09 December 2010

9 December - Saint Leocadia of Toledo; Cocido; Mazapan

Saint Leocadia before the Praetor. Mariano Salvador Maella (1739-1819).  Source.

Today is the feast of Saint Leocadia, Virgin and Martyr, a native of Toledo, Spain, who is said to have died around 303 AD in the persecutions under Diocletian.  Denounced to the authorities as a Christian, she was beaten and imprisoned.  One account says that she was tortured and died of the effects while in prison.  Another story is that when she heard of the torture to which 13-year-old Eulalia of Merida was subjected, Leocadia prayed to be taken out of a world of such brutality, and died before she could be tortured.

She is the patron saint of Toledo, and is also venerated in Elche (Spain) with a public holiday.
A good dinner in honor of Saint Leocadia, especially on a cold night, would be COCIDO (boiled beef).  It takes a while to cook, but it is good and warming.

First, either soak 1/2 pound of dried chickpeas (garbanzos) overnight or use 1 can of chickpeas.

In a soup kettle, combine 1 to 2 pounds of beef (chuck, rump, round, whatever), one quarter of a chicken (1 thigh or leg for each person is usually sufficient; I use 2 thighs and 2 legs), and 2 beef marrow-bones.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt and enough cold water to cover (2 quarts, more or less).  Bring to a boil and skim off any foam; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Drain your chickpeas; pour boiling water over them (to heat them before they go into the pot), and drain them again.  Wrap them in cheesecloth (loosely, but securely, so they don't fall out) and put the cheesecloth package in the simmering soup.  Taste the soup and adjust the salt.  Skim off foam as it rises.  Cover and simmer again for another hour.

Slice 1 onion, 3 leeks, 2 carrots, and 1 turnip.  Add with 1 sprig of parsley to the kettle.  Cover and simmer for another hour. [I did tell you that it takes a while to make, didn't I?]  Peel and quarter 1 pound of potatoes (2 large or 3 medium).

Strain off the soup.  Either serve it tonight as a first course or save it for future use.  Put everything else back in the kettle and add the potatoes.  Simmer for another 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  There should be enough liquid left in the kettle, even after straining off the soup, to cook the potatoes, but if it looks like the contents are starting to stick to the pan, add a very little water to the bottom.

Remove the cheesecloth package from the kettle and drain.  Heap the chickpeas in the middle of a large platter.  Slice the beef and arrange over the chickpeas.  Surround by cooked vegetables.

A famous dessert of Toledo is its MAZAPAN (marzipan).  One of the differences between it and other European marzipans is in the kind of almonds used; Spanish mazapan does not use bitter almonds.  Another is the amount of almonds used; the ration is 1:1, one part ground almonds, one part sugar.  Also, the sugar and water are boiled first, before the ground almonds (and any flavorings) are added.  You will find a good recipe for Marzipan of Toledo here; meanwhile, here is a simpler recipe:

Separate 2 eggs; reserve yolks for another use.  Lightly beat egg whites.

Finely grind 1 cup of blanched almonds and combine with 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar.  Add the egg whites, 1 teaspoon at a time, beating vigorously with a spoon.  Continue adding whites until mixture looks moist. 

Either knead the mixture in the bowl or turn out onto a board, lightly dusted with powdered sugar, and knead until smooth.  Pull off pieces of the dough and form into balls or little shapes (Leocadia is often seen with a tower as a reminder of her prison; bones are another good shape).  You could also roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick, cut into small circles, and, later, paint on symbols such as a crown (for martyrdom) with food coloring. 

Let the shapes dry before you paint them.   If you brush the shapes with a little egg white and put them under the broiler for a minute, they will have a beautiful brown top. 

Wrap each piece in a bit of wax paper and store in an airtight container.