Roussarie’s maternal grandparents immigrated from Villafrati, Sicily to Louisiana in 1906. They were like most immigrants in the early 20th century seeking a better life in America.
Many Sicilians settled in New Orleans, but some like Roussarie’s grandparents made their way to Tangipahoa parish, 60 miles north of the city. There they made a living by growing strawberries.
“My grandmother, ‘Nonna’ in Italian, made many wonderful dishes. One of her traditional ones was a recipe for a fig cookie named Cuccidati (pronounced Goo-je-data) that she made at Christmas,” Roussarie said.
Cuccidati is a complex cookie made of fig and fruit filling encased in dough and then iced in pastel colors. “I won’t lie to you and say this is a recipe that you can whip up in an afternoon. It takes my friend Anna Santucci, a native Italian, and myself about 10 hrs. to create — but, oh, it is so worth the work,” said Roussarie, the wife of Bill. The east Cobb couple has one grown daughter.
A few years ago, Roussarie and her sister, Amanda Castricone, traveled to Sicily where they found the small town of Villafrati and the house of Nonna’s childhood.
“What a wonderful experience it was for us to meet the grandchildren of my grandmother’s sister who had remained in Sicily,” she said. Roussarie and her husband moved to Cobb County from New Orleans for lifestyle and work.
While in Italy, Roussarie was able to try Italian-made cuccidati.
“In Palermo, we came upon a bakery that sold the fig cookies and I can honestly say they tasted just like Nonna’s,” said Roussarie, a teacher who teaches 3-year-olds at the Wood Acres School in east Cobb.
“Now, like my grandmother and mother before me, I am continuing their tradition of baking these wonderful confections. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without them,” Roussarie said.
NONNA’S FIG COOKIES The recipe is in three parts: mixing the fig filling, making the dough and icing the cookies. This recipe makes approximately 250 cookies. Part One: Fig Filling
4 lbs. dried figs, stems removed
1 lb. pitted dates
1 lb. pecans
1 lb. seedless raisins
½ lb. candied mixed fruit
1 orange (zest and juice)
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup sugar dissolved in ¾ cup warm water
A very large bowl
Soak figs ahead of time in warm water until softened. This may take 30 min. or so. Put each ingredient one at a time into the food processor except the sugar water. Process the figs a little at a time. Place processed ingredients into the large bowl and mix all together. Add sugar water to the fig mixture and mix very well. It should be moist but not wet.
Part Two: Dough
5 pounds flour
3 cups sugar
4 Tablespoons baking powder
1 pound vegetable shortening
9 eggs beaten
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2-3 cups milk
A very large bowl
Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in shortening with your hands until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add beaten eggs, vanilla and a sufficient amount of milk to make a dough. The dough should not be sticky. It should be smooth and easy to roll out without sticking to the rolling pin or surface. Pinch off small portions of dough; roll out thinly until you create a strip that is approximately 12 ½ inches long and 2 inches wide. Spread the fig filling down the center of the dough strip. Pull up the dough on each side of the filling and seal by pinching the dough at the top. Cut cookies into 2 ½ inch long pieces. Make 2 gashes with a sharp knife on each side of the cookies. Bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven for 10-12 min. until light brown.
Part Three: Icing
3 pounds confectioner’s sugar
½ stick butter, melted
2 teaspoons almond or vanilla extract
1 can evaporated milk (more if needed)
Mix sugar, melted butter, evaporated milk and extract in a large bowl — adjust thickness (it should coat the top of the cookie.) Divide the icing into 4 small bowls. Add a few drops of food coloring (a different color for each bowl) and mix well. Dip the top of the cookie into the frosting. Sprinkle small candies on before the icing dries.