Photo by Patrick Varney, Raglan Images for Italianicious ( magazine) Nov- Dec 2010
I first posted the content of this post on Dec 20th, 2010. I called it: PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat?
I am able to view the stats for each of my posts and all of the posts about Christmas have been viewed many times, but this one has not been popular. Is it the title?
It contains some general information about the food that is common in Sicily around Christmas time but it also contains information about Panettone and Panforte – both popular at Christmas. There is also a recipe for Panforte.
Now, on Dec 15, 2014, it is time to post it again and give it another title:
PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS
CHRISTMAS IN SICILY
You are probably wondering what Sicilians eat for Christmas in Sicily.
When the respected writer Mary Taylor Simeti (an expatriate American, married to a Sicilian organic wine maker and farmer and most importantly, one of the greatest authorities and writer about Sicilian food) visited Melbourne recently, she and I and pastry cook Marianna De Bartoli, who owns Dolcetti, a pasticceria in North Melbourne, were all asked this same question during an interview for Italianicious Magazine (Nov-Dec issue 2010).
We all gave the same answer, which is that there is no one answer since the cuisine and traditional food of Sicily is very regional. Sicily may be a small island, but the food is very localised and very different from region to region.
The three of us also agreed that Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas day – it is a meatless occasion and fish is the first choice. In some places Sicilians eat stoccofisso (stockfish) or baccala, where in others they eat eel. Usually families wait up and go to midnight Mass. And for those that do, Christmas lunch will often begin with a light first course. For example, chicken broth with maybe some pastina (small pasta suitable for broth) or polpettine (small meatballs) made with shredded cooked chicken meat, egg, a little fresh bread and grated cheese.
In Ragusa, where my father’s family comes they tend to eat the same foods as they do at Easter: scacce and large ravioli stuffed with ricottadressed with a strong ragu (meat sauce) made with tomato conserva (tomato paste) and pork meat.
In other parts of the island gallina ripiena (stuffed chicken cooked in broth) is popular, while others may eat a baked pasta dish, for example: anelletti al forno. timballo di maccheroni or lasagne made with a very rich, strong meat ragu. This may be followed by capretto (kid) either roasted or braised.
There may be cassata or cannoli for dessert or the wreath shaped buccellato made with dried figs, almonds, walnuts, sultanas and spices (from Latin buccellatum meaning ring or wreath).
There are links to recipes for all the words in blue above.
PANFORTE or PANETTONE FOR CHRISTMAS
Both panettone and panforte are popular Christmas sweets in Italy.
In recent years panforte has become popular in Australia, but you are probably more familiar with panettone. This may be because there are so many different brands of panettone available and they are exported to many parts of the world, especially in countries where Italians have migrated.
Italians are very happy to buy both of these Christmas sweets and the big brands are of excellent quality. Generally Italians where ever they live would rather buy these than make them at home. I have never tried to make panettone but I have made panforte several times very successfully.
This Christmas sweet bread is now popular not just in northern Italy where it originated.
It is said that the early version of panettone ( means bread big) was not the light textured, yeast perfumed, fruit bread we are familiar with, before it was made common by industrial production. It was a type of heavy, enriched, Milanese fruit bread baked at home and not just eaten at Christmas time. Panettone was made famous and affordable when it was commercially produced (from the 1920’s) and railed all over Italy. As a child growing up in Trieste the most famous panettone was the Motta brand (and still a well known brand in Italy) and part of the charm was opening the box and releasing the fragrance.
Popular brand of Panforte
Panforte is from Siena (within Tuscany) and contains exotic spices of ancient times. It is made with dry fruit and nuts – candied orange peel, citron, chopped almonds, spices, honey, butter and sugar and very little flour to bind the ingredients; it has no yeast, has a very solid texture and is shaped like a disc. Panforte (from pane forte) means strong bread and in earlier times it may have been derived from the Tuscan pane pepato (peppered bread), meaning strongly peppered with spices.
