‘Mpanatigghi: Chocolate-Meat Cookies from Sicily

Modica, Sicily

Modica, Sicily

Sicily is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Italy. Known as “the little continent”, this island has got it all: history, nature, art, ancient Greek temples, beautiful beaches, stunning churches, and most importantly –fabulous food!  You’ll find plenty of culinary delights in Sicily as you venture across this triangle-shaped cultural crossroads of an island.  The great marvel and magnificence of Sicily, which was borne of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Spanish, French and even Papal conquests, makes this one very fascinating Mediterranean island to visit.  Sicily is considered by many to have the best cuisine in all of Italy, and if you have a sweet tooth, then Sicily is definitely the place for you.  The island is renowned for its pastries, and just as its cuisine reflects its multicultural past, so the island’s sweets.  I am also excited to say that our Tavola Tours’ Splendors of Sicily adventure was wonderful; all of our guests enjoyed many culinary and cultural surprises.

I am sharing with you a very different Sicilian recipe in this blog post.  It is a chocolate-filled cookie called ‘Mpanatigghi, or Chocolate Meat Cookies in English, that are a very traditional cookie that hails from the UNESCO World Heritage town of Modica. Yes, meat cookies!  

‘Mpanatigghi: Chocolate-Meat Cookies

‘Mpanatigghi: Chocolate-Meat Cookies

I know this sounds a bit strange but they are really delicious and exotic, so do not raise an eyebrow just yet. They are filled with a tasty mixture of well-combined ground beef, nuts, and chocolate.  You can think of them as a sweet version of empanadas or a mini calzone. Can you begin to see and taste the culinary influences at work here from Sicily’s conquered past?  I bet you can! These half-moon shaped biscuits are definitely a must-try when in Modica since the city is famous for its chocolate production as well as these cookies.

Learning about and tasting the famous chocolates from Modica was one of the culinary highlights during our Sicilian adventure.

Learning about and tasting the famous chocolates from Modica was one of the culinary highlights during our Sicilian adventure.

‘Mpanatigghi is a perfect example of ancient culinary influences leaving its mark on the tastes and flavors of this area of Sicily. These pocket-filled cookies have a thin outer crust and a rich decadent filling made up of chocolate, sugar, eggs, almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, a hint of lemon peel, and the secret ingredient- ground beef or veal. If you are a vegetarian, of course, you can always replace the ground beef with a cooked vegetable such as eggplant, or simply omit the meat from the recipe and use chocolate and groundnuts.   Either way, this is a different, yet fun cookie recipe that will impress your friends and family with a flavor combination that can only come from the Mediterranean masterpiece known as Sicily.

How to Make ‘Mpanatigghi at Home

For the dough:
• 400 grams all-purpose flour
• 100 grams of sugar
• 4 egg yolks
• 2 tablespoons water
• 100 grams butter or lard
• 1 cup Marsala wine

For the filling:
• 180 grams of sugar
• 300 grams almonds, lightly toasted and ground
• 100 grams walnuts, lightly toasted and ground
• 300 grams ground beef or veal
• 100 grams semi-sweet chocolate (chopped)
• 1 pinch cinnamon
• 1 pinch nutmeg (optional)
• 1 small lemon, zested
• 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites
• Powdered sugar for dusting the cookies

Note: Many of the recipes I have from Europe are in metric measurements. Converting them can, at times, alter the recipe and as a chef, I do not want this to happen.  Luckily, we have digital scales today that can switch between the Imperial system and the Metric system.

Instructions for Making ‘Mpanatigghi

Make the dough

  • Use a large bowl for preparing the dough.
  • Pour out the flour and make a well in the middle.
  • Next, add the egg yolks to the center along with 2 tablespoons of water. Mix together.
  • Then add the sugar, Marsala wine, and lard. Knead the dough until you have a smooth and soft texture.
  • You can also add a few more drops of water if necessary to help bring it all together.
  • Cover the dough and let it rest for 40 minutes in the refrigerator.

Tip: You can also use an electric stand mixer with the dough hook attachment to make the dough by adding all ingredients at the same time to the mixing bowl. Then on a medium speed bring all together. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed. Then ones you see the dough begin to form scrape all out onto your work surface and knead it to finish making the dough. It is important to not overwork the dough too much when using the machine method.

Make the chocolate meat filling

  • After you have prepared the dough, you can start working on your filling.
  • Heat a pan and add a few drops of olive oil. Then, add the ground beef and cook it until it browns.
  • Season the meat with a pinch or two of salt.
  • Make sure you stir frequently so that the beef does not stick to the pan.
  • The beef should take 5 minutes to cook fully. Transfer it to a bowl and let the beef cool completely.
  • Place the walnuts, almonds, and chocolate in a food processor and pulse.
  • Add the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg and keep mixing until you get a moist even mixture.
  • Once the minced beef is cool, add the whole eggs and mix well.
  • Then combine the meat mixture with the chocolate and nuts mixture.
  • Beat the egg whites to a stiff meringue and carefully fold it (in three additions) into the chocolate meat filling.
Meringue and chocolate meat filling.

Meringue and chocolate meat filling.

  • Place it in the refrigerator at least for 30 minutes.
  • Ten minutes before you are ready to make the cookies remove the filling from the refrigerator

To Bake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Knead the dough again for a few minutes to get it ready to be rolled out, and prepare dough sheets. Roll the dough out to 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut 2-inch circles out of the dough sheets.
  • Add 1 ½ teaspoonful of the filling on one half of each circle. Then carefully fold over into the traditional half-moon shape associated with’ Mpanatigghi. Close the edges well so that the filling does not spill out.
Filling and shaping the cookies.

Filling and shaping the cookies.

  • Use a fork to lightly press the edges closed or simply use your fingers. If the dough is not sealing well use a little water to dampen the edges and then proceed to close them.
  • Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking tray. Make sure they are separated by at least 1 inch from each other. Now carefully make small slits to the tops of the ‘Mpanatigghi and place them in the oven.
Snip an incision on top of the cookies just before baking.

Snip an incision on the top of the cookies just before baking.

  • Bake the cookies at 350°F until they are lightly golden brown. This should take 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool.

  • Remove the meat cookies from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool.
  • As a final touch once cooled dust them with powdered sugar.
Get ready to be transported to Modica, Sicily.

Get ready to be transported to Modica, Sicily.

Your ‘Mpanatigghi are ready!

You can serve the cookies with a glass of Sicilian dessert wine such as Marsala, Passito, Zibibbo or an aperitif Rosolio.