Welcome to my world - a blend of passion, taste, and old-world traditions.

Benvenuti nel mio mondo - un mischio di passione, gusto e vecchie tradizioni.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Cardboard Nativity Scene, a Knitted Stocking and Some Coals

This week I took out my Christmas decorations.  As I placed the manger above the fireplace mantel, my childhood holiday rituals came to mind.  In Italy, Christmas was one of the most important holidays of the year.  We prepared in a very solemn way.  During the week before this big day, we went to confession. We also baked, mostly cookies made of various nuts.  On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, equipped with a shoebox, some hay and small clay figurines, we created a Nativity scene with a manger and infant Jesus.   On Christmas day, after attending mass, I recited the Christmas poem for my parents and grandparents.  In turn, I received some coins for my presentation.  Dinner followed.  The first course was a traditional chicken soup (brodo) with little meatballs, cardons (cardone) and egg dumplings.  Later in the day, my aunts and uncles visited and we would gather around the fireplace roasting chestnuts and dry figs over the fire.

Fichi secchi - Dry figs
We did not wait for Santa Claus to bring gifts on Christmas day. We  received gifts on January 6th, the day of the Epiphany, from an old lady riding on a broomstick and known to us as La Befana.

Despite all the years, I still remember the nursery rhyme we used to learn in school together with our Christmas poem.

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

The English translation is:

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!

On the Eve of  the Epiphany, we hung wool stockings, knitted by my mother and grandmother, on the stone fireplace.  January 6th was a day so desired but scary at the same time because it was the time of verification whether I was good or bad.  In the morning, on opening the stocking, among the sweets, dried figs, oranges and nuts were also coals.  “La Befana brought you some coals because you were a little bad, but also brought you sweets because you were good.” This was the phrase I would hear on opening the stocking.

My experiences, my joy, my parents’ words are all in my heart and which I will never forget.

Chicken Soup or Brodo

Chicken Soup with Cardons and cheese dumplings
Brodo di gallina con cardone e formaggio
All photo Copyright - ©2010 - La Casa e Il Giardino - picasaweb
2 ½ lb. chicken – I prefer an old hen (It makes a more intense broth)
1 piece of aged cheese rind
2 carrots
1 onion
2 celery stalks
2 cinnamon sticks

Wash the vegetables. The chicken can be left whole or cut. Place chicken and vegetables in a large pot, add salt and cover with ½ gallon of water. Bring to a quick boil, then lower the heat and simmer. Partially cover and cook for 2 hours. Once cooked, remove the meat and filter the broth with a strainer.

The meat from the chicken can be used for this dish and can be eaten another day.

In a pan add ¼ cup of oil, the boiled chicken meat, a few sprigs of salvia, rosemary and ½ glass of white wine and cook until it becomes crisp.

Small Meatballs (These can be done the day before)

¾ lb. ground veal or beef
1 egg slightly beaten
Breadcrumbs as needed
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Mix the meat, egg and parsley. Add the bread crumbs a little at a time. Consistency should not be too soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Make very small meatballs by rolling the mixture in the palm of your hand. As you make them, place them on a baking sheet covered with wax paper.

2 eggs
1 bunch of endive or escarole
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese

Boil the endive. Once cooked, cut into strips. Beat the eggs, add the cheese and mix in the cooked endive.
Bring the broth to a boil, throw in the endive mixture and the little meatballs. Cook for a few minutes until egg mixture is firm. After 10 minutes, mix with a wooden spoon. Cook for a few minutes longer.

Stracciatelle and Little Meatballs in Chicken Broth
Brodo di gallina con stracciatelle e polpettine


  1. Love this post! Such lovely Christmas memories...auguri to you and yours :)

  2. Michelle - Thank you for commenting and happy holidays to you.