Tag Archives: citron

The Italian Pantry: Candied Fruit

Candied citron can be found in the grocery store or an Italian grocery store at Easter time. Sometimes, you can find it during the Christmas holiday too. Italians also use candied orange peel in their baked goods.

Chopped citron

What is it used for? Candied citron and/or candied fruit is used in baked goods. We use it in the Neapolitan pastiera, or wheat pie for Easter. It is also used in the sfogliatelle filling and the filling for St. Joseph’s Day zeppole and sfinge/sfinci. It’s an ingredient in the sanguinaccio, or chocolate pig’s blood pudding.

–Dina Di Maio

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6 Italian Christmas Foods & Traditions

(Scroll down for list.)

Christmas is a special time of year in an Italian household. The holidays bring many traditions, but Italian traditions differ based on region. Italy is divided into 20 regions, but these regions came into existence only after Italy was unified in the 1860s. Prior to that, the peninsula and surrounding islands and areas were part of various kingdoms and under different rulers through the centuries. There are many influences from other countries, and some traditions that date back to the earliest inhabitants. So the things I’m going to mention on this list may not be celebrated by all Italians. Keep in mind that the majority of Italian Americans are descended from people from Naples and Sicily and other areas of Southern Italy, so the traditions of Italian Americans are primarily Southern Italian traditions. For example, while we may buy a panettone, it was not something Southern Italians made. Cookies like struffoli, bows, pizzelles and anginettes are classic Christmas cookies of Southern Italians.

I have fond memories of Christmas. We always had bowls of mixed nuts around the house. The Saturday before Christmas we’d bring my grandma to the fish market so she could pick out what we needed for dinner, which always included a live eel and lobster. At the market, they would cut off the eel’s head and skin and chop it. As a family, we would make the bows and struffoli cookies. I liked using the pastry cutter to cut the bows. I watched as my grandmother cut a hole in the middle and pulled one end through to make the bow. Or else she would just tie the piece of dough in a knot like tying a shoelace. She’d fry them and shake powdered sugar on them. They kept through the holidays. The trick to our struffoli is cutting the pieces small because that’s how we like them. We also like honey syrup, pine nuts and sprinkles on top.

For Christmas Eve, my grandmother made a tomato-based sauce with some shrimp, calamari, scungilli, lobster, mussels and clams to serve over linguine. Traditionally, my family also had octopus salad, baccala salad, fried baccala, fried eel, fried smelts, lobster tails and baked clams. Sometimes we’d go to Midnight Mass.

For Christmas, we had antipasto consisting of Italian meats like Genoa salami, prosciutto, soppressata, capocollo and dried sausages; cheeses like provolone imported from Italy and fresh mozzarella; olive salad; pepper salad; some kind of pasta dish like lasagna or ravioli served with a tomato gravy cooked with pork, beef, beef and pork neck bones and meatballs; a green salad; and pastries from an Italian bakery or an Italian cheesecake my grandmother would make.

cannoli, pasticcioti, sfogliatelle

cannoli, pasticcioti, sfogliatelle

My grandma always put out plates of finocchio, celery and olives as palate cleanser between courses. With dessert, the adults might have some liqueur such as anisette or Galliano.

La Befana

La Befana

La Befana is also a holiday tradition in Italy. La Befana is known as a good witch, but is really just an old Italian lady who was busy cleaning her house when three visitors arrived. They were the Three Wise Men, and they wanted her to come along to see the Infant Jesus. She had too much cleaning to do and didn’t want to go. (Sounds like an Italian lady.) However, she later regretted that decision and set off with her broom to find the Christ Child and bring him a gift. She is still searching, so that is why she gives gifts to children on Epiphany, January 6. Historians say La Befana may have her origins in a pagan goddess called Strina, or Befana may be the pronunciation of the Greek word for Epiphany, epifania. We were aware of the tradition of La Befana, a tradition my grandparents grew up with but didn’t continue with their children. My grandmother would put her shoes out for La Befana, who would fill them with oranges, nuts and candy. Children would get coal if they were bad–a tradition my grandmother did continue, as she gave one of my aunts coal when she was bad. La Befana still visits children in Italy on Epiphany, and my cousins get candy and gifts in stockings.

panettone

panettone

  1. Panettone and Christmas breads–Panettone is probably the most recognizable Italian Christmas food and was declared the national Christmas cake in 1931 in the Gastronomic Guide to Italy. It comes from Milan in Northern Italy. A number of Christmas breads come from Northern Italy like pane al doge from Venice,  
    pane al doge

    pane al doge

    pandoro (pan d’oro or golden cake) of Verona,

    pandoro

    pandoro

    pandolce of Genoa (more buttery than panettone) or pan dolce from Friuli. There are a number of legends as to the origins of panettone, one being it was pan di Toni (bread of Tony or Tony’s bread) named after a baker named Toni. (A more modern dessert is the zuccotto di panettone, a Christmas pudding made with a panettone.)

