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Filtering by Tag: cuccia

Traditional Christmas Desserts of Calabria

Rosetta

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.

How to make mosto cotto

Rosetta

This past weekend we had our annual wine-making day. We buy Zinfandel grapes from a farmer (no, we don’t grow our own grapes here in the Bay Area) and then crush them in my dad's basement, which is where he makes and stores wine, and cures salumi.

My entire family works for a couple of hours until all the grapes are crushed. I then steal some of the juice to make mosto cotto.

The ancient Greeks in Calabria were the ones who began cooking grape juice and using it as a sweetener. In fact the original mostaccioli cookies were made with flour and mosto cotto. People in Calabria would even drizzle it on top of freshly fallen snow for a scirobetta. It is very sweet, with a concentrated grape flavor and a taste of caramel. Nowadays it has been replaced with honey. In other regions of Italy mostocotto is also known as sapa.

There are many traditional desserts still made in Calabria that use mosto cotto, most of them at Christmas time. People use it to sweeten cuccia, a porridge-like dessert of cooked wheat berries for Santa Lucia Day, December 13. It is also used in the filling of petrali, cookies filled with dried figs and nuts, as well as a tossing for turdilli, a sweet fried dough.

I think it's wonderful to drizzle on top of pecorino cheese and pears, or ice cream, or homemade ricotta. You can use it wherever you would use a dark honey.

To make mosto cotto you must buy wine grapes that are high in sugar, which means that ordinary table grapes won’t work. After crushing them, you get unfiltered grape juice:

You can see the seeds and skins still in the juice. After you filter it, bring the juice to a boil in a pot, then skim it:

Slowly cook it until it is reduced by 2/3 the original volume.

This will take close to 2 hours. Watch it carefully towards the end so you don’t over-reduce it or burn it. It should have the thickness of maple syrup:

Cool the syrup, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, and decant it into clean bottles with a cork or clasp seal. Store it in a cool, dark pantry or refrigerate. It will keep for at least a year.

I hope that some of you who have access to wine grapes will try this out; making it has become a lost art, even in Calabria.