Pitte di San Martino/Italian San Martino Biscuits

Italian San Martino Biscuits, better known as Pitte di San Martino, are not full of flavor but also carry a beautiful story full of meaning and history.

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Saint Martin/San Martino

San Martino was born in Hungary. His father, a war veteran, named him Martino in honor of Mars, the god of war. Martino and his family moved to Pavia, in the Lombardy region of Italy when he was a child. As tradition dictated, all the sons of veterans were forced to join the army and he did. He was given a horse and a slave and he was sent to Gallia (France) as a member of the Imperial Guard in Amiens.

During his first duty as a guard shift, on an icy winter night, he met a barely clothed beggar. Martino cut his cloak in two and shared it with him. The air suddenly became warmer and had a Summer-like feel. In fact, what we call Indian Summer in Italy is called “Estate di San Martino” (Summer of Saint Martin), a period of unusually warm weather at the beginning of November, when wine barrels are opened to taste new wine accompanied by roasted chestnuts.

During that night Martino dreamed of Jesus wearing half of his cloak and saying to the angels: “Martino, the Roman soldier, dressed me.”  When he woke up, the cloak was intact. This dream left him shaken but awake with a realization he had never considered before. That was the moment when Martino decided to convert to Christianity.

The part kept by himself became the famous relic preserved in the oratory of the Merovingian kings of the Franks at the Marmoutier Abbey near Tours. During the Middle Ages, the relic of St. Martin’s miraculous cloak (cappa Sancti Martini) was carried by the king even into battle, and used as a holy relic upon which oaths were sworn.

November 11th

In northern Italy, especially in agricultural areas, all contracts used to end (and the new ones to start) on November 11. For this reason, it was not unusual on that day to run into people moving from a farm to another one with over packed carriages. This tradition was called “to do Saint Martin”, fare San Martino. In some dialects of the North “fare San Martino” retains the meaning of moving.

Today Italy celebrates the Festival of San Martino, La Festa di San Martino on November 11th. To celebrate it is customary to ‘try’ a sip of the new year’s wine. The wine at this point is still very sweet and in the midst of fermentation but winemakers swear they can already taste whether the wine will turn out well or not!

In addition to wine tasting, every November 11th Italians will traditionally prepare ‘pitte di San Martino’. Since we’ve just celebrated la vendemia (grape harvest and wine making) we have on hand our musto (pre-fermentation maceration), a fresh grape juice boiled down until it becomes a think, heavy, goopy and way too sweet syrup. 

San Martino Cookies/Pitte di San Martino

To make San Martino Cookies we soak raisins, chopped walnuts and chopped dry figs in our musto for a week, turning the mixture over once per day.  You can think of it as our version of Fig Newtons.  We then create a soft orange flavored dough and fill the dough with this deliciously sticky concoction of dry fruits and nuts.  Top with colored sprinkles and bake. 

We don’t add sugar to the filling since our musto is overly sweet and in turn it sweetens all the dry fruit and nuts.  It’s a great morning pastry especially for those of us who love coffee and milk.  San Martino pastries are great for dipping in a coffee and milk mixture.  Make some ‘Pitte’ di San Martino this November and enjoy a less talked of Italian tradition.

Pitte di San Martino

Recipe by Bianca DeMasiCuisine: Biscuits

In southern Italy we prepare ‘peetee i San Martino’.   Since we’ve just celebrated la vendemia (grape harvest and wine making) we have on hand our musto, fresh grape juice boiled down until it becomes a think, heavy, goopy, way too sweet syrup.  We soak raisins, chopped walnuts and chopped dry figs in our musto for a week, turning the mixture over once per day.  You can think of it as our version of Fig Newtons. 

Ingredients

  • FOR THE FILLING
  • 1 whole bottle very sweet wine 

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts 

  • 1 cup raisins

  • 1 cup dry figs chopped

  • 2 cloves

  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel

  • Rainbow sprinkles

  • FOR THE DOUGH
  • 1 ½ stick butter cut into pieces

  • 3 ½ cups all purpose flour

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

  • Pinch of salt

  • Cold water

  • Egg yolk

  • 1 tablespoon whole milk

Directions

  • FILLING
  • Start your pastries on November 2 for baking on November 11.
  • Boil the bottle of wine on a slow simmer until you have a thick syrup. Let wine cool to room temperature then mix all ingredients in a large bowl making sure to coat all of the dry fruit and walnuts with the wine.
  • Once daily mix the fruit and walnuts - you will notice that after a few days the mixture will start to break down a bit to resemble a thick paste. 
  • DOUGH
  • In a medium bowl mix flour, zest, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  • Pinch the cold butter into the flour mixture until you get a course flaky dough.
  • Add cold water until you get a smooth dough mixing together lightly.  Do not overwork the dough.
  • .  Shape the dough into a round shape, cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  • MAKING THE COOKIES
  • Give your fruit mixture one last toss.
  • In a small pinch bowl beat the egg yolk and milk.
  • Roll the dough out on a floured surface until you get an even ⅛ inch thick sheet. 
  • Choose your cookie ring size and cut out as many rings as possible on your sheet of dough. 
  • With a spoon, place dough onto one side of a circle.  Brush some of your egg mixture around the perimeter of the circle and seal into a crescent shape pressing down with your fingers. Puncture the top with a fork (this will release the steam when the filling gets hot).
  • Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of your dough. 
  • Put your pastries in the freezer for 10 minutes. In the meantime heat the oven to 360 degrees.  Take your pastries out of the freezer. 
  • Working quickly, brush egg mixture on the pastries and top with some of your rainbow sprinkles.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Cool the pastries on a wire rack at room temperature.
  • These pastries will last up to two weeks in a tightly sealed container. Feel free to use different dry fruits and nuts if you prefer.  Create your own version by changing the shape from a half circle to anything you can imagine.

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