Nativity Scenes that take a Village

It began with Saint Francis, who reenacted the birth of Christ with live animals in 1223. Actors were added and later, “presepi” (means ‘crib’) were set up throughout Italy, but with pomp and circumstance. In the 1470’s sculptor Alamanno was commissioned to create 42 painted and gilded sculptures for a private Neapolitan chapel. The nativity scenes grew into small cities, with landscapes, grottos, caves, a specialized art with intricate lighting and even mechanical movement and sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nativity creches can be found in many nooks and crannies throughout Italy, especially in the Campagnia Region. Our driver actually parked on Amalfi Drive so we could photograph is ancient “Presepe” built into the side of the rock wall.

 

The art of Neapolitan nativity of S. Gregorio Armeno, S. Gregorio Armeno is a small street in the old town of Naples, Italy.

Today, Naples has a whole street in the San Gregorio Armeno neighborhood with 40 active workshops producing a third of the 200,000 terracotta figures made annually devoted to the nativity trade. Quality of workmanship, construction materials range  from plastic to hand-blown glass, custom costumes and elaborate papier-mache creations with prices that match the “get what you pay for” advice. Find shopping criteria on Italy Magazine’s excellent article:

https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/neapolitan-nativities-buyers-guide

 

Food of the Etruscans?

MULTI GRAIN FIG/WALNUT/ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

Italy Magazine’s article about the multi grain pizza led me to their recipe for fig and honey focaccia. I’m a focaccia foodie and have made it every which way in past years to sell locally as a caterer. Now I hear it was invented by the Etruscans??!  My other haunting research topic!? Here is my recipe for fig and rosemary multi grain focaccia. I adapted Bob’s Red Mill recipe using his quality multi grain bread mix. You can up the oven temp if you wish

Use their fantastic on-line website for gluten free recipes, product info and so much more.

 Adapted from BOB’S RED MILL 10-GRAIN HERB FOCACCIA

for Bread Machine or by Hand

Makes one 17×11” or two 10” loaves

1 c + 1 T warm water
3 T+2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh (rosemary) herbs, chopped, or 3/4 tsp. dried–divided
1 Pkg. Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain Bread Mix.
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cane sugar
2 tsp. active dry yeast
½ c ch. walnuts
10-12 dark figs sliced or 1 thinly sliced apple.
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

Put minced garlic, water, 1 T fresh herbs or 2 tsp dry herbs and 3 T oil into bread machine.  Add package of 10-grain bread mix and salt to bread machine.  Make well in center and pour in sugar and yeast.  Turn machine onto the dough cycle.  If dough is too dry in the machine, add water 1 T at a time.  Dough should begin to clump without remaining dough on sides of pan. Add ½ c chopped walnuts to recipe after dough is first mixed, and mixing.

When complete, remove dough that has already risen once.  Shape and roll, using remaining ¼ c flour, into desired round or rectangle bread sizes, move to prepared baking pans. Before rising again, press fig or apple rounds and additional ¼ c chopped nuts into dough, dimple and allow to rest, covered, for an additional hour.

Preheat oven to 425º with baking stone, if desired.

Dimple the dough with your fingertips.

Combine the remaining oil with the remaining herbs and brush over the top of the dough.  Sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp and golden.  Cook on wire rack 15 minutes.

Can be frozen; allow to defrost, reheat wrapped in foil in 250ºF oven.

 

When does dinner require no table?

a quick peek at

………..a meal in ancient Rome……………

Did early Romans  and those party-loving Etruscans ever wonder if they would run out of pasta, fish or wine?  ( We are still in B.C. mode here.)  Plutarch was a Greek-born writer, later a citizen of Rome who spoke and wrote freely about Italy’s food-centric exploits. He seemed mostly worried that too many guests would interfere with sociability and conversation since that was key to their get togethers.  Today, we can have a room crowded with silent folks all looking at their cell phones.

The ancients argued about where to place whom, with careful consideration to the “contentious, abusive and quick-tempered………..”  Conversation was a main element at the meal. They debated trivia, politics, social status, ideas, and mixed it all up with enough gossip to keep things lively. They ate with their fingers, spilled food on the floor, reclined on couches in rooms lavishly decorated. Frescos, mosaics, wall tapestries and art objects filled the room, and flower petals littered the floor.  Up popped my remembrance of the food-littered floor in a MacDonald’s in Venice.  Tourists are just rude, gods not in the picture.