Just like panettone there are some excellent varieties of imported panforte. I like Panforte Margherita (the light coloured version developed in honour Queen Margaret of Savoy’s visit to Siena). Panforte Nero is the dark variety made with dark chocolate.
Being a purist (or as my daughter used to refer to me as a food fascist) I cringe when I see ”gourmet” versions of panforte for sale, some of these contain glace cherries, or glace ginger; I even hesitate at the inclusion of pistachio or macadamia, not the norm, but could be more acceptable.
My favourite recipe is from The Italian Baker by Carol Field (recipe below).
In spite of writing recipes, I am not one for following recipes closely. I always improvise and adapt amounts of ingredients to suit my taste. For example I double the amount of pepper, nutmeg and coriander. On occasions I have also included walnuts and pine nuts which were included in panpepato, a predecessor.
If I make Panforte Nero I add unsweetened cocoa (Dutch cocoa powder about 2-3 tablespoons) and some bittersweet chocolate.
1 cup whole hazelnuts,
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup candied orange peel and citron, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg, ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Heat the oven to 180c.
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until the skins pop and blister, 10 to 15 minutes. Rub the skins from the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until very pale golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Chop the almonds and hazelnuts very coarsely. Mix the nuts, orange peel, citron, lemon zest, flour, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and pepper together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.
Use a 9 inch springform pan; line the bottom and sides with baking paper Heat the sugar, honey, and butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until the syrup registers 242 to 248 on a candy thermometer (a little of the mixture will form a ball when dropped into cold water). Immediately pour the syrup into the nut mixture and stir quickly until thoroughly blended. Pour immediately into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. The batter will become stiff and sticky very quickly so you must work fast.
Bake about 30 to 40 minutes. The panforte won’t colour or seem very firm even when ready, but it will harden as it cools. Cool on a rack until the cake is firm to the touch. Remove the side of the pan and invert the cake onto a sheet of paper. Peel off the baking paper. Dust heavily with confectioners’ sugar.
It is Christmas time and this small Pasticceria/ Patisserie in Melbourne (callled Dolcetti) is packed to the ceiling!
Marianna with her angels and her elves have been very busy; they have been filling Dolcetti with delicious sweets, artfully wrapped and displayed.
There is no need for me to say much, the photos speak for themselves.
Last year I asked her to provide a simple recipe (it was for Pistachio shortbread in 2013 ) and this year the recipe is for Spicchiteddi/ Spicchiteddi (Spicchitedda in Sicilian). I will include the recipe at the end of the post.
Marianna has arranged her sweets and produce in a number of attractive packages.
The price for the large box above is $85.There is even a gluten-free smaller hamper.
Buccelati are definitely Sicilian…..those types of ingredients are a legacy of the Arabs.
Another Sicilian favourite is Pignolata… I must not leave out the Calabresi as Pignolata is also common in Calabria. The small Pignolata is $11
Notice one of her angels packing a child’s apron with a biscuit…..something for everyone! There are two types of children’s aprons…Both beautiful.
Marianna makes a Dark and a White version of Panforte – this Christmas sweet originates from Siena.
I always fiddle around with Carol Field’s recipe when I make Panforte. I have written her recipe in a much older post:
This Italian inspired fruit cake comes in three sizes: $5.20, $22.50, $64
Notice that Marianna uses Australian apricots – to me this is very important and demonstrates her use of local and quality ingredients.
The small- snail like biscuits are spicchiteddi (spicchitedda in Sicilian). They are typical Christmas sweets from the Sicilian, Aeolian islands and contain almonds, citrus peel, cinnamon and cloves. They also have vincotto ( vinocotto, vino cotto – ‘cooked wine’) and once again Marianna is using some local produce. This one is made by Paul Virgona.
I have used Vincotto in savoury dishes – it has many uses and I have written about this in an earlier post.
As you can see by the shape of the spicchiteddi, children could shape them – they could wear an apron (as mentioned above).
Here is the recipe that Marianna gave me:
100gms unsalted butter
250 mls vinocotto
150 gms sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
675gms plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 pinch of ground cloves
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup blanched almonds
In a saucepan gently melt the butter and vinocotto.
