Befana recipes


LENTILS WITH SAUSAGE                                                                                                        6 persons

Commonly served at the New Year, because lentils, which look like small coins, augur good fortune.  New Year’s Eve in Italy is also known as the night of Saint Silvester- Pope when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire.



400 grams lentils- Italian Onano or French Puy variety

1 celery stalk

1 carrot

5 fresh sage leaves

4 cloves garlic

Salt to taste

9 Italian Spicy Sausages

Olive oil

Rinse the lentils well.  Put them in a capacious pot and cover with about four fingers of water.  After soaking overnight, add the finely chopped celery, carrot and sage and the four garlic cloves.  Add more water making sure that there are at least two fingers covering the lentils, and then place the covered pot on low heat for two hours.  Salt should be added to taste 15 minutes before taking the lentils off the burner.

Place the sausages in a large pan with about 1 cm. of water.  Cook on low heat for 15- 20 minutes, turning the sausages occasionally.  Slice the sausages into 5-7 pieces each, mix in with the lentils and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.


Franca, who recently retired as the fruit and vegetable vendor in Sorano, advised me as to the important proportions of potatoes to flour.  I have tasted many variations on ragu, and this recipe by Ivana, one of my elderly neighbors, may be the best.



1 kilo Yukon Gold potatoes

200 grams white flour- plus plenty for dusting


Pecorino cheese

Scrub the potatoes well and then steam them for twenty minutes to a 1/2 hour, or until tender.   Allow to cool, and then remove the skins.  Mash with a fork to a smooth consistency without lumps.  Liberally dust your work surface with flour and mix and knead the potato and flour together, to form a smooth dough.  Take a handful of dough at a time and roll out using your fingers to form 2 cm. thick rolls.  Cut into three cm. long pieces.  Continue in this way until all the dough is finished.  Pick up a dumpling at a time, and with the tines of a well-floured fork make an indentation on one side.  Leave to rest on a clean cloth, occasionally dusting with flour, so that if the individual gnocchi do come into contact with each other they don’t stick.  Prepare a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil.  Add the gnocchi in three batches- cooking each separately.  When the gnocchi rise to the surface of the boiling water- in about a minute or two- they are cooked.  Lift out with a slotted spoon and layer them in a serving dish.  Each batch is drizzled with olive oil and a third of the ragu.  Continue until all the gnocchi have been used.  Serve immediately with grated pecorino cheese.



One medium sized onion

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

300 grams ground lean beef

200 grams ground pork

500 grams Italian peeled tomatoes.

3 sprigs fresh thyme

150 ml red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop onion and garlic and gently fry in pan with two tablespoons of olive oil, until slightly golden.  Turn heat up to medium, add the ground beef and pork and cook until the meat browns.  Add the peeled tomatoes- broken up in the pan with a wooden spoon- thyme and wine and simmer the ragu for two hours.  Stir occasionally, adding water to prevent the sauce from drying out.  Stir in a generous drizzle of olive oil.  The ragu is now ready to be served with the gnocchi.


I first had this lovely dish with Amparo, my Colombian restaurateur friend, at the completion of one of her olive harvests.


4 tablespoons olive oil

2 1 kilo rabbits cut into pieces

4 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons salted capers (rinsed)

30 black olives (remove pits)

1 sprig of rosemary

150 ml white wine

Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the rabbit and the halved cloves of garlic.  Brown the rabbit lightly on all sides, and then add the capers, olives, rosemary, wine, salt, and pepper and simmer gently for 20 – 30 minutes, or until tender.


I have always enjoyed roasted potatoes, and they are a common side dish in Tuscany, but I had never eaten them with fennel flowers before coming to Sorano- and that’s what makes them special.


8 large Yukon Gold potatoes


Dried fennel flowers or seed

Lard or olive oil

Place peeled and halved potatoes in a pot and cover with cold salted water.  Bring to a boil and cook for ten minutes.  Drain the water and set the potatoes aside to cool.  Melt the pig lard- or use olive oil if preferred- so that it covers the bottom of a large frying pan to a height between .5 and 1 centimeter.  Cut the potatoes into about four pieces per half potato and then fry the potatoes in the oil, turning them so that they become golden on all sides.

Put the potatoes with half of the oil in a roasting pan.  Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and the fennel flowers, and then place the pan in an oven pre-heated to 200 C /400 F.   Roast for 20 minutes.  Turn the potatoes with a spatula, and then roast for another 20 minutes, or until nicely browned.  Serve with the Rabbit.




