Dining with the Saints

caravaggio_-_burial_of_st_lucyrev

Cuccia for St. Lucy’s Day

Sicilians eat cuccia in honor of St. Lucy to this day because of a miracle attributed to her that happened in 1582. That year Sicily was suffering from a terrible famine, and a flotilla of ships carrying grain showed up on December 13—either in Palermo or in Siracusa. December 13 is St. Lucy’s saint’s day. The people of Sicily felt that this huge blessing was the work of their beloved saint.

The people where so famished that they didn’t wait to grind the wheat; rather they boiled the grains whole. Sicilians honor the memory of Santa Lucia on December 13 by refusing to eat anything made with ground flour—no bread, no pasta, the staples of their diet.

Sicilians eat sweet cuccia on Santa Lucia’s day and only then. It’s especially popular in Palermo and in Siracusa, where Lucy was born. It’s made by mixing boiled whole wheat berries with sweetened ricotta, usually sheep’s milk ricotta. It’s served warm and makes a really delicious afternoon snack. Every cook, usually the mom in a Sicilian family, flavors cuccia in their own personal way, creating a taste their family comes to expect each year. You can add candied citron or orange peel, honey, a few shavings of chocolate, cinnamon, orange flower water. I prefer mine with toasted pine nuts and raisins, sugar, and a dusting of cinnamon.

Sweet Cuccia with Pine Nuts and Raisins

(Makes 4 servings)1 cup hard wheat berries (avoid red wheat berries, as they don’t cook up soft enough)

Sicilian sea salt (from Trapani)

1 cup whole milk ricotta, cow or sheep’s milk

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

A few drops of vanilla extract

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

¼ cup raisins soaked in a tablespoon or so of sweet Marsala

A dusting of ground cinnamon

Soak the wheat berries overnight in abundant cool water. Drain them. Pour them into a saucepan. Cover them with  fresh water by at least four inches. Add about ¼ teaspoon of sea salt. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down so the wheat can cook at a low simmer, partially cover the pan, and cook until the wheat is tender and has just started to burst, about an hour. If the water level gets low at any time during cooking, just add a little.

 

Drain the wheat and pour it into a pretty serving bowl. Mix the ricotta with the powdered sugar and the vanilla, and fold it into the wheat. Add the pine nuts and raisins with their Marsala soaking liquid. Mix gently. Dust the top with ground cinnamon. Serve warm.

 

 

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