Recipe requests vary with the time of year. Before Christmas it's the Seven Fishes
, and come spring people ask for Easter breads of one sort or another. These are not the standard breads one buys day-to-day in Italian bakeries, but rather something more: Breads that contain cheese, breads that contain sausage or salami, breads that contain hard-boiled eggs...
Finding the recipes turned out to be more difficult than I expected. They're regional (nothing of this sort is made in Tuscany, for example), and though this usually doesn't pose a problem, none of my regional cookbooks mention anything along these lines.
Why? Because modern Italian regional cookbooks ferret out the delicacies and delights, for example Farsumagru
, the undisputed king of Sicilian meats, Bagna Caoda
, the garlicky sauce Piemontese gather to enjoy with raw veggies, or Vincisgrassi
, an extraordinarily rich lasagna, but usually don't seek out the dishes the poor used to help keep hunger at bay, and though these specialty breads are festive, they definitely fall into the latter class -- they're things that those who could never have afforded to buy the ingredients for a farsumagru could cobble together, using as much salami, cheese, or whatever as their pockets would allow, with the certainty that the final result would be tasty. And why don't the cookbooks seek out the specialties of the poor? I expect that it has to do with their Italian audiences: For many people these recipes bring back memories of the poverty they or their parents suffered before the great economic boom of the 60s, and few people want to be reminded of such things -- they'd rather make the sumptuous dishes enjoyed by the middle and upper classes.
Things are changing, however: Those old enough to remember the hardships imposed by the endemic poverty known as miseria
that persisted into the 50s in many parts of Italy first- or even second-hand are by now getting on in years, and the younger generations are beginning to take an interest in their heritage. I have found a number of Easter bread recipes on the Web, mostly on sites dedicated to preserving regional traditions.
This brings up a final question: Why the great number of requests I am getting, primarily from the descendants of immigrants? Here, I think, a different force is at work: The vast majority of those who fled the Peninsula a century ago were the poorest of peasants. As is true of any migrating people, they brought with them their festive dishes, which became symbols of the holidays for their children. In other words, not something to be vaguely ashamed of, but rather what Nonna used to make.
HAVING SAID ALL THIS, SOME RECIPES
Pane di Patate alle Erbe
herby potato bread with hard-boiled eggs.
Torta di Pasqua al Formaggio
actually a rich, cheesy bread, rather than a pie, and a delight with salami and a good zesty red wine.
Pane di Pasqua
A Neapolitan Easter
bread with bell peppers, prosciutto, ham, and other goodies.
Pan di Ramerino
Delicate, simple rosemary and raisin-laced Tuscan rolls with thich to greet Easter.
A simpler, but equally
tasty Neapolitan Easter bread with salami and cheese.
this isn't a holiday treat, but it is good!
WINDING DOWN, SOME OTHER EASTER PIES
Torta Pasqualina alla Ligure
rich savory pie made with greens, a dozen eggs, and 33 laters of pastry crust,
to honor the Savior.
Torta di Primavera di Riso Verde
rice and spinach pie for a holiday meal.
Slightly simpler than the
above, but with a dusting of spices to add a special flavor to it.