    zuccotto

    zuccotto di panettone

  2. Chestnuts and nuts–Chestnuts have a long tradition in Italy.
    chestnuts

    chestnuts

    They were once a staple of the poor and then a popular export. They are roasted and eaten plain or candied or used in other dishes.

    chestnuts

    roasting chestnuts

    Filberts/hazelnuts are also eaten at this time of year. Both chestnuts and hazelnuts were eaten by the Etruscans.

    hazelnuts

    hazelnuts

    As I said earlier, we always had bowls of mixed nuts, including chestnuts, around during the holidays with old-fashioned nutcrackers. Almonds have been cultivated in Puglia for 7,000 years.  Along with hazelnuts, they are used in the confections in #3.

  3. Confections and candyPanforte of Siena is a confection using spices, nuts, dried fruits and syrup to create a cake.
    panforte

    panforte

    It is similar to the pangiallo of Rome. Panforte dates back to the 12th century and derived from a honey and pepper bread named panpepato. Torrone is a nougat from Cremona with dried fruit and nuts.

    torrone

    torrone

    Italians love candied fruit like orange rind and sugared nuts as well.

    Candied citron

    Candied citron

    Candied citron is very popular in Italian desserts–not just at Christmas time but also at other times of the year. For example, citron is included in the Easter wheat pie, pastiera.

  4. Christmas cookies–Cookies are everyone’s favorite holiday food. And Italians take their baking very seriously. Both sides of my family always made strufoli/struffoli (also known as pignoccati) and fried bows. Struffoli are a Neapolitan treat–fried dough balls in honey syrup decorated with pine nuts, sprinkles or dried fruits like the picture below. These are a favorite of mine.
    strufoli, struffoli

    strufoli, struffoli

    Bows are another fried dough treat that cross many cultures. In Italy, they are made in many regions and have many names like chiacchiere, cenci, cartellate, galani, bugie, frappe, donzelli, crostoli, farfellate or “wandi,” which I think is guanti or gloves in Italian. Thinking about this more, I think it may be “vanti” because in Neapolitan dialect, we pronounce “v” like “w” and “t” sounds a bit like “d.” Vanti are boasts and since these cookies are also called “bugie,” or “lies,” I think they could be called boasts as well. These are a family favorite. They can be sprinkled with powdered sugar or honey syrup.

    bows

    bows

    In Puglia, there’s a variation called cartellate in a circular shape drizzled with a honey syrup or vincotto (cooked wine syrup). Anginetti cookies, also known as knot cookies, are a popular Italian cookie. My Aunt Angie made the best ones I’ve ever had. Anise cookies are made with anise flavor. Similar in taste to licorice, anise is a flavor that appears often in Italian foods.  Mostaccioli are diamond-shaped Neapolitan chocolate spice cookies. Tri-colored rainbow cookies are a favorite as well.  Sesame cookies are finger-shaped cookies coated with sesame seeds.

    sesame

    sesame cookies

    Cucidati/cuccidati are fig cookies from Sicily. These cookies, when made by hand, are labor intensive but great fun for the family.

    cuccidati

    cuccidati

    Pizzelles are originally from the Abruzzo region of Italy and most likely predate the Roman empire. Years ago, families had irons to create this waffled cookie, and the iron included a family crest or design.

    pizzelle

    pizzelle

    Pignoli cookies are popular Italian cookies made with pine nuts. I’ve also seen wine biscuits although my family didn’t make them. Many of these cookies like struffoli, bows, sesame cookies and pizzelles have their origins in ancient times.

  5. Liqueurs–Anisette is an anise-flavored liqueur that can be used as a digestive, by itself in a small glass or in coffee along with a dessert. Galliano is an herbal digestive (an acquired taste–not a favorite of mine).
  6. Feast of the Seven Fishes–As I’ve written on my blog before, we always had fish on Christmas Eve but never called it by this name. And there was no requirement of seven fishes. I think this may be from a different region of Italy from my family. The tradition of fish is a religious one, stemming from the Roman Catholic Church and abstaining from meat on certain holy days, Christmas Eve being one. The most popular fishes to eat include baccala (cod),
    baccala

    baccala

    calamari,

    calamari

    calamari

    and octopus.

    octopus

    octopus

    My grandfather made fried smelts, and my grandmother made eel. We also had baked clams.

    baked clams

    baked clams

     

