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Sicilian Christmas cookies

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies 

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.comCuccidati are traditional Sicilian Christmas cookies—try my family recipe enjoyed for three generations here in America!

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilican Christmas Cookies

Italian Christmas traditions are unique to each region of the Italy and have been lovingly handed down within families through the generations. Cuccidati – a version of Christmas cookie that probably originated after the Arabs introduced oranges and almonds to Sicily centuries ago – play an important part in the Christmas celebration in Sicily even today.

All Sicilian cuccidati, or any Italian cookie for that matter, are unlike what Americans think of when they think of cookies. Most Italian cookies are made from dough that cooks up drier than American cookies and there is much more variation in the presentation.  Sicilian cookies come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes and fruit fillings are often enclosed in the cookies as a special treat.

The recipe given below is for a Sicilian Christmas cookie—my family calls them “cuccidati,” although they are not identical to most of the cookies found online under this name.  The cookies in this recipe start out as the “typical” cuccidati: one long “tube” of sweet, Italian pie-crust-like dough, which contains a dried fruit and nut center. (No figs in our version, by the way.) But, instead of then cutting the tube into bite-sized pieces that are finished with icing, my family cuts larger pieces, which are then formed into different shapes, and finishes the cuccidati with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  Whatever the name, this is just one version out of many dried, fruit-filed cookies still made in Sicilian bakeries today to celebrate the Christmas season.

When I was a child, my family always gathered the weekend before Christmas to share our creativity while we formed our cuccidati into wreaths, ribbons, or candy cane-like forms.  They could be completely covered in dough, which would allow for a creative, fringe-like covering, or left open.  The sides could be pinched for decoration if like, similar to how Americans form a pie crust along the rim of their pies. If you would like to see how the various shapes of these cookies are made, visit the Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.

The ingredients for the cuccidati filling are considered easy to come by today, but remember that dried fruit, including raisins and oranges and spices like cinnamon were considered special when the cookies originated.  These filling ingredients were only found only in well-off households. Since the filling ingredients are difficult to chop and mix together, in some Sicilian towns “back in the day,” people would bring their filling to the butcher to mix together for them in his meat grinder, which had been newly cleaned for the season for this purpose.

Despite the few ingredients in traditional cuccidati, and the difficulty of making the filling with them, the dried fruit has a rich sweetness, the roasted almonds a robust flavor, and the cinnamon, orange, and citron add a complexity of flavor that goes beyond its simple ingredients. Try our recipe this Christmas season for a taste of Sicilian tradition!
—Kathryn Occhipinti


Cuccidati
Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Sicilian Christmas cookies
Cuccidati sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and ready to eat

Ingredients
If you’re trying this recipe for the first time, it may be easier to cut the recipe in half.  
Makes 2–4 dozen cookies, depending on the size and shape of the cookies created.

Pasta Frolla (Sweet Pastry)
2½ lbs. flour (about 10 cups)
10 oz. of lard or Crisco
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
about 1 cup cold water

Filling
2 lbs. yellow raisins (not red raisins)
1 lb. whole almonds (skinless), roasted
2 Tbsp citron (lemon)
2 Tbsp candied orange peel
or zest of 2 tangerines
2 tsp cinnamon sugar

 

Procedure

Prepare the pasta frolla*

Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl.

Cut in the lard with a fork and/or your fingertips until it is the size of small peas.

Add the cold water a little at a time, while mixing with a fork. After about 1 cup of water has been added, gather the dough and test it to see if it holds together. If it does, form one large ball. If it is too dry, add more water, mix, and try again.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press it together with a soft, gentle kneading motion with the palm of your hand until a dough forms.

Form into one large disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

 

Make the filling

First, chop the yellow raisins coarsely with a sharp knife so they open up. This is fairly labor intensive, and it may take a bit of time to chop all of the raisins.

Then, chop the almonds coarsely with a sharp knife.

If you have a small manual chopper/grinder specifically for nuts, put the coarsely chopped nuts into the machine and grind to obtain more finely chopped nuts, which can then be mixed with the raisins. Otherwise, try one of the next two steps below.

Either: Take the tenderizing part of a meat mallet and mash small amounts of the raisins and almonds together at a time. This can be done under a dish towel so they do not scatter everywhere. (Mashing the raisins and almonds together seems to work the best and will leave varying sizes of raisins and almonds in the mix.)

