The name of pastries typical of the Sicilian city of Catania: the words are in the local dialect and they mean Saint Agatha's breasts.
I am aware that this sounds strange, to say the least, so let me explain. Agata is the patron saint of Catania, and every year the city celebrates her with a complex ceremony, which has a long history and lasts several days, ending on February 5. This kind of devotion is not unusual in Italy. Agata was born in Catania in the 3rd century CE and died a martyr, following her refusal to abandon her faith. One of the violent acts of which she was the victim was the cutting off of one of her breasts. This episode of Agatha's life is symbolized in pastries shaped like breasts.
According to several sources, the pastries are basically small, round cassate covered with white glacé icing and topped with a candied cherry, indicating the nipple. However, food historian Reginaldo Grasso, in an interview where he describes food traditions related to Sant'Agata, maintains that the traditional minni are different and that there are two versions of them: both have an outer layer of pasta frolla (sweet pastry crust), then one is filled with crema (pastry cream) and has pink glacé icing outside, topped with a candied cherry, while the other is filled with ricotta and has white glacé icing outside, topped with a bit of chocolate. Grasso mourns the fact that nobody makes the traditional minni any more.
Olivette, small olives, made of green marzipan, are another type of pastry connected to Saint Agatha, who reportedly was sheltered and fed by an olive tree, as she was fleeing the soldiers sent to capture her. They come covered with sugar or with chocolate.
[This post is for Susan, who remembers eating, when she was a child, in New York, pastries called cassatine shaped like the minni di Sant'Aita, but without the candied cherry on top and filled with pastry cream (which could be pink), not ricotta. I cannot verify my theory, but I am wondering whether the baker was following the tradition described by Grasso and used pastry cream for the filling, then decorated his pastries with a piped rosette instead of a candied cherry out of modesty.]
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the minni di Sant'Aita audio file [mp3].
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