Food and material accumulations were both very important, especially to the Etruscans, who carved sarcophagi statuary holding plates laden with foods from their last feast for the afterlife and their meeting with the gods. Personal goods and even chariots were buried with their remains. The gods were kept in mind constantly by verbal and physical reminders and  ubiquitous superstitions. That’s where salt over the shoulder came from, except they would throw a bunch on the floor for good measure. ……can’t you just visualize the rapid-fire verbal banter, gestures, ascending pitch, and personality mix …..not unlike my last dinner party come to think of it.

 

Find this article: and learn more about recipes that have their roots in ancient Rome

https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/dinner-ancient-roman-style

 

Pizza, Pizza, and more Pizza…even multi-grain

From: Italy Magazine

Everything Italy. Authentically Italian.

https://www.italymagazine.com/recipe/homemade-ancient-grain-pizza

go and get this great recipe from a great magazine!

I was in a quandary since we are headed for Naples, the birthplace of the “magic Italian Pie”. Where is the best one going to be located for us to try?  Italy Magazine synchronistically came up with an answer or two, along with a recipe you might want to try.

“Overall, Campania is still at the top with 19 award-winning pizzerie, and we shouldn’t be too surprised since the region is considered the birthplace of pizza (Napoli).

Pizza of the year is ‘Oceano’ by the Salvo brothers of Naples, made with fiordilatte, buffalo ricotta flavored with algae, smoked amberjack, pink pepper, lemon zest, Muraglia smoked oil.

“On restaurant menus you’ll often find thin crust pizzas or Neapolitan style pizzas (which are smaller and thicker) baked in wood fire brick ovens where the temperatures arrive up to 800°F. Home ovens don’t arrive at these high temperatures and will therefore be softer and fluffier unless using a pizza stone where you can easily obtain a thin and crispy pizza.

“Highly refined white flours and brewer’s yeast are traditionally used for pizzas, but currently there is a new trend in Italy towards pizzas made with ancient grains like Kamut© and spelt and lievito madre—sourdough starter.”

 

The Big Cheese

(in humble tribute to the 6 million sheep of Sardinia and the rest of Italy, rarely attributed their due)

sheep of Sardinia

Pecorino Romano, referenced in many Italian recipes, but equally hard to find around my town, is that miracle of ewe’s milk that in Roman times reputedly surpassed cow’s milk because it was thought to “help the stomach”. Like so many Italian Regional topics of myriad variety, this is one of the most confusing.

 

It is an over-simplification to say that all Pecorino is not the same, and that cheese cultures

in Italy vary from region to region.  It is revered similarly in comparison to perhaps a patron saint when Di Bruno Bros. importers calls it “A tincture containing the essence of a Mediterranean isle.” It is ceremoniously served in Italy’s finest hotels and restaurants with all the pomp and circumstance one might award a dish of extinct eels.

The “fully stagionato” are “aged” for as long as 36 months. Some are “matured under ashes”, some bear a stamp, or brand; one from the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany recognizable by its black rind is the pecorino di Pienza, reputedly loved by Lorenzo de Medici. The brine gets a bit muddy when it appears that the Pecorino Romano Locatello® brand, sold in the premium price category exclusively in the U.S. market, also has a black rind.  The brand originated in 1860 in Lombardy and is imported from Sardinia and the Lazio Region. Pecorino “sardo” of Sardinia is used in the deep fried “seadas”, a sweet and savory dessert of Sardinia (shown below), or with peaches and pears or a glass of the local red cannonau wine.

 

Pecorino Romano, one of Italy’s oldest and most famous cheeses,  loses much of its acidity when cooked into a sauces such as carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe.  Different than Tuscan pecorino, the Sicilian Pecorino siciliano stands head and shoulders high in flavor, often eaten only on its own reserve wrapped in a vine leaf, a rival in taste to none other and pompously served, of course.