Or: An alternative to the last step: pulse the pre-processed raisins and nuts in a food processor a few times if you have one, making sure the ingredients are not over processed.

To the raisin/nut mixture: add the citron, orange peel or zest, and cinnamon and mix well.

Form into 2 rectangular “logs” the shape of a loaf of bread. Cover with aluminum foil if not using right away and store at room temperature.

Filling for cuccidati
Cuccidati filling formed into logs

 

Assemble the cuccidati

Set up a kitchen table “assembly line” style: place the dough on one end on a surface that is good for rolling and cutting the dough, place the filling in the middle, and use the surrounding work areas for each member of the family to create the cookies. Place cookie sheets on the far end for the finished cookies.

Cuccidati work table
Table set up for assembling the cuccidati

Cut off one strip at a time from the large dough ball and roll it out into pie-crust-size thickness.

Cut the rolled-out dough into fairly thick strips, depending on the size of cookie desired. These strips can then be cut again crosswise to make the size needed to make smaller cookies.

Cut rectangular pieces of filling from the filling logs to place into the strips of dough.

Be creative! Create cookies with the sides brought up to cover the filling entirely, or leave the filling uncovered and just pinch the dough together to form various designs. Traditional shapes are round (like a wreath), horseshoe, or long or short ribbons. Candy cane shapes are popular with kids.

Sicilian cuccidati
Cuccidati ready to bake – various shapes

 

Bake in preheated oven at 350° for about 20–30 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookie is nicely browned. The sides and top of the dough should be cooked but not browned. This will make a flaky crust and avoid burning the filling.

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar when cool.

Cookies will keep for about 2 weeks in a cookie tin or covered with aluminum foil.

*The original recipe passed down from my grandmother states that the flour and the lard should be mixed together and left overnight before the sugar, salt, and water are added to create the dough. I’ve never tried this and instead use the traditional “pie crust” method.

 —Kathryn Occhipinti: Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of Conversational Italian for Travelers,
is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from ©Stella Lucente, LLC.
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More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
 Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
 Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts about Italian food and culture in each chapter of our book! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy.  —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC.

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Grand Canal Venice with Gondolas

Italian Travelers: Sightseeing Today!

Italian Travelers: Sightseeing Today!

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog  Follow Caterina and read about Italian travelers and sightseeing today in Italy in the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books!

The Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook begins each chapter with a dialogue from a story about the character Caterina, an American girl who travels to Italy to visit her relatives. As the story continues from one chapter to the next, we learn Italian, and about Italy, in an engaging way through Caterina’s experiences.

Sightseeing in Italy 

In our story, Caterina visits her relatives in Italy during August, when most Italians go on vacation. So of course, all the family members in our book become Italian travelers! Italian travelers usually go to the beach or the mountains during their Ferragosto holiday and often enjoy sightseeing during that time.

Feel free to listen in on Caterina and her relatives when, as Italian travelers in the lakeside town of Stresa, they carry on a conversation to plan their day of sightseeing on www.LearnTravelItalian.com.

The Cultural Note below, adapted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, gives some general guidelines about sightseeing in Italy that all Italian travelers may find helpful when planning their vacation this summer.
—Kathryn Occhipinti


 

Italian Cultural Note:
 Taking in Italian Culture and Shops

Many books have been written about the art and architecture of Italy. Even those who would not normally spend time admiring works of art often find themselves drawn into one of the many museums, historical palaces, or churches in Italy. A complete list would be exhaustive, but for the curious, a short list of some easily recognizable works of art and architecture—and where to find them—is included at the end of this section.

As many of you may or may not know (I did not when I went to Italy for the very first time), the Mona Lisa (la Gioconda), a famous portrait by the Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci, is not on this list, as it is in Paris, at the Louvre!

The Last Supper (L’Ultima Cena), da Vinci’s most well-known fresco, can thankfully still be viewed in Milan despite the destruction of the adjacent walls of the monastery during the bombing of World War II. The fresco survived because of the dedication of the townspeople, who protected it with sandbags. The monastery has been rebuilt, and the Last Supper now exists in a climate-controlled environment, which protects its fragile paint from heat and humidity. A limited number of visitors are admitted each day through the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

The larger museums in Italy often open remain open from 8 to 9 a.m. through 7 p.m. Smaller museums may close at 1 p.m. for siesta and reopen later in the day, around 4 p.m., so it is advisable to check the hours of operation. Museums may be closed on Mondays. There may be extremely long lines at some of the most famous museums and sites (the Vatican and the Colosseum in Rome, or the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for instance), but now it is fairly easy to buy tickets ahead of time, over the Internet, by phone, or through tour guides.

