Tag Archives: Northern Italy

Another Reason to Be Good – Santa Lucia ;)

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Kids, pay heed! It’s once again time to be good if you want to get candies and cookies and other goodies for the feast day of Santa Lucia on December 13th! With all these opportunities for getting gifts in exchange for being good (and avoiding that nasty gift of coal for being bad), it seems to me that December must be the most well-behaved month of the year! Perhaps some of these holidays should be spread out during the year so that the goodness can last a bit longer ūüôā

The feast day of Santa Lucia is celebrated in various parts of Italy and in very different ways. In Sicily, where she was actually born and martyred, they celebrate her feast day with religious processions and special food. Legend has it that back in 1582, a severe famine miraculously ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. The people were so hungry that they didn’t take the time to grind the grain into flour, but boiled the grains immediately. Because of this, Sicilians, even to this day, will not eat anything made with flour on her feast day. No bread, no pasta! Instead, they make a traditional dish called cuccia. Everyone makes their cuccia a bit differently and the women have their kids bring their version to all the neighbors to sample. Here is one recipe, which sounds delicious and is tempting me to try it soon…

Cuccia

500 g. whole wheat (not ground)
500 g. ricotta
250 g sugar
salt
cinnamon
vanilla
candied fruits and/or chocolate chips

Soften the whole wheat for 2 days in water. After the 2 days, boil the wheat with a little bit of salt added to the water for at least an hour until it is cooked. Drain the wheat and let it settle for an hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile drain the ricotta until it is dry. Once dry, add the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix well (an electric mixer works well for this.) Stir in the candied fruits and/or chocolate chips.
Add the wheat mixture and mix it all up. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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The feast day of Santa Lucia is also celebrated in North-Eastern Italy, but in a totally different way. The traditional food eaten here is goose, and she is the one that brings gifts to the good boys and girls. She brings sweets and candies to the good ones, and guess what she brings to those not so good? Yep, once again they get coal!

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According to tradition, she arrives during the night between Dec. 12th and Dec. 13th in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey, and a glass of wine for Castaldo. In exchange, she leaves candies and sweets for the children. But don’t get any ideas of catching a glimpse of her – if she sees you, she will throw ash in your eyes! Yikes!

When I asked my mom about her memories of Santa Lucia, the only thing she came up with was this little rhyme:
Santa Lucia – il giorno piu corto che ci sia! (Santa Lucia – the shortest day there is). I always thought the shortest day was December 21st…hmm…maybe I’ve been wrong all these years! Obviously, my mom didn’t grow up in one of the places where her feast day was heavily celebrated!

This very traditional Italian song, Santa Lucia, is always one that brings me back to my childhood when these songs were always sung at gatherings at the Italian Social Club my parents belonged to in San Francisco.  And of course, when Andrea Bocelli sings it, I can swoon!

Cento Valli and Lago Maggiore

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Even though I have visited Lago Maggiore countless times, I had never navigated the northern part of the lake before this last trip.¬† Some friends advised us to take the Cento Valli Tour offered by the Lago Maggiore Express.¬† This “tour” combines a train ride in a panoramic coach through the beautiful Valle Vigezzo (which sits northwest of Lago Maggiore) with a boat ride throughout the lake.¬† The train¬†takes you steeply up the canyons high above the lake where you will see waterfalls and rushing rivers.¬† Tiny, picturesque hill towns pop up everywhere.¬† We made a stop¬†at Santa Maria Maggiore, a cobblestoned small town with a lovely main square and beautifully decorated¬†buildings.¬† We visited a¬†local delicatessen and had them make up some¬†delicious panini which,¬†along with a bottle of prosecco, became an impromptu picnic lunch at a local park!¬†

The Cento Valli¬†tour can be taken in both directions – you can either do the train first or the boat.¬† It doesn’t matter and you end up seeing the same things.¬† We decided to do the train first because we wanted to end the day with a relaxing tour on the lake.¬† The train ride began in Baveno, but we didn’t actually board the Cento Valli panoramic train until Domodossola.¬† We disembarked at the final stop of Locarno, at the northernmost tip of Lago Maggiore.¬† Locarno is fairly large and busy, with some interesting sights.¬† We didn’t have much time here, so we decided to only visit the main attraction –¬† the beautiful church of La Madonna del Sasso,which sits at the top of a hill with a gorgeous view of Lago Maggiore.¬† There is a funicular that takes you up to the church…but, if you are feeling energetic, you can also walk the entire way!

After spending a few hours in Locarno, we boarded the boat and began our journey back to Baveno.¬† The boat ride took about 3 hours and we went past so many beautiful lakeside resorts – Cannobbio, Cannero, Intra, Pallanza and many others.¬† We sat inside and outside, and enjoyed a glass of wine while cruising the calm lake.¬† This was a memorable day and one that will remain with me forever ūüôā