Who is to know that when it comes to pecorino, the complexities of this artisan recipe addition can mean so much to the success of a dish and occupy one’s research so laboriously long.

I think it is the sheep that make the countryside so dear.

 

 

EATING, SOUTHERN ITALY STYLE

….uh-oh, a brand new blog may be necessary!

With the trip to Southern Italy dawning closer as a “first adventure”, I thought to consult Fred Plotkin’s “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler”, a voluminous knowledge base.   Mine resides more to the north.  Thankfully, my traveling companion likes to eat good food and wine and even asked me to be sure and get it together in that area.  So far, the research has yielded many deep fried recipes to look forward to, and pizza, neither one my first choice, and many strange and exotic fruits from the sea, not even a second choice.  The south of Italy apparently has an even sweeter tooth than my Tuscan relations, which will have to be on the reluctant choice menu (except for anything lemon, my fav). Red flag! This region is all about lemons everywhere and lemon everything delicious!

I heard about this book on a podcast interview Rick Steeves had with Plotkin and was impressed enough to buy the over 700-page encyclopedia. What a treasure of information on every major and un-major city and/or region, with notes on what it is famous for, where, why, and how…….dining, wines, ice cream, coffee, menu terms and definitions, even detailed walking guides through a town, recipes, folklore, calendar events, maps, personal notes and historical data for example …..”as you walk around Venezia, there are two  other things I would like you to bear in mind……..”  Instead of an index, all the cities and recipes mentioned are listed, and the 27-page Glossary of Food and Wine Terms is a literary piece of its own merit. The book is a treasure-trove of total entertainment to read.  I crossed myself in case  ancestors were watching and skipped to the Campagnia Region where we will be headed.

Although not the most populated city, Naples and the Campania region has the highest population density of any region in Italy. Plotkin’s descriptions are robust, colorful, inviting and, by nature,  contradictory. For example, Campania, like California, has been subjected to severe earthquakes and Mount Vesuvius and Mt. Etna loom over millions of people. Napoli may be wild and chaotic, the people understandably a bit jumpy, but Plotkin goes on to say “the volcanic soil is unusually fertile, so the fruits and vegetables that grow here are sublime…….once you dine at even the most humble trattoria here, it will be hard for you to swallow so-called Italian food back home.”

The Roman emperor Tiberius made Napoli and Capri his playgrounds. Since then,  there is a long tradition of elaborate cooking and baking for the royal families and nobles. Pizza, born in Naples, is the favorite nighttime meal that wraps around the local street life conviviality today.  The finest “mozzarella di bufala” cheese, Plotkin says, comes from Campania in the province of Salerno.

Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese comes from Sardinia, home to millions of sheep. It holds no candle to American imitations and must be imported, Plotkin advises.   It dances on every table, especially those laden with festival foods created for every saint’s day and for whatever reason you might imagine.

You may think of pasta when Italian food is mentioned. Did you know it did not originate in Italy?  Arabs introduced noodles in the 8th century, Marco Polo brought them from China in 1295 and they were the food of aristocrats until the 1600’s when mechanical pasta began and Naples’ pasta shops blossomed in the 1700’s.  The first documented recipe, however, is said to have been born in 1839. The glorious growing conditions of southern Italy took the credit.

Despite dozens of versions of pasta with lemon in this region, there is much, much more:

Plotkin offers a Penne con Ricotta e Noci Sardinian recipe, that is, pasta with Ricotta and nuts.

I am anxious to try a local version of  Colatura dei Alici, or spaghetti with anchovy sauce.

Every province, every region has their own pasta, individually named, and their own recipe

for the best dish you ever ate. Of course, those from Campania are the ultimate best, you know.  uh-uh.

We will see.

 

 

 

 

Me? Cook Sicilian?

Anyone who knows my passion to cook, especially Italian dishes, knows also of my heritage from Tuscany. You can’t get more Italian than having had a mother from Elba and a father from Lucca who became a noted restaurant chef during California’s heyday in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s one of the good things in my genes. But these Italians avoid Southern Italy, their famous limoncello notwithstanding. Nothing Sicilian would have ever found its way onto one of our family dinner tables. Now, with a trip to Naples soon ahead, my curiosity prevails.

