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 inRagusa 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.
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.
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.
These scacce were made by one of my cousins, Franca. She lives in Ragusa and these focaccia-like stuffed breads are typical of that region of Sicily (south east and the chief cities are Ragusa, Modica, Noto).
There are many focaccia-like stuffed breads made all over Sicily. They have different names, they may be slightly different in shape and have some variations in the filling. In my previous posts I have written about sfincione di Palermo and impanata (in categories Snacks and Meat), but there are other regional specialties, for example the ‘nfigghiulata, fuazza, pastizzu, ravazzata and scacciata.
Scacce are probably classed as finger food and are usually made in large numbers. In the houses of my Ragusa relatives they are made for Christmas, Easter, birthdays, baptisms (few of those lately) and in fact, on any celebratory occasion.. Although the other cousins and their daughters and my aged aunt can all make scacce well, it is always Franca’s duty; she is deemed the campione (champion) maker.
There are several different fillings for scacce in their household. The ones in the photo are made with slices of fried eggplants, tomato salsa, toasted breadcrumbs, basil, pepper, caciocavallo cheese (use provola/ mozzarella- type cheese) and of course, extra virgin olive oil.
But if she is making one type of filling, she is likely to make other scacce with different fillings and they vary with seasonal ingredients.
Typical fillings are:
• tomato salsa (300g ripe tomatoes, garlic, oil, salt and pepper and reduced, basil, caciocavallo cheese (100g cut into very thin slices),
• caciocavallo cheese , parsley, seasoning and oil,
• young spinach leaves, sprinkled with salt and cut finely, dried grapes (currants), seasoning and a little salsa,
• fresh onion, cut finely, sprinkled with salt and left in a colander for about 30 mins, then squeezed, the onion is mixed with fresh drained ricotta,
• fresh drained ricotta and fresh pork sausage(casing removed) rubbed between the fingers, wild fennel,
• purple or green cauliflower (partly cooked in boiling water), dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, chili, caciocavallo cheese, (anchovies are optional).
When I make a scaccia I put the filling on top of the dough in one layer, then roll it up like a strudel, but this is for the novices, the Ragusani do it differently. The dough is folded over, filled again, then folded again. I have difficulties explaining it but I will do my best.
The scaccia is cut into slices once it is baked.
INGREDIENTS and PROCEDURES
The dough is the same as for making pizza: good quality white flour, yeast (fresh or dry), salt, warm water, and some white wine (this ingredient is not usually added to a pizza and seems typical of the region). Try: 500g/ ¾ cup of liquid/25g yeast.
Combine all ingredients until you have soft dough. Stretch and place fingers through dough and add about ¾ cup of extra virgin olive oil.
Kneed well. Leave it covered for about one hour to rise.
When spreading the filling over the dough, spread the filling thinly.
Roll out the dough into a thin square sheet.
Place ½ of the filling of choice on top of the dough, but leave a border of about 2cm. on the four sides.
Fold two of the opposite borders into the centre. Place the rest of the filling on top of the two folded flaps.
Fold the other two opposite ends into the centre and seal the pastry with beaten egg.( make sure it is well stuck).
Bake the scaccia in a 200 C oven for about 30 minutes.
Remove the scaccia from the oven, let it rest, covered with a tea towel, for about 20 minutes.
Cut the scaccia into slices.
In the photo you will notice bottles of Nero D’Avola (typical Sicilian red wine) and some white mirtilli (these berries are the same species as blueberries, bilberries and cranberries). These are very much appreciated in Sicily.