Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
 
 
July 23, 2014
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Mangia Bene

    In the Middle Ages, agrarian cults of benandanti, or good witches, fought nocturnal battles with evil witches. The witches were armed with stalks of sorghum and benandanti were armed with bundles of fennel. In their night battles, if the benandanti won, there would be abundance, but if the witches won, there would be famine.

    Who were the benandanti? During the Inquisition, the benandanti were asked this question. “On the one hand, they declared that they were opposed to witches and warlocks, and their evil designs and that they healed the victims of injurious deeds of witches, on the other, like their presumed adversaries, they attended mysterious nocturnal reunions (about which they could not utter a word under pain of being beaten) riding hares, cats, and other animals.” The benandanti were a small group of people who regarded themselves as professional anti-witches who fought for the faith while the witches fought for the devil. They were considered “well-farers” because they were born with their caul, the fetal membrane covering the head, to which magical powers were attributed. The benandanti ate garlic and fennel because they were thought to be defenses against witches.