Tag Archives: Cassatedde

EASTER IN SICILY – A SICILIAN FEAST IN RAGUSA – Recipes and Giuggiulena

It has been a while since I have had an Easter in Sicily and I am feeling very nostalgic. This year, a large group of my relatives in Ragusa are all going to celebrate lunch at Stefania and Aurelio’s country house, just outside Ragusa and I wish I could be with them.The country house is a stable which in the 18 Century belonged to a local Baron called La Rocca.

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Stefania and Aurelio bought the property several years ago (it also has a few surrounding buildings and land) and they are slowly converting it into a beautiful holiday home. They are using local artisans to recreate and restore many features in the original style and character. As much as possible they have kept its original outside appearance and interior features, especially the original carved wooden ceiling.

I do miss my relatives (and the feast that they will be sharing), but I also miss Spring in Sicily.

In Sicily, spring is the start of everything. It is the time when the island comes alive – flowers bloom, vines sprout and vegetables ripen. Spring is the celebration of life, which in cultural and religious terms is expressed in Easter. In Sicily Primavera (Spring) and Pasqua (Easter) are a fusion of nature and culture, family and food.

The ancient Greeks (once settlers in Sicily) also marked spring and – like the Christian Easter – their myth celebrated another resurrection from the dead through the legend of Persephone.

The Greeks considered Sicily to be Persephone’s island because, according to the myth, Pluto, the god of Hades, who imprisoned her in his underworld realm, abducted Persephone from the Sicilian town of Enna.

So Persephone’s grieving mother, the goddess Demeter, (goddess of agriculture) plunged the island into a barren winter, until Zeus, the father of the gods, struck a bargain with Pluto to let Persephone to return to land of the living for six months of the year. So it is that when Persephone is released from Hades, Demeter allowed the world to thaw and bloom before her daughter must once again return to Pluto and Hades.

The pagan traditions were slightly transformed and unofficially accepted into the rites surrounding devotion to the Christian saints. Offerings of bread, cheeses, and sweets, associated with pagan harvest rituals, are common in many of the present-day festivals.

Some of the foods the relatives will be eating are on my previous posts.

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Here are the links:
There will also be baked capretto (kid) and wild spring greens collected from their property and sauteed in virgin olive oil and garlic  (see top photos, taken at one of the other family feasts in the country house).
Franca will make scacce and sguogghiu (alternatives to scacce)

They will be buying cassata from the pasticceria (pastry shop) and making cassatedde. In Ragusa (and nearby Modica) these are little baked tarts with a pastry bottom and a ricotta, sugar, egg and cinnamon. Some add candied orange.

In the rest of Sicily, cassatedde are ravioli like pastries and fried.

Picture of cassatedde:

The pasta will be a must. Zia Niluzza will be making gnucchateddi (causunedda) all night for so many people!( She never takes off her jewellery when making pasta). She may even make large ricotta ravioli with a strong ragu made with pork and conserva (strong tomato paste).

And there will be homemade liquers: Nocello (made with green walnuts) and Mandarinetto (made with green mandarins)

And small sweets: Cotogniata (quince paste) rolled in sugar and Giuggiulena (or sesame seed torrone). It is also called Cubbaita and is said to be a legacy from the Arabs who lived in Sicily.

Giuggiulena, recipe:

INGREDIENTS

1k honey, 1 k sesame seeds, 4 cups sugar, ½ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, cloves, grated orange peel.

PROCESSES

Melt the sugar in a large saucepan on very low heat, when sugar is melted add honey. Add sesame seeds and aromatics mix well. Remove the torrone from the heat quickly (or the sesame seeds my burn). Let cool slightly.
Pour mixture onto a tray with baking paper or a marble that has been coated with oil. Spread evenly and quickly before the torrone hardens, cut into rectangular pieces before it cools and store in airtight containers.

 

Photos of Stefania and Aurelio’s country house:

Aurelio with one of his horses on the property.

