According to one of the most ancient traditions, the arrival of the “befana” represents the end of the old year and the beginning of the next year. Celebrated as is known, on January 6th, it is accompanied by the custom of hanging a “sock” on the door or the fireplace, waiting, hopefully that this “old lady”, will arrive riding her broom to fill it with sweets, gifts and not charcoal. The epiphany, which, as the old saying goes, “all the holidays takes away”, cannot, unfortunately, take away those extra kilos that, have piled up during the Christmas period. Of course, both the little ones and grown-ups cannot, for anything in the world, miss the excitement of “opening the sock” to discover what’s inside.
So what to do and what to fill it with? A first step may be to lighten it from a caloric point of view, relying, for example, on healthy and good foods of the Italian tradition, beginning in this case with one of the most typical and tasty fruits of the winter period, mandarins.
These small and very sweet citrus fruits, which are found, for obvious climatic reasons, in Calabria and Sicily, the habitat most suited to their growth, are however widely available throughout the nation thanks, precisely, to the enormous quantity produced by the two southern regions. Although the months of greatest production are December and January, apart from the two most famous varieties: Cleopatra and Havana, there is a particular type, called Ciaculli that is produced in a village near Palermo, which has the exceptional characteristic of maturing much later compared to other mandarins. Keeping in mind that two mandarins contain more or less 120 Kcal, from a health point of view, there are many beneficial properties of these citrus fruits. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, limonene, for example, contained in the essential oil of this precious citrus, helps overcome depression and sadness. The other essential oil components stimulate the metabolism and fight stomach problems and irregularity, helping to purify the blood and promote biliary secretion,… It is also an excellent antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, ideal on small cuts and for relaxing massages.
Pieces of grana cheese: typical of the Po Valley, its discovery is attributable to the Catholic monastic order of the Cistercian monks of Chiaravalle that, given the pasturelands and consequently, the considerable quantities of milk produced, to preserve it, the monks chose cheese making of the casus vetus, which then became granola Padano. From a nutritional point of view it is an excellent food because it is very rich in proteins of high biological value, it contains many minerals and vitamins essential to our body. On the other hand, even if it does not contain many fats, it is a very caloric food, so watch out for quantities.
Fave from Trieste: Small sweets of Trieste origin, shaped like little balls made of almond, sugar and eggs, you can choose from three flavors among vanilla, chocolate and rose water, these three different colors white, pink and brown symbolize birth, life and death. And even if one pulls the other always keep an eye on the quantities.
Dried fruit: even if it is not of typically Italian tradition, it has been adopted by many throughout Italy, especially during the Christmas period, but given the beneficial properties we should eat it all year round but in moderation since it is very caloric. It is a good food from a nutritional point of view as it is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, therefore “good” fats allied against cholesterol, it is a source of vitamins especially A E C and K and fiber. The calories contained in 100g vary according to the types for example nuts, hazelnuts and almonds are the most caloric. For a snack we recommended for example 10 almonds or 5 walnuts.
Even if it is caloric, and in some cases “super-caloric”, of course, our “sock” should not be missing the sweet that, together with panettone and pandoro, characterizes and accompanies all the Christmas holidays. We are talking about the classic nougat. No one is able to say how, where and when it really originated, this delicacy that can present itself in the form of soft or hard compound. We only know that, by now, every Italian region, skillfully blending the basic components (honey, egg white and almonds), its experience, local products and tradition, each year is able to offer and put on the table, this marvel of confectionery art. As a result, the choice is really wide. One goes, for example, from the Piemontese torrone, which is essentially hazelnut based, as they take advantage of the production of the famous “round and kind hazelnut of the Langhe” or the nougat produced in Cremona (place where it is meant to have originated in 1441) where the main ingredient consists of almonds, as well as in Veneto and Puglia. Going further down, to Campania, we witness the competition between the typical hazelnut varieties of Avellino and Salerno and the almonds of Benevento.
Further south, in Sicily, the famous Noto and Avola almonds in addition to the tasty and well-known Bronte pistachios give local confectioners the opportunity, to let their imagination and experience run wild, creating products that have gained worldwide recognition. From a nutritional point of view, obviously, given the high average caloric intake (about 500 calories per 100 gr of product) we recommend eating it with moderation even if in some ways, the high presence of dried fruit, paradoxically makes, this a healthy food because it is very rich in minerals and vitamin E.