Easter Eggs and Colombo Easter Cake for sale at Pinerolo market. Photos by Marla Gulley
Spring arrives with that impatient wait in the air — everyone is happy that the days are longer and the temperatures are starting to warm up, but could it please hurry up just a little? The Easter holiday, although based in Christianity, certainly embraces the welcoming of springtime that is eagerly anticipated after the dark, cold, and long winter nights.
Here in northern Italy, we are still experiencing snow, slush, and chilly nights. Italians describe this month as “Marzo, Pazzo,” or crazy March. But with the onset of spring, it’s a time to change up the menu, transitioning from the hearty stews with winter cabbages and potatoes to lighter fare such as dandelion and other early greens for a spring salad or frittata, an Italian omelet.
Whether in America or Europe (and Italy in particular), I think of eggs every which way during the Easter period. The dyeing of eggs is not a common tradition in Italy but has recently started to catch on. Italian traditional Easter dishes, however, prominently feature eggs. Easter menus also often feature lamb and goat as the seasonal meat, after the animals have begun to birth their young in the late winter and very early spring. It is a natural way for the farmer or shepherd to cull too many male offspring from the herd while also serving the dish of gratefulness. All regions of Italy have special dishes for Easter, and many of these dishes have migrated to the whole of Italy, sometimes becoming so popular they might now be served all year round. Here is a sampling of the representative dishes and various courses of the Italian Easter menu. It is by no means an exhaustive list. You might consider some for your own Easter dinner or look for them at your favorite Italian restaurant this spring.
Chocolate Easter Eggs
Handmade Chocolate Easter Eggs by Ferraud of Pinerolo
Italians traditionally give both small and large chocolate eggs at Easter, with a good quality chocolate shell that, when broken open, contains a plastic container to hold a variety of inexpensive novelties: puzzles, dolls, small games, inexpensive costume jewelry. The eggs are usually wrapped in festive shiny paper, unless made by professional chocolatiers who have decorated them so beautifully that it would be a shame to wrap them up, and a shame to eat them. However, everyone manages to eat them.
Traditional Easter Breads
Casatiello Napoletano – This savory bread is rich in eggs and butter, with salami and cheese rolled into the dough. For Easter, it is shaped into a circle with a few whole raw eggs in the shell fixed on top of the dough and held in place with a criss cross of dough before baking. It makes a handsome centerpiece.
Pan di Ramerino – This sweet bread of Tuscany is made at Easter with rosemary oil, butter, and raisins.
Paninetti Olive ed Provolone – These small rolls are studded with black olive pieces and chunks of cheese and shaped like eggs.
Torta Rustica Pasqualina – A Ligurian classic, this Easter tart is a savory pie with a double crust filled with spinach, ricotta and eggs. It is so popular that the tarts are now made throughout Italy all year long.
Gusci ripieni e uova di lompo – A whimsical presentation of an empty eggshell filled with scrambled egg and topped with lumpfish roe or other fish eggs.
Tortino di Fave e Piselli (fresh pea and bean flan) – A savory custard with pureed fresh peas and young beans, often served with a cheesy sauce.
Ravioli alla Robiolo con Salsa di Agnello – Ravioli filled with robiolo cheese and borage leaves, served in a ground lamb sauce.
Tagliatelle Porcini e Carciofi (Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms and Artichokes) – A simple long pasta dish with wild mushrooms and fresh artichokes.
Minestra Reale (Royal Soup) – A light beef broth served with tiny pâté au choux pastry puffs floated on top of the soup
Crespelle Filanti ai Carciofi – Crêpes filled with fresh artichokes, ham, and fontina cheese make a lighter offering on the menu.
Cosciotto di Agnello – Leg of lamb roasted with an abundance of rosemary and served with on a bed of white cannelini beans. This is just one of many varieties of lamb dishes at Easter.
Capretto all Marchigiana – Pieces of goat served in the style of Le Marche region: oven-roasted with pancetta and cherry tomatoes.
Brasato Barolo – A beef roast braised in an earthy, deeply flavored Barolo wine.
Colomba (Easter Dove) – This classic Easter sweet is baked in the shape of a dove, representing peace. It is similar to Pannetone, but with more eggs and butter, and with almonds and candied orange peel in place of raisins. Columba is covered with a sugar and almond icing and served with a sparkling dessert wine like Moscato or Passito.
Pastiera Napoletano – A sweet pastry crust filled with cooked wheat and ricotta, fragrant with lemon and orange zest and a hint of orange blossom. The pastries are sometimes made in high quantity and given as gifts for friends.
Cassata Siciliana – This dessert contains layers of sponge cake, marzipan, and ricotta with candied fruit throughout. It was originally made by nuns for Holy Week, but is now available year-round. Cassata Siciliana has also been made into a popular gelato and ice cream flavor.
Marla Gulley Roncaglia is an American expat living in the Italian Alps. Marla is an accomplished pastry chef, and a master at high-altitude baking. She and her husband Fabrizio (who has also worked as a chef) teach Italian cooking classes and run a bed and breakfast named Bella Baita ("beautiful mountain house"), where they are active supporters of the slow food movement.