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Befana: history, traditions and typical dishes – Italian Cuisine

Befana: history, traditions and typical dishes

He arrives with his broom and gives sweets to the good children and coal to the bad ones. The history of the Befana and the traditions linked to this figure

"There hag he comes at night with his shoes all broken . Or: "Theepiphany all parties take away . There are many proverbs and idioms handed down over time and linked to the feast of January 6. The last of the Christmas period, with many meanings and symbols, typical recipes and above all with many desserts surprises for the little ones.

Between sacred and profane

According to the Christian religion, Epiphany is the day on which the three Magi kings, coming from the East, as the second Gospel reports Matteo, following a star they managed to reach Bethlehem, in the manger where he was born Jesus to honor him with gods gifts. It is no coincidence that the word Epiphany derives from the Greek "Manifestation" and Befana is none other than one corruption lexical of this term. But January 6 is actually an important date since the times of pre-Christian antiquity. The ancients Romans, for example, on this day they celebrated the beginning of the year with celebrations dedicated to the god Janus and to the goddess Strenia, while at the time of the emperor Aureliano from December 25 (feast of the sun) until the twelfth day following that date a particular practice was introduced: to burn an oak trunk continuously since from coal product could have obtained benefits in terms of luck for the following year. Furthermore, always in ancient times, it was believed that in the twelve nights preceding January 6 the goddess Diana, flying in the sky together with other female figures, he could make the soil more fertile and more fruitful. It is therefore evident that the origins of these holidays, and especially of the Befana, the great secular protagonist of the Epiphany, are truly ancient.

From gods to witches

With the Roman church's condemnations of pagan rites, the previously celebrated female image began to take on another form. And from the divinities we passed to witches. Long skirt, apron with pockets, shawl, worn shoes, handkerchief in the head, a physical aspect that is anything but pleasant and inevitable broom: soon the iconography of the Befana as we know it today took over, also favored by the hostile climate of Middle Ages towards certain pagan representations. Yet there are also those who speak of a relationship with Saint Lucia, the saint of light, illumination and therefore of the "manifestation", or even of a legend linked to the Christian origin of this holiday. According to this version, the figure of the Befana could in fact be inspired by one old lady to which the three Magi would have turned for information on the road to Bethlehem. The woman in question, however, would have refused to help them, soon regretting it: the next day, realizing the missed opportunity to see Jesus, the old woman tried to follow the Magi but was no longer able to find the baby. And for this reason every year, on January 6, he goes to all the houses to bring gifts to children.

The stocking, the coal and the exchange of gifts

Whatever the true story of the Befana is, what is certain is that it is a figure closely linked to tradition Italian, despite some assonance with those of Celtic and Germanic origin. Suffice it to say that this word, used to mean a female puppet exhibited on the night of the Epiphany, was already widespread in the popular dialect of the fourteenth century, especially in Tuscany It is in the Lazio northern. Gruff character and, in some ways, a representation of the old year, ready to sacrifice itself to revive a new period of prosperity, the Befana over time has become a sort of Grandmother who rewards good children with gifts, sweets And treats (formerly also tangerines and fruit) and punishes the bad ones with charcoal. The dreaded charcoal which, however, can also become edible and a very simple dessert to prepare. But why on the night of the Befana there is the tradition of socks? Again there are several theories. One of these is inspired by a legend according to which Numa Pompilius, one of the famous seven kings of Rome, used to hang during the period of solstice in winter a sock in a cave to receive gifts from a nymph. However, this is only a hypothesis. And it doesn't matter: today the Befana continues to be awaited by everyone, even by adults (who, however, tend to exchange gifts that are less demanding than those of Christmas) and always remembering to keep alive the tradition of the stocking to be filled.

Befana from north to south

But what are the dishes always linked to this holiday? In almost all regions there are traditional recipes that continue to live, especially with regard to desserts. In Tuscany, for example, they prepare for the occasion i horses di Siena, soft biscuits with water, sugar, honey, candied fruit, anise, nuts and yeast, while in Versilia there are so-called befanini, citrus-based shortbread biscuits e rum, covered with colored grain. In Varese January 6 rhymes with pinsa, a polenta pizza prepared with corn flour and dried fruit, while in Liguria there are the anicini (aniseed biscuits), in Abruzzo the pepatelli (similar to cantucci, but based on black pepper, honey, flour, cocoa, almonds and orange peel) while in Puglia you go by purcidduzzi from Salento at cartellate from Bari. In Campania, finally, the arrival of the Befana corresponds with the preparation of the prima pastiera of the year.

