Regrettably I missed Easter in Sicily last year (2013) by one week, but I was in Enna on the following ‘Albis’ Sunday and I saw the procession ( all- male, different ages, sodalities /confraternity, groups from different churches/ fellowships ) who headed from Piazza Mazzini to the nearby Lombard castle in Enna.
From here, the priest blessed the fields while the Holy Trinity looked on – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. God the Father, could easily have been Saint Joseph as he too is associated with drought and fava beans (broadbeans) and the blessing of crops to prevent famine .
Easter (Pasqua in Italian) is a joyous celebration in Italy. It has religious significance but it is also linked to Spring.
Because Italy is a Catholic country, religious celebrations at Easter in certain regions may go on before and after the Easter weekend. Sicily particularly has its share of rituals and traditions and in many parts of Sicily there are processions and solemn religious ceremonies during the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday.
Easter Monday is called Pasquetta (small Easter). Being Spring, this is a popular time to enjoy the countryside and eating food outdoors, perhaps with a picnic or travelling to a nearby country restaurant and dining al fresco in the Spring sunshine (once again to celebrate the season).
Here are links to some of the traditional dishes eaten over Easter in Sicily:
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.
In Trieste, while the Sicilian relatives were eating their celebratory desserts at Easter, we were either eating presniz or gubana (alsocalled 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
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
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.
Having relatives in Ragusa who celebrate Easter in a big way, I am very familiar with the ‘mpanata ri agnieddu – a focaccia typepie made withvery young lamb (unfortunately) complete with bones and enveloped with a bread dough crust. This is the traditional specialty for the Easter Sunday lunch in Ragusa and it is not the type of pie where you discard the pastry – the flavourful juices from the meat and herbs soak into the bottom crust and are appreciated as much as the filling. My relatives make large round pies, but as you can see in the photo above, individual sized pastries could be made as well, but these are not as traditional.
Sicilian food like Italian food is regional so ‘mpanata ri agnieddu may not be eaten in other parts of Sicily.
The word ‘mpanata (impanata in Italian) appears in a Sicilian lexicon in 1785 andis highly likely to have come from the Spanish word empanada, a derivative from the word empanar which means to wrap or coat with bread – the semi-circular stuffed pastries common in the Spanish speaking countries and in Spain.
Although it is commonly accepted that empanadas are a Spanish innovation it is possible that ‘mpanate may also have been adaptations of the breads of ancient civilizations in Sicily. The Greeks were renowned for their breads. The Romans continued this tradition and over time the breads in Sicily were enriched with flavours and fillings. There are many names for these, for example the ‘nfigghiulata, fuazza, pastizzu, ravazzata, scacciata, scacce and sfinciuni.
You will not believe just how simple the Easter ‘impanata is to make.
You will need 1.5- 2 kilos of cubed, lean lamb (from the shoulder or leg). The lamb the Ragusani use is very young and they include some of the bones, chopped into smallish pieces. As we all know bones add flavour, but I do not recommend you do this unless you tell your guests to be careful of the bones.
To the meat add, parsley, chopped garlic, salt and black pepper and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Leave this to steep overnight.
The bread dough
flour, plain (durum wheat), 900g
yeast, 50gr (fresh) or dried yeast, follow instructions on packet
warm water, ½ cup
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt to taste
Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and add to the flour. Mix into a dough, adding a little water until you get a firm consistency.
Sprinkle with some flour and leave under a tea towel to rise for about 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, add a little olive oil and knead again until the oil is totally absorbed. Traditionally, the Ragusani add lard – you choose.
Heat the oven 200 C
Roll out the dough to 1.5 cm thick. There will be two discs of dough to cover the filling. Make one slightly larger than the other – the biggest one will go on the bottom. You can use a large pie plate or just place it into a well-oiled baking pan so that if any juices escape they will be contained.
Add the meat in one single layer in the centre of the dough.
Cover the filling with the smaller disk of dough, moisten around the edges with water and seal the crusts (first fold the dough around the border and then pinch together). Make a couple of slits on top.
Brush with a little olive oil or with a little beaten egg.
Bake for about 1½ hours until the crust is golden.
After about 40 minutes, cover the pie with foil to keep it from burning.
Let the pie rest for 1 hour before eating to allow the meat juices to be absorbed by the bread dough on the bottom layer. For some, this is supposed to be the most memorable part of the pie.