Halloween is right around the corner and tonight we will be carving our pumpkin...
The celebration of Halloween is pretty recent here in Italy and the commercial aspect is preponderant as this tradition really has no ties with the Catholic tradition except for its proximity to All Souls Day on November 2nd and the name (Halloween comes from All Hollows Eve - the evening before Hallowmas, all hallows mass, better known as All Saints Day. The name however possible also derives from the pre-Christian-era saying all allows even - the eve when all is permitted). Originally, after its establishment in 610 A.D., All Saints was celebrated in May but it was then moved to November 1 in 1048 A.D. to try to overshadow the pagan Celtic celebration of Samhain, the end of summer. During this celebration, people left food out for the dead and it was believed that fairies and elfs played tricks on humans, which is where the trick-or-treat tradition comes from.
As a child, growing up in Italy, Halloween was our private celebration. My mother used to bring over decoration from NY and we we got dressed up and were allowed to invite our best friends for dinner. I remember Venetian children of the end Seventies being quite puzzled as to why they had to come to dinner wearing a costume, when clearly Carnival is in February, but kids will be kids and any opportunity to get dressed up and tell ghost stories is a good one. I also remember my nanny taking a boat and a bus out of Venice on a quest to find a pumpkin only to come back after half a day with a yellow, warty pumpkin no larger than a tennis ball that a distant cousin of hers had grown in his garden. These days, I no longer have that problem. Supermarkets are full of plastic gadgets and fresh orange pumpkins and some even sell pumpkin or ghost shaped cookies but the more traditional aspect hasn't really caught on, creating a bizzare jumble of practices. Clubs and bars have Halloween-themed parties making it more of a fun evening for students than children.
I don't go over the top since we live here, but I do want my kids to get excited about the small traditions like carving a pumpkin, roasting its seeds and talking and reading about witches and ghosts. So I wish all of you a Happy Halloween and present you with a ghoulish looking but healthy meal before your start your candy binge next week!
Witch's brew (adapted from Labna)
1 red cabbage
3 medium sized potatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Chop up a couple of shallots and soften them in a large pot with olive oil. In the meantime chop up the red cabbage and peel and chop the potatoes into chunks. When the shallots are sautéed, add the vegetables and a few cups of vegetable stock (enough to almost cover the ingredients). Add in the cumin, cover and let simmer until the vegetables are soft. With a hand mixer, purée the soup. If it is too thick, add in some stock or a dash of milk. Add salt to taste (and pepper if you like). Let simmer a little longer. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan and sprinkle over before serving.
Blackberry crumble (4 portions)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup softened butter
Place blackberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Mix and let sit while preparing the crumble. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in bowl. Add butter until crumbly. Spoon the berries into 4 small buttered cocottes. Sprinkle oat mixture on top. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, or when you see the fruit bubble and the crumble turn golden. Let cool and serve alone, with cream or ice cream. This recipe makes more crumble than you will need, so I suggest making less.