Saint John’s Eve in Parma is really special: on the night of June 23rd friends, families and communities gather around outdoor tables to eat tortelli d’erbetta and be blessed by the night dew which – just for once – is supposed to be both beneficial and lucky.
Why on this night? Because according to tradition Saint John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was born on June 24th – exactly six months before Christ. Saint John baptized people in the desert and in doing so cleansed them from their sin.
Parma Baptistery is dedicated to him. The saint is represented in the reliefs on the North door of the building (the one facing the Cathedral) in the act of baptizing Christ. Tradition associates the baptismal water with the dew (rugiada in Italian; rozäda in local dialect) successfully blending religious faith and pagan rituals connected to the summer solstice.
Tortelli d’erbetta are one of the most successful typical dishes in Parma: they are small pasta rectangles stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, spinach or herbs, Parmigiano cheese and a touch of nutmeg. They are served hot with lots of melted butter and grated Parmesan and they are delicious!
And the good news is that you can taste them all through the year at restaurants and trattorie or you can buy (and reserve!) them at a delicatessen and easily cook them.
On the night of June 23 people traditionally pick unripe walnuts, wet with dew, to make nocino , a strong and sweet liquor. Homemade nocino is surely the best way to end a meal!