Growing up in an Italian household means a lot of things: lots of tomatoes, left over meatball sandwiches from Nonna’s Sunday sauce, smelly lunches, pasta with almost anything in it, stories of poor immigrants and how much polenta they consumed. The red, white and green list is endless. But, I do remember how magical Christmas always was. Christmas Eve was celebrated to the extent of a non-Italian’s New Year’s Eve, and it was just magical. Except for, well, all the fish.
As years went by, my tastebuds matured and I was not only able to stomach baccala’, but actually enjoy it, and Christmas miracle of Christmas miracle, cook it now for my family. Yet, I remember one dish I did eat, and that was fried spearing. What is a spearing? It looks like chum, or bait for a bluefish, but it’s cheap and when it’s fried, it’s as yummy as a McDonald’s fry.
And, in typical Italian fashion, it’s incredibly easy to prepare:
In a colander, throw a handful of clean fish, as dry as possible, with a handful of flour, salt and pepper.
Shake the fish and the flour until there is only a coating on the fish.
Have a VERY HOT deep fryer ready to go.
Fry the fish until golden brown and crunchy. Salt to taste.
These little babies were my seafood gateway. I still hate baccala’, but you can’t have everything! LOL. Buon Natale!!!!
As time marches on, I find myself digging very deeply into the depths of a magical time in my life, my childhood. And, as every child does from January 1st of the new year, until December 24th, 11 long months of the same year, I dreamed of Christmas. Italian Christmas is filled with a lot of fun and edible stuff, but mainly fish. However, my mother was an immigrant from Vasto, Italy and there is one Christmas season Sunday which will forever be embedded in my head just like sugar plums and the Polly Puff house I got when I was six, the making of the cicerchiata. (CHEE CHER KIATA).
It's actually a very simple dessert, similar to the more popular Italian recipe of struffoli.
Both are made of fried dough balls, glued together with epoxied honey and the cici with melted chocolate. The cici (as we so lovingly called it) could break off a denture or filling if it wasn’t made correctly, but Nonna, the Cici lieutenant, carabieniere, and overall supervisor made sure you didn’t make crap. She oversaw every ball dimension, every sprinkle, every drop of honey.
At the end of the process, it was formed into a wreath, and if you needed a trip to the burn unit while trying to form hot dough balls and honey into a perfectly frozen wreath, well, then you did your job.
As most Italian recipes go, the simple yet tasty combination of just a few simple ingredients epiphany themselves into something rather delicious.
Mix when frying dough:
Basically, the dough is refrigerated and then rolled into snake like tubes with your hands. Then you cut them into balls or little cushions.
Once they are at room temperature, heat the honey and the chocolate in a HUGE pot until boiling. Really boiling. Then add the dough balls, and with all your might, and a huge wooden spoon, you stir, stir, stir until it all makes a very sticky, large honey ball.
While it is still extremely hot, dump the pot’s contents onto a big table, preferable a kitchen island which is easily cleaned. Then, start making wreaths. Any size you like. Once the concoction is in the shape and size you prefer, decorate with Christmas sprinkles and let cool.
My memory, my favorite, which always brought my family together … every one of them, was more cherished than this delicacy. Make food … make memories, and always teach your kids to make both. Buon Natale!!