1. Food

Cuccia - Calabrian Grain Pie

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Cuccia is a Calabrian pastry traditionally made for Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy, who is celebrated December 13). Cavalcanti quotes a Mr. Dorsa, who says Cuccia derives from Byzantine Greek. This would suggest the recipe is quite old...

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound + 2 ounces (500 g) whole grain
  • 10 ounces (250 g) fig honey
  • Dried orange peel, grated
  • Chopped walnuts

Preparation:

Continuing with the introduction:
...as do the ingredients involved, which also bring to mind the pastiera Napoletana (a classic Neapolitan Easter pastry) and a number of other south Italian pastries made with whole grain, many of which are associated with miraculous arrivals of boats laden with grain in the midst of famines. The starving townspeople, so the story generally goes, were too hungry to take the time to grind the grain into flour and simply boiled it. Later, when it came time to commemorate the event, they combined boiled grain with other ingredients to make a pastry. So far as I know there's no famine associated with Saint Lucy; I expect the recipe simply spread from one town to the next.

If you cannot find the fig honey Cavalcanti calls for (I'd check in a store that sells organic foods) use another honey gathered from bees who patronize specific plants -- you don't want blandly sweet industrial honey here. Cavalcanti also calls for dried orange peel, which I have never come a cross. I'd use orange zest, from organically grown oranges to avoid pesticides.

You'll need the ingredients listed above. Pick over the grain to remove any stray stones it may contain, then soak it in cold water for 24 hours, and boil it in abundant water until it the grains begin to come apart. Let it cool in the water, then drain it and return it to the fire with the honey, orange peel, and walnuts.

Mister Cavalcanti notes there's also a richer version of Cuccía, which has one cook the grain in milk, and then add dried orange peel, ground cinnamon and cloves, walnuts, raisins, and baking chocolate. However, he doesn't give amounts.

Note: Kaye Noble notes that dried orange or lemon peel is much more common in more northerly countries than it is in Italy, where there is a ready supply of fresh citrus, and kindly sends instructions on how to dry citrus peel at home. Take a number of organically grown oranges or lemons (which should have untreated, pesticide-free skins), and use a fine-bladed paring knife to trim away just the colored part of the skin, leaving the bitter white part behind. Lay the strips skin-side down on a plate and let them dry at room temperature for 3-4 days, until they have shriveled and are no longer moist. Store the dried peel in a dark place, in a clean jar. To use, either crumble it or whirl it in a blender. You can use the powdered peel in place of extract in baking; in toppings, to flavor sugar-bowl sugar, in spice mixes (e.g. lemon, pepper, rosemary and sage as a barbecue rub), and to flavor sauces of one kind and another.

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