Remove from heat and add the sugar and orange rind, stir well and allow to cool.
Sift together the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda.
Add the cooled vinocotto mix and mix lightly to form a dough.
Leave to rest for 10 mins.
Pinch off a tablespoon at a time and roll into a long thin rope approx 2cm thick.
Roll each end into a snail shape.
Decorate with blanched almonds.
Bake at 180c for 10 to 15 mins.
Brush lightly with extra vinocotto whilst still warm.
The majority of people love SWEETS and even those who are not gluttons for all sweet things are tempted by some sweets.
For example I am not a great fan of cakes nor large quantities of puddings but I do like dolcetti (Italian for little sweet things) like biscuits, especially Sicilian almond biscuits and torrone.
Pasticceria Erice (Sicily)
How many of you have tried giuggiulena or know what it is? What about pignolata? I love small moist ricotta filled cannoli …. All Sicilian, all exceptional, traditional and exquisitely made….and where else (Melbourne and the world!!) besides Sicily will you be able to sample these sweets?
Pistacchio treat from Dolcetti in Melbourne
You can taste them in Melbourne at the small and brilliant pasticceria, Dolcetti, where Marianna di Bartolo carries on a Sicilian tradition of exquisite sweet-making inherited from her family. But you will also be able to taste and purchase her sweets at the Sweets Festival at the Immigration Museum on Sunday 18 March 2012 (11am to 4pm).
Dolcetti’s Marianna Di Bartolo, her sweets are ‘to die for’
And Marianna will not be the only one offering her sweets and demonstrating some of her craft. This one-day festival of food and culture is a feast of toothsome sweet (and savoury) food stalls, film, music and dance performances, cooking demonstrations and workshops. along with Marianna’s sweets there will be baklava, mochi, moti choor ladoo and napolitains as well as numerous other delicious treats, along with flavoured teas, coffee and sherbet.
During the day there will be short tours of the Sweets: Tastes and Traditions from Many Cultures Exhibition – this exhibition begins on 15 March 2012 to 7 April 2013.
For the past six months I have been part of a group coordinating the Sweets Exhibition at the Immigration Museum. This is a Museum Victoria project and is also part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. 2012.
The Museum worked collaboratively with a number of Victorian communities to produce an exhibition and festival themed around sweets, highlighting shared cultural traditions, rituals and contemporary practices.The Italian, Indian, Mauritian, Turkish and Japanese communities have been invited to participate. Obviously I am a member of the Italian group.
These communities were chosen because of their differences in food traditions and their geographical diversity. I have always been interested in the historical and cultural significance of ingredients and cooking methods and the culinary variations between cultures and even within the same culture.
Readers of my blog and my book will know about my interest in the origins of Sicilian recipes shaped by the Greeks, Arabs, French and Spaniards. Mauritius, Turkey, Japan and India all have unique histories and very different cultural and climatic influences that are reflected in what they eat.
Cannoli in Palermo (Sicily)
There will be performances throughout the day at the Sweets Festival at the Immigration Museum on Sunday 18 March. Naturally there will be Italian performers but these are only some of the performances from the other cultures represented:
Tara Rajkumar Natya, Sudha Dance Company. The performance explores treats of two of the Hindu Gods – Ganesha’ s modakam dumplings and Krishna’s favourite pudding pal payasam.
A dance theatre performance by the Turkish Ekol School of Arts. Discover the importance of baklava at an Anatolian wedding.
A musical concert with a Japanese shiobue flute and taiko drumming from the Fuefukuro trio.
Sego Lebrasse and dancers will present a Mauritian sega.
The Bumbroo Dance of the Bumblebee by the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Association.
A Japanese tea ceremony demonstration with the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Melbourne Association.
Small cassate Ragusa (Sicily)
I have just returned from a trip to Vietnam and loved sampling different foods and flavours from the street stalls to traditional eateries to sophisticated dining rooms. Desserts, as we know them, are not generally eaten in Vietnam. Meals are most likely to be finished with a selection of fabulous fresh fruit, if anything. But sweet snacks are available on the street all day long. Sweet cakes, snacks and specialties such as coloured glutinous rice enclosing sweet bean paste, are also made for special occasions, Buddhist festivals and other celebrations.
