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