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Filtering by Tag: Grispelle

Il Cenone: A Calabrian Christmas Eve Feast


Il cenone is the highlight of Christmastime at my house just as it is in Calabria. A Calabrian Christmas Eve dinner usually includes thirteen dishes, and is always centered around seafood. The fish is mandatory because the Roman Catholic Church made the day before Christmas (la vigiliа) a day of fasting and abstinence from meat, and some authors speculate that the thirteen dishes represented food for Jesus and his twelve disciples.

In the old days fresh fish wasn't available in rural areas and people could afford only baccala (salt cod),  stoccafisso (dried cod) and dishes like pasta with cured anchovies. These are humble dishes but are so delicious that people still continue to keep them on the menu, even with their new-found affluence. Today  they also use all the fresh fish available and make great seafood extravaganzas from them.

This morning I have started soaking the baccala so it will be ready on the 24th. On the morning of Christmas Eve I will make my run to the  fish market early in the morning and depending on what I find I will create my menu on whatever fish is available. I might prepare spaghetti con vongole (pasta with clams) or spaghetti with Dungeness crab or with swordfish. Following the pasta course, we  may have baccala (salted cod) either fried, braised with potatoes and dried sweet peppers, or in a salad with potatoes. I may also make a seafood salad that includes calamari, clams, and mussels, as well as lots of vegetable like cauliflower salad, broccoli rape sauted with garlic, and escarole salad.

My mom will be busy in the late afternoon making grispelle and cuddurieddi (fried leavened dough with potatoes), cannariculi and cicirata. (See my previous post for the photos.) I usually add some non-traditional desserts, such a tronchetto di Natale (chocolate Christmas log) or a semifreddo di torrone. (See below for the link to the recipe). Of course panettone is always on our table and this year as in the past two years my friend Fanny always brings a panettone made by Colavolpe in Calabria, which is studded with dried Calabrian figs and dark chocolate.

Below is a typical menu that would appear at my home on Christmas Eve. The highlighted dishes have links for recipes that were published in Sunset Magazine in December, 2007. For the others you will have to wait until my cookbook is published next fall 2010.

Wishing you all buon Natale!  Happy holidays and a great 2010!

Grispelle e Cuddurieddi

Tartine al Burro con Bottarga di Pizzo (Crostini with bottarga butter)

Spaghetti con Acciughe e Mollica (Spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs)

Involtini di Pesce Spada (Grilled stuffed swordfish rolls)

Baccalà alla Verbicarese (Salt Cod with sweet red peppers and potatoes)

Insalata ai frutti di mare (Mixed seafood salad)

Insalata di Baccalà con Patate (Salt cod and potato salad with red onion and capers)

Broccoli Rape (Sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic)

Insalata di Cavolfiore (Cauliflower salad)

Chinule (Sweet Christmas ravioli with chestnut filling)

Cannariculi e Cicirata (Fried ridged pastry with honey Glaze)


Semifreddo al torrone (Semifreddo with Almond Nougat)

Frutta e dolci (Clementines, hazelnuts and walnuts, roasted chestnuts, chocolate coated figs and torrone)

Traditional Christmas Desserts of Calabria


December is the month for desserts in Calabria. Every year the season starts on December 13 with the festa di Santa Lucia. This is the day that many cooks start the fritture, the annual frying of yeasted dough for desserts. In some towns people prepare la cuccia, which is cooked wheat berries with nuts, mosto cotto and spices. In the area of Calabria in which I grew up, Christmas meant grispelle, yeasted dough-and-potato fritters, shaped long and drizzled with honey, and cuddureddi, which are ring-shaped and served plain or with honey. Up in the Sila area, especially in the town of San Giovanni in Fiore, you find the traditional pitta ‘mpigliata, baked pastry rosettes filled with walnuts, almonds, raisins, cinnamon, cloves and drizzled with honey.

Another Christmas dessert found in the Cosenza area are the scaliddi or scalille, meaning "little ladders".  These are fritters made with a sweet dough, but shaped either to resemble a ladder, with two long parallel sides and shorter cross bars, or a long spiral made by wrapping a rope of dough around the handle of a wooden spoon and then dipping the spoon into hot oil.

My two favorite desserts at Christmas were always the cannariculi (or cicirata) and chinule.  The cannariculi are a sweet fried dough shaped like gnocchi, fried and drizzled with honey:

The cicirata is the same dough but cut in the size of a chick pea and fried and coated with honey. Those of you who are Neapolitan know them as struffoli. In some towns the cannariculi are coated with mosto cotto. They are also known as turdilli or crustoli. The chinule are shaped like  a ravioli or half-moon turnover and filled with a puree of chestnuts, raisins, chocolate, cocoa powder and spices and then are fried and drizzled with honey.

As you go further south in the boot you will find many other types of traditional desserts at Christmas time, like petrali, half-moon shaped cookie dough filled with dried figs, nuts, chocolate, mosto cotto and cinnamon, and then baked and covered with a glaze. And there's the pignolata, tiny fritters covered with either a chocolate or lemon glaze.

I know that you are all waiting for the recipes for these desserts but unfortunately I can’t include them this year--all the ones that I mentioned are in my upcoming cookbook, and I am not allowed to give them out.  But I promise you that I will give them to you next Christmas!

All the photos in this post were taken by Sara Remington for my book. I will add more pictures to the blog as I begin my own fritture.