I am a big fan of your books, and having discovered your wonderful “Lost Recipes Found” feature, I decided to see if you could help me out. I spent a few years in Abruzzo about 14 years ago. Around Christmas, I recall, a friend of my host mother made wonderful little pastries stuffed with a spicy (clove, cinnamon) and orange-flavored (maybe) dried-fruit filling (prune for sure). The pastry was a bit like pâte brisée in texture. However, maybe my memory is twisting the reality a bit. Have you ever encountered anything like this either in your travels or among your books? It would be great if you could help me out.
Thank you very much in advance!
Thanks so much for your note.
I remember when I was a kid making dried-fruit-filled Christmas cookies that sound a lot like what you’re describing. They weren’t a family recipe but something I found in an Italian cookbook, I think. I believe they were called something like cavicinelli and they were a specialty of the Abruzzo. I recall these things looking like little half moons and finished off like ravioli with a zigzag edge. Probably different families have their own ways of making these things. The filling was a mix of spices and dried fruits.
I’ll look into this for you, and if I can track it down and come up with a good recipe, I’ll post it, but I’ll let you know in advance if I do.
Ciao for now,
Thank you very much for your quick response. In fact, what you are describing is exactly what I remember. The cookies were half moons and finished like ravioli. The flavor was very unique-spicy, not too sweet. I don’t remember other sweets we ate, but these stand out. We spent Christmas with friends of the family who owned a large farmhouse, and the memory of playing in the snow with the other kids and then returning home to these spicy and rich cookies makes them even more special. Thank you for your help. I would love to find a recipe.
Also, I am very much looking forward to your new book!
As a teenager I went through what I now recognize was a manic baking phase, turning out massive amounts of Italian pastries and breads at strange hours, filling our Long Island kitchen with ancient aromas. At some point during this turmoil I latched onto the idea of filled cookies, and I began hunting down recipes. One of the cookies I remember making, choosing it because it sounded annoyingly complicated, was, I believe, a version of the Abruzzi Christmas cookie Victoria describes. I went back and looked through all my old cookbooks from that time but couldn’t find the recipe anywhere. The name cavicinelli kept popping into my head, so I checked through all the newer cookbooks I’ve picked up in Italy during my travels but still came up with nothing. I then Googled it and sure enough, there it was on several Italian websites, although the proper spelling is cavicionetti (I’ve also found it called calcionetti, caggionetti or caviciunitt). And it’s a traditional Abruzzese Christmas cookie, so I’m fairly certain this is what Victoria is talking about.
These cookies are also made in Naples, usually going by the spelling caggionetti there, but it’s unclear whether the Abruzzo version traveled to there or from there, or if they were simultaneously invented, which seems unlikely. When I looked these words up in my gigantic Italian dictionary I can’t say anything I found made much sense in terms of the origin of the name. Calcio means kick, which is why soccer is called calcio in Italy. The cookies don’t look like a soccer ball (maybe a football though. Little football? Doesn’t sound very Christmasy or Italian.) Calcio also means calcium, but that doesn’t describe the texture, or at least I hope not. Cavicio doesn’t seem to mean much of anything. If any readers out their can shed light on the etymology of this name, I’d be grateful.
The pastry for these rich but not too sweet cookies seems always to be achieved with the help of white wine and olive oil, and they are folded over into mezzaluna (half moon) shapes and most often finished off with the tines of a fork, giving them that filled-pasta look. Often, it seems, the cookies are deep fried, but I also found versions that were simply baked, as Victoria remembers and mentioned in a later e-mail.
The filling can be a spiced-up dried-fruit concoction like what Victoria describes; the ones I made during my baking madness were filled with dried figs, orange zest, and chocolate. In my search I also found versions stuffed with sweetened chickpea purée and chocolate, some with chestnut purée instead, and others including grape must, Marsala, various dried fruits and nuts, and cinnamon. Another recipe incorporated pig’s blood, orange zest, almonds, and chocolate (much like the horrifying sweet blood pudding Sanguinaccio that my great grandmother used to make for Christmas). One simply filled with black grape preserves and chocolate sounded particularly enticing, but it was unclear to me how this filling would stay put inside the cookie during baking. I didn’t, however, find a recipe that included prunes, but since there seem to be tons of variations for cavicionetti or however you prefer to spell it, I’m sure what Victoria remembers is correct, so I went about trying to recreate her filling by including all the tastes she remembered, adding a few other typical ingredients from all the recipes I collected, and throwing a few prunes into the mix.
Victoria, when you try these cookies, I suggest adding filling ingredients slowly, and smelling and tasting as you go. See if one particular ingredient gives it the flavor you remember, and add more or less according to your taste memory. I’ve included dried figs with the prunes, but if this doesn’t seem right to you, use all prunes. I thought the cookies were delicious, not too sweet, something you might want for breakfast or in the late afternoon with an espresso or a glass of fruity red wine. I hope these bring back Christmas memories for you.
One final note: My recipe here is for a baked version, since that’s what Victoria recalls. It makes a wonderful, if slightly dry cookie. Just for the hell of it, I tried frying a few in a mix of olive and corn oil, since many recipes took that route. The fried ones were richer. They’re good both ways.
(Makes about 35 to 40 cookies)
For the pastry:
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
A pinch of salt
For the top:
2 tablespoons powdered sugar mixed with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
For the filling:
10 pitted prunes
10 dried figs, the tough stems removed, the figs roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry Marsala
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground clove
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 heaping tablespoon orange marmalade
The grated zest from 1 orange
The grated zest from 1 lemon
To make the pastry:
Pour the white wine, water, and olive oil into the bowl of your food processor, and pulse a few times to blend. In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, and a tiny pinch of salt. Add this to the food processor, and pulse quickly a few times, just until it forms a ball. Turn the pastry out onto a floured surface, and knead for a few minutes, just until it holds together (it should be very smooth). Wrap the pastry in plastic, and let it rest for about an hour, unrefrigerated.
To make the filling:
Place the prunes and figs in a shallow bowl, and pour on the Marsala. Let sit for about 30 minutes, stirring it around a few times to soften the fruit.
Put the toasted almonds in the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped (not to a powder, though). Add the prune mixture, the cinnamon, the pinch of clove, sugar, honey, orange marmalade, lemon zest, and orange zest, and pulse until you have a sticky, well-mixed mass.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the pastry in half, keeping the half you’re not working with covered with plastic. Flour a work surface, and roll the pastry out thinly (a little thicker than fresh pasta dough). Flour a 3-inch round cookie cutter and cut as many rounds as you can. Place a teaspoon of filling on each round. Wet the edges all around with water, and fold the cookies over to form a mezzaluna shape. Seal them well by going around the cut edge with the tines of a fork. Do the same with the second piece of pastry (you can gather up all the scraps and reroll them together to get a few more cookies out of it if you like).
Place the cookies on a Silpat- or parchment-lined cookie sheet and brush each cookie with a little olive oil. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown. Let the cavicionetti cool for a few minutes, and then dust them with the powdered sugar and cinnamon mixture.