Halloween isn’t an Italian holiday, although I know it is becoming more and more popular with kids (and even adults) in Italy. You can even find many Italian food bloggers posting fun and spooky Halloween recipes. But traditionally, this time period was always very solemn in Italy. Today (All Soul’s Day-Giorno dei Morti)is a day when you are supposed to pass by the cemetery and bring flowers to remember your loved ones. While you’re there, you should spiff up the graves of your family members and you may even find some people spending time there in remembrance of their loved ones for hours. But that may happen only in Sicily.
My dear cousin Alessio sent me a photo this weekend of my family’s grave in Sicily. The granite marker has the photo of my dad, my nonno Giuseppe (my grandfather), my nonna Mattia (my grandmother), my zio Giovanni (my uncle Giovanni that I never met that died on his 19th birthday), my great grandparents from my nonno Giuseppe’s side. All 6 of them are buried in this family grave. So much history can be found walking around the cemetery. So much of my own family history can be discovered exploring the different angles of this peaceful resting place overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Sicily.
The bones of the dead cookies (ossa di morto) can be found at bakeries only for the All Soul’s Day (Day of the Dead) holiday in Italy. I was talking yesterday with a friend that just moved here from the Abruzzo region of Italy and she said she’s never seen a cookie for All Soul’s Day where she is from. Now I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in Abruzzo, but maybe just in her area she’s never seen it.
The ones that are made in Sicily are made with cloves and the dough is supposed to rest for 1-3 days. I’m not sure I have the patience to wait 3 days to put my cookies in the oven to bake, but perhaps next year. In Tuscany they are called ossi di morto and it’s served with Vin Santo. Ossi da morto from the Veneto region are made with white wine, baking soda and even potato starch (Italians use potato starch in a lot of baking recipes). In some parts of Sicily they are called scardellini and in Little Italy of New Orleans, they have one bakery that is famous for their Skidelina (maybe a different spelling of scardellini?). There are also cookies for All Soul’s Day (Day of the Dead)called Fave da morto, fave dei morti or fave dolci. There is a a great reference to fava beans and death in Italy. In the Lombardy region where my in-laws live (and this is a typical recipe from that area), they are also called ossa da mordere and in dialect oss de mord. In Naples (Campania region) you can find torrone dei morti. In Sicily in some parts you will find this cookies covered with chocolate. You can also find Pan dei Morti in Lombardia, and le Fave dei Morti in Emilia – Romagna. So many different recipes and names all over Italy for this one occasion’s sweets.
BONES OF THE DEAD COOKIES-OSSA DI MORTO
- 3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup ground almonds
- grated zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teasoon of ground cloves
- 1-2 Tablespoons Nocino (or another Italian liqueur, white wine or even water)
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Line 3 cookie sheets with a parchment paper.
- Cream the butter and sugar. Add in the egg white mixed with the vanilla and beat on medium speed for a minute or two until combined.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, grated lemon zest and spices.
- Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until combined, stopping the mixer to scrape the sides of the bowl and combine all the flour.
- Add 1 Tablespoon of the Nocino (or other liqueur or water). Add in more 1 teaspoon at a time if needed until the dough is combined (but not too wet).
- Remove the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let chill for about 30-45 minutes. While dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Lightly flour a clean counter or a pastry board. Cut the dough into 4 parts. Roll the first part of dough into a rope that is about 18 inches long. Cut the rope into two parts. Cut the first section into cookies that are about 3 inches long and about 1/2 inch thick. Line them up with some space between them on a the first baking tray. Press down a little on the cookie. Continue the process with the other parts of the dough.
- Bake for about 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn golden brown. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.