Remember Remember the 8th of December

Yesterday was the 8th of December: the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, one of the many Italian national day to be spent at home with your family and closest friends. It is the day in which one should decorate the Christmas tree: the day which officially sanctions the beginning of the most beautiful time of the year in which overindulging oneself with food is kind of allowed.  This year the 8th of December was a Sunday, so on Saturday I went and bought a big Christmas tree for my grandma’s house and on the 8th, after lunch, me and my cousins decorated it; well I decorated the tree, Marta broke 3 glass ornaments, Anna damaged one lights wire by stepping on it, Rocco scattered every single ornament on the sofa and Luca simply fell off the ladder for trying to place a colorful angel on the top of the tree.  But that is normal, that is how should be when you have 6 kids between 3 and 16 years old running around.

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Anyway the Christmas-tree-decoration-moment was just the beginning of the celebration of the Immaculate Conception day. Me and some of my friends decided to meet up in the evening to have some food and play board and card games. However this time, before stuffing our stomachs with delicious deli meats and cheeses, we lit the fire or as we say we made LO FOCARO’ DE LA MADONNA – THE BONFIRE FOR THE VIRGIN MARY a regional and very cool tradition of which I will now talk you about. Local lore recounts that in 1291 the house in which the Holy Family lived was miraculously flown from Palestine to Le Marche by four angels just before the final expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land. According to the story the House was first placed in Croatia by the city of Rijeka, the old Fiume, and then transferred on the 10th of December across the Adriatic Sea to near Ancona in Le Marche on an hill shielded by bushes of bay trees; on that place nowadays appears the sanctuary of Loreto whose name in fact stems from the Latin word lauretum meaning bay tree. To commemorate this paradisiac light that the people saw flying in the sky before the angels deposited it and to illuminate the journey of pilgrimages on the night between the 8th and 9th of December every family used to make a big bonfire.  As an old saying tells: tutta la campagna se ‘ncennea de focarò in focarò e se ‘ncennea li cori d’un calore che non era solo quello de li fochi. Era lu calore  de senti che non ce stai solo tu a pena su ‘sta terra, che soffre e che crede (the countryside was a big bonfire, from fire to fire every heart warms up. It was the warmth of the people that suffer and believe like you).

Blah Blah Blah Blah…anyway after having payed homage to the tradition by lighting up an indoor fire, which was also very helpful in warming up the freezing countryside lodge living room, we attacked the food; you really thought we made fire, waved at Lady Mary flying in the sky and went home? Oh don’t be silly there had to be some form of food related activities we are Italian at the end of  the day! In fact…on the charcoal fire we cooked MARRONI, a particular type of large chestnuts, then we had CIAUSCOLO, a very soft pork salami typical of our region which by accident I bought flavoured with truffle- what a disaster-, then we had a wheel of PECORINO DI COLFIORITO, a fresh cheese with hard and cooked texture obtained from sheep’s milk and finally we ate CIAMMELLOTTO or ciambellone, a giant soft ring cake.

I personally did not know much about the whole thing but as the good story-telling mama I want to become when my friends told me about this feast that puts together family and friends, traditions, food and a pinch of magic I immediately went and investigated on it. From now on I will definitely REMEMBER REMEMBER THE 8th OF DECEMBER.

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How to make Cappelletti

Once you have practiced a couple of times on making the phillo dough you can really begin to have fun. OHMYGOD this is so lame. Anyway, the first type of pasta shape I want to talk about is “cappelletti”, literally small hats, a type of stuffed pasta dumplings usually served in chicken broth during winter and a MUST of the Christmas meal. This type of pasta is a central Italian speciality , mainly from Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche, and it predates the most widely famously shaped tortellini. Grandma cooked it last sunday for the first time as, winter has arrived in Italy so we all needed a warm and cosy main course.Image

Let’s go back to the pasta dough sitting cling-filmed in a bowl. As we all know the pasta has to rest for at least an hour in the fridge, so what to do in the meanwhile? Have a bath? Have a chat with an old friend? Have a wank? Well if you want to make cappelletti just wait in the kitchen and prepare the filling for the cappelletti.                                                           Filling for 6 servings in a bowl mix:

  •  250gr beef mince                      100gr butter                         salt and pepper
  • 250gr pork mince                       100gr Parmesan                  1/2 spoon of cinnamon
  • 1 egg yolk                                  1/2 spoon of nutmeg            lemon peel

The filling is READY. Swear on your genitalia you won’t cook it separately from the pasta sheets as I have realised my people do. Brilliant, now let’s go back to the pasta. Divide the dough into pieces and start flattening one by one either using the rolling pin or the pasta machine, which should be set at the widest setting then feed the pasta through the rollers 3 or 4 times folding and turning the dough decreasing the setting one notch at the time. Now cut the sheets into 2 inch square and place a finger of the filling right into its centre as the images below show.

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Now fold the dough over the filling triangularly corner to corner, and seal (you may need to wet a finger in water and run it along the bottom edge of the dough to get it to stick together). Keeping the roounded edge facing down, take the two pointy corners, stretch them around the back until they meet and seal them one on the top of each other as shown below. Image

It is an almost mechanical movement which can’t be forgotten, therapeutically mindless and a very good way to spend a rainy afternoon. When last week I made cappelletti with my grandmother she assummed I could not remember how to make them, ohh how silly of you nonna, how have you even thought such a thing: all those sunday mornings of my young age spent over the pasta board practicing that simple movement and eating uncooked cappelletti. Opps I did it again! Sorry another romantic rant about my lost childhood. Now, if you like eating uncooked cappelletti like I do please carry on, I only want to warn you that raw meat can give stimulate the growth of tapeworm, like my grandmother used to tell me. Otherwise, if you feel more civilized bring the broth that you prepared beforehand, either made with chicken or vegetable as you prefer, to a low boil, avoid a rolling boil as this may cause the pasta to open up. It won’t take more than 4 minutes if the cappelletti are fresh, while a bit longer if they are frozen. Serve with a splash of lemon or topped with parmesan and your perfect winter main course is ready.

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