March 19 marks St. Joseph’s Day, a time when Kansas City’s Italian-Americans gather to honor their patron saint.
By MARY G. PEPITONE
Janine (DiGiovanni) Mirabile of Kansas City grew up celebrating the day with a St. Joseph’s table set in her grandmother’s home. “A St. Joseph’s table can be overflowing with cakes, breads, whole fish, stuffed artichokes, beautiful flowers and, of course, lots of cookies,” she says. “ Cucidati (fig cookies) are always a part of Italian celebrations.”
Janine is married to Leonard Mirabile, co-owner of Jasper’s and Marco Polo Italian Market, 1201 W. 103rd St. (jasper
kc.com and on Facebook and Twitter). A decade ago, she perfected her fig cookie recipe, and since then, the Mirabiles have planted four fig trees in their yard with the hope of harvesting and drying enough to fill their own cookies.
The fig cookies are available most days at Jasper’s. A pound of cookies (about six) costs $5.95. The restaurant’s cucidati are smaller and have chunks of chocolate in the filling.
A number of churches in Kansas City, including St. Patrick’s, St. Thomas More and Holy Rosary, are hosts to St. Joseph’s tables for the community.
Italian Fig (Cucidati) Cookies
Makes 40 (2-inch) cookies
1/2 cup 2 percent milk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening or softened unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped California Mission figs, hard tips removed
1/4 cup dried, roughly chopped pitted dates
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons brandy
1/4 cup crushed pineapple, juice included
1/4 cup ground walnuts
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 egg whites, beaten
For the icing:
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons 2 percent milk
Colored nonpareils, for decoration
To prepare the dough: In a saucepan, warm milk to 180 degrees. Take off heat, set aside and allow to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and sugar together. Using a pastry cutter, work solid vegetable shortening (or unsalted butter) pieces into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse sand.
Stir beaten eggs, vanilla and cooled milk into flour/shortening mixture until well incorporated. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until a soft dough forms. If dough sticks to hands, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time.
Form dough into a rectangle and divide into 4 equal pieces. Wrap each separate rectangle of dough in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
To prepare the filling: Put figs, dates and golden raisins into a large glass mixing bowl and fill with enough boiling water so water is 2 inches above dried fruit. Allow fruit to soak at least 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain fruit in a colander. Transfer softened fruit back into large mixing bowl and pour brandy over all. Allow fruit to soak for 20 minutes.
Stir crushed pineapple, ground walnuts, orange marmalade, sugar, cinnamon and ground cloves into marinated fruit and mix until well incorporated.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse fruit mixture 1 cup at a time, until filling is homogenous and pastelike.
To assemble the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 4 pieces of waxed paper into 20-inch lengths; set aside.
Remove a block of dough from the refrigerator and roll out over a piece of prepared waxed paper. The dough should measure 4 inches wide by 20 inches long. Using a pastry brush, paint long side of dough with beaten egg whites. Spoon approximately 4 to 6 tablespoons fig mixture into a 1-inch strip down the center of dough.
Lift the long side of the waxed paper nearest you and use it to carefully fold dough lengthwise over filling. Gently pinch both egg-washed sides together and cut fig-filled dough into 2-inch lengths (to yield 10 cookies). Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 13 to 15 minutes, or until bottom of cookies are lightly browned. Remove from baking sheet onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Continue process with a fresh sheet of waxed paper until no dough or filling remains.
To prepare the icing: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and milk together until it is a spreadable consistency. If icing is too loose, add more confectioners’ sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. If icing is too thick, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Ice cookies and sprinkle with nonpareils right before serving to keep the decorations from bleeding color. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Per cookie: 115 calories (26 percent from fat), 3 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 11 milligrams cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 40 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.