Tag Archives: Strega

The Italian Pantry: Digestives/Liqueurs

Italians love digestives and liqueurs. They are an acquired taste. So many of them have a licorice-like flavor. They are concoctions of herbs, plants and spices. Anisette is a liqueur made from the anise plant. It tastes like licorice. I’ve written about Strega before.

Strega

Frangelico is a hazelnut-flavored liqueur. I like its monk-shaped bottle.

I also like the Galliano bottle shaped like an Italian carabiniere, like my great-grandfather.

Of course, we still have the more familiar bottle, too, with its long, distinctive shape standing heads above the other liquor bottles on our buffet.

What is it used for? As a digestive after a big dinner or holiday dinner. It’s also used as a flavoring in coffee. You can also bake with them like the pane degli angeli cake with Strega recipe.

–Dina Di Maio

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Strega, the Italian Liqueur Named After Witches

strega

Benevento is the name of a city and province in the region of Campania in Southern Italy. The city predates the Roman Empire, having been a city called either Malies or Maloenton belonging to the Samnite tribe of ancient Italic peoples. The Roman name for it was Maleventum. “Male” means “bad” in Latin/Italian. (Think of the malocchio, or evil eye.) When the Romans conquered it in 268 B.C., they changed the name of the town to something that would represent their future success there, as was their custom with places that they conquered. So Beneventum, “bene” meaning “good,” was born. The idea of witches being in this area goes back to pre-Roman times. And although the town got a new positive name, the legend of the witches remained and grew stronger through the years.  According to Raven Grimassi, an expert in the field of Italian witchcraft, witches from all of Italy would congregate under one particular walnut tree in Benevento for their festivals. In 662 A.D., Saint Barbato, bishop of Benevento, wanted to convert the local pagans, so he cut down their sacred walnut tree, among other things. But the witches planted one of its seeds, and the tree which grew is standing in Benevento today. Women who were put on trial for witchcraft confessed to worshipping Diana or gathering for festivals under this tree. (According to Grimassi, the walnut was sacred to some Roman gods, including Diana.) The likeliest story is that pagan rituals from the time of the Samnites continued to be carried on here even after the Romans and Christianity dominated.

But this legend of the witches of Benevento gathering around the walnut tree is the inspiration for the logo of the famous Benevento liqueur, Strega. “Strega” means “witch” in Italian. Strega liqueur is a blend of 70 herbs and spices. It gets its yellow color from saffron. Father and son Carmine Vincenzo Alberti and Giuseppe Alberti created it in 1860. In the early 1900s, it became famous for its advertising posters.

Today, one can drink Strega or use it in baking like in the Pane Degli Angeli cake I blogged about before.

Strega

If you are in Benevento, you can visit the museum and store. At the store, you can buy Strega liqueur or chocolates, torrone and cakes made with it as well as other liqueurs like limoncello and Sambuca. You’ll find it refreshing after your search for the infamous walnut tree.

–Dina Di Maio

Pane Degli Angeli, or Italian Sponge Cake

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Pane degli Angeli, or Bread of the Angels

Pane degli Angeli is an Italian sponge cake.  Despite its angelic name, it is not an angel food cake because it uses egg yolks and whites.  This recipe comes from the friend of my cousin in Italy, Elisa.  It uses Italian ingredients that may be hard to find here.  The following ingredients should be available at an Italian grocery store and liquor store or you can order them online from places like Amazon.

pane degli angeli ingredients

These Italian ingredients are

  1.  00 flour, doppio zero or double zero flour–This is a finely ground, soft flour.  Here, I have pictured farina di grano tenero, which is a soft flour used in pastries and cakes.  A substitute in the U.S. would be pastry flour but you can also use all-purpose flour.
  2. Paneangeli is the brand name of an Italian line of baking products.  The Vanillina is a vanilla flavoring.
  3. The lievito pane degli angeli is a leavening agent like baking powder.
  4. The Strega liqueur is a liqueur from Benevento, Italy, that is a blend of 70 herbs and spices, some from the local area like mint that grows along the riverside.  Created in 1860, it evokes the legends of witchcraft in the region.  In Italian, “strega” means witch.

Recipe for Pane degli Angeli

Grease a springform or cake pan and line it with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 small (airplane) bottle of Strega liqueur

1 cup corn, safflower, or canola oil

grated peel of one large lemon (My cousin uses Sorrento lemons.  Meyer lemons would be the closest thing here in the U.S.  Or a regular lemon if you can’t find Meyer lemons.)

grated peel of one large orange

1 small packet of Vanillina

When mixed, slowly add 3 cups of sifted 00 flour. Then add a packet of pane degli angeli sifted.  Finally, add the juice of 1 large lemon and 1 large orange.

Put in prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and serve.  The Italians eat this for breakfast or dessert, but it can be eaten any time.