Panforte of Siena, history and recipe – Italian Cuisine

Panforte of Siena, history and recipe

Its spicy flavor is one of the few remnants of medieval and Renaissance court cuisine left on our tables: history and recipe

Either you love it, or you hate it. There is no middle ground for the most discussed of Christmas sweets: the panforte. The abundance of dried fruit And strong flavors its main feature of this spiced bread is: and it is precisely this "personality", this taste of the past that makes panforte a sweet so loved and yet so discussed. But what is the original recipe of the panforte?

A question of percentages

Disciplinary IGP in hand, there are two versions of the panforte: that White is that Black. The white panforte is prepared with wheat flour type 0, "In a quantity between 14 and 18% of the dough". As for dried fruit, they are used sweet almonds "Whole and unpeeled in a quantity of not less than 18% of the dough. Abundant with candied fruit: cedar and orange peel they must be used for a quantity that, together, ranges "between 35 and 45% of the dough". Not only that: "The candied citron must make up at least 25% of the candied fruit used". I got it? As for the sugar, must cover between 18 and 23% of the dough; the wildflower honey, on the other hand, it must travel between 2 and 5%. Nutmeg and cinnamon? Between 0.3 and 1.5%. As a basis of the product are used hosts of starch, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar the final. All these ingredients are mixed and spread on the wafers, surrounding the dough with containment bands; after which it is flattened, sprinkled with flour and baked. Once cooked, remove the flour and then apply the layer of icing sugar. Hazelnuts and vanilla are optional ingredients.

The differences

For the black version, the recipe is very similar: among the ingredients appears the candied melon instead of cedar; and is richer in spices, with the contribution of pepper. The latter, together with cinnamon and nutmeg, must cover between 0.6 and 5% of the dough; and honey, finally, does not appear, even if admitted as an "optional ingredient". For sprinkling, instead of real sugar, a spice mix and – as an optional ingredient – del cocoa powder. Here, among the optional ingredients, in addition to vanilla, also the nuts.

The gingerbread of monks and apothecaries

The ingredients of the current panforte, in themselves, say a lot about the ancient history of this Sienese Christmas cake. The wealth of spices – very expensive at the time – indicate a very specific genesis: the tables of the nobles and wealthy merchants who ruled the fate of Siena in the late Middle Ages and the beginning of Renaissance. The first documents that speak of breads rich in pepper and honey date back to 1205 and were found in theMontecelllesi Abbey. They were "honeyed panes”, Focaccia made of flour, water, figs, grapes and honey which, over time, tended to turn sour and, due to their strong taste, took the name of“ panis fortis ”. THE Sienese merchants, at the time, they were among the most formidable spice traders in Europe, and the dessert then began to enrich itself. The "panes melati" then became "honeyed and peppered panes"And therefore"gingerbreads", With the addition of cinnamon, pepper and cloves that came from the East, in the typical style of Renaissance cuisine. According to tradition, the panforte was born right in the monastery of Montecellesi, where Sister Leta, in charge of the kitchen, finding all the spices mixed in bulk in the pantry, instead of dividing them, mixed them with a little honey and put them on the fire. And so the panforte, or rather the "panpepato" was born. Which, in a short time, became one of the most popular desserts in Italy: it can be found as a course for sumptuous banquets in Genoa, Venice, Rome, even in Innsbruck. To prepare it, then, were the monks and the apothecaries, ancestors of our pharmacists. In 1555, during the'siege placed in Siena from Florentines which put an end to the independence of the city, the authorities fed the population with small doses of gingerbread.

