The “Nacatuli”: Aeolian Christmas cookies
The origins of the “Nacatuli” and Aeolian food
The millenary history of Aeolian Islands people has been marked by the alternance of prosperity and difficulty, domination and isolation, through which customs and traditions were experienced. Therefore these “Nacatuli” cookies are the result of reciprocal exchange of food habits.
Many different people landed in the Archipelago: Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Normans; Saracens ravaged, then an economic and demographic rebirth came back due to the commerce activity of the Mediterranean sea includeing the Islands and its Malmsey wine production.
Consequently, all new arrivers led their own novelties about food: Greeks distinguished themselves by wine, Phoenicians propagated almond trees, Arabs cultivated citrus. From the new discovered American continent arrived tomatoes, egg plants, potatoes; while, in the XVII century, Venetians let the Aeolian inhabitants know the white rapes from Crete, then used for malmsey wine production.
“Nacatuli” local cuisine recipes are strictly based on these genuine ingredients locally produced.
Over the time some very precious culinary pearls were born: Aeolian flavor pasta, sweet and sour rabbit, Picarel with onion flavour (a fish already appreciated by Roman Emperors).
Beside the most simple “Cassatiedde”, “Vastidduzze” and “Spicchiteddi” cookies another delicacy stands out: the”Nacatuli” cookies, that only in the wealthy families were consumed in large quantities.
Except sugar and cinnamon, the ingredients of Nacatuli are only local ones. Sugar was produced by the Swabian also in Sicily and used for some special events. Cinnamon came from India.
The preparation of the “Nacatuli” needs a team work. In fact, in approaching of Christmas, family women gather at home and prepare sweets. Each one has a task:
- preparing the dough by mixing flour, lard, few eggs, sugar with malmsey and grated tangerine skin;
- preparing the stuff with shelled, peeled and ground almonds;
- mixing cinnamon and sugar with tangerine jus.
Afterwards the stuff is placed on a thin layer of dough and then covered with another layer. But the expert Aeolian women hands embellish “Nacatuli” cookies very well pinching them by using a tool, which is named “pizzicaruolu”: it is a small knurled brass tweezers and it grips the dough showing a very fine decoration similar to a precious embroidery. Also the embroidery clippers helps to realize some other draws making some small cuts on it. At the end the decoration is completed by adding some little dough rose shaped. After having cooked in the oven, the “Nacatuli” miraculously become a unique example, a gem of delicious citrus and cinnamon perfume. Finally the cookies are layed down on a wonderful white engraved cloth ready to be showed to the guests.
The “Nacatuli” sweets firmly show themselves so delicate, gilded, perfumed like the Christ Child. They are worthy to represent Christmas time.
Ute Krohmer (Nunzi Bonica for the translation)