Many of Sicily’s sweets and desserts were created inside convent walls. The image of nun’s innovating and mixing new decadent inventive creations from the Frutta Martorana, marzipan which is moulded into tiny sculptures to the tantalising ‘Minni di Sant Agata’, tiny little white Saint Agata breasts, ricotta filled sweets complete with little red cherry nipples.
The convents were supplied with high quality local ingredients such as fresh ricotta cheese, almonds, pistachios and above all sugar. The sisters had the time to experiment and thanks to the excuse of religious celebrations and Saint days they were able to express their culinary expertise. It’s a truely beautiful cinemagraphic image to picture these women, subtly shaping Sicily’s sweet tooth.
One of the most well known Sicilian creations are the ‘Pasti I Mennula’ a true classic of Sicily’s confectionary from Messina province. Made from a simple short crust pastry, generally in a moon shape or ravioli form, covered by icing made from sugar, egg whites and lemon juice and finally decorated with colourful sprinkles or dark chocolate.
The magic comes from inside this super sweet bomb which is heaped with sugary goodness, potentially teeth rotting and diabetic inducing sugar levels. The Pasta di Mandorle is at the apex of Sicilian Baroque decadence, perhaps the nun’s were sick of their fasting and daily sacrifices and heaped in as much glucose as they possibly could.
The pastry is filled with crushed almonds which have been turned into a type of marmalade, cooked up together with syrupy white sugar in to a caramel, flavoured with cinamon, often paired with a mixture of candid orange, lemon and citron peel and small pieces of dark chocolate.
Predominately prepared for Easter, the Pasta di Mandorle were also used by young lovers when proposing marriage, the biscuits would be used as a gift for prospective in laws. The origins of the Paste are found deep in the Sicilian province of Messina, in the ancient village of Ficarra. The Ficarrese hold tightly and jealously onto the original secret recipe.
The town of Ficarra has a history which dates back to the Norman period, the name of the city was first mentioned in an official court document from1082 in the Sicily ruled by the French Count Roger the first.
Today this beautiful medieval town looks out at the Aeolian Islands from a strategical position high up on the Nebrodi mountains, in the same idealistic spot its been for centuries. Luckily this place and other towns dotted around the island still hold onto their traditional recipes with great pride. Small towns like Ficarra are treasured little pockets of an ancient Sicily which are sadly disappearing.
The Pasti I Mennula were the subject of Sicilian documentary filmmaker Calogero Ricciardello’s new project Sicilian Moments, dedicated to sharing snippets of traditional everyday life in Sicily.
Click on the link to see Calogero’s wonderfully personal video dedicated to the Pasti I Mennula and the women who make them.
If you want to hear more about Sicilian Moments read my interview about the project here.
Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Paste di Mandorle: un iconico dolce Siciliano