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Halloween has in recent years spread across the Atlantic to the boot shaped peninsula known as Italy. Although the Italians do not celebrate Halloween per se, they do have their own rituals and festivities which are not all too far off.
One of these festive and colorful holidays is All Souls Day. It comes on the day after All Saints Day which is November 1st and honors the fallen Saints. However All Souls Day honors all those who have died. It is an Italian celebration which is not focused on death, as in a morbid fashion, but on honoring loved ones who have passed on.
Although these two holidays are not the same, there is one major similarity – the use of food. Just as our Halloween involves the practice of handing out food to children as they come knocking on our door, the Italians also incorporate the practice of food giving to children on All Souls Day. However, in their ritual, the children leave food and lit candles outside to “guide and feed” the souls of those in purgatory who revisit the home during the night. In some regions the tradition is for children to leave their shoes outside the front door only to find them stuffed with gifts later.
One popular cookie sold in bakery stores throughout Italy is called, Bones of the Dead. Every region in Italy seems to have their own unique version of this cookie.
A very simple Tuscan version of this cookie is as follows:
BONES OF THE DEAD
2 cups flour
1/2 cup hazelnuts chopped
2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
juice of a lemon
Combine the flour, egg whites, sugar and juice in a large bowl.
Next, add in the nuts and mix together until a dough consistency forms.
Roll the dough into the size of 2 inch wide logs and cut in 2-3 inch lengths.
Flatten or shape to resemble bones.
Lay flat on a floured cookie sheet (spray the sheet with cooking spray and then lightly flour)
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes.
For a Chocolate Chip Version:
2 egg whites at room temperature
2/3 Cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup fine semolina flour (plus more for later)
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped almonds.
Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. This can be done with an electric mixer on high speed for about a minute.
Slowly add in half the sugar while beating until whites are stiff.
Fold in the rest of the sugar, flour, chocolate chips and almonds and mix gently.
Line your cookie sheet or pan with parchment paper. Otherwise grease and lightly flour the surface.
Create bone shaped cookies with the dough, about 3 inches in length and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place on the cookie sheet. Remember these will expand so space accordingly.
Bake at 300 degrees F for about 30 minutes until cookies are dry.
Drizzle with a melted chocolate mixture of chocolate and butter. Either dip the bottom side in, or drizzle with the chocolate.
Let dry and enjoy!
Other Halloween Ideas Using Italian Food
If you want a more familiar Italian theme food for your Halloween party, try these:
The easiest way to create cannolis is to buy premade shells.
For the filling:
10 oz. ricotta cheese drained
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup chocolate chips
Orange food coloring
Always fill the cannolis the same day you plan on serving them. If you make them in advance the shells will become soggy. You can make your filling the day before, and then simply fill the shells just prior to your party.
Mix all the ingredients except the chips, until it is light and airy. You can use a mixer or food processor, such as a cuisinart 11 prep or for this. Or you can just mix it by hand the good old fashioned way.
When finished gently fold in the chips.
Fill the shells with the mixture. A tip is to pour the mixture into a plastic bag and then snip one of the corners, thus creating a makeshift pastry bag. Use this to squirt the filling into the shells.
This recipe can also be used during other holidays, such as Christmas and makes a great Italian Christmas gift or contribution for attending parties. Instead of orange food coloring try green or red.
As with many Italian desserts, remember to serve with coffee or espresso. Especially dry cookies, like the Bones of the Dead cookies, are great when dipped in a latte.
If you do not make your own espresso using appliances like an Alessi espresso maker, to prepare your espresso, regular coffee should suit your guests just as well.
This article was contributed by Liz T. Krause, publisher of simpleitaliancooking.com. Although she grew up in an Italian household, it wasn’t until later in her married life with her Italian husband that she began to appreciate the joy of Italian cooking.