May, playing and singing merry tunes to welcome the warm season.
I’m bringing this up – kind of randomly – because this morning I woke up with a verse stuck in my head: it’s from an Italian children’s poem about the months of the year that I learned in kindergarten, and the part about May goes “Maggio di canti risuona” (May resonates with songs).
While I’m not the type to go around the neighborhood with a lute serenading strangers (my fellow Manhattanites would call the police), I am all for celebrating this beautiful month, which I associate with a variety of pleasant concepts.
At last, the sun is out, the bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and the flowers in Central Park are blooming…. but not only that: at the risk of sounding very self-involved, I’m excited because my birthday and Mother’s day also come this month. I’m not sure about resonating with songs – but it sure will smell like cakes!
Now, talking about birthdays, I am turning 44 and becoming a little nostalgic. I became twenty in the Eighties, and while here in the US the cake that best represents that era of excess is probably cheesecake -in some 7-layer variation -, in Italy we had Meringata, a sinfully rich dessert made of layers of meringue combined with tons of whipped cream – the Pavlova’s Italian cousin.
Meringata was the dessert of choice to share with your date in any Northern Italian piano bar or panini bar. The main downside of those types of cakes (besides the fact that they can induce a diabetic coma) is that they need to be assembled a short time prior to consumption, or the meringue will dissolve in the cream. That’s why I picked this alternative, which tastes less sugary and can be made the day before and transported easily.
Cakes made of layers of pan di Spagna (genoise) or pastafrolla (pastry dough) alternating with whipped cream and strawberries or other berries are also served in many areas of Italy for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which coincidentally falls in May.
In case you really need one more excuse to indulge.