It is nice — and unsurprising — to know that in this period of reflection and prayer, Italians have never quite forgotten about their kitchens. And so, we learn that the first Easter chocolate eggs were created in Turin in the 18th century: and it couldn’t be any different, when you think this elegant city is one of Italy’s chocolate capitals (Perugia and Modica being the other two).
Just a handful of kilometers south, in Genoa, quaresimali have been made with water, sugar and almond paste since before the 18th century, throughout Lent and for Easter. As it often happens for traditional sweet concoctions, it was local nuns who invented them.
In the South, in Calabria, many make the campanari, traditional Easter cookies with butter, eggs, milk, lemon and vanilla. In their middle, a full egg — shell in place! — is usually baked. Campanari, mind, are a good treat also for Pasquetta, Italy’s true beginning of Spring, when we love sharing picnics and barbecues with family and friends.
And it isn’t a real Pasquetta without a torta di Pasqua, a savory pie filled with a variety of vegetables, eggs and cheese. The original one, Liguria’s torta Pasqualina, has fresh cheese similar to ricotta, chards, nutmeg, parmesan and eggs, held into a delicate pastry shell.
Early Spring, when usually Easter falls, is also an important spiritual moment for followers of Judaism, as Passover is celebrated. Italy has been home to the most ancient Jewish community in Europe for something like 2000 years: no wonder, then, that Italian Jews have developed their own dishes for this important celebration. Just look up carciofi alla giudia (deliciously deep fried artichokes) or spinaci con pinoli e passerine (spinach with pine nuts and raisins) to see what we mean.
But the queen of the Italian Easter table its her, Her Majesty the cassata. It may be more typical in Sicily than everywhere else, but its sweet soul made of almonds, ricotta and candied fruit, and its beautiful jewel-like colors, are just like you would expect something Italian to be: beautiful, delicate, tempting and delicious.
And, for goodness’ sake, forget diets this Sunday: celebrate Easter, celebrate Spring, celebrate your family, celebrate the magnificent food of Italy.
Wear your comfy pants, and Happy Easter to you all!