One of my favorite TV personalty chefs is Mary Ann Esposito on Ciao Italia. When she went to the East Coast to interview Morgan Morano making her Sicilian artisan gelato, I bought her book and went to work, starting small, hoping for no ancestral observation from “above”.

Pasta is better in this province, than that one. It even is named differently. Ever notice how one region promotes their specialties over another. Why is Sicilian gelato better?  Moreno learned from a Sicilian gelato artisan before opening her shop in New England. Much gelato is premade, she tells us, often with chemicals and coloring and warns that artisan standards do not exist where you see carnival gaudiness and mile high piles. At Morano Gelato, base ingredients are made to individually tailor each recipe. It differs from American ice cream because:

  • it is lower in butterfat (4-9% vs. 14-25%), intensifying the flavor
  • it is dense, far less air than the 50% more air churned into American ice cream
  • served at a warmer temp, the flavor and creamy texture is reinforced

I learned to make the easy recipes with an inexpensive scale than includes grams and replaced the sugar content with no taste difference with Xilytol (4lb. canister available through Swanson Vitamins.com). Amazon has  “The Art of Making Gelato” by Morgan Morano for a cooking experience par artisanale!

 

WHY THE BLANK BLOG?

Blank so Long…….

Over the past several months, I have yet to post in my blog any relevant words. The reason for this is that I have been embroiled in preparation for what might become my last trip to my fatherland. First I had to celebrate a birthday that so clearly defined me a senior citizen that it put me in a state of melancholy for weeks. Then came household property matters about new fire safety regulations so stringent they financially almost ruled out any travel of any kind.

Insurance companies across California have swathed home owners’ landscapes into an ugly depiction of its former self in hopes of reducing fire hazards when any fire within a mile radius would evaporate the property anyway. But I digress trying to explain these powerful excuses.

 

The good news about winning a trip to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy came on the heels of my return from the Veneto trip last April. I could not include Amalfi in that trip and came home with regret and wishful thinking, only to find the opportunity on line in a raffle on  “italoamericano.org”.   The contest  ran for months, reminding me to buy tickets. I bought two. And eventually, it was announced. I had won first place!  Six nights at one of Positano’s most luxurious hotels, Villa Magia, at the high point on the cliffs of Positano.  It bowled me over, but I knew it was meant for me, thank the Lord, to go, means notwithstanding. I chose October from the two calendar dates offered, and that meant months of anticipation, but time for travel planning.

Pam (travel partner) and I would be in the heart of artisan ceramics, leather sandals, linens, inlaid wood, limoncello and everything else lemon, not to mention the architectural remnants and majolica duomos of centuries past civilizations and occupations by every imaginable kingdom.

Vietri Sul Mare – Salerno Province, Campania Region, Italy, Europe

As a student at heart, I’m a questioning, curious personality who loves to examine, research, find out, and express it in photographs and writing.  My new task was an ominous one. Northern Italians raised by the fierce pride of Tuscan ancestors, don’t usually have enthusiasm for  the South of Italy. But the reputed unbelievable beauty of the coast was a powerful draw for me as it is for other travelers.  So is the culture, history, food and museum wealth to be found there. Little did I know it would be so overwhelming a research project. To me, travel has become so much more rewarding with the research beforehand, so that instead of simply sightseeing and finding I cannot skip the line or being confused about what was abbreviatedly explained (often in Italian), I wanted to learn what I was going to be looking at ahead of time.

I wanted to start my research with the Etruscans…..the ancient people who contributed so much to the Roman civilization. I’ve had a fascination with their civilization since we saw and learned so much about them in our Umbrian/Tuscany adventures (“Lost in Italy and Loving It!”, a memoir adventure book by Betty Albert on Amazon e-books).  But despite their efforts, there is little of their history where we will be going. Read on to learn my discoveries before the travel adventure even begins.

Easter Bread Legends

SPRINGTIME BRINGS SWEET TOOTH SAVY

Like so many things in Italy, bread and cakes come by many names, especially if it is a holiday and then, it depends on what kind of holiday or occasion it might be. Of course the names and kinds of bread and cakes come  with their own legends, traditions, cautions, and  ingredients born from science, literature, ancient manuscripts or the simple competitiveness of the Italian people.

