December 13th is the feast day of Santa Lucia or Saint Lucy, patron saint of Syracuse. She was condemned to death in 304 AD. Saint Lucy is attributed to having saved the island of Sicily from famine, when a ship laden with wheat arrived in Palermo on Saint Lucy’s day, in answer to prayers made to her. The starving masses immediately boiled the wheat berries and ate them. On the feast day of Santa Lucia, it is customary for Sicilians to abstain from eating bread or pasta and eat cuccìa (boiled wheat berries) in her honor. It is mostly eaten as a dessert.
You can enjoy this dessert at any time of the year. There are a variety of recipes for cuccìa. Our family traditionally eats cuccìa with vino cotto (grape molasses) or in bianco mangiare (also known as blanc mange) pudding. Bianco mangiare is a basic pudding made with either milk or almond milk and thickened with cornstarch or gelatin. Cuccìa is also be made with ricotta and/or honey. Sometimes chocolate bits, citron, nuts, or candied cherries are added. This recipe features a creamy vanilla flavored pudding with wheat berries, chocolate chips, pistachio nuts, and candied orange peel.
Santa Lucia Wheat Berry Pudding: Cuccìa
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 6 servings.
3/4 cup hard winter wheat berries
5 cups water
3 cups milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon minced candied orange peel or citron
1. COOK THE WHEAT BERRIES: Rinse the wheat berries and place in a large saucepan with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking until wheat berries are tender, about 1 hour. Add more boiling water as needed. Rinse the wheat berries and drain well. Place in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
2. MAKE THE BIANCO MANGIARE PUDDING: Combine the cornstarch and sugar in a small bowl. Place the milk in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Using a whisk, gradually stir the cornstarch-mixture into the milk. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook stirring constantly until mixture is hot and begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook 4 minutes longer, until thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer to a medium bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper directly on top of the pudding to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate until pudding is chilled, about 2 hours.
Stir in the wheat berries, chocolate chips, pistachio nuts, and orange peel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or more until pudding is firm and thoroughly chilled.