MAY IS a truly beautiful time to be in the UK.

May Day celebrations remind me a little of Carnevale in Italy. Like May Day is a celebration of spring, Carnevale is a celebration of winter.

It involves masks, parades, music and parties, making it just as colourful as May Day, with people travelling from all around the world to join in the celebrations.

Carnevale is the last celebration before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

Lent is the time before Easter when many Catholics deprive themselves of something they enjoy, so the idea of Carnevale is to party until you cannot party anymore, and then spend the period of Lent recovering.

The name is said to derive from the words ‘carne’ and ‘vale’, meaning ‘farewell to meat’, which reinforces the idea that it is an opportunity to indulge in and use up things that you might give up before the start of Lent – many Catholics abstain from meat on religious occasions.

The most famous Carnevale celebration of all takes place in Venice, however it is celebrated all over the country, with each area putting their own spin on the celebrations.

As is always the case when Italians celebrate, there is lots of food and drink involved, and when it comes to Carnevale, the sweet treats are what really matter, with sweet pastries being the stars of the show.

Cannoli, which are now hugely popular all year round, were originally intended for Carnevale. If you haven’t tried cannoli, they are deep fried pastry tubes, filled with sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, usually garnished with candied orange peel.

Another popular pastry around Carnevale time are Fritole Veneziane, which are round sugar-dusted doughnuts flavored with rum and lemon zest and containing pine nuts and raisins, often filled with custard or flavoured cream.

One of the quickies and easiest Carnevale sweet treats that you can make at home are cenci. Cenci are sometimes more endearingly referred to as lovers’ knots, because of their appearance.

Cenci translates as ‘rags and tatters’, which is what the pastries look like before they are fried. They are also often referred to as Chiacchere or Frappe, and do not always come in knot shapes – sometimes they are just strips, or bow tie shapes.

Cenci are simply strips of fried dough, that are delicious and easy to make at home, and a perfect way to bring a little Carnevale spirit to your May celebrations.