Pandora (left) Panettone (right) The Panettone, instead, is a typical Milanese cake, and it became over the years a true symbol of Christmas in Italy. It is a sweet soft, stuffed with raisins and candied fruit, better to be served with dried-fruits and walnuts at the end of a hearty Christmas meal
or for breakfast the next day. It is similar to the Pandoro, which lacks fruit additions.
Italy’s: food culture is strongly rooted in the Italian DNA, and the rivalry between the two typical Christmas cakes can escalate quickly among the guests of any Italian dinner party. Before you take side: did you know that the original recipe of panettone is 500 years old?
Italy has many Christmas sweets and threats, but a slice of panettone and a flute of prosecco is the classic way for Italians to welcome the festive season. Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins, candied orange and lemon peel. The origins of Panettone are in Milan, in the northern Italy. It has a noble and antique birth, and several legends to explain it.
One of the most popular ones tells about Ughetto degli Atellani, a nobleman who lived in 1400’s in Milan. He was in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni who worked in the kitchen of the powerful Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. To win her love, he disguised himself as a baker. https://www.romeanditaly.com/curious-history-panettone/

 

 

 

 

Ludovico Sforza
Image credit: Wikimedia CC

To impress Adalgisa, he invented a special bread, adding new ingredients: butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied peel. Pan del Ton (Toni’s bread) was a huge success in many ways: Ughetto gets the girl, Duke approves the marriage and Toni’s invention is welcomed with an enthusiastic response. A new dessert is born, called forever Pan del Ton, or: panettone. The actual translation is ‘big bread,’ from ‘panetto’ meaning dough and the suffix ‘one’ meaning lar

In Italy, the rules for making the delicacy are as strict as ever: in order to be labeled as such, a native panettone must be composed of no less than 20 percent candied fruit, 16 percent butter, and eggs that are at least four percent yolk. Attempts by the Italian agriculture ministry to have these standards applied abroad have not panned out, and the reality is that panettone is a dessert with many homes.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/culinary-history-panettone-180971058/#DbW7AKYPWZC57Gw2.99

The internet offers plenty of recipes, ranging from the traditional to celebrity variations, so making it at home isn’t beyond the reach of most competent home-bakers. Italians consider it bad luck to remove the domed top and to consume it on your own.

Unknown-1PANDORO

Not to be confused with the Greek mythological woman, Pandoro, who opened the box to unleash all human ills, or all human blessings except hope, whichever version you select.

Similar to panettonepandoro is made from a rich, eggy dough, not unlike a French brioche, explaining its name of “golden bread.” The cake is baked in an eight-pointed star-shaped pan that gives it its signature form. It’s modeled after the mountains near Verona, where the cake was first made in 1894. Domenico Melegatti was granted a patent to produce pandoro industrially, made popular by rich Venetians.   Italian bakers sell an astonishing 117 million cakes a year!  https://www.italymagazine.com/italy/christmas/italian-christmas-cakes

COLOMBA (Dove cake)

A debate has gone on for centuries as to the beginnings of Colomba di Pasqua, particularly between the two stories of the Milanese and Pavia (Lombardy).  The Milanese story is more commonly accepted which follows:  During the Battle of the Legano, two doves were witnessed flying onto the altar of a chariot that carried the standards of the Lombard League, who had just won defeated Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The doves were believed to symbolize the Holy Ghost, and so the Colomba (cake shaped like a dove) commemorates that event and is viewed as a symbol of victory. Others view it as a symbol or peace and springtime.  It was first made in Lombardy in the early 1900s by the Motta Italian baking

Of course, the legends and traditions of the even more ancient Sicilian version of this cake is known as Palummeddi and Pastifuorti, also recognized by Italy’s Ministry as a Tradiitional Italian Product. Whatever version or legend selected, know that this cake, especially the Limoncello added recipe version is a mouthwatering addition to any household, holiday or not.