Churches are usually open for viewing from early in the morning, about 7–8 a.m., until 12:30 p.m., and then reopen from 4 to 7 p.m., every day except Sunday (when services are held).

The island of Sicily is a trip in and of itself—with ancient Greek ruins, many Baroque architecture UNESCO world heritage sites and even entire cities, stunning beaches, and Mount Etna, a week is barely enough to see all the island has to offer. Sicily has once again become a travel destination as the world has taken notice of the island’s treasures. Sardinia, the second-largest Italian island, has long been a destination of the very wealthy, who vacation along the secluded beaches along the Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast.

For those who prefer shopping to, or along with, their dose of culture, shops in Italy are usually open from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., close for lunch, reopen between 3 and 4 p.m. and then usually remain open until 8 p.m. Most family-run shops are closed on Sundays and may be closed on Mondays.

One of the most famous shopping strips in the world is actually on a bridge—the old bridge, or Ponte Vecchio, in Florence, where gold and jewelry are found in abundance. Florence is also known for its handmade leather goods, and small shops with handmade items in a multitude of colors are found throughout the city.

Venice is known not only for its architectural beauty but also for wonderful, hand-painted masks for Carnevale (Mardi Gras). The smaller islands of Venice offer wonders of their own. Visit the famous beaches on the Lido for relaxation. Or visit the island of Murano to watch the centuries-old technique of creating beautiful, hand-blown glass pieces, a large variety of which are available for purchase and can be shipped back home. The small but picturesque island of Burano, with its brightly colored houses, is the oldest center for handmade lace still in existence in the world today.

Milan and Rome are known as fashion centers. It would be difficult to miss the high-end shops that line the piazza around the Spanish steps in Rome, but even the side streets offer beautiful clothing and a dazzling variety of shoes. Most mid-sized cities in Italy also have a good number of designer boutiques. The greatest discounts are found during the last week of July, when almost every shop puts up signs in their window advertising discounts (sconti) of 50% or more at the end of the season.

A note on visiting Italy during August—during the weeks of the Ferragosto holiday in early to mid-August, most small shop owners and restaurant owners will close their businesses and head for the beaches or mountains. Smaller towns may seem deserted to the visitor. It may be best to stay in the country for these weeks in August, as the Italians do!

***************************************

Italian Traveler’s Guide to Sightseeing 

Milan: Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper—Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

Il Duomo (di Santa Maria Nascente)—fifth-largest cathedral in the world

Lake region: Lago Maggiore and Lago Como

Florence: Uffizi Gallery of Art

Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Academy Gallery

Il Duomo (di Santa Maria del Fiore)—third-largest cathedral in the world

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)

Piazza della Signoria

Pitti Palace

Boboli Gardens

Palazzo Vecchio

Pisa: Leaning Tower in the Campo dei Miracoli

Siena: The Palio horse race (August 16)

Rome: Vatican museum

St. Peter’s Basilica—largest Catholic cathedral in the world

Michelangelo’s Creation frescoes at The Sistine Chapel

Colosseum/Roman Forum/Baths of Caracalla

The Trevi Fountain

The Spanish Steps

Villa Borghese museum

Villa Medici

Pantheon

Victor Emmanuel Monument

Piazza Navona

Piazza del Popolo

Abruzzo: Tivoli Gardens

Naples: Ruins of Pompeii

Amalfi Coast

Island of Capri

Venice: St. Mark’s Square

St. Mark’s Basilica and Campanile

Doge’s Palace

Grand Canal: gondolas and Rialto Bridge

Island of Murano: hand-blown, decorative glass

Island of Burano: handmade lace

Art Biennal (Biennale Arte)

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Lido beaches

Verona: Juliet’s balcony (from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)

Castelvecchio

Lago Garda—largest lake in Italy

—Adapted from Conversational Italian for Travelers, “Cultural Note—Taking in Italian Culture and Shops,” by Kathryn Occhipinti

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog—Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of
Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Learn Travel Italian 

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian
Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Italian Travelers: Sightseeing Today!