cuccìa

Cuccìa Santa Lucia (recipe)

Palermo 1646

In the winter of 1646, Sicily was undergoing a terrible famine. People were dying of hunger after a massive crop failure. The people of Palermo did the only thing they could in the circumstances: they prayed. And then on the morning of December 13 a ship full of grain arrived in Palermo harbour with enough grain to feed the whole city. Rather than wait to have the grain milled into flour to make bread, the hungry people boiled and ate the grain to satisfy their hunger and save their lives. The people were convinced that Santa Lucia, Sicily’s most important saint had saved the city, since the grain arrived on her feast day.

 

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Palermo

Syracuse 1763

In the winter of 1763, Sicily was undergoing a terrible famine. People were dying of hunger after a massive crop failure. The people of Syracuse did the only thing they could in the circumstances: they prayed. And then on the morning of December 13 a ship full of grain arrived in Syracuse harbour with enough grain to feed the whole city. Rather than wait to have the grain milled into flour to make bread, the hungry people boiled and ate the grain to satisfy their hunger and save their lives. The people were convinced that Santa Lucia, Syracuse’s patron saint had saved the city, since the grain arrived on her feast day.

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Syracuse

Cuccìa

Whichever city’s version of the story you believe, both of these legends are told as the origin of a typically Sicilian dish called cuccìa, eaten on December 13 to celebrate the feast of Santa Lucia. Although the recipe varies around the island, for most people it consists of boiled wheat grain, mixed with ricotta cheese, sugar, chocolate, and candied peel. (In the town of Caltanissetta a savoury version consisting of boiled wheat grain mixed with salt and olive oil is eaten.) Sicilians eat this and arancine to celebrate Santa Lucia and don’t eat any products made of flour for the day, so bread and pasta are out.

cuccìa
Cuccìa

Byzantine origins

Notwithstanding the saintly explanation, it appears that cuccìa, both in name and recipe, derives from a much older dish. A similar dish called kutia is served in Ukraine on Christmas Eve and the theory is that both dishes come from an older dish from the Byzantine Empire, under whose influence both areas fell.

The recipe

Cuccìa calls for  wheat grain which is soaked for three days and then boiled for eight hours. This is the most important part of the dish. As I was once told, ‘no grain, no cuccìa.’ If you don’t have the time or patience it can be made with ready-cooked grain, which is sold in Italian food stores for making the famous Pastiera Napoletana. If you can’t get either you could substitute with boiled farro (which is a kind of grain) or even rice—just don’t tell any Sicilians!

The result is a creamy dessert full of the flavours of Sicily. It’s sort of a cross between rice pudding, cheesecake, and trifle. But a million times better.

cuccìa
Whisk the ricotta and sugar. Then add the grain, chocolate chips, candied peel, and pistachios.

Cuccìa Santa Lucia

Find out how Sicilians celebrate December 13, the feast of Santa Lucia with this show-stopping dessert. And it's very easy to make into the bargain! Print This
Serves: 4 Prep Time:
Rating: 5.0/5
( 2 voted )

Ingredients

  • 500g (17 ounces) grain (or grano cotto)
  • 500g (17 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 150g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 100g (2/3 cup) chocolate chips
  • 40g (1 1/2 ounces) pistachios
  • 70g (2 1/2 ounces) candied peel
  • 70g (2 1/2 ounces) glacé cherries

Instructions

1. If you are using dried grain then soak it in water for three days, changing the water every 24 hours. Then drain, transfer to a saucepan with plenty of water and boil for eight hours.
2. If you are using grano cotto (ready-cooked grain) drain it.
3. Whisk the ricotta cheese together with the sugar.
4. Add the grain, chocolate chips, pistachios, and candied peel. Mix thoroughly.
5. Transfer to a serving dish and decorate with the glacé cherries and more candied peel.
6. Place in the fridge until ready to serve.

Have you ever tried cuccìa? Do you have any traditions for Santa Lucia’s day where you come from?

 

7 thoughts on “Cuccìa Santa Lucia (recipe)”

  1. Mauro J Fiorentino

    My grandma was Sicilian…I lived with her for a few of my early years as my mom was hospitalized. Grandma made cuccia every St Lucy feast-day. She cooked it the old way via soaking the grain for 3 days then boiling for 8 hrs…

    I have the ultimate fondest memories of the ritual…grandma explained the whole St Lucy ordeal…her tortures, the misogynist scum that set her up to die. She also explained the ins and outs of the entire cooking process…

    The cuccia was absolutely magical and tasted so incredibly good…I think my child’s brain also tuned into how special the whole day was…the saints travails…her horrible death…and the wonderful food…it’s left the utmost positive mark on my soul and psyche for all of these years…I’m now 70 yrs old.

  2. Hi I wanted to mention, that my mother and NaNa would make Cuccia every December 13th for St. Lucia Day. They now have passed, so now I am taking other the Silican Tradition.
    I have also, started making the Cuccuzzia, Italian Green Squash, they used to make also.
    I loved all the Silican Traditions, now I am making them. I just hope I am as a great cook as they were.

  3. Hello, I make cuccia and arancine every year just like my mom use to make for us, now I’m teaching my son the Sicilian traditions .For Christmas Cuccidati.

    1. Thank you.? I remember my mom boiling la crucial till it got a milky white. She then added
      Can of chickpeas and olive oil it was delicious. I have been trying to find the correct cuccia without much success

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