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The Story

From famine to feast... Let’s explore three traditional Sicilian recipes to celebrate Santa Lucia on December 13th! This special festival is an important part of the Sicilian calendar, but is also celebrated in many other regions and countries.

In Sicily, legend has it that in the 17th century, there was a severe famine, and the population was on its knees. One day, out of the blue, a ship laden with wheat arrived at the port (it's debated whether it was Syracuse or Palermo). The inhabitants, exhausted by hunger, couldn’t take the time to grind the wheat into flour for bread, they needed to eat straight away. So, they boiled it and seasoned it with salt and oil. At last, a real meal! 

The people attributed the miracle of the ship’s arrival to Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) and from that day began the Sicilian custom of thanking the saint by preparing cooked wheat, and never using flour, on December 13th, the day of her martyrdom. 

What's on the menu?

In Sicily, no bread or pasta is eaten on this day, as they are made from flour, which wasn’t eaten on the day the famine ended. However, this certainly does not mean that it is a day of restrictions... It’s a feast! The boiled wheat eaten by the famished Sicilians all those years ago have developed into a range of delicious treats, obviously with one thing in common: no flour! The most popular recipes are Cuccìa, panelle and arancine

Cuccìa is a dish (quite similar to porridge) made with cereals, that can be made savoury or sweet. Panelle are flat fritters made with chickpea flour, and arancine are fried balls of rice filled with various ingredients. 

In many parts of Italy, it is traditionally Santa Lucia who brings gifts to the children, not Father Christmas. She is said to travel on a donkey (many say it’s a flying donkey!) on the eve of December 13th, and children leave bowls of milk and carrots and give the hungry donkey a snack and make sure Santa Lucia leaves something special for them.

Did you know?

It has been calculated that in Palermo, over a million arancine are made in a single day on December 13th!

Traditional Sweet Cuccìa Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1kg of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese
  • 500g cracked wheat, pre-cooked
  • 300g sugar
  • 100g chocolate chips
  • 100g capelli d’angelo (angel’s hair – candied pumpkin squash cut into very fine strips)
  • cinnamon powder, to taste
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ pinch of baking soda
  • water, as needed

 Directions:

  1. Put the ricotta cheese in a colander over a bowl and place it back into the fridge to stand until all the whey has drained out. It’s best to do this a day in advance.
  2. When your ricotta is ready, pass it through a fine strainer to obtain a smoother texture.
  3. The cracked wheat can be cooked in two ways. One way is to soak it in water for three days, then rinse it and boil it in a pressure cooker for about 50 minutes (adding a pinch of salt and a half pinch of baking soda). The second way is to cook the wheat in water, salt and baking soda over very low heat for 6/8 hours, then turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and a clean tea towel and leave to rest overnight.
  4. In both cases, let the wheat cool down in its own cooking water, drain and then mix it with ricotta cheese, chocolate chips and candied pumpkin squash. Sprinkle with powdered cinnamon if desired. This is cuccìa!
  5. The cuccìa should be kept in the refrigerator and served cold as a dessert. 

Other Santa Lucia Recipes

Want to learn to make perfectly crispy Panelle? Have you always wanted to shape your own Arancine

You'll find them in our Sicilian Street Food article.

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