You get two Italians together and it’s not long before the conversation settles food and family—especially during the holidays! Thus began my friendship with Vinny Dejohn, formerly the wine and specialty food buyer at Whole Foods Market in Scottsdale.
Getting his suggestions for a good vintage was great, but getting his vintage family recipe for an Italian fig cookie was even greater. It’s one of the most delightful and delicious Sicilian holiday treats called Cucidati.
Thankfully, Vinny’s mission a few years ago was to contact his great aunt, carve out some time and preserve a family recipe once and for all. Here’s how Vinny put it:
“Great Auntie Antoinette Arnone was 93 years old when she died. Ten years ago during the holidays, I went back to New York and I made arrangements to spend time with Auntie Arnone and have her teach me how to make ‘Goog-i-dottie,’ as she would call them.
“We spent all afternoon making the cookies. Not only did I leave with Cucidati, but also her handwritten recipe card and her grandmother’s meat grinder that she herself has been using to grind the fig mixture for 60 years! I was so appreciative of her for taking the time to pass along her recipe. I often think of those treasured moments together.”
Vinny’s version of this soft, flavor-filled fig cookie with icing and little colorful candies is now part of my own holiday tradition. What better way to honor my own Sicilian father.
The time put into making these delights is well worth it. Keep them in an airtight container and pass them around the table for a festive holiday treat.
For the Fig Bar Filling:
1 (11 oz.) package of dates
1/2 box raisins
1 string of dried figs or 2 packages
(7 oz. each) figs.
1 small can of frozen orange juice concentrate (do not dilute)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
1/2 cup honey
1 cup strawberry preserves
1 shot whiskey
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Soak raisins and figs in warm water. Drain, Add raisins, figs and dates in food old-fashion grinder or food processor. Add the remainder of ingredients and mix together. Set aside.
For the Dough:
1 cup sugar
1/2 lb shortening
6 cups flour
1/4 cup baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
Mix eggs, shortening and sugar in mixer. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately to the first mixture along with milk and vanilla.
Refrigerate for three to four hours (It rolls out easier.)
Roll out dough as thick as piecrust. Cut into 3-inch wide strips. Put filling in center and fold over dough. Cut into 1 1/2 inch bars. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Recipe makes about 80 bars. Recipe can be cut in half.
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk or cream (slightly more if needed)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together and drizzle over fig cookie bars. Top with candy sprinkles.