November 17, 2011 / Food & Wine
Modica, Sicily

‘Mpanatigghi are a sweet biscuit from the town of Modica, Sicily and contain a surprise ingredient.

These biscuits were first made in Sicily during the Spanish rule in the 16th century. In fact, the Sicilian dialect name ‘Mpanatigghi derives from the Spanish word empanada.

If you are wondering how to pronounce this strange Sicilian word, imagine that you have stuffed your mouth with empanadas, and someone asks you what you are eating – your reply will be remarkably close to the correct pronunciation for ‘mpanatigghi. Both the Sicilian and Spanish words come from the verb meaning “to wrap or cover with bread dough.”

‘Mpanatigghi are half-moon shaped biscuits (or cookies) with a thin crust, and are stuffed with a mixture of sugar, chocolate, almonds, lemon peel, egg, cinnamon, and vanilla, plus a secret ingredient that is impossible to detect – minced beef. If anything could be more unusual, these biscuits originally contained wild game. In case you are breathing a sigh of relief that you are vegetarian, there is also another version that substitutes the meat with eggplant.

If these sound revolting, it is best to try them without knowing what you are eating, and in my experience everyone loves them- it’s only after being told what’s inside that people turn up their noses, which says something about food prejudices.

Also known as “traveler’s biscuits” as they are practically a meal in themselves, ‘mpanatigghi were a common staple when undertaking an arduous journey. Nowadays I find they are an excellent substitute for in-flight meals.

Anita Iaconangelo

by Anita Iaconangelo

An expert on walking and culinary tours in many areas of Italy, with a special focus on Sicily, Anita Iaconangelo is the founder of Italian Connection Tours and author of the blog Anita’s Italy. She is currently at work on a book entitled Savoring Sicily: A Culinary Quest. 

15 Responses to “‘Mpanatigghi”

  1. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Fascinating Anita. They sound delicious and it makes me think of Elizabethan recipes in terms of combinations of nuts, spices and meats. I guess chocolate seems like the wild card given the presence of beef, but then the Mexicans marry the two… Thanks!

  2. Cathy Vignale

    These are similar to the “cucciddata” which are stuffed with
    figs & chocolate from the Palermo area. I believe they were
    made during the Christmas holiday.

  3. Lee Sorenson

    Very interesting! Would you be willing to share the recipe with us? I would love to try to make them. Thanks. Lee Sorenson

  4. Nice, Anita! Will have to try those (a little like the old-fashioned english fig pudding, isn’t it)?

    Will you make some for me if I come down to Modica at christmas??????????

  5. gerald anders

    How about a recipe. please! googling was not productive at least for those of us in the US thanks

  6. Gian Banchero

    As with cucidatti (” ‘ugugidaddi” in my mother’s dialect) ‘mpanatigghi is a recipe that really explains to a degree the culinary separation between Sicily and the Italian mainland, the ingredients sing of another time in history and that of the influences of cultural diversity: the Americas (chocolate), Spain (empanada), Arab Africa (sugar, almonds, etc.). Where ‘mpanatigghi and cucidatti (“To whom shall I give these?”) really come into blossom is when orange zest is incorporated into their stuffings, sublime. For those who speak Italian the recipe for ‘mpanatigghi might be found on Google.it

  7. umberto levrini

    i remember as a boy, come christmas time and we would all gather around the kitchen(the warmest room in the house,because of the iron stove) and make christmas cookes and ‘ugidatti’-but we never put meat in them-ours were filled with chopped and blended nuts,raisins,figs,citrus fruits,and all mixed together with choclate chips in a pastry like wrapping and formed into shapes of birds,angels,half moons-then after they were baked and came out with delicious aroma and light brown color we would coat them with a light sugar dressing and springle them with cinnamon-that was my job to springle them with cinamom-and oh how i loved them i could never get enough-those were wonderful christmases !!!

  8. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    this is how I make them Pugliese stile

    Mpanatigghi Dolci sp
    SOUTHERN Italian Arab influenced

    For dough
    500g white flour
    200g lard
    100g sugar
    1 egg
    ½ bicchiere Marsala
    Knead until smooth let rest 1hour

    For filling
    200g veal
    200g almonds
    100g Dark Chocolate
    25g sugar
    5g cinnamon
    2g cloves
    2g black pepper
    Zest of 1 orange
    Blend into paste

    Roll dough out to 2mm thin
    Cut into 6cm disks
    Place small amount in center of each disk
    Fold disk to make crescent
    Cut small slit on top side of each crescent
    Bake @ 180 Celsius (355 F) degrees for 30 minutes
    Cool and powder

  9. Gian Banchero

    P.S. On Google.it (Italian Google) there are quite a few recipes for the pastry plus a video or two on how to make the pastry. All recipes are in Italian.

  10. Anita Iaconangelo

    Make sure you cook the ground meat and cool it before adding it to the nut mixture! Since i live so close to Modica, I just opt for sampling ‘mpanatigghi in the various pastry shops-


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