We start today a series of traditional Italian recipes usually realized during the Easter period. Follow us day by day to get a-recipe-a-day of our most Traditional Easter Italian Recipes (Ricette Tradizionali Pasquali). Here is a "prologue". We mention a list of Traditional Easter Italian Recipes: do you have any other to suggest? Would you like to share with us some "secret" recipe of your Family's Easter traditions? Looking forward to hearing from you!
Easter, Pasqua in Italian, is one of the most important holidays in the Christian religion and is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ, three days after he had been crucified. One important detail about this holiday, is that the date changes from year to year. As was decided at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AC, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of Spring and can therefore vary from March 22nd to April 25th.
The week prior to Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday (Domenica delle Palme), is referred to as Holy Week (Settimana Santa) and is a period of many symbolical celebrations, including the preparation of long tables in churches that represent the table there Jesus held his last supper with his twelve disciples. There is also the procession of Good Friday (Venerdi' Santo), during which people try to recreate the Christ’s long walk towards the cross.
The importance of Easter / Pasqua in Italian culture is reflected in the country’s food traditions. During Easter lunch in Italy, lamb and eggs are always served. They appear either as part of the meal itself, or as sweets in the shape of these symbols of life and rebirth (in the case of eggs) and of sacrifice of the son of God for humanity (in the case of the lamb).
EGGS - UOVA
Eggs are often associated with Easter and are considered a symbol of birth and life, given that many living beings start off as eggs. However the tradition of giving eggs as gifts can be traced back to Pagan times. The Persians used to exchange eggs at the beginning of Spring, while the custom of decorating eggs was popular in ancient Egypt. The tradition of exchanging eggs for Easter dates back to the Middle Ages, beginning in 837 AC when it was prohibited to eat animal products during Lent (Quaresima).
During the forty days prior to Easter, eggs were conserved and decorated. Beginning in the 12th century, the eggs were blessed and given to servants and children as part of a ritual called “Benedictio ovorum” (Blessing of the eggs). This is where the tradition of exchanging Easter eggs all began, well before the arrival of chocolate in Europe. Originally, eggs were painted in various colors and given to children in the streets of Europe as an Easter present. The tradition of chocolate Easter eggs probably began as late as the 19th century.
TRIVIA - DID YOU KNOW THAT...
According to tradition, when France was ruled by the Monarchy, the largest egg laid by a hen during Holy Week was given to the King?
AGNELLO - LAMB
In Italy it is almost mandatory to have agnello or lamb as the main course for the Easter meal, and depending on the region, it can be served in various ways. In Abruzzo agnello cacio e uovo is cooked in an egg, pepper and cheese sauce. In the region of Lazio and southern Italy, the lamb is usually roasted simply with rosemary, red wine and garlic. Down in the "heel" of Italy, in Puglia, roasted lamb is prepared for Easter but in the town of Bari, you will likely find verdetto, a type of lamb stew made with green vegetables like peas or fresh asparagus.
In Sardinia and some places in Campania the Easter meal may consist of goat or baby goat (capra or capretto) instead of lamb. In fact, in the small town of Nereto, in the region of Abruzzo, Capra alla Neretese is the main Easter course as a regional specialty.
Casatiello is a traditional Neapolitan Easter bread, which is characterized by the eggs embedded on top and topped with crosses made from dough. Casatiello is stuffed with an assortment of cured pork and cheeses (the particular mix varies from recipe to recipe) and baked until golden brown in the oven. Served as an antipasto for Easter dinner, the leftovers taste ever better eaten the next day, as part of the traditional Easter Monday (Pasquetta or Little Easter) picnic.
This Easter pie that takes on a quiche form is made with puff pastry dough and is stuffed ricotta cheese and Swiss chard or spinach. This is very popular throughout Liguria for Easter meals.
Gubana (Friulan Easter Bread)
In the north-eastern region of Friuli with its Austrian and Slavic influences, the sweet gubana bread is a part of the Easter table. This bread is made with several types of nuts, raisins, apricot marmalade, cocoa, candied orange peel, wine and/or grappa. It is often served as a dessert.
