Just a few decades ago Halloween in Italy was merely the name of an American holiday. Little by little Halloween’s popularity has grown, probably due to the influence of American movies and American fast food chains. It has become a real celebrated holiday, even though it doesn’t have any real connection to Italy. All Saints Day (November 1st) is celebrated there as a national holiday and November 2nd, a day dedicated to the remembrance of the dead, is a holy day during which people visit cemeteries and bring flowers and candles to remember relatives and friends who have passed away.
In some parts of Italy children find presents brought during the night by the dead. The general practice of leaving food out for spirits on Hallows’ Eve seems to have spawned the tradition of distributing candy or other food. For many Italians, the origin of Halloween matters less than the chance to celebrate another festa (party). Much like in America, children in Italy enjoy dressing up and walking from store to store through town asking, “Dolcetto o scherzetto?” (Trick or treat?)
In Italy, Halloween involves costume parties for young adults and shops are beginning to sell decorations and even a variety of Halloween costumes (although the selection is still mostly limited to bats, ghosts or witches). While many of Italy’s Halloween traditions are similar to America, there are some that are uniquely Italian. To experience a distinctly Italian Halloween, visit the small hill town of Corinaldo in the Marche region for La Notte delle Streghe – The Night of the Witches.
Throughout Italy you will often see carved pumpkins, children in costumes running through the piazza and signs for Halloween parties at local restaurants or clubs. Some areas offer Halloween tours of medieval towers, castles and catacombs that are lined with mummies and bones. Celebrations are now widespread enough that it’s safe to say Halloween has been adopted into the Italian culture. The concern of traditionalists is that it has replaced the more traditional religious practices.
The tradition of the pumpkin is not exclusively Anglo-Saxon, in fact, it can also be found in the Italian tradition. In Veneto, for example, pumpkins are emptied, painted and a candle symbolizing resurrection is placed inside them. In Friuli, especially in the area near Pordenone, the pumpkins, prepared in this way, are put along the roads to light the path for the dead. In Puglia every family adorns their own pumpkin and puts it on display in the window of their house. In Lombardia pumpkins are filled with wine, so that the dead can drink it during the night between the 31st October and the 1st of November, before returning to the kingdom of “afterlife”.
The traditions also include typical dishes prepared during this time and handed down from generation to generation. In Romagna, a region well known for its cuisine, the “piada dei morti”, a round flatbread filled with nuts, almonds, raisins and the red wine of Romagna, Sangiovese, is prepared. Another sweet prepared during this time is the “fava dei morti”, a little biscuit made of almonds. In Sicily the typical dishes for this time of year are the “pupi ‘i zuccuru”, a sweet bread shaped like little dolls, and the “dead bones” biscuits having the shape of bones that are particularly hard to bite.
Favorite Halloween Foods In Italy
- 4 lb pumpkin
- 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 4 basil leaves
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 clove of garlic, left whole
- Vegetable broth
- 1 oz butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Cut off the top cap of the pumpkin, remove all the seeds and filaments keeping the pumpkin whole. You will form a sort of soup tureen complete with its lid.
Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add chopped celery, parsley, basil and thyme. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Fill the pumpkin 3/4th of the way up with vegetable broth, the sautéed vegetables, peeled garlic and the grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cover the pumpkin with its top and place on a baking sheet.
Bake at 450° F for two hours. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, remove the top and let cool. Remove the garlic and, with a serving spoon scrape the pumpkin off the sides and bottom, mixing it slowly into the soup, to make a puree.
Should the puree be too thick, add some more hot stock to it. Serve in soup bowls with a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar and large pieces of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.
Veal and Pumpkin Rolls
You can use turkey or chicken scaloppine in place of the veal.
- 16 veal scaloppine, about 1.5 oz each, pounded thin
- 1 lb pumpkin, peeled and sliced
- 1 lb chicory
- 1 ¼ oz almonds, sliced
- ½ an onion
- All-purpose flour
- 1 ½ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- White wine to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
Gently saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly golden and then add the pumpkin slices.
Salt and pepper the pumpkin and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, covered. Mash the pumpkin into a puree and add the grated Parmesan. Set aside.
