With Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia is the German region where "Karneval" is mostly felt and longed for since the 11th of November when the preparations for the celebrations start (at 11:11am to be precise).
Till last year this fixation with the number 11 sounded unexplainable to me but all got cleared out last autumn. The 3rd of October marked the 11th anniversary of the Unification of Germany and the celebrations were set to take place in Bonn.
During those days, me and a friend of mine took the chance to wonder around the city and got attracted by a known-to-be-there-but-never-heard-about museum. It turned out to be the Museum of the Bonner Shoah.
While wondering through its corridors we had the luck to be approached by the museum director who very kindly offered us a guided tour.
The museum isn't very big but its exhibit surely makes a secure statement about what happened around WWII in Bonn and the area around.
Among the portraits of the protagonists of these sad stories a special photograph gave to the visit that kinda-grim touch of "the life, nevertheless, continued". It portrayed two Jewish boys dressed up in typical Carnival costumes.
They weren't any conventional costumes like tiger, pirate, elf, camel or the like; they were rather dressed up like 17th-century French soldiers.
It all seems to date back to the French conquest of the area after the French Revolution.
Aside from dressing up like his soldiers, locals decided to include as many "11" in the celebrations as possible because its German equivalent, "elf", is the acronym of the French motto: "Égalité, Liberté, Fraternité".
They were pretty wicked back then ehn?
As everywhere else, a big part of Carnival revolves around excess sugar consumption; Haribo candies is the shape locals prefer for it, after all the factory is placed here in Bonn.
The whole parade has the feel of a martial parade with just that extra touch of sticky sweetness and screams.
The atmosphere is intoxicating, as the lengthy row of empty beer bottles on the window seals later will attest.
The bad part starts only afterwards (actually continues, since it really starts at 10am to break during the parade) and that is the music blasting out of a little stall trying to sell beers at barely 10m from my windows. The music isn't that bad, a mix of Lou Bega, David Guetta, Faithless with just enough Backstreet boys and German Schlager (carnival songs) the keep you from loosing yourself into the beat.
So why is it so bad? Cause I would bet money that they blast the music at a much higher volume that a regular disco would be allowed to; it is ears soaring really, even with all the windows closed. Oh well, people are having fun in a safe(ish) way so all is good, I am just glad that also this year Rosenmontag is behind us.
It is in this period that I miss the sheer amount of fried treats that flooded the house during Carnival when I was a kid in Sicily. Tiny moist Castagnole crunchy of their caster sugar coating or the crispy and moist Chiacchere with that hint of lemon zest and heaps of powder sugar on them that made your neighbors look like mountain yeti at your first bite.
As most parts of Italy, in Sicily we have many special dishes that are whipped together just for specific celebrations.
One of the most peculiar and rare to come around is the Cuccìa. Deriving its name from the dialect word for grain (còcciu), originally it was prepared only for St. Lucy's celebrations the 13th of December. This dish is in fact a memento of the Saint's miracle that saved the city (either Syracuse or Palermo depending on the traditions) during a period of famine.
In those days of hunger and despair, the say goes, a ship unexpectedly arrived at the city port bringing a load of wheat. After having deposited the bags full of wheat berries on the land, as mysteriously as it had appeared, the ship disappeared.
According to traditions, the population was in such dire conditions that didn't loose any time in milling the grain and promptly boiled it and ate it seasoned with just a little oil.
The traditions is still preserved nowadays even though, richer being the times, the Cuccìa is mostly prepared in a sweet variation elevated with the products typical of our pastry traditions: candied citrus peels, chocolate and naturally almonds and pistachio nuts.
I propose you here my version of it, a very simple and basic one that derives its preciousness from the emerald green pistachio nuts interspersed among the ivory wheat berries in the milky whiteness of sweetened ricotta cream.
As part of its devotional nature, tradition wants this dish being shared with the poorer and the family members each time it is prepared; so enjoy it with your beloved.
Cuccìa di Pistacchi (Pistachios Cuccìa)
Ingredients (serve 4):
- 70g wheat berry
- 150g ricotta
- 2tbsp cream
- 4tbsp sugar or to taste
- 70g pistachios, shelled, pealed and cut in half
- a pinch of cinnamon
- grated orange zest
Boil the wheat berries in sweetened water until soft but not too mushy, they should still retain a little bite. Drain the wheat berries and let them cool down to room temperature.
To prepare the ricotta cream, simply whisk together the ricotta with the cream, sugar and a little pinch of cinnamon.
When you are ready to serve, combined the now cooled down wheat berries with the ricotta cream and the pistachios. Taste and add more sugar if needed.
Serve with a little grated orange zest on top.
The Cuccìa will dry up a bit upon standing, to bring it back to its creamy consistency add a little ricotta, cream or milk to it.