TORTA PASQUALE (Easter Bread)

An Umbrian cheese bread made in outdoor stone bread ovens, or a local “forno” (oven)

but not before the yeast, flour and water “Biga” was blessed by the local priest before making the dough. Also known as Torta di Formaggio (Cheese bread), traditionally made with aged and young Pecorino cheeses.

BUCCELLATOUnknown-1

I would be remiss not to include the bread of my father’s home town, Lucca. It is their daily signature bakery offering, though my family only favored us with a loaf at Christmas or Easter.

The word buccellatum was soldiers’ bread and later evolved into the meaning of sweet bread. In 1485 a document related to the process of a woman who had killed her husband with a poisoned buccellato.

This bread was important to the history of Lucca because in 1578, a levy was imposed on its sale and the money was used to rebuild the embankments of the river Serchio.

https://en.julskitchen.com/tuscany/buccellato-from-lucca

The most famous buccellato is the one you can get in the Taddeucci pastry shop, a refined shop born in 1881. It looks like an old grocery shop, with huge shop windows crammed of desserts, cakes and sweet breads. You can easily find the shop right in the historical centre of Lucca, in Piazza San Michele, close to the homonymous church.

In the past, buccellato was a cake that was traditionally made, or bought, for the confirmation of your children. Today it is rightfully included in the everyday life of the city of Lucca.

It is made just from flour, water, sugar, raisins, aniseed and yeast. The next day, when it is no longer fresh, the heirs of Jacopo Taddeucci suggest toasting it quickly and having it with butter, coffee and milk for breakfast, or using it as a base for other sweet recipes, from a traditional strawberry soup to semifreddo.

When you are there do not forget to try the torta di verdure, a vegetable pie made with Swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts. It is sweet and spiced, unusual, a light and pleasant looking dessert and very tasty! It is also very easy to make, with regular pie crust.

 

 

ALL SOULS DAY…What the rest of the world does or you can make cookies*

Did de los Muertos (Day of the Dead),

aka All Saints Day, All Souls Day

is celebrated throughout the world, especially in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and is associated with American Halloween.  Here are some highlights:

Oct. 31-Nov. 2; traditional Aztec dancers, parades with costumed figures, regional Mexican music, and other Mexican artisans celebrate the day, and honor the dead.

As part of a promotion by the Mexican embassy in Prague, Czech Republic, since the late 20th century, some local citizens join in a Mexican-style Day of the Dead. A theatre group produces events featuring masks, candles, and sugar skulls.(Wikipedia)

In Ecuador the Day of the Dead is observed to some extent by all parts of society, though it is especially important to the indigenous Kichwa peoples, who make up an estimated quarter of the population.

Guatemalan celebrations of the Day of the Dead, on November 1, are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites[23] in addition to the traditional visits to grave sites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of fiambre, which is made only for this day during the year.

Mexican-style Day of the Dead celebrations occur in major cities in AustraliaFiji, and Indonesia. Additionally, prominent celebrations are held in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with altars celebrating the deceased with flowers and gifts.[42]

Ognissanti (All Saints) is celebrated on 1st November, and the 2nd of November, commonly called “i Morti” in Italian, is the day dedicated to the dear ones who passed away. People start visiting the cemeteries already some days before, so that on the two festive days fresh flowers, also left on the old forgotten tombs, not visited any more for decades, give to the Italian cemeteries an explosion of colors.

Traditions for Ognissanti

Folk traditions include lighting on the window sills at sunset a “lumino” (red candle) and laying a table for the dear ones deceased who would come and visit and leave the children confetti and green  beans to teach them that they were keeping an eye on them too (the tradition emphasized the importance of a connection between past and younger generations). Then on November 1st almost everywhere the first “caldarroste” (roasted chestnuts) of the season appeared for the enjoyment of young and old.

All Saints Day, which honored the early Christian martyrs, was established on the 1st of November to merge with the ancient Druid rituals of October 31st, which was the Eve of New Year’s Day in the Celtic calendar, a rite of passage, that is why the return of Dead Ones to the earth. The day of the Dead Ones means a closer dialogue with them, forgetting about everyday problems and looking to them for comfort and strength.