Minestra di Pasqua (Easter Soup)
This traditional Easter soup made with beef, veal, pork, kale and herbs and is especially popular in Naples and is eaten at the beginning of the Easter meal.
Carciofi e patate soffritti (Sautéed artichokes and potatoes)
This traditional side dish is served in Italian homes for Easter. This dish consists of sautéed artichokes mixed with potatoes. Throughout Italy and especially in Rome, artichokes are part of the traditional Easter meal. Since spring is the season of harvesting the artichokes, many cities and towns in Italy celebrate this with their own artichoke festivals.
Sciusceddu (Sicilian Ricotta meatball and egg Easter soup)
The word "sciusceddu" is Sicilian dialect. There are actually two theories for where the word comes from. It is possible it derives from the Latin word "juscelleum," meaning soup or from the Sicilian dialect verb "sciusciare," meaning to blow. Either way, this ricotta meatball and egg soup is traditionally served as part of Easter dinner in Messina, Sicily.
Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Wheat and Ricotta Easter cake)
Neapolitan pastiera is an Easter cake and, according to tradition, every family in Naples prepares one during Holy Week to be eaten on Easter day. The recipe for this cake probably derives from the breads made from milk and honey that were commonly eaten during the baptism ceremonies the night of Easter when Constatine was Emperor. The modern version of this cake was invented at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno, which at that time was located in Naples. A nun decided to make a cake using the ingredients that symbolized life and the resurrection. However, there is another ancient legend surrounding the creation of the pastiera. Some believe that the siren Partenope would come out from the water of the Gulf of Naples every spring, delighting people with her lovely songs. Apparently one year, the people of Naples fell so in love with her songs that they decided to offer her the most precious products of their land. Seven of the most beautiful girls of the area gave the beautiful siren flour, ricotta, eggs, wheat, orange flower water and spices, including cinnamon and sugar. Partenope, thrilled with her gifts, decided to return to her home under the sea and to offer her gifts to the Gods. To honour her beauty, the Gods mixed the ingredients together, creating a cake as delicious as the voice of the siren: la pastiera napoletana.
TRIVIA - DID YOU KNOW THAT...
The Neopolitan pastiera was the only thing that could cheer up Queen Maria Teresa of Hapsburg? After her husband, Ferdinand II of Bourbon, the King of the Two Sicilies, was able to convince her to taste the slice of pastiera, the Queen, also known as the “queen who never smiles,” smiled in satisfaction.
Colomba Pasquale (Easter Dove Cake)
The Colomba is a sweet bread similar to the Christmas Panettone but it is shaped like a dove and made during Easter all over Italy, most of it commercially these days. This bread, along with many others, was prepared on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and eaten during Easter week. It is studded with dried fruit, and glazed with sugar and almonds. It 's delicious drizzled with heavy cream or honey, and enjoyed alongside a strong cup of coffee.
The dove is a Christian symbol representing the Holy Spirit, announcing the reconciliation between God and man or, more simply, heralding the arrival of Spring.
In some Italian regions, after Easter Mass, people would gather to watch the traditional letting of a dove go free near the entrance of the church. If the dove went in and then returned, that year's harvest would promise to be good. And if not, it didn't bode well...
Taralli e Scarcelle di Pasqua (Easter Sweet Taralli and Scarcelle biscuits)
Taralli are usually crisp pepper and fennel-flavored Italian biscuits that might remind some of pretzels. They are often served with wine at the beginning of a meal or as a snack.
When making Taralli di Pasqua, or sweet taralli, at Easter, the fennel and pepper is left out. Instead, the finished biscuits are dipped in a sugar frosting and often dressed with sprinkles.
Same for the scarcelle biscuits, covered with icing.
Pecorelle di Pasqua di Marzapane (Easter Marzipan Little Sheep)
In Italian these delicious treats are called Pecorelle di Pasqua (Easter Little Sheep) and they are made out of marzipan. The recipe is really easy to make and even though you would need a specific mould to achieve the exact shape of the little sheep, you can make them by hand too. They taste amazing... They are also a fun project to do with your kids during the holidays. So have fun and... enjoy!
Buon Appetito ed alla prossima ricetta Pasquale!