Despite all traditions, I firmly believe that what makes festivities really special is food.
If you are Italian and think of Christmas, the smell of panettone immediately comes to your mind. You may think of the presents, the parents, the gathering but what you really crave is that slice of sugary paradise, which just doesn’t taste the same if eaten some other time during the year.
Easter makes no difference. When it comes to Italian Easter food, some amazing delicacies come to your mind. Apart from lamb, which is the most traditional meat to be eaten at Easter (something I’ll never do), there are lots of dishes to enjoy, some of which are quintessentially regional and therefore unknown elsewhere in Italy – which is one of the things I like the most about the Italian food tradition.
As I wrote in a post about Italian Easter traditions a while ago, the most common sweet for Easter is the Easter egg: a chocolate egg which is filled with a surprise. Traditionally destined to kids, chocolate eggs have now become a staple in every Easter celebration: opening the Easter egg at the end of the day and sharing pieces of chocolate with your family is the ritual ending of every Easter lunch.
Apart from the chocolate eggs, two popular sweets are colomba pasquale, a dove-shaped dessert which somehow resembles panettone and is made with flour, sugar, eggs, butter and candied peel, and pastiera napoletana, a tasty moist dessert with a pastry crust outer shell and filled with ricotta, boiled whole wheat, eggs, orange water and candied fruit. Originally from Naples, it can now be found everywhere in Italy.
As much as I love sweets, my favorite Easter dish doesn’t involve sugar.
My favorite Easter food is torta pasqualina, a typical Ligurian vegetable pie that dates back to the XVI century. The original torta pasqualina comes from Genova and is supposed to have 33 layers, as a homage to the years of Christ. I don’t know anybody who makes 33 layers, but the cake is equally delicious because it’s the filling that makes it special: chards or spinach, eggs, and ricotta.
As it happens with every popular recipe, many changes are made to the traditional way of doing it and every household has its own way of making it. Needless to say, my favorite torta pasqualina is the one that my mother has been making every Easter since I can remember. It doesn’t have many layers of dough, but it contains tasty artichokes and entire eggs – which are a treat when you cut the cake and find them.
Actually, while doing some research for this post, I found out that the torta pasqualina which is so typical of Easter in Genoa is to be made with chards only. I don’t know whether this is true or not, the thing is that this is the recipe of my family, the one that means Easter for me and, be it the true torta pasqualina or not, I really wanted to share it with you.
As you may know, Easter in Italy is followed by another day of celebrations, which is Easter Monday – known as Lunedì dell’Angelo or Pasquetta. On that day, it is very common to spend some time with friends or do a day trip somewhere in the countryside. No matter what you decide to do, it is mandatory to bring your own food and have a nice picnic: is there something more perfect than a torta pasqualina, for such an occasion?
This is why torta pasqualina for me will always mean sunny days spent sitting somewhere outside – be it the beach, a green lawn or even a busy train station full of tourists – with a cloth on my lap and a plastic container full of little slices of heaven. I have never tried making the recipe myself – I am either too spoilt or just scared by the results – but I will give it to you, in case you want to give it a go. When you taste it, think of me having a picnic on Easter Monday!
For the dough:
250 grams of flour
100 milliliters of water
1 table spoon of extra virgin olive oil
For the filling:
250 grams of ricotta (soft fresh cheese)
3 table spoons of grated Parmesan cheese
4 table spoons of extra virgin olive oil
marjoram, onion, salt, and pepper
Let’s begin with the dough. Add the salt to the water. In a bowl, add flour, oil, and water. Mix well and knead until the dough is nice and soft (add some water if the dough is too firm). Let the dough rest for one hour at least.
While the dough is resting, you can work on the filling. Wash the artichokes, remove the thorns and the stronger parts and cut them into little pieces. Put some onion and oil in a pan and then add the artichokes. some water and cook them until they are soft. In a bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, the artichokes, salt, pepper, marjoram and the grated Parmesan. Mix well.
Then let’s go back to the dough. Divide the dough and make at least six thin layers (as I told you, they should be much more but it is almost impossible). Take a baking or a cake pan, cover it with one layer, grease it nicely with olive oil, then add the second layer and the third one (and more, if you have them). Always remember to grease the layer before placing the other one over it.
Now add the filling and make four holes in it. Fill the holes with eggs (shell removed, of course). Then cover the three remaining layers of dough (or more, if you have more). Remember to grease them before placing them one over the other. Close the layers at the sides carefully to seal them.
Cook the pie in the oven at 180° for 45 minutes. Let the pie cool down before eating it (it’s definitely better to eat it when cold).