On January 17, Abruzzo celebrates the ancient rites of Sant’Antonio Abate (not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua). The protector of domestic animals, the saint is always depicted with a long white beard and a pig beside him. Like many other festivals in Abruzzo, this one has pagan roots. Around this time of year, pigs are slaughtered, so small mountain towns and villages organise big feasts, local kids dress up to enact episodes from the saint’s life and his battles with the Devil.
In the Province of Teramo, the traditional of baking li cillitte di Sand’Andonie, soft biscuits filled with grape jam, has been kept alive for centuries. In the past, they were handed out to the sandandonijre, groups of kids and adults, going around houses singing songs dedicated to the saint and collecting tasty goodies in return (very like the modern trick-and-treating at Halloween!).
The shape of the birds varies but some nonnas create real masterpieces! If you don’t have any friends among locals in the Teramo Province, who could treat you to these delicious dessert, head to the Cioccolateria Centini in (Via V. Veneto, 26, Teramo). They always make fresh uccelletti this time of year.
Want to try these and other traditional desserts next time you are in Abruzzo? Join me for a food tour!
The uccelletti are quite easy to make at home. Here is the recipe:
For the dough:
1 kg white flour
250 ml olive oil
250 ml white wine
200 gr sugar
For the filling:
400 gr grape jam (scrucchiata)
200 gr chopped and toasted almonds
50 gr bitter cacao powder
A splash of strong brewed coffee
A pinch of cinnamon
Mix the flour, eggs, sugar, orange peel, oil and white wine until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
In the meantime make the filling. Blend the sugar with the cocoa, cinnamon and almonds, add the grape jam little by little. Add the coffee to the mix and set aside.
Roll out the dough thin using a rolling pin and cut into small squares. Spoon out a small amount of filling on each square and fold it diagonally in half. Roll the free edges to make the bird’s head on one side and the tail on the other. You can get as creative as you wish here and use scissors to make the beaks and plumage.
Bake for 20-25 minutes at 180C until golden.
Eat accompanied by Abruzzese songs and dances!