For over a century, a typical food production of Leonessa’s municipality has been a special variety of potato, and every year, over the second weekend of October, the town celebrates this versatile tuber in an unmissable food festival.
The potato, whose production spread in Europe between the 16th and the 18th century, comes from herbaceous plants of the Solanum tuberosum species, and several varieties exist. Today farmers in Leonessa grow three varieties: ‘Désirée’ (red skin and yellow pulp), ‘Agria’ (white skin and yellow pulp) and ‘Marfona’ (smooth white skin and yellow pulp). Sowing happens in May, whereas harvesting between September and October.
The area’s particular characteristics of soil and climate result in the great qualities of Leonessa’s potato: oval and curved shape, smooth skin and perfect size. When cooked, this tuber is versatile and sturdy and does not absorb water excessively.
Therefore, it is employed to make gnocchi (potato dumplings), traditionally with added truffles or meat sauces, but also frittatas, soups, different shapes of croquettes and Leonessa’s typical potato doughnuts, a local sweet dessert. They also serve as a side dish for meat dishes, like stew and roast lamb. Another typical dish of Leonessa made out of potatoes is the ‘patata rescallata’, where the tuber is boiled and then pan-tossed with onion and bacon. Finally, for fries the preferred variety of potatoes is usually the red-skin one, which makes the final product deliciously crisp.
Since 1990 Leonessa celebrates its potato - which is included in the National List of Traditional Agricultural Products - in a delicious food festival that takes place over the second weekend of October. A prize is also awarded to the farmer who has grown the biggest potato. As well as tasting all the aforementioned delicacies, visitors can also walk through the stalls of local food and crafts.
The day ends with the Ballo della Pupazza and fireworks. The Ballo della Pupazza represents an ancient pagan and propitiatory ritual with a papier-mâché puppet resembling a witch, a 13-feet tall thing covered in fireworks. Inside the puppet, a man makes it dance to the rhythm of the Salterello music, at the end of which the fireworks are lit, thus making way to a spectacular apotropaic bonfire.