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

pastiera, pizza grano, Easter wheat pie, wheat pie

The pastiera, or pizza grano is also known in English as a wheat pie.  It’s a traditional Neapolitan dessert pie made at Easter time.  In the past, some people made these at home and other people bought them at Italian bakeries.  Unless you live near an Italian bakery, you will probably not be able to find one.  These pies have wheat but depending on where they are made, they can also have rice.  Part of my family is from the Benevento area of Italy, and they make the pie with rice.  I made an Italian Easter rice pie last year.

pastiera, pizza grano, wheat pie

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

For the crust:

2 cups sifted flour

1 cup granulated sugar

pinch salt

1 stick butter, room temperature

2 eggs

Combine flour, sugar and salt.  On your work surface, make a well in the flour.  Add the eggs.

photo(21)

Dot the butter around and mix all together.  Work the dough until you have a dough that doesn’t stick (you may need to add more flour).

photo(22)

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 can/jar cooked wheat (You will find this at an Italian market.  Or you can buy wheat berries and cook them yourself.)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon sugar

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 lb. ricotta (Try to buy a good brand that doesn’t have added gums or thickeners.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water (This is not orange extract.  You will find this at Italian markets.  If you can’t find it, you can use vanilla instead.)

8 oz. chopped citron (This is hard to find.  Some grocery stores carry it.  Italian markets have it too.  It depends on where you live.  The higher percentage of Italians, the more likely you are to find it.)

In a pot, add the milk, wheat, butter and 1 T sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until it’s a thick custard.  Transfer it to a bowl and allow it to cool.

photo(23)

By hand or with a mixer, mix the eggs, sugar, ricotta and orange blossom water until well combined.  Mix in the cooled wheat custard.  Stir in the citron.

Grease and flour a 9- or 10-inch springform pan.  (You can also use a pie plate or cake pan.)

Take out your dough.  Cut off 1/3 of it to save to make strips for the top.  Roll the dough out into a circle and put into springform pan.

Pour the filling into the crust.  Roll out the other piece of dough and cut strips to make a crisscross design on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an 1 hour (not less but maybe a little more).

Started Christmas Baking

Enter the GIVEAWAY in honor of my 1000th post! The deadline has been extended until Dec. 15.

I started my Christmas baking with the usual suspects.

My fruitcake–half with nuts and half without:

photo(43)

Taste of Home cherry pecan cookies:

photo(41)

And my citron cookies:

photo(42)

More to come!

Italian Easter Rice Pie

This year for Easter, I made an Italian Easter rice pie.  I’ve written before about the Italian Easter pies, the pizza chiena, or pizza rustica, and the pastiera, or pizza grano.  This is a variation of the pizza grano.  The pizza grano is a Neapolitan wheat pie served at Easter.  My family traditionally made this pie at Easter time.  Part of my dad’s family is from the area near Benevento, Italy, and there they make a variation with rice instead of wheat.  So he grew up with both the wheat and rice pies at Easter.

I wanted to be ambitious this Easter/Lent and make a lot more, but I haven’t had the time.  I had wanted to make hot cross buns, but instead just got some yummy ones from a bakery.  I’m also going to make a pizza chiena.  My grandma has a variation of the pizza chiena that is vegetarian, using mashed potatoes.  I don’t think I will be making that one this year though, as I don’t have time.  Now, I do have a homemade crust recipe, but I can’t publish it or else I may get the malocchio from my aunt.

IMG_1797

Italian Easter Rice Pie

1 1/2 cups whole milk or 1 cup skim/1/2% milk and 1/2 cup light cream/half and half

1/2 cup rice

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 pound ricotta (I use Calabro brand.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 oz. candied citron  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 deep dish frozen pie crust

1 regular frozen pie crust

Cook rice according to package directions (with water).  Add milk and cook on low until milk is absorbed.  Cool.  Beat eggs and beat in sugar.  Add ricotta, orange blossom water, vanilla and citron and stir.  Put into deep dish pie crust and top with top crust.  (I used a regular pie crust for the top and cut strips with a pastry cutter.)  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  Cool and serve.

IMG_1812

Citron Cookies

I made my citron cookies for the season.

citron cookies

Two for Tuesday: Lollipops

Yummy Earth’s Organic Hot Chili Pops in Chili Lime Lambada and Chili Mango Mambo are a great fruit pop with a burst of heat.  It’s not too hot, just a pleasant addition of some heat to kick up the flavor.  I like these at work for a little pick-me-up.

Yummy Earth hot chili lollipops

Les Niniches are famous French lollipops made in Quiberon in Brittany.

Les Niniches lollipop

They come in a variety of flavors, but I chose citron.  It has a sour citrus taste.

citron