Article written by Michele Sergio published in Il Roma on 28 October 2018
“Every year, on November 2, there is the custom for the dead to go to the Cemetery”. Thus begins the famous poem “‘A livella” written by the great Totò, which, as tradition dictates, is punctually presented at this time of year, known as the “bridge of the dead”.
In addition to the teaching of life that poetry wants to communicate, that is, that all people are equal, regardless of titles and assets, in the face of death, in these verses also shines the great bond that the Neapolitan people have for the occult, for esotericism and for the paranormal. Among popular beliefs (evil eye, monaciello, beautiful ‘mbriana), cult of the dead (capuzzelle in via dei Tribunali, skulls of the Fontanelle cemetery, catacombs scattered in the subsoil of the entire city) and esoteric sciences (anatomical machines of the Prince of Sansevero in homonymous Chapel) we can say, without fear of contradiction, that the imagination of our people is unique in the world.
And for “the feast of the dead”, as, after all, for every holiday we could not miss the sweet ad hoc of our tradition: between All Saints (Halloween for Americans) and the Commemorations of the Dead on November 1-2, dominates unopposed the nougat.
But why and how is nougat born? The most accredited version would trace the birth of this sweet to the fact that the popular belief wanted that in this period (from October 31 to November 2) the souls of the dead returned to earth from the afterlife and, therefore, for this occasion, women they devised themselves in new recipes, made with the ingredients of the moment, to satisfy living and dead! And from here, then, every region of Italy has developed, over the centuries, one of his recipes.
In Sicily, for example, tradition has it that on the night of All Saints the dead (of the family) leave gifts and sweets for children, like the Fruit of Martorana (in Calabria the “morticeddi”) and the so-called “bones of the dead”.
In the area of Mount Argentario, in the province of Grosseto, in Tuscany, however, among the various customs there was also that of putting small shoes on the graves of children, whose souls were thought to come back among the living, in fact, on the night of November 2nd.
In our city, the “nougart of dead” is a soft dessert, long from 50 to 70 cm, sold in pieces, and by weight, in many shops and small outdoor shops, scattered along the streets of the city. The shape is, practically always, a parallelepiped, a sort, if we want, of miniature dead-chest, also given the reference to the color of the wood obtained through the chocolate base. Naturally, the exterior can be decorated at will, so much so that it is not infrequent to find covered with white chocolate or filled with cream and milk chocolate, which decorate each slice when cut.
This type of nougat is different from the classic one for the ingredients: here there is no honey, but cocoa, as we have seen, which is “inlaid” and made greedy by hazelnuts, dried or candied fruit, coffee beans, almonds, puffed rice and many other ingredients, preferably autumn.
In Naples it is impossible not to buy even a small quantity, a symbol of the most particular festivity of the entire Italian calendar; on the other hand, between stories of Dracula (who is said to be buried in Naples), vampires and ghosts or the myth of Raimondo Di Sangro and his chapel Sansevero, the Neapolitan city has, since its origins, a great evocative of traditions historical esoteric
But which to buy? The nougart has a thousand flavors and a thousand variations: from the taste of cassata to that of pistachio, from chocolate to milk to the dark one. Coffee nougat is also very popular, as it can also be bought at home in addition to buying it in stores.
It starts from the preparation of the ganache cream by boiling 150 gr of coffee and 150 gr of cream in a saucepan. Once the mixture has boiled add 300 g of white chocolate in the pan. Mix everything with a whisk and allow to cool.
At the same time melt (or in a saucepan or in the microwave) 1 kg of white chocolate. The two preparations must be poured into a print which is then placed in a fridge for 5-6 hours. For the sweet tooth, you can add toasted and shelled peanuts in the preparation. When the nougat has hardened, it will have to be shaped, cut into slices and served to your family and friends.