Place the pounded slices of veal on a work surface and spread each one with pumpkin puree. Roll them up tightly and roll in flour.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and brown veal rolls, about 6 minutes. You may need more butter.
Add enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan and allow it to evaporate. Cover the pan and cook the veal rolls for 6-8 minutes more.
Finely chop the chicory and add it to a skillet containing 1 tablespoon of olive oil; add the almonds and salt and pepper. Cook until the chicory wilts.
Serve the veal rolls over the chicory mixture.
Bonz of the Dead
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts
- 3/4 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch ground cloves
- Pinch kosher salt
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and toast the hazelnuts on a sheet pan until lightly golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool
Lightly toast the anise seeds either in the oven or on the stove in a saute pan over medium heat constantly shaking the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the seeds from the pan, allow to cool, and set aside.
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor pulsing until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Pour into a bowl and set aside. Grind the anise seeds in a small spice grinder until the seeds are half their size and place in the bowl with the nuts.
In the bowl of a electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg whites and vanilla and mix on low speed until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
In the bowl with the ground hazelnuts and anise, add the flour, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and salt and mix with your hands until combined. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in the mixer on low speed until a smooth ball of dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten slightly and wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes.
Divide the cold dough into 8 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope approximately 18-inches long by about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 5 cookies. For super long bonz, roll each log 8-inches long.
Place the bonz on parchment lined baking sheets and allow to sit uncovered in a dry place, 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight. This helps them become super dry and ready for baking.
Place the baking sheets in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Pan Dei Morti
or Bread of the Dead
Said to be based on an ancient Etruscan recipe, this particular recipe is a specialty of the Lombardia region of Italy. These cookies are best eaten the day they are baked, although they keep well for several days. They are dense, chewy, moist cookies with the crackle of the ground cookies and the crunch of the pine nuts to remind us of dead men’s bones.
- 14 oz (400 g) dry, sweet cookies, such as crunchy ladyfingers
- 3 ½ oz (100 g) dry amaretti cookies
- 4 ¼ oz (120 g) blanched whole almonds
- 4 ¼ oz (120 g) dried figs
- 2 cups (250 g) flour
- 1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
- ½ cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- pinch salt
- 4 ¼ oz (125 g) whole pine nuts
- 6 large egg whites
- 3/8 cup (100 ml) Vin Santo or other sweet dessert wine
- powdered sugar for dusting
In a processor finely grind the cookies and amaretti and place in a very large mixing bowl. Finely grind both the almonds and the figs and add to the cookie crumbs in the bowl.
(The damp figs may clump together, just rub the clumps into the dry ingredients to break it up.)
Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and whole pine nuts to the ground ingredients and toss until completely blended.
Pour the egg whites and the vin santo or dessert wine over the dry ingredients and blend until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.
Scrape out onto a floured work surface and knead quickly until it you have a smooth, well-blended ball of cookie dough.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper.
Slice the ball of dough in half and then each half into about a dozen even pieces, each weighing about 3-3 ½ oz (90-100 g).
Form each piece into an oblong shape – long and flat, approximately 4 ½ – 5 ½ inches (12-14 cm) long and approximately 2 ½ inches (6 cm) wide, (wider in the middle and narrowing to a point at each end).
Place the cookies on the baking sheet leaving a little space between each. Bake for 35-30 minutes until slightly puffed, a dull brown color and set to the touch. Lift one up carefully and check that the bottom side looks cooked. Do not overbake or the cookies will be too hard.
Remove the cookies to cooling racks and allow the cookies to cool completely. Once cooled, sift powdered sugar generously to cover the cookies.
Fave dei Morti
Fave dei Morti, beans of the dead, are little bean-shaped cakes that Italians eat on Il Giorno dei Morti (All Souls’ Day) on November 2. These small cakes are traditionally eaten throughout Italy on the day that everyone decorates the graves with flowers and prays for departed souls.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup finely ground almonds (unblanched)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
Combine sugar, butter and ground almonds. Beat egg and add to the butter ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Add flour and lemon rind.
Work dough until smooth and form into a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate 2-3 hours.
Cut off bits of dough and mold into kidney-shaped pieces about as big as large lima beans.
Bake on greased cookie sheets in a moderate oven (350° F.) about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from the pan with spatula to a cooling rack.
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