Ugo Foscolo and the noblewoman

The ingrediants of the "panepato" were better delineated in XVIII century. They were – according to a document of the time – 17, like the districts of Siena: in addition to water and fire, honey, wheat flour, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, melon, cedar, orange and candied lemon peel, cinnamon, coriander, aromatic pepper, cloves, nutmeg and sugar appeared. The name "panforte" it will appear later: it was none other than the first to utter it Ugo Foscolo, who in 1813 reports that he received as a gift, from Siena, the "panforti" by the noblewoman Quirina Magiotti Mocenni. The first factory of Christmas Pepi however, it was already born in 1810, following the Napoleonic suppression of the pharmacy of the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. While the first panforte with the cocoa will appear in 1820. Until then, however, it was still the black panforte. There white version it will only be born in 1879, on the occasion of the visit of the Queen Margaret – beloved sovereign for which the cooks evidently gave their best, just think of the Pizza margherita – during the August Palio. And for this reason renamed "panforte Margherita". The preparation of the panforte began in September, when it was easier to find dried fruit, and then consumed at Christmas. This is because, according to a popular legend, during one Christmas night a loaf miraculously turned into a panforte, symbolizing the birth of the Savior.

The recipe for the panforte of Siena

Medium commitment
Time 50 minutes

150 g almonds with the skin
150 g flour
150 g granulated sugar
100 g candied citron
70 g candied orange
20 g acacia honey
15 g mixed spices in powder
host – powdered sugar

Prepare 2 rings of about 12 cm in diameter and 6 cm in height with cardboard (alternatively, a wider ring, about 20 cm, h 3 cm) and line them with baking paper.
Dice the candied citron and orange.
Toast the almonds in a pan or in the oven.
Melt the granulated sugar and honey with 40 g of water in a copper saucepan or in a non-stick pan.
When it starts to boil, add the candied fruit and mix.
Turn off the heat and add the flour, mixed with the spices.
Finally, add the almonds and mix the mixture.
Place the rings on a baking tray, on a host base; divide the mixture into two parts and press it well into the molds.
Squeeze it to prevent air bubbles from forming.
Cover the surface with flour, to prevent it from burning, and bake at 180 ° C for 15-20 '.
Take the panfortini out of the oven and let them cool; remove the cards and trim the host.
Remove the flour and sprinkle with plenty of icing sugar.

Discovering the oil of the Marche between history, myth and curiosity – Italian Cuisine


Each cultivar produces golden extra virgin olive oils with an emerald reflection with different organoleptic characteristics: fruity, harmonious on the palate, light.


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193217 "src =" https://www.salepepe.it/files/2021/11/statua-leopardi.jpg "width =" 96 "height =" 132That "hedge that the gaze excludes from so much horizon" described by the famous poet from Recanati, Giacomo Leopardi (on the left the photo of his statue in the square of the same name), in his composition "The Infinite" is also the expanse of olive trees that still today embraces the sacredness of Loreto and then plunges into the Adriatic sea where "shipwreck is sweet to me ".

L'olive tree from the Marche region it is also the constituent of the landscape that the writer Guido Piovene designates a synthesis of all the landscapes of the world. But, although many are persuaded that the Romans brought it between Monte Catria and Monte Vettore, it is doubtful that Ancona, a Syracusan colony, dates back to the 4th century BC. and certainly the Etruscans had penetrated, allies or even relatives of the Picenes, well before that beyond the Apennines.

The mythology of the olive tree from the Marche region

The olive tree in the Marche manifests itself in all its character agricultural and mythological value. In fact, it is said that Athena gave it to men as a pact of peace, as medicine, light and nourishment. And perhaps these hills are the territory where the plant took on its sacredness for the Mediterranean, so much so that it was then adopted by Christians and Jews as a symbol of the divine. There is no abbey – and in the Marches there are many of haunting beauty, such as Fonte Avellana in Chiaravalle di Fiastra – where the monks have not marked the territory with the olive tree or have taught the farmers to respect and exploit it. In the Marche region, in fact, the olive tree is the most widespread, so much so that they are beyond 27 thousand companies who cultivate it, covering 7 thousand hectares in the strip that goes from the hill to the sea.

The only DOP of the Marche

The Marches have valleys that run perpendicular to the coast and each has its own cultivar, thus making the territorial differences gastronomic diversity. Just think of the Ascoli style olives, a casket of drupe that hides a treasure of spices, cheese and noble meats, or alle bruschetta and desserts from Macerata based on extra virgin olive oil. But, even if these are the provinces with the highest cultivation density, it is up to Pesaro-Urbino the primacy of denominations. It is in fact a Cartoceto, enchanting village, the only PDO from the Marche region precious, unique testimony of how the extra virgin olive oil of the Marche benefits from the cultivation of the olive tree in medium altitude with the temperature variations that increase the formation of perfumes.