Sean is an ex-pat Brit, by way of New Zealand, married to Emma from Northern Italy, and they recently settled in Sorano.  Sean suggested this recipe for one of my Befana feasts, and it was the hit of the party.   The recipe for the whipped mascarpone came from Lidia.  Lidia, owner of one of the general food stores in town, is originally from Milan and married to Gianni from Sorano.


3 large organic blood oranges

10 eggs

500 grams castor sugar

1teaspoon baking powder

500 grams ground almonds

Whipped Mascarpone

5 eggs

5 teaspoons sugar

500 grams mascarpone

Place oranges in a saucepan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour.  Drain the oranges and allow to cool.  Cut in half and remove the seeds.  Place the orange pieces, with skin, in a food processor and blend until smooth

To make zabaglione, add the eggs to the castor sugar in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl over a pan of hot water.  Whisk until the mixture has doubled in volume and is thick, light and creamy.  Remove bowl from heat and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes cold and forms ribbons. 

Mix the baking powder with the ground almonds, and, with the orange puree, fold gently into the zabaglione.

Pour the mixture into a 20cm. buttered and grease-proof paper lined cake tin.  Place into a 200C/ 400F oven and bake for 40 minutes.  Test with a toothpick, which will come out cleanly if the cake is ready.  Leave the cake to rest for 15 minutes, turn out onto a wire rack.  Leave to cool.  

Leaving aside the egg whites, mix five egg yolks with five teaspoons of sugar, until the mixture is creamy and homogenous.  Continuing to stir, add the mascarpone, a few teaspoons at a time, always continuing to stir the mixture.  Separately whip up the egg whites until they form peaks, and then delicately mix in with the mascarpone.  Serve with the torta.



I have had this hearty soup many times, but one of the better versions was by an old girlfriend from Rome who very liberally rubbed the toast with garlic- delicious, and fine if we ate the soup together.  I make it frequently for myself in winter, using whatever winter vegetables are available in the garden.

200 grams cannellini beans

2 carrots

2 medium onions

2 celery stalks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small cauliflower

200 grams black tuscan cabbage (cavolo nero)

Salt and pepper

200 grams swiss chard

Sliced tuscan bread

3 garlic cloves

Soak beans in a large bowl overnight.  Roughly chop carrots, onions, and celery, place them in a large pot with two tablespoons of olive oil and gently fry.  Once golden, add 500 ml.s of water. 

Break up the cauliflower into florets, discarding the stalk and tough outer leaves.  Cut out the centers of the black cabbage, and then roll up those leaves, the swiss chard, and the small, tender cauliflower leaves and finely slice.  Add the assorted vegetables to the pot.  Once the water has come to a boil, reduce heat.  Drain and rinse the soaked beans and pour them into the pot.   Add enough water to cover and simmer for two hours, adding water, if necessary, to prevent the soup from becoming too thick.  Season with salt and pepper.

Toast the slices of the tuscan bread.  Rub liberally with the peeled garlic cloves, and place one slice in the bottom of each bowl, adding a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Ladle the minestrone onto the bread and serve.


Annetta is the queen of acquacotta (trans. “cooked water”), a classic Tuscan dish.  If ever she asks what I would like for lunch, rather than telling me what to eat, I’ll often pick this.

1 thick slice of bacon

4 large onions

200 grams canned, peeled Italian tomatoes.  (no sugar or basil added)

Salt and pepper

7 eggs

Sliced tuscan bread

Finely slice bacon and put in a large pot and slowly fry.  Peel the onions, cut in half, and finely slice.  Add to the bacon and sauté until golden.  Pour in the tomatoes and two liters of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, occasionally stirring, and checking that the soup doesn’t become too thick- add water if necessary.   Salt and pepper to taste.

Beat one egg and mix into the soup.  Crack the remaining eggs onto the top of the soup, being careful not to break the yolks.  Cover and cook for an additional three minutes, or until the whites of the eggs have set.  Place one slice of the toasted tuscan bread to a bowl, covering it with grated parmesan cheese.  Ladle the acquacotta over the bread, allowing one egg per person.


Sergio, a painter originally from Florence, but who lived for some time on Canal Street in New York, makes a very good version of this popular Florentine dish.  Sergio was also responsible for the witch, burned on top of the pyre at the Befana Feast.