Sweet stall in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
It seems that wherever you go, there is always something sweet to eat. They may not always be nutritious but they always nourish some part of us.
I was in Sydney where I attended some sessions of the Sydney International Food Festival. The World Chef Showcase on Saturday focused strongly on the cuisine of the Middle East and Mediterranean –this was the program that interested me the most.
The Festival list of Australian and overseas guests was very impressive and included: Musa Dagdeviren (Istanbul), Yotam Ottolenghi (London), Mary Taylor Simeti (Sicily, food history), Joe Barza (Lebanon) and Kamal Mouzawak (founder of Beirut’s Souk el Tayeb – a weekly market farmers’ produce and Lebanese food), Anissa Helou (London), Ozden Ozsabuncuoglu (Turkish food authority) and Mehmet Gurs (Istanbul).
Those of you who like Middle Eastern food and live in Melbourne will almost certainly know the names Ismail Tosun (Gigibaba) and Greg and Lucy Malouf (cookbook collaborators and Mo Mo Restaurant), also Abla Amad (Abla’s Restaurant). Sydney readers may recognise Somer Sivrioglu (Efendy Restaurant in Balmain).
Abla Amad was accompanied by Yotam Ottolenghi who was relatively unknown in Australia at the time and i was one of the first to hear him at Abla’s session.
There is an obvious and powerful connection between Middle Eastern and Sicilian cuisine – the Arabs ruled Sicily for two centuries (in medieval times they were sometimes called “Saracens” or “Moors”). The Arabs contributed to the development of Sicilian culture, agriculture and architecture and had a profound influence on the cuisine of Sicily.
The food that was prepared and discussed by the participating Festival guests featured many of the distinctive ingredients of Middle Eastern food – the rich spices (especially saffron and cinnamon), rice and grains, nuts and seeds (especially pine nuts, almonds, pistachio, sesame), sugar, and the typical fruits (citrus, figs, pomegranate) and vegetables and flowers (orange, jasmine, rose flower waters) of the Mediterranean.
The ‘Arab’ ingredients and flavours are not unique to Sicily. They are present in other countries of the Mediterranean, for example the cuisine of Spain and France.
A post on my blog is not the venue to discuss this topic at length. However I have already written about some recipes of sweets that could be attributed to the co-Arab and Sicilian association (for they cannot be attributed just to the Arabs).
Here is a similar recipe to cubbaita (giuggiulena) and it is called petrafennula, (also called petramennula depending on the Sicilian locality).
All my Sicilian relatives and friends keep a selection of these small homemade sweets at home just in case someone visits unannounced.
PETRAFENNULA – PIETRA DI MIELE (Rock made of honey).
almonds, 500g blanched and roughly chopped into large pieces
candied orange peel, 400 g chopped finely,
cinnamon, ½ teaspoon (optional).
Place the honey in a saucepan.
Add the peel.
Allow the mixture to simmer gently and stir from time to time until it begins to solidify.
Take the mixture off the stove and work quickly
Add the almonds and the cinnamon and stir gently to incorporate.
Pour the mixture on to baking paper placed on a cold surface – such as a marble slab or a baking tray (traditionally this is done without paper on an oiled marble slab).
Break it into pieces when it is cold. When my mother made this, she sometimes used to drop dollops of the mixture (about a tablespoon in size) on to a cold surface to form small odd shapes – more like pebbles than sharp rocks. This seemed easier than shaping it into one large slab, which then needs to be broken into smaller pieces.
I have a friend in Adelaide who has the most wonderful garden and beehives. She used her honey to make giuggiulena and the petrafennula and both resulted into slightly softer versions of candy. We discussed this and think that it must be due to the varying levels of moisture in different types of honey and from the various locations. I have used a variety of honey including leatherwood (definitely not Sicilian) and other organic honey from a variety of Australian locations and have achieved the required results.