Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi -- "Christmas at home and Easter with whomever you wish"is an old Italian saying. However, people have a way of returning to the hearth, and Easter is an occasion for far-flung families to reunite around a well-set table, renewing the bonds that tie. Traditions vary greatly from place to place, and here are some of my favorite Italian Easter recipes.
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...
This is a rich Roman soup made with lamb and beef, and thickened with egg. Very traditional too, and comfort food of the finest kind; the Roman expression annà in brodetto
(to go in brodetto) means to be "high on the hog."
Want something even richer? Neapolitan Easter soup
This is a savory Ligurian Easter pie made with spinach and many eggs, which, in addition to having obvious religious symbolism, were once a harbinger of spring (chickens that lay eggs year round are a recent development). Traditionalists make the puff pastry with 33 layers.
This is a Roman dish; the egg-and-lemon combination in the sauce is quite similar to what one finds in either Jewish Italian dishes or Greek dishes, so it could be quite old. In discussing it, Mr. Jannattoni says:
In gastronomic jargon the verb brodettare means to thicken a dish with egg yolk and lemon juice. It is especially the fate of the kid to star in this most classic of Easter dishes. Indeed, until quite recently it wasn't Easter in Rome unless there was capretto brodettato on the table.
Kid (or lamb) stewed with cheese, eggs, and peas, is one of the most standard Neapolitan Easter dishes.
Fresh peas are one of the most eagerly awaited signs of Spring in Italy, and no Easter table is complete without them. The preparation is quite simple, and quite old too -- Maestro Martino, writing in the 1450s, gives essentially the same recipe.
Artichokes and potatoes are a fine combination, and there are many different renditions of it. In this case, they're sautéed, and go beautifully with the lamb that's the centerpiece of an Italian Easter meal.
Neapolitan Cuisine has many dishes identified with one festival or another, which in the past were made only then. One of the most important is the Pastiera, a centuries-old dish that appears in innumerable versions, each made according to a closely guarded family recipe.Nobody escapes its allure,
writes Caròla Francesconi, an allure due not so much to its goodness as to a subconscious love that's transmitted from generation to generation.
This is a Sicilian Easter recipe; unlike most black risotti, this owes it color to chocolate rather than squid ink, and is therefore a dessert. Ms. Di Leo says it was traditionally prepared by those living in the province of Messina as a votive offering for the Madonna Nera di Tindari.
The more traditional recipes for this classic orangy Florentine Easter cake call for lard and require that you make a starter loaf with the yeast. This recipe, pried by my mother-in-law from Il Rossino, a pastry chef in Florence's Via Centostelle, does not, and is good enough to be eaten rear round.