500 grams cannellini beans

6 fresh sage leaves

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons olive oil

400 grams peeled tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Soak beans overnight.  Drain and rinse.  Put the beans in a pot and cover with cold fresh water.  Bring to a boil with three fresh sage leaves and leave to simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  In a pan gently heat in the oil two cloves of roughly chopped garlic, with the other three finely sliced sage leaves, until soft.  Add the chopped tomato and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain the cooked beans and then pour them back into the pot, with the tomato sauce and mix.  Season with salt and pepper and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Drizzle liberally with extra virgin olive oil each portion of the fagioli.


I had this dish twice in one week, once at Annetta’s and the next day at Ivana’s, and I can honestly say that they were equally as delicious.

250 grams chickpeas

2 cloves garlic

1 sprig rosemary

1 tablespoon olive oil

300 grams broken up fine spaghetti or soup pasta

Soak chickpeas overnight.  Drain and rinse, then put them in a large pot and cover with fresh, cold water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming the froth that forms on the surface.  Drain the chickpeas and puree half of them.  Set aside.

Slice and gently fry the garlic and sprig of rosemary in a large pot, with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the chickpeas, puree, and enough water to cover the mixture by about 2- 3 cm.  Bring back to the boil.  Simmer for another 10 minutes, then again turn up the heat, add the pasta and cook until done- about 7 minutes.  Serve in soup bowls with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and grated pecorino or parmesan cheese.


Fabia is from Naples, and has been coming to Sorano for almost as long as I have been around.  One time she arrived with Teresa, an incredible beauty of the dark sultry type.  As she is a cardiologist by profession, I had to express concern for her patients, because I definitely suffered palpitations the first time I saw her.   She is also a great cook, and this is her recipe.

200 grams pancetta

5 large onions, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stick, chopped

1.5 kilos of Yukon gold potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 liters of chicken broth- fresh or pre-prepared

500 grams of shell pasta

2 tablespoons salted capers (rinsed)

Slice up the pancetta and fry in a large pot.  Add the chopped onions, carrots, celery and olive oil and gently sauté.  Peel the potatoes and cut into eighths.  Add the potatoes to the pot and cover with the chicken broth.  Simmer until the potatoes are tender.  In a separate pot cook the pasta for 1/2 the recommended cooking time and add with the capers to the potato mix and cook for a further five minutes, stirring gently so that the potatoes don’t completely break up.  Take off the heat and rest for five minutes before serving with pecorino or parmesan cheese.


Particularly at the new year, when the family pig has been freshly slaughtered, this is a popular pasta dish at lunch in farmhouses around Sorano.

5 thin slices of pancetta

1 Italian spicy sausage

1 small onion finely chopped

1 sprig rosemary

5 eggs- 3 yolks and 2 whole eggs

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons grated pecorino or parmesan

Salt and pepper

750 grams linguini

Finely chop the pancetta.  Remove skin from the sausage and break up into small pieces.  Fry the pancetta, sausage and onion and rosemary in a large pan until golden,  Break two whole eggs and the three yolks into a bowl, add the olive oil, cheese and seasoning and whisk together.  Cook the linguini in boiled salted water until al dente.  Drain the linguini and add to the pan with the pancetta and sausage.  Pour in the egg mixture, and over low heat stir until the egg thickens.  Eat immediately.


GLI SFRATTI    To make about 10 honey and walnut rolls

250 grams honey

250 grams finely chopped walnuts

1 orange

25 grams breadcrumbs

500 grams flour

125 grams sugar

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs

50 ml milk

150 grams butter

Egg whites, whipped

To make the filling, heat the honey in a pot on very low heat for about 15 minutes.  Mince half of the orange peel and add it and the walnuts into the honey, cooking and continuously stirring for another 10 minutes.

Thoroughly mix in the fine breadcrumbs and set the mixture aside to cool.   Sift the flour, mix in the sugar and the bicarbonate and then form a pile on your work surface.  After making a crater in the middle of the pile drop in the eggs, two tablespoons of milk, the other grated half of the orange peel, and the sliced butter pieces.  Mix and then knead the dough thoroughly, adding a splash or two of milk to keep the dough stiff but elastic.  Put the dough in a refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

On the well-floured work surface take large handfuls of the honey and walnut mix and form them into 15 cm. long x 3 cm. thick cigar shapes.  Roll the dough out very thinly to about 1/4 cm. thickness, and then cut it into approximately 12 x 18 cm. strips.   Place a cigar onto each strip and roll them up in the dough, sealing the ends.  Brush the sfratti with whipped egg white and then bake them in a 190 C oven for about 15 minutes, or until the sfratti are nicely browned.