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12 Italian Easter foods you have to try at least once

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12 Italian Easter foods you have to try at least once
Discover the foods that fill a traditional Italian Easter dinner table. Photo: zzayko/DepositPhotos
09:05 CEST+02:00
Here are 12 classic Easter dishes you're likely to come across at Italian dinner tables, from traditional lamb to an unusual pig's blood dessert.

Lamb

Easter Monday is known as Pasquetta ("Little Easter") in Italy, but is also sometimes called Lunedi dell'Agnello or "Lamb Monday", giving a clue to the most traditional centrepiece of the lunch table.

Romans typically prepare lamb soup or cook it in an egg and citrus sauce, southern Italians often put it in a stew, while elsewhere it will be roasted with garlic and rosemary – every family and restaurant will have its own special recipe.


Photo: masolino/Flickr

However, recent years have seen the meat fall off the menu, coinciding with a rise in Italians opting for a vegan diet. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi famously "adopted" five lambs in a pro-vegetarian Easter stunt, while in five years, the number of Italian lambs sent to slaughter fell by more than half. 

If you don't eat meat, why not opt for the veggie-friendly lamb cake – an elaborate dessert made in the shape of a sheep, which you can find in many bakeries.

Photo: simoneandress/DepositPhotos

Fish

Good Friday, a sombre date in the Catholic calendar, was traditionally a day of fasting. These days some Catholic families opt for fish, typically choosing light dishes with simple dressing.

In fact, many people observe meat-free Fridays for the entire Lent period – some even keeping to the tradition the whole year round – in tribute to Jesus's self-sacrifice.

Artichokes

Stuffed, braised or fried, enjoyed as a side dish or appetizer, artichokes are a springtime staple and a common feature of the Easter meal.

READ MORE: Six springtime foods you simply have to taste in Rome


Photo: Maggie Hoffmann/Flickr

Sciusceddu (meatball and egg soup)

Originating from Messina in Sicily, this dish is traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday and is a bit like Chinese egg drop soup.

The name comes from the Latin word juscellum, meaning simply "soup", and it's a simple dish, with the meatballs and eggs prepared in broth with herbs and cheese.

Torta alla Pasqualina (Easter pie)

Don't be fooled by the word torta: this dish is savoury rather than sweet. It's a Ligurian staple, a kind of quiche with spinach and cheese.

Photo: columbo/DepositPhotos

Tradition dictates that there should be 33 layers of pastry (three being an important number in Christian doctrine) and it's possibly the trickiness of the preparation that means the pie is reserved for special occasions.

Sanguinaccio Dolce


Photo: Morbius/Wikimedia Commons

Sanguinaccio is the Italian version of what Brits call black pudding and what Americans know as blood sausage – yet unlike those savoury dishes, sanguinaccio dolce is in fact a dessert made from pig's blood and chocolate.

The dish is traditionally eaten in the run-up to Easter across much of Italy's centre-south, but is particularly associated with the region of Basilicata, on the instep of Italy's boot.

READ ALSO: Six of the most weird and wonderful Italian dishes

The recipe combines dark chocolate with pig's blood to make a rich, sweet and acidic cream, which can be eaten with savoiardi biscuits or used as a filling for shortcrust pastry tarts.

We're not sure this counts as a recommendation, but in the TV series Hannibal the title character lists it as one of his favourite desserts.

Colomba di Pasqua

This cake is perhaps the best known culinary symbol of Easter in Italy. Named "Easter dove", it's baked in the shape of a bird to symbolize peace, and made with candied citrus peel and almonds.


Photo: Nicola/Flickr

Riso Nero di Pasqua (Black Easter rice)

Another Sicilian speciality, this dish is prepared using black rice. However, while black risotto is usually covered with squid ink, this is a sweeter treat – the colouring comes from chocolate. The riso nero is a dessert similar to rice pudding, made with milk, rice, cocoa and chocolate, and decorations usually consisting of cinnamon and sugar sprinkles.

The legend goes that the dessert was first made in homage to Sicily's Black Madonna, a mysterious statue in Tindari thought to be responsible for numerous miracles.

Rice cake 

An alternative rice-based dessert and typical of Emilia-Romagna, this simple cake is made of rice and eggs, usually flavoured with lemon or perhaps a liquor.

Photo: fpwing_c/DepositPhotos

It's not exclusive to Easter and is also a popular choice during the Christmas period and other religious festivals. Centuries ago, locals would hand it out to neighbours, pilgrims or people taking part in religious processions.

Pastiera Napoletana

This Neapolitan dessert is eaten in the Campania region, and its ricotta filling leaves it deliciously moist. The original recipe is thought to have been created by a nun who specifically chose to use ingredients signifying life.

If you're making your own, be warned that chefs usually recommend starting the process on Good Friday to allow plenty of time for the flavours – from orange peel and orange flower water – to infuse before Easter Sunday. 


Photo: teodorova/DepositPhotos

Pan di Ramerino

You'll find that each region boasts its own varieties of Easter breads, sweet or savoury. One of the best is the Tuscan Pan di Ramerino, similar to the British hot cross bun and flavoured with raisins and rosemary.

Eat these on Holy Thursday, when you can buy them from street vendors or any bakery in the region. Local priests often bless the bread.

Easter eggs

If you're worried about doing without more familiar comforts, fear not – chocolate eggs have become a part of Easter tradition in Italy, often with a hidden treat in the middle.

You'll see elaborate displays of extravagantly wrapped eggs lining shop windows all throughout Lent. Resