The sesame nougat is a typical Sicilian dessert made with sesame seeds, sugar and/or honey. In Palermo it is called cubbàita, while in south-eastern Sicily giuggiulena or giurgiulena, from the name of sesame in Sicilian dialect.
The Arabic origin of the preparation is evidenced by the name cubbaita, from the Arabic qubbiat, almondy: originally this name indicated a sweet with almonds, sugar and/or honey; over time the definition started referring to all similar preparations based on dried fruits. In the XIX century the term was used in the widest sense, so as to appear in Sicilian dictionaries as synonymous for turruni (nougat). Nowadays in Palermo cubbàita mostly indicates the sweet with sesame, while those prepared with other seeds are commonly called crunchy or nougats. A trend that has emerged perhaps for the more or less intentional association between the Arabic term and the more exotic version of the sweet, with a typically Saracen ingredient. Sesame was introduced to Sicily by the Arabs in the XI century and became a widespread crop in the south of the island, where there was the right climate for growing. For this reason sesame seeds have always played a very special and privileged role in Sicilian cuisine: not only ingredient for pastry, for the preparation of crunchy or reginelle (dry biscuits typical of Palermo), but also ever-present seasoning and decoration of bread crust and its derivatives (schiacciate, calzoni etc.). Cubbàita, and crunchies in general, are tied to festivities such as Christmas and Easter, but especially to the Festino di Santa Rosalia. I turrunari (sellers of nougat) on July 14 are used to place down their stalls along the Foro Italico, staging real live performances showing the ancient art of the crunchy preparation. Cubbàita, a simple recipe with a few ingredients, can also be prepared at home: The only care is to keep an eye on the caramelization of sugar.
300g sesame seeds
In a saucepan pour and melt the honey. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved and you get a clear and golden liquid mixture without lumps. Pour the mixture on a lightly greased marble top (or on a sheet of baking paper), then spread it with a spatula until it’s about 1 cm thick (alternatively you can use the rolling pin, placing a sheet of baking paper on the mixture). Cut into square or rectangular shapes before it gets cold and let cool.