An Eastertide Map of Italy, North to South
The Italian ‘boot’, just like the actual footwear, is long and narrow, with longitude prevailing over latitude, and the north-south divide pervading every aspect of the culture, cuisine included.
The festivities are no exception. In fact, they provide a welcome opportunity to tap into the country’s amazing variety and regional heritage as we look for inspiration for those Easter Sunday and Easter Monday gatherings of family and friends, enlivened by the holiday’s colorful trappings and brightened by the springtime sunshine.
Easter Sunday and Easter Monday Recipes
Tradition is what most Italians will resort to at times like these: regional Easter delicacies and seasonal ingredients, time-honored classics associated with religious and family rituals.
Such Easter staples as eggs – be they hard-boiled ones with mayonnaise or chocolate eggs, large and small – chocolate bunnies and other confections, lamb, cakes of every ilk and a vibrant kaleidoscope of desserts.
Eggs have symbolized death and rebirth across a variety of eras and cultures, from Africa to Mesopotamia and Crete, from the ancient Egyptians to the Sumerians. Archaeologists have uncovered 60,000-year-old ostrich eggs with engravings and decorations, as well as 5,000-year-old, solid gold eggs entombed with the rich and famous of the time. The Christian Church then adopted the egg motif as a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus, beginning with early acolytes in Mesopotamia. The tradition continued into the Middle Ages, when Catholics celebrated the end of the privations of Lent by exchanging hard-boiled eggs at Easter. (Eggs were forbidden during Lent.) Medieval aristocrats, of course, not content with hen’s eggs, exchanged silver and gold ones, lavishly decorated. A few centuries later, between 1885 and 1917, the custom was taken to an even higher level with the Fabergé imperial Easter eggs, stunning masterpieces of the jeweler’s art.
As for lamb, its meat is the classic entrée for both Jewish Passover and Christian Easter Sunday, and the latter finds its roots in the former. During Passover, it symbolizes the sacrificial lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. On Easter Sunday, it has come to symbolize Christ as the supreme Sacrificial Lamb.
Northern Italian Classics
One of the season’s favorites has got to be Genoese Easter Pie (Torta Pasqualina), from Liguria’s capital, a savory quiche with a polychrome, creamy filling of beet greens (Swiss chard) or spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan and whole, hard-boiled eggs.
The Piedmontese will likely enjoy one of the region’s go-to dishes, Braised Chuck Roast in Red Wine (preferably Barolo: hence the Italian name, Brasato al Barolo), while households in Valle d’Aosta will serve Crescia di Pasqua (Easter Pizza – which has nothing to do with pizza as we know it today: the word comes from the medieval Latin for ‘focaccia’), a leavened savory cake with eggs and seasoned cheese. If you should travel to northeastern Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige in particular, you will find a truly unexpected Easter egg surprise: Meatballs with hard-boiled eggs inside, Polpettine Pasquali.
Emilia-Romagna is famous for its Bolognese Lasagna – either green (with spinach in the pasta sheets) or with lamb ragout. Veneto boasts a scrumptious Easter Salad (Insalata Pasqualina), with asparagus, shrimp, and quail’s eggs.
Extremely popular throughout Italy – a little like panettone for Christmas – is the dove-shaped Easter Cake known as Colomba (literally, “Dove”). Also like panettone, it originally hails from Lombardy. If you’re a fan of almonds and candied fruit, dive in!
Southern and Central Italy
Whilst we’re on the subject of desserts and candied fruit, how can we omit one of the most mind-blowingly delicious Easter pies you can find… So good it’s now served all over Italy, all year round? The Neapolitan Pastiera, a Campania specialty combining cooked wheat kernels, ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar and candied fruit – where fresh ricotta and freshly grated orange zest are key to its creaminess and zippy charm.
Tuscan classics, in turn, cannot do without Pan di Ramerino, a sweet Easter bun with raisins and rosemary that is traditionally prepared beforehand, during Lent; also prepared beforehand – it is very time-consuming to make, as the dough needs to rise five times – is Schiacciata di Pasqua, a Tuscan Easter Cake flavored with anise seeds and orange. (Note the name “schiacciata” has nothing to do with its shape, which is not “pressed, schiacciato; on the contrary, the cake can be as tall as panettone or pandoro.)
Lazio showcases such mouth-watering second courses as Abbacchio alla Romana (Baby Lamb, Roman-Style) and Roast Lamb. Lamb meat is also a staple in Umbria (Coratella d’Agnello, i.e. Lamb Pluck), while Abruzzi’s traditional meat dish for Easter Sunday is Capretto (Roasted Baby Goat).
Easter menus in Calabria will include such glorious entrées as Tiana di Agnello di Catanzaro (from the local name of the baking dish it is cooked in, “tiana”, and the Calabrese town of Catanzaro): roast lamb with artichokes, potatoes and peas; and colorful desserts like Cuzzupe (sweet, anise-flavored, braided Easter bread with hard-boiled eggs nestled within, icing and sprinkles drizzled on top).
Easter Sunday in Apulia (Puglia) will close on a sweet note with Scarcella, the region’s traditional, large shortbread cookie that can come in various shapes. And we’d like to close on a sweet note, too, with Sicily’s Zuccotto Pasquale, a semi-frozen, chilled dessert with sponge cake, Grand Marnier liqueur, cream, chocolate and candied fruit; and Agnellino di Pasta di Mandorle, an Easter Lamb made of Marzipan and decorated to look like a tiny… Easter lamb, as pleasing to the eye as to the palate.
At this point, allow us to wish you all the best, be it for Passover, Easter or other springtime festivities, and if these pages have given you a yen for Italy’s gourmet variety, you may explore our selection of regional specialties and Experience Boxes.