Sunday, December 13, 2009

Today is Santa Lucia Day

In addition to Italy and Sicily, Santa Lucia Day is also celebrated in Scandinavia and France. One of the biggest celebrations is in Sicily where the city of Siracusa holds a huge parade carrying the saint on a golden coffin to the Church of Santa Lucia. On December 20 there is another parade to return her to the crypt. There are celebrations all week and thousands of pilgrims come to Siracusa. The festivities end with a big fireworks display over the harbor.

One of the reasons for the large scale celebration in Siracusa is because that is where the holiday's origin is traced back to around 304 AD. According to the Sicilian legend, Lucia's mother, a wealthy lady, had been miraculously cured of an illness at the sepulcher of Saint Agatha in Catania. Lucia, a Christian, persuaded her mother in thankfulness to distribute her wealth to the poor. So, by candlelight, the mother and daughter went about the city secretly ministering to the poor of Siracusa.
Unfortunately, this was during the last great persecution of Christians in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. The pagan young man, to whom Lucia was engaged, took a dim view of this distributing of her dowry, and denounced her to the prefect, Pascasius, who ordered that she be seized and tortured. Miraculously, when neither boiling oil nor burning pitch had the power to hurt her, she was blinded and slain with a sword. Her martyrdom is recorded in ancient sources and in an inscription found in Syracuse. (

To help those observe the holiday, we have included a Santa Lucia braided bread recipe and a basic wheat pie (pastiera di grano). For those that need to purchase the wheat, check your local gourmet food store, and if you live in South Florida, you can get the wheat without skin or the precooked wheat at any Doris Italian Market location.
Known for her hospitality, this festive bread is inspired by the candle covered crown she is said to have worn to light her way as she brought food to the poor.


  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/4-ounce packages active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


    • 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
    • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
    • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
    • Candles (optional)


    • Warm the milk in a small saucepan, then pour 1/2 cup of it into a large bowl.
    • Add the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and let it set for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the remaining milk.
    • Add the butter and milk mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk in the eggs, juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, orange rind, and salt.
    • Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes, adding more flour until the dough is smooth and elastic and does not stick to your hands.
    • Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning it once to coat it. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about 11/2 hours.
    • Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a 30-inch rope and braid the ropes together.
    • Transfer the braid to a greased baking sheet, pinch together the ends to form a circle, and let it rise until it has again doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
    • Heat the oven to 375_. Bake the bread for 25 minutes or until golden brown, then let it cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.
    • For the glaze, stir together the confectioners sugar and orange juice in a medium bowl until smooth.
    • Drizzle the glaze mix over the bread, then garnish with the cranberries. Finally, add candles, if you'd like. Serves 12.
      1. And for those who like a good wheat pie (pastiera di grano). These pies are very popular during the Month of December and also for Easter. If you enjoy them but do not wish to make them, Doris Italian Markets will have them for sale in time for Christmas. But for those who wish to take the culinary challenge, here you go...The recipe provided makes 2 pies serving 8 people per pie. Enjoy!



        • 18 ounces whole milk
        • 3 large egg yolks
        • 2 tablespoons sugar
        • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
        • 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon rinds
        • 1/2 cup finely minced candied citron peel (well rinsed and drained before mincing) (optional)


        • 2 cups cooked wheat (about 1/2-3/4 pound of dry wheat should = 2 cups cooked) or 1 1/2-2 cups cooked drained arborio rice
        • 1/2 cup whole milk
        • 4 tablespoons butter


        • 8 large eggs
        • 2 1/2 cups sugar (cut sugar by 1/2 cup if using the citron)
        • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon rinds
        • 1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese (drained if very wet)


        • 1/2-3/4 cup butter
        • 3 eggs or 2 extra large egg yolks
        • 2 1/2-3 cups all-purpose flour
        • 1 cup sugar
        • 1/2-1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon rinds


        1. ***PreparingThe Wheat: If"soaked" or"precooked" wheat is not available, dry wheat may be used.
        2. Cover the dry wheat with cold water (water should be about 2 inches over the wheat) and boil it for 15 minutes or until the wheat berries crack open.
        3. Remove pan from heat and allow wheat to soak for a full 24 hours.
        4. After soaking, drain well before using in steps#17-19.
        5. If"soaked"/"precooked" wheat is used, add the wheat to a pan of boiling water and cook it for about 5-10 minutes (most of the wheat berries should be open and they should be chewy but tender).
        6. Drain well, let cool and use for steps#17-19.
        7. Crust: Mix flour, sugar and lemon peel together in a bowl.
        8. Work butter into flour using your fingers (until it is the size of peas).
        9. Add eggs one at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon.
        10. Knead the dough lightly until it holds together well and clears the bowl.
        11. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill it for about 1/2- 1 hour before using.
        12. Cream: Fill the bottom of a double boiler with enough water so that its insert doesn't quite touch the water; bring the water to a boil.
        13. Mix the whole milk, egg yolks, sugar, flour, lemon peel and citron together in the insert of the double boiler which has been set in to the bottom pan.
        14. Cook the"cream," stirring constantly until it has thickened and is the consistency of a thick pudding (about 20-30 minutes).
        15. Remove the insert from the boiling water and set aside to allow the"cream" to cool, stir occasionally to keep a skin from forming.
        16. Note: I sometimes put the insert pan with the"cream" mixture into a bowl of very cold water, to help it cool down faster, don't forget to stir it.
        17. Wheat: Add the (cooked, soaked, well drained) wheat to a saucepan with the milk and butter.
        18. Cook the wheat mixture, stirring occasionally until the butter melts, and mixture starts to boil; boil for 1 minute.
        19. Remove from heat and let cool.
        20. Prepare Pans: On a lightly floured board, roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8 inch thick and line the bottom and sides of two lightly buttered 9-inch glass cake pans.
        21. Leave a 1/2 inch overhang of dough if you are going to use the lattice top.
        22. If not using the lattice, trim the overhang to 1/4 inch.
        23. Re-roll scraps and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips to use as a lattice top for the pie.
        24. (If you prefer, the lattice can be omitted.) Preheat oven to 350°F.
        25. Ricotta Filling: Mix ricotta, eggs, sugar and lemon peel together in a large bowl.
        26. Beat mixture by hand, with a wooden spoon, until smooth and creamy.
        27. Add the"cream" mixture and the wheat mixture to the ricotta filling, stirring until all is well blended.
        28. Pour or ladle the filling into prepared pans (to within 1/4 inch of the top of the pan).
        29. For The Lattice: place the strips of dough across the filling, spaced about 1 inch apart (at right angles) forming a lattice top.
        30. Fold the 1/2 inch overhang over the edges of the lattice and flute well.
        31. If not making the lattice top, fold the 1/4 inch overhang on to itself, and lightly flute.
        32. Bake pies in a preheated 350°F oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the bottom of the crust is light brown, the center is set, and the top of the pies are golden.
        33. Turn off oven and let the pies cool for an hour in the oven with the oven door slightly (about 2 inches) ajar.
        34. Remove pies from oven and place on a wire rack.
        35. When completely cooled, cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until serving.
        36. If you like, you can give the pie tops a light sprinkle of powdered sugar before serving.
        37. Note: Its best to served this pie directly from the pan, as trying to plate the whole pie is more trouble than its worth, and causes breakage.

        And to top it all off for Santa Lucia Day, I present to you, Mario Lanza. Ciao Tutti!

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