Special foods are prepared according to each country and each region’s traditions and often trays of food are left at altars commemorating the dead or in cemeteries. A special empty seat may be left at the dinner table commemorating the dead; and the house left open when all go to church after dinner so that souls of the dead may visit.  Children go door to door collecting candy and special treats. In Lombardi, the “oss de mord” (=bones of the dead) cookies are made in long shapes with dough and almond, baked, with a faint taste of cinnamon. *(see recipe below)

In Liguria and Piedmont, a specialty for All Saints’ Day is ceci con le costine, a soup made of chickpea, celery, carrot, onion, tomato, and pork rib. Il pane de morti, a sweet made of crumbled biscuits, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate, is also popular on this day.

In Sicily, the Martorana fruit is a traditional, typical sweet, similar to marzipan, made with ground almonds and sugar into the shape of fruit, vegetables or fish. Prepared in celebrations of the dead, or for the visit of the pope or other important person, it was prepared and sold in the Santa Caterina monastery of Palermo by nuns until the mid 1900’s.

In France during the 1590’s, it is reported that starving Parisians ground human bones into bread to stay alive. The web site Atlas Obscura (2yGBkof) brings to light much amazing data. They blog this morose bit of history occurred about the same time Marie Antoinette is to have said something like if they can’t afford bread, let them eat cake, which isn’t apparently true—it was a popular phrase to attribute to the aristocracy and written often by philosopher Rousseau.
Again, complex history reigns as the King Henris mark their winning wars until 40-50,000 deaths decided Henri to provide food, lift the siege and convert to Catholicism himself!

BONES OF THE DEAD (Ossi dei Morte)
makes about 50 cookies

I adapted this recipe from Paola’s Pan dei Morti recipe of Lombardy http://www.passionandcooking.com/2012/10/28/pan-dei-morti-bread-of-the-dead/.
As in many recipes throughout Italy and beyond, there are hints of pre-Christian traditions, myths, legends, foods, recipes and ingredients. In this one, the figs (dried fruit) represent offerings to the dead,  chocolate for the burial site, nuts for the bones, a cross on the grave, etc.

INGREDIENTS

150 g (5-6 oz) dry amaretti cookies
350 g (12 oz) ladyfingers (large Italian savoiardi are best)
130 g (1 cup) blanched whole almonds, toasted
130 g (1 cup) pine nuts, toasted
120 g (4 ¼ oz) dried figs or chopped dates
120 g (4 ¼ oz) raisins, and 5 oz. candied orange peel
300 g  (2 cups) all-purpose flour
300 g (1 ½ cups) sugar
10 g (2 tsp) baking powder
60 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
120 ml (½ cup) Amaretto
1/2 tsp almond extract

Powdered sugar or chocolate and pine nuts topping with piped royal icing

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)

  1. Toast the pine nuts and the almonds separately for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove.  Keep separate and set aside. Chop figs finely.
  2. Soak the figs or dates, raisins and candied peel in 1/2 cup Amaretto
  3. Using a food processor, finely grind the ladyfingers and amaretti cookies, and place them in a very large mixing bowl
  4. Finely grind the almonds.  Add to the cookie mix. Drain fruits and reserve Amaretto.
  5. Whisk together the flour and the baking powder, then add to the cookie-almond-fig mixture.  Stir in sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and pine nuts.  Toss until completely blended.
  6. Pour the eggs and the Amaretto over the dry ingredients. Add drained fruit and candied peel. Mix well by hand until smooth and doughy.
  7. Line the baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper.
  8. To form the cookies, first flour your fingers.  Scoop out a small ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. It would be nice if the dough were conducive to a bone shape cookie cutter, but that is not in the cards.  Using as little flour as possible, flatten the ball into an oblong shape with pointed edges, about 2-3″ inches long.   Use just enough flour to work the dough and keep the cookies from sticking to the baking paper.
  9. Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving some space between each.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly puffed, with a brown color and crisp look. How do you tell when chocolate turns a brown color? Beats me.
  10. Dip into semi-sweet melted chocolate (about 1 package of 1 oz. squares melted at 50% power in microwave, if desired. Sprinkle with more pine nuts and pipe a cross on top with royal icing (2 cups powdered sugar, 2 T water, 2 tsp. orange extract).
  11. Remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.