Christmas Eve… the first course: CAPPELLACCI di ZUCCA
I begin this post with three bits of personal information: 1) I was born in Germany, 2) my birth date is St. Nicholas’s Feast Day (December 6), the day when children in Northern Europe put out their shoes with the hope of discovering them filled with treats – and not a lump of coal – the next morning, and 3) I was raised in a home inflected with Viennese traditions, including those having to do with the Christmas season. While it is true that my family celebrates Christmas Eve with dishes beloved by my Viennese Oma (grandmother), it is also a fact that Italian dishes have made their way onto the holiday menu, squeezed in between leberknödle suppe (liver dumpling soup) and red cabbage! One of the more wonderful additions is Cappellacci di Zucca…. and here I must make a confession. I do not make it. It is a recipe that has been perfected by my husband.
Although both Cappellacci dei Briganti and CAPPELLACCI di ZUCCA are typically served as pastasciutta with lamb ragu*, they are shaped differently. Cappellacci dei Briganti take their name from the conical hats worn by the “briganti,” or ruffian-fighters, in the regions of Molise and Lazio during the political and civil unrest that took place leading up to and following the Unification of Italy (1848-1870). CAPPELLACCI di ZUCCA, which have the more familiar square shape of ravioli, are associated with the sumptuous cuisine of the courts of Emilia-Romagna, specifically that of Ferrara. According to Carol Field, who gives a different explanation for the “Alpine hat” shape of Cappellacci, the stuffed pasta has ‘been around at least since Lucrezia d’Este’s cook gave the recipe to a fellow Ferrarese for a cookbook he published in 1584.” It is not surprisly, she says, that they are stuffed with pumpkin/squash since “the people of Ferrara have been called magnazoca, pumpkin eaters, for a very long time. (“Celebrating Italy,” New York, 1990, page 260.)
In the spirit of ecumenicalism, it must be said that the recipe my husband uses is adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s wonderful “Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen” (San Francisco, 1998), page 55). The filling is butternut squash, Parmesan, amaretti (fairly hard and decidedly crunchy almond cookies), & freshly grated nutmeg. I will make a sage-butter sauce laced with currants that have been soaking in brandy!
• Lorenza de’Medici offers an alternative in Lorenza”s Pasta” (New York, 1996, page 153). Rather than a meat sauce, she suggests “Cappellacci al Caprino e Melanzane”: which is made of 1 eggplant, baked for 20 minutes, peeled then well mashed with 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, salt & pepper. Once well mashed, mix in 6 tablespoons ricotta, 6 Tablespoons goat’s cheese & 2 egg yolk.
Since I have already posted on the key ingredients in CAPPELLACCI DI ZUCCA “zucca,” almonds, sugar and eggs, I will take this opportunity to wish all a joyful season!