The other cultivars

From Vallefoglia to Lucrezia, going down to Bellocchi up to Fano, the Augustan Fanum Fortunae is a drapery of hills and olive trees. Central-Italic cultivars such as Leccino and the Crusher join in blend with the Ray to give a golden gold with emerald reflections, marked hints of green apple, armellina, mowing with a very slight influence of artichoke. But it is a fruity between light and medium, which stands out raw, especially when it meets the warmth of soups or the Fano-style brodetto, praise to the fish. And, like all extra virgin olive oils from the Marche region, not having a strong acidity, it is particularly harmonious on the palate.

The Marche PGI

And if Cartoceto enhances its olive groves after obtaining the DOP mark, the whole region has bet on the gold of the table, oil, writing 3 years ago the disciplinary of the Marches PGI. In fact, on the territory they are produced on average 38 thousand quintals of extra virgin olive oil, a rarity for three valid reasons: the oil is extracted from 10 cultivars, although there are 34 in the Region, so much so that the production of monovarietal oils; the northern position allows for an endemic olive tree cultivation and this would explain the very low acidity, given that the olives undergo strong thermal excursions and are born in various territories; there is an oil mill for each village, of which 175 are in operation. And to testify to its rarity and exceptional quality is the same story: in Ferrara at customs the oil from the Marche was twice as good as the others, in Venice even a separate register was kept.

From left: the beating of the olives in the Gabrielloni olive grove; ripe olives

The primates of the Marche

The records of the Marche are many and different, but we report at least three: the most important industry of production of olive growing machines in the world; this is where the scientific research of two universities – the Ancona Polytechnic for what concerns cultivation and production and the University of Camerino for the nutritional-pharmacological study – acted as a quality accelerator; was born in the Marche region on oil tourism, since every itinerary that climbs the hills meets extra virgin olive oil as a viaticum.

Harvesting in the Gabrielloni olive grove and washing of the olives

193218 "src =" https://www.salepepe.it/files/2021/11/donne-frantoio.jpg "width =" 116 "height =" 172Marche oil is "woman"

Then there is another peculiarity: the oil in the Marche is a woman. The reason? It was up to the "vergara”(Ie the wife of the sharecropper, the one who administered, the custodian of empirical agricultural science and gastronomy) to hoard. And still today it is women who manage the oil mills, since extra virgin olive oil is considered a value of the countryside. Like the sisters (in the photo on the left) Elisabetta, Sonia and Gabriella Gabrielloni who manage the family oil mill in Recanati.

A cultivar for each village

There are villages like Mogliano and Falerone that have their own cultivar (il Piantone), territories such as the Valle del Tronto that are recognized in the tender and hard olive Ascolana, cities that are characterized as Fermo with an olive, the Sargano, areas like those that from Macerata go to Camerino who live in Mignola, di Raggia, valleys such as the beautiful Esina which is the Rosciola deposit. All these cultivars are the sensory scan of the IGP specification.

Two extraction techniques

There is also another peculiarity in the Marche: here they coexist two oil extraction techniques. In fact, there are those who work with fiscoli (special baskets where the olive paste obtained from the grinding is collected and then stacked and pressed), arguing that in this way there is more roundness of the oil and those who rely on oil mills that look like spaceships, where the extraction takes place by mechanical and centrifugal kneading to avoid oxidative processes and have more fragrant oil.

Oil, the sap of a wise land

A journey into the extra virgin olive oil of these lands is for those who love cooking a master of the senses: it is here that you learn that the spicy of a Rosciola, the sweet of an Ascolana, the fruity of an Orbetana enrich the dish, complete it. , they inform him of themselves. The oil of the Marche it is never a condiment, it is always an ingredient. With the smiles of girls who have returned to the earth because they are fascinated by oil, the expertise of three sisters of the Gabrielloni Frantoio who perpetuate an ancient family tradition, the experience of those who graze – between the end of September and mid-November – the drupes still by hand or with "combs" that respect the plants, it turns out that the extra virgin is there lymph of health: for the antioxidant polyphenols, for the vitamins, for the good fats it contains. And it is the fruit of a wise land: the Marche.

November 2021, curated by Monica Pilotto, text by Carlo Cambi, photos by Francesca Moscheni

Posted on 11/26/2021


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