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One of the many lunches at the property. On this occasion the local cheese makers were invited…..this is why there are all those men at the table. They bought cheeses for us to taste.

 

PRESNIZ and GUBANA (Easter cakes in Trieste)


In Trieste, while the Sicilian relatives were eating their celebratory desserts at Easter, we were either eating presniz or gubana (also called putiza) – both are made with similar pastry (gubana has yeast) and fillings containing different amounts of a mixture of nuts, sultanas, peel and chocolate. A little grappa or a little rum always helps.

The presniz or gubana are then placed into a round baking tin and coiled inside the tin so that when baked, the sides will join up and form a round shape when removed from the tin.

The preparation of gubana requires several steps in order to allow a sourdough to develop using very little yeast.

Pastry with yeast:
500 g flour 00
20 g of yeast
2 cups milk
130 g sugar
100 g butter
1 lemon, peel
1 egg yolk to complete
butter for the plate
3 eggs
salt
 
FOR THE FILLING:
150 g raisins,
60 g Mixture: candied citron,  candied orange, prunes, dried figs
150 g of walnuts
60 g of pine nuts
60 g almonds
100 g of dark chocolate
1 glass of grappa or brandy
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
30 g butter
2 eggs
grated zest of ½ orange and ½ lemon
 
Heat 4 tablespoons of milk and when it is warm, add the yeast and let it bubble.
Mix 100 g of flour with a teaspoon of sugar and the yeast dissolved in milk. Cover and allow to rise. When it has doubled in volume, add the remaining flour and remaining sugar, eggs, softened butter, a pinch of salt, grated lemon peel and milk. Work this into a dough. Allow to rest 24 hours.

Prepare the filling:

Soak the walnuts and almonds in boiling water, remove their skins and chop them finely.
Soak the raisins in alcohol for a couple of hours. Add the rest of the fruit cut into small piece sand soak for another hour.
Add grated chocolate  peel and pine nuts.
Add 1 beaten egg (beaten with a fork) and  soft or melted butter .
 
Roll out the dough on a towel in a thin rectangular shape (about 5 mm thick).
Fry the breadcrumbs in a little butter and when cool spread them over the dough.
Cover with the filling and leave a boarder around the edge (2 cm) . Roll it up on itself, in the shape of a coiled snake. Arrange on baking paper or buttered and floured baking tray.
Brush the surface with 1 beaten egg yolk, sprinkle with a little sugar and bake in a preheated oven at 190 ° C for about 45 minutes. Serve luke warm or cold (it cuts better and it is usually made well in advance of being eaten).
 

All you need to do is look at a map of Italy to understand why much of the cuisine in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), is influenced by Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslav traditions.

The apple strudel that is celebrated throughout the year and is a standard dessert in the kitchens of Triestini, has yet again a variation of the pastry, some of the nuts, peel and chocolate, but also raw apple. My mother always used the delicious apples because they were the sweetest. In all three desserts, the pastry is rolled around the filling. See Strucolo de Pomi

One year I went to Sicily for Easter and brought a presniz for the Sicilian relatives to try. I had gone to considerable trouble, buying it from what was considered to be the best pastry shop in Trieste and handling it carefully so that it would not be damaged while travelling.

There was no enthusiasm when I put it on the table, most of the relatives were too full to try it (it was presented with coffee and liqueurs after the big Sicilian Easter lunch after all), and those who did try the presniz did not express any great enthusiasm.

Tradition and only Sicilian food is everything for most Sicilians and I could probably say the same about any other region in Italy.

The traditional desserts for Easter in most of Sicily are made with ricotta. Many have cassata, made with sponge cake, ricotta, chocolate and candied peel, others, like the Ragusani  have cassatedde, small, baked ricotta filled tarts made with short pastry (cassatedde can be different shaped ricotta filled pastries in various parts of Sicily – some versions are smaller adaptations of cassata, some cassatedde are fried instead of baked). Very different, quite delicious and perhaps as interesting as presniz and gubana.