Forget decorating and wrapping gifts, we're way too busy being in church singing and playing the piano and organ at numerous pre- and post Christmas masses. Our family individually tends to just take it one mass at a time come Dec 24th 7pm til Dec 26th and we have broken the old tradition which involved coming home after the usual Christmas Eve midnight mass, going over to grandparents to visit and open gifts with all the cousins, aunts and uncles, and then going home by 2am to open gifts with our own 6 person family... Now we just do the church thing, the extended family thing and then home to bed and not worry about "doing" the Christmas gift thing individually until after boxing day- we shop from the day after boxing day onward and pick a day before everyone has to go back to school or work so that we can exchange gifts in peace without having to bother about previous engagements, being tired, stressed out and grumpy. We decorate the house inside- who has time to put lights up outside these days!- get a tree and make the customary nativity scene which we call in Italian, Presepio. (Pictures of our decorated tree and Presepio coming up in part 2)
Now as most of you know (or have already gathered based on my hallow e'en post) my extended family, i.e aunts, uncles, cousins etc. is really more like close family, because we have spent every Sunday, birthday, and holiday (and lots of days in between) together since each member of the 15 cousins was born. My mom, and her siblings decided that they wanted to stay very close, and as is true of Italians, raise their children all together as one big family unit. And so, most of my cousins are like older and younger siblings to me which is both wonderful as it is terrible. As siblings do, my cousins and I tend to have disagreements and arguments over points of opinion, behave meanly or badly towards each other, dislike/hate one another, and get tired of having to be in the same room with them. Personalities clash, and some days you wish Nonno (i.e Italian for Grandfather) had been in the mafia so you could have them all "taken care of" - kidding... sometimes.. maybe..hmmmmmmm... Sorry. NO I DO not EVER WISH FOR THAT TO HAPPEN!!!
What I'm getting to, is that no matter what, my cousins and I are very close, we'd fight and kill for each other, we'd take bullets for each other (some of us..) and each one of us loves every one else unconditionally (most of the time hehe).... And we love to do almost everything together as a family (re: hallow e'en). The biggest thing we have always done, as a family unit, is to get all or most of my cousins over to my grandparents house the week prior to Christmas so we can decorate their "Albero di Natale" (Italian for Christmas tree) AND help Nonna (i.e Italian for Grandmother) make 1000-1500 home-made pasta hats, commonly known to us Italians as Cappelletti.
Through thick and thin, bad years and good years, births and deaths, steadfast and never failing my grandmother has continued on this wonderful tradition from her childhood (she's been making Cappelletti for Christmas since she was a girl, when they used to make them with her mother and all of her sisters back in Italy) and we are proud to take it on now that most of the cousins are old enough not to have fun throwing flour at each other (sometimes... and some of us.. haha).
Cappelletti are little hat shaped pasta stuffed with meat, and This is how we make them:
-We make the pasta itself by hand out of flour and eggs and its called "la sfoglia". You make the dough by making a hole in a large mound of flour and gathering it all together with a fork until it is solid enough to work with your hands. Then you kneed the dough ball until it is no longer extremely sticky. After it is the right consistency and can be maneuvered without issue you roll it out as thin as possible before it begins to break apart, and then you cut it into long strips which then get sectioned off into squares about an inch in length.
- The pasta hats are stuffed with a meat filling called "impasto" which is made up of three types of meat; chicken, pork and beef which are cooked (fried or boiled etc) and grounded together then mixed with Ricotta and Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg (A lot of nutmeg- as it were). You also use egg yolk to make it stick together and you can add more egg yolk to soften it up if needed.
To Stuff The Squares:
-You take some of the "impasto" and make a small mound just bigger than 3 peas which goes on top of the square.
-You fold one corner over onto the adjacent corner to form a triangle, and then fold the two side ends together so that it forms the shape of a old style mens cap (The word Cappelletto in Italian means "little hat"). -You line them up to dry on a flat surface, and once they've hardened you can cook them (or store them) in boiling water and use them in chicken broth (which you'll get from boiling the chicken) and in tomato sauce.
So now you know how we make these wonderful traditional pasta hats!!! They are quite tasty and fill you up rather quickly, but that doesn't stop each of us from eating 20 of them (or more depending on the size of the person haha) twice during Christmas! Our number of volunteer Cappelletti folders has fallen quite a bit in the last 5 years but my sisters and I and 3-4 cousins and some aunts are faithfully there making them year after year and it's quite a production line!
My grandmother used to make all the dough herself, rolling it and cutting it as well, while the grandchildren stuffed the hats, but in the last 5 years she started slowing down due to her advancing age. She was in her early to mid 70's when she finally decided she'd teach someone else and Allow them to "help" her and she chose me! I was the only one old enough at the time and I wasn't on exams or anything from school. I would go during the days before Christmas to help stuff the hats as she made rolled and cut the dough, and one day she was getting tired, with her arms and shoulders in bad shape, so she asked me to roll out the dough, and by the end of those short days I was making "la sfoglia" by myself while she sat next to me forming the little hats and imparting much welcomed grandmotherly wisdom on to me. From then on, I've become the dough maker, and only recently two of my younger cousins have been trustworthy enough to roll out the dough, and Nonna is the boss who comes around to check on production and make sure it is all up to her "old school" standards.
So now the family tradition has officially been passed down the generations from grandmother, to grandchildren and we are proud of our Italian heritage, and especially of this great tradition from Nonna's Romagna- one of the only places in Italy where they make these Cappelletti.
Our Cappelletti making extravaganza this year took place between 6 and 11p on December 22nd and I have taken pictures so you can see what it is we do from start to finish.. Enjoy!
|Beginning of the "Sfoglia"|
|Folding the eggs and flour together to make the "sfoglia"|
|"Sfoglia" coming together|
|Knead that dough!|
|Ball of dough!!|
|Rolling the "sfoglia"|
|Cutting the rolled dough into strips|
|Cutting the squares..|
|Pasta square with meat "impasto" on it|
|First attempt at folding the square into a triangle... It fell into the glass of water before my cousin or I could save it. *fail*|
|Second and successful attempt at folding the triangle :D|
|A finished Cappelletto!|
|Regular, white flour Cappelletti up close and personal :D|
|Egg and flour... all you need for great pasta dough!|
|Sfoglia made out of whole wheat flour|
|Pasta hats- Cappelletti made out of the whole wheat flour for my sister|
|Around 250-300 Cappalletti|
|Around 300-400 Cappelletti|
|Just over 250 Cappelletti, plus 40 whole wheat flour ones|