Growing up Italian: Southern comfort (food)


The holiday season is here. With that, fond memories of the many great times spent in Italy with my family. Decorating the tree: year after year, using the same ornaments and the same short, beaten-up artificial tree from which we couldn’t depart such we loved him so much.

During my childhood, dad would also decorate a huge Cedar tree growing in the front lawn.When the tree became too big, we had to cut it down. That year, Christmas was a little more sad without the static cheerfulness of that old, tall friend.

The afternoons in December were sunny but cold. On one of those sunny crispy days, mom would take my sister and me to the woods to get the moss with which to decorate the Nativity scene. The place happened to be a gaming reserve, so we had to jump a little barbed wire fence. I must admit, the illegality of it, added some “possess” to our Holiday decorating…

1967, I’m a little over a year old…chewing on a wise man’s camel .

The Presepe, or Nativity was a staple in our house for as far as I can remember. It became, over the years bigger and bigger. As we grew older it became also more elaborate, and always fun to make.

The Nativity scene or Presepio lays its historical  roots in 1025 in Naples. Since then, reenacting -with figurines- the birth of Jesus has become one of the greatest traditions of any Italian. For some who take it very seriously, a year -long project. I don’t recall of anyone NOT doing the “Presepio” ever, while living in Italy. Some sort of unspoken holiday code, I guess.

The South of Italy is, in general, bursting with a plethorea of holiday traditions. Every time I go back there, I discover something new. And I fall in love for the area… all over again.

My last trip to Napoli and its vicinity, was in the 90’s, before I moved to Oregon. An absolute stunning place that never ceases to surprise and enchant. I love being a tourist in my own country!

Amalfi 1994. On a boat to the Grotta Blu

My mom’s dad was from Pizzo Calabro, hence the special connection with the South.

Even though I now live thousands of miles away, what I know for sure is that just by reproducing a flavor or a smelling sensation, I can -for an instant- reconnect with my past.

My friend Luca once said: “It is lovely to be able to relive a feeling through a memory” even if for just a second.  The cookies I am writing about today can do this for me. Sense memories, once again…

Holiday time, Southern roots, Southern comfort!

[gn_box title=”MOSTACCIOLI NAPOLETANI cookies” color=”#271″]1488867_10200970959491706_1884509154_n Mostaccioli cookie

The names comes from Mosto  or the fermenting wine we have during this time of the year in Italy. Nowadays these cookie have morphed into different versions of the original ones.

I like this the best.


  • 350 gr AP flour
  • 80 gr Almond meal
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 30 gr Cocoa (use Dutch processed for darker cookies)
  • 250 gr Honey
  • 2 shots of coffee (about 2 oz of espresso)
  • 2 t baking powder
  • Zest of a citrus (I like orange or mandarin)
  • 50 ml of Grapeseed oil
  • 30 ml of Strega Liquor or any of your choice
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of ground cinnamon
  • For coating: One bag of Ghirardelli melting chocolate Wafers


Pre heat oven to 350F.

Mix the Flour, almond meal, cocoa, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Stir to sift.

Add the zest, the liquor, the oil, the egg, coffee and honey. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together. Do not over-mix.

Wrap in clear plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough at about 1/4″ thick.

Then, cut the dough into diamond shaped cookies of about 4″ long sided by cutting diagonal slices, horizontally and vertically.

Place the cookie about 3″ apart on a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes.

Now the cookies are ready.

If you choose, you can coat them with melted chocolate, because…you know…there is not such a thing like too much chocolate.

I even drizzle some white chocolate over the dark chocolate coating!

Until next time, Mangia, and Ciao!!

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