Friday, January 4, 2013

An “Italian Beef and Pepper Soup” Recipe For The Epiphany, Plus La Befana Visits

I hope you have all had a wonderful Happy New Year with lots of partying and celebrations with your friends and family! However the fun is not over yet. The feast of the Epiphany is this Sunday which is celebrated all over the world. The Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas and on that day the Three Wise Men came to pay homage to the Christ Child called Jesus.

Storytelling, legends, and traditions are a way for us to preserve family history and its culture. In Western liturgical practices the Feast of the Epiphany the priest blesses water, frankincense, gold, and chalk. Yes, chalk. Chalk is used to write the initials of the three Wise Men or Magi over the doors of churches and homes. The letters are CMB, which is for Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. This translates the phrase “may Christ bless this house” or (Christus, mansionem, benedicat.) 

In Tuscany and other regions of Italy there is a tale of the La Befana. The La Befana is derived from the word Epifania, the Italian word for Epiphany. Every child of Italian heritage I’m sure has heard of La Befana, a character in Italian folklore who delivers presents to children throughout Italy. It is believed that the legend of La Befana may have originated in Rome, then spread to the rest of Italy and throughout the world.
La Befana With Children

In keeping with the tale, Befana is a witch with her clothing worn to rags. She flies through the Italian skies on her broomstick during the night, and fills children’s stockings with toys, and sweets for the children who were good, and coal for the ones that were naughty. According to the legend, the night before the Three Wise Men arrived at the manger, they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied she was busy cleaning her house with her broomstick. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Three Wise Men, bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She held her broomstick up to the star and the magic of the night gave her broomstick the ability to fly. As the legend continues in gratitude for the woman’s generosity the Holy Child gave the woman the most wonderful blessing and gift of all. His blessing to the woman was that for one night, the eve if the Epiphany for all eternity the woman would have all the children of the world as her own. His gift was that her name be called “La Befana” the “Giver of Gifts”.

La Befana In Rome
Many cities in Italy celebrate the Epiphany with parades, food, and have Living Nativities. In Vatican City, Rome, following another Epiphany tradition, a procession of hundreds of people in medieval costumes walk along the avenue leading up to the Vatican, carrying symbolic gifts for the Pop. The Pope says morning mass in St Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for Jesus. So, with this being said, share these stories with your children and give them traditions and tales of long ago for them to tell their children.   

My recipe this week is a delicious Italian soup called “Italian Beef and Pepper Soup”. The winter is upon us and it had been really cold here in Long Island, NY. We need to cook something hearty but warm and I know that if La Befana comes to your door looking for the Christ Child she will be hungry. I’m sure when you invite her in she would just love a big bowl of this flavorful and mouthwatering dish. 

"Italian Beef and Pepper Soup"

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Serves: 4 people

1 1/2 lbs skirt or chuck steak, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 medium onions, peeled and chopped in quarters
2 green peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
4 tomatoes skinned and quartered
4 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 pint of beef stock
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of oil
1 lb of potatoes peeled and cut into bit sized pieces
1 tablespoon of flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in pan. When hot add the steak in batches so not to overcrowd and Sauté over high heat until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add the butter, onions, and green pepper and fry until onion is lightly browned. Stir in the flour and then remove from heat. Add the stock, return to the heat and boil, stirring continuously. Add the tomato, tomato puree, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat, return the meat, cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more stock or water if necessary. Add the potatoes and cook gently for a further 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Serve with warm Italian bread and a glass of Red Wine like a Pinot Noir or Chianti. Enjoy, Mangia!   

Till Next Time………

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