Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The Twelve Days of Panettone
How many panettoni does it take to make a Christmas, I wonder as I navigate the mountains of red and blue boxes filling the aisles of Collestrada near Perugia. And, how many bars of torrone (nougat)? How many pandoro, baci, mandarini?
I see a woman with at least a dozen panettoni in her cart. She's left it parked in the aisle and keeps coming back and forth, throwing in two or three more, until the cart is running over with Christmas bread. I envision her as part of a gigantic extended family, in one of those houses that keeps growing with the generations. They sit at a table for twenty-four, passing the prosecco, the oranges, the chocolate and...another panettone. Someone wants cream, someone else want to cut the pandoro because he doesn't like the little fruits in the panettone.
His heart is cold to the story of Antonio, the 13th century Milanese baker, who fell in love with a princess and baked a golden bread to impress her. With the unification of Italy, candied red cherries and green citron were added to celebrate the colors of the new Italy. Oh well, cut the towering, sugar-dusted pandoro (egg bread) and pass it down the table. They'll all have some before the night is over.
Another romantic tale we recall, as we unwrap shiny Perugina baci one after the other, is that of Luisa Spagnoli and her young partner in the chocolate making business, Giovanni Buitoni. The story goes that, in the 1920s, Luisa invented the breast-shaped baci (kisses) to entice her lover, wrapped them in scraps of poetry, and sent them to Giovanni's office -- all right under the nose of her husband, right here in Umbria.
The old saying is "Natale coi tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi" ( "Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you want"). Here in Umbria, the expats become a kind of family, especially those who stay through the winter. The Italians come home to Mamma from all over the country and beyond, where they have gone to pursue careers that include growing bank accounts, rather than grapes, olives or sunflowers. At Le Noci in Grutti, tables are routinely set for two dozen or more, as groups convene to celebrate the holidays over steaming plates of gnocchi ripieni con porcini (stuffed potato dumplings with porcini mushrooms) or fasoletti con tartufi (triangular ravioli stuffed with ricotta, drenched in cream sauce, and sprinkled with shaved truffles).
We stuff ourselves without guilt, saying, "It's Christmas!"
copyright Sharri Whiting Umbria Bella 2007