Saint Lucy of Syracuse (283-304) is the saint of Light and a protector of the Christian Faith, and, in terms of popular tradition, probably the most venerated Sicilian saint in the world. She died during the Diocletian persecution. Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but he died when she was five years old, so Lucy and her mother Eutychia were left without a protective guardian. Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. However, her mother, not knowing of Lucy’s promise and suffering from a bleeding disorder feared for Lucy’s future. She arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family. Eutychia was persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in hopes of a cure. While there,
St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse, as she was of Catania. With her mother cured, Lucy took the opportunity to persuade her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor. News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to Lucy’s betrothed, who denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse. Paschasius ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. When she refused Paschasius sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel. The Christian tradition states that when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, but would not burn. Finally, she met her death by the sword. According to the legend Lucia was tortured by eye-gouging .
On December 13th of each year, presumably since the XV Century, Sicilians pay tribute to her, specially at the dinner table. On this day it is customary to renounce pasta and bread, the traditional Italian every day meal, as well as all other foods containing wheat flour, in her honor. In Sicily, the majority of food stores are closed on St. Lucy’s Day. So what do we eat? If you are in Palermo, the answer to this question is obvious: panelle and arancine and cuccìa .
Arancine di riso, fried balls of rice (a grain introduced by the Arabs) typically made with fillings such as tomato sauce with meat (ragù), butter with peas and prosciutto, and, more recently, dark chocolate.
The Cuccìa consists of wheat cooked with wine sugar and flavoured in many ways: adding ricotta and cinnamon or chopped chocolate, milk and chocolate, classic cream or chocolate cream, coffee and sugar. Panelle, on the other hand, are thin cutlets made of chickpea flour and fried in seed oil.
”The first depiction of the making of ricotta is an illustration in the medical treatise known as the “Tacuinum sanitatis” (medieval health handbook), the Latin translation of the Arab physician Ibn Butlan’s eleventh century “Taqwim al-sihha
”From sweetened ricotta put over cuccia (a wheat berry pudding eaten on St. Lucy’s Day) or piped into cannoli, to ricotta salata grated over pasta (an aged, salted form of ricotta where the curds pressed in wicker baskets to drain and solidify), ricotta is omnipresent in Sicilian cuisine today. As far as how the Normans might have been served ricotta,looking at what Sicily produced, it might have been as simple as ricotta mixed with the island’s incomparable honey and sprinkled with almonds and pistachios
Once referred to as “piscipanelle”, panelle were traditionally sold by street vendors as a pedestrian snack food. Today, however, panelle have become a popular food in the home, and a “must” among typical Sicilian antipasto selections in restaurants, as well.
Thus, “arancine” and “panelle“, together with ” sweet cuccìa” became the unofficial foods eaten in celebration of the feast day of Saint Lucy.