Ladies, if you’re looking for an excuse to drink mimosas on a Tuesday (and who isn’t?), then look no further: International Women’s Day is Tuesday, March 8 and mimosas are de rigueur. Go ahead and drink up, because it’s politically correct.
Celebrated widely around the world, International Women’s Day is an official holiday in dozens of countries including Afghanistan, China, Madagascar, Russia and Vietnam, but actually got its start in New York in 1909 to commemorate a strike by the Internationals Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, while in 1917, Russian women used the day to protest food shortages and World War I by striking for “Bread and Peace.”
The day’s origins may certainly be political, but the Italians took the concept in another direction — which leads, naturally, to mimosas. Called the Festa della Donna, the Italian observation is simply a celebration of all things female, particularly friendships between women, and hand-held bouquets of tiny yellow mimosa flowers, a harbinger of spring, are given to women across the country. It’s a day when restaurants and bars all over Italy create special dishes for female customers and women gather to share meals and companionship.
Here in the District, local Italian restaurant Lupo Verde (1401 T St., N.W.) is honoring the Festa della Donna in its own way on March 8, with complimentary mimosa cocktails for female customers during that night’s dinner service and a special dish, the Risotto Mimosa. Made with a base of Acquerello risotto, a rice from Italy’s Piemonte region that is most preferred for risotto, the dish brings together fragrant saffron, shrimp, mango and pistachios with vincotto, a richly sweet southern Italian condiment made from grape must.
“This is part of our Italian culture we grew up with, and we want to carry on the holiday tradition as our families have for generations, like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day here in America for example,” says Antonio Matarazzo, a partner at Lupo Verde. “We don’t think of the political aspects surrounding this or anything sexist by celebrating this women-oriented day. I was bringing mimosa flowers to school for my teachers at the age of 8 years old to show appreciation in my hometown of Avellino, Italy.”
If you prefer to have a girl’s night at home to observe the Festa della Donna, you can break out the champagne and orange juice while also whipping up a Torta Mimosa, a lovely spring-like cake that is meant to resemble the flowers after which it is named. Made up of yellow cake, liqueur and cream, it’s easy to assemble and tastes just about right while enjoying cocktails with some girlfriends. Go ahead, celebrate yourselves — you deserve it.
Torta Mimosa — Mimosa Cake
This is a simplified version of the classic cake, because you shouldn’t have to slave over a hot stove for hours on a holiday meant to celebrate women (well, unless you’re a man) and you can also make most of it the day before. Give the cake a distinctly D.C. vibe by using Don Ciccio & Figli’s perfectly lemony limoncello (available for purchase in liquor stores across the area; donciccioefigli.com), which is made by Italian expat Francesco Amodeo right here in our fair city, when he’s not serving up tasty cocktails at Lupo Verde.
1 recipe for a two-layer 9-inch vanilla cake (you can use a box cake, it’s fine)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
1 cup lemon curd
3 cups whipped cream, lightly sweetened
6 tablespoons limoncello
Mix together the vanilla cake batter and add 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, mixing thoroughly. Bake in two cake pans according to recipe directions, then allow to cool thoroughly on a rack.
When the cakes are cooled, slice them in half horizontally so that you now have four equal layers. Cut one of the cake layers into small cubes, the size of salad croutons, and set them aside in an airtight container. Mix the remaining tablespoon of lemon zest into the whipped cream. Line a mixing bowl with plastic wrap, then place one of the cake layers, cut side up, inside into the bottom of the bowl so that it curves with the shape of the bowl.
Brush it well with 2 tablespoons of the limoncello, then spread 1/2 cup of lemon curd over that, and top the lemon curd with 1 cup of the whipped cream. Repeat the process with another layer of the cake, cut side up, more limoncello, lemon curd, and whipped cream. Take another layer of cake, brush the cut side with more limoncello, and place it, cut side down, on top of the layers that you’ve already done, pressing it down lightly with your hands, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or even overnight. Refrigerate the remaining whipped cream until you are ready to assemble the rest of the cake.
After the cake has set, remove the plastic wrap and place a round serving platter over the top of the bowl, then flip the whole bowl over so that the cake inverts onto the platter. Remove the rest of the plastic wrap. Spread the remaining whipped cream thinly across the surface of the cake, then take the little cake cubes and press them lightly into the cream across the surface of the cake, to mimic the small clustering flowers of the mimosa. Serve immediately.