I have always been passionate about the cuisine and recipes of the tradition of Catenanuova, my town. In the family we jealously guard an notebook where many recipes are written down handed down to us by our grandparents. It is nice to reread them, pass them on and make them again together with my children.
They are often written with misspellings and misspelled words, but for this reason we love them even more, because they are authentic and pass on to us the love for food of a purely peasant culture which, despite all the difficulties, did not give up on holiday sweets such as the “Ciciulia” at Easter and the “Cucciddati” at Christmas.
Or not being able to buy fish because they did not have the economic possibilities (or perhaps because they were far from the sea), they invented “pisci chiani” (flat or shallow fish) made with wild thistles, flour and egg batter and with addition of salted anchovies that could be kept at home and used as needed.
Flour was a lifeline in the post-war period and wheat crops grew greatly in our territories, from there many both sweet and savoury preparations were made with this versatile ingredient.
I still remember that as a child I watched my mother and my grandmothers knead the homemade pasta and then roll out the “Fogghia” as the thin sheet used to make tagliatelle and lasagna is called in our town.
One day I told them I wanted to do it myself and I started repeating their gestures. Suddenly my mother disappeared and I saw her come back with the neighbours she had called to show them how I rolled out the dough. This memory remains indelible in my mind, I must have been a little over 10 years old but it seems vivid to me as if it had happened just a few minutes ago.
I am also handing down this love to my children who, despite being three boys, know how to cook, make bread in the stone oven as it used to be and above all they know how to roll out pasta with a rolling pin as my mother taught me.
You can see all the photos and videos of traditional recipes that I have made.
Caponatìna is a typically summer dish made above all with aubergines, peppers, celery, onion and which was cooked early in the morning due to the strong heat that characterizes our town. And for this reason it was called capomatìna and hence the name caponatìna.
The Cavatelli gathered us around the table to prepare them all together, it was enough to knead the dough and make rolls which were then cut into small cylinders which were given the shape taken out with the help of a fork or grater.
Wild fennel, asparagus, cardoons (artichoke thistles) are only a part of the products that the earth offers us spontaneously and that allow us to make our local recipes such as “pasta a milanisa” with fennel and toasted breadcrumbs. It is not known why it is called ‘Milanisa’, certainly in Milan they do not have fennel and the only ones who know how to cook it are the immigrants who have them sent to their relatives.
Pasta with fennel can be found in many places in our Sicily and is cooked more or less in the same way with small variations.
Even a rainy and cold day, considered bad for obvious reasons, can give us beautiful childhood memories in our family of origin. When it rains in winter and there is bad weather, the breakfast of when I was little comes to mind.
In those gloomy days my mother made “Frascatuli” with “frittuli” and seasonal vegetables. It is a polenta made with chickpea flour, broccoli and pork (frittuli). And with the light on, because it was pitch dark, they all gathered us at the table. It was a way to warm up in a not so distant time, when we didn’t have heating in all the rooms. A legacy of our grandparents who went to the fields in all weather conditions and needed the energy to do their hard work.
Do you know which are the edible flowers par excellence? The flowers of the thistle, which we know as “cacuoccili” artichokes. Excellent and versatile, they can be cooked in many ways, but the recipe that I love most and that reminds me of my childhood is “Stuffed artichokes” with breadcrumbs. Each town has a different way of dressing chopped bread. I put pecorino cheese, mint, garlic or onion, stale bread, salt and pepper, mince everything and fill the artichokes. You can also add sausage or bacon and cook over low heat in a pot, with a little water or roasted in the embers. On Easter Monday the feast cannot be concluded if there are no roasted artichokes.
Here is the tradition of the holidays that returns to remind us of our origins.
The Ciciulia are not very sweet sweets, pardon the pun, which have their origin in a historical period of our peasant culture, when everyone raised hens and these, especially in the Easter period, tripled the production of eggs. Today we made the dough very similar to that of biscuits, but before, sweetened bread dough was used and the children could not wait to receive them as an Easter gift. I always use my grandmother’s recipe where semolina flour is mixed with 00 flour and then sugar, lard, eggs and milk are added.
At Christmas you can’t miss the Buccellati “Cucciddati” with figs and honey.
I remember when as a child I looked at my mother and my grandmother who with their skilled hands prepared the ingredients and baked these traditional sweets. I also tried to make them and was proud of my first shapes, even if they were a little gouged. Today as then, every year I make my cucciddati.
The shapes are not of haute patisserie, but I like to make them very simple and homemade, soaked in granulated sugar before baking them. In any case, whatever shape or decoration we choose to use, we renew every year a tradition that has been handed down for generations.
My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and those who before them took the products of the earth such as flour, almonds, figs, and then lard, honey and worked them with love and dedication, remaining faithful to an ancient recipe, they handed down a memory that takes us back beyond time and space and makes us relive the emotions of childhood, when the fire of the stone oven warmed us, while we worked and made our delicious recipes of the gastronomic history of Catania.