The holidays are upon us, and with them come some lovely Italian traditions including the feast of Santa Lucia.
Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) is the patron saint of Syracuse (Sicily). Like Santa Claus – or “Babbo Natale” as he is known in Italy – children write letters to her with requests for gifts they would like to receive and on the night of December 12th, she is said to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones. As a courtesy, children leave a cup of coffee for Lucia, a carrot for her donkey and a glass of wine for her coachman, Castaldo, before they go to bed that night. It is very important that the children be asleep in bed when she arrives, for if they watch her delivering the gifts, she will throw ashes in their eyes! On the morning of December 13, good children will awaken to find cakes, candies and chocolates along with their gifts.
It is also traditional on her feast day to eat whole grains instead of bread, symbolizing the end of a great famine. This “cuccia” is usually prepared as a dish of boiled wheat berries mixed with ricotta and honey.
If you’d like to try making it at home, enjoy it the way you’d eat it at an Italian farmhouse – served at room temperature in small bowls and eaten with soup spoons.
Wheat Berries with Ricotta & Honey
Recipe courtesy of Lynn Rossetto Kasper
1 cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheat berries)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups high-quality whole-milk ricotta (made without gelatin or stabilizers)
Honey to taste
1/2 cup currants or raisins
generous pinch cinnamon (optional)
1. Soak wheat in cold water to cover overnight in the refrigerator. Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. Kernels will open up slightly.
2. Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey to taste, and the raisins or currants. Turn into a deep serving bowl and dust with cinnamon. Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.
Cuccia with Chocolate: Some Italians like warm Cuccia with ricotta, honey, and shaved semi-sweet chocolate to taste. They add, too, 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped candied orange rind.
Does your family have a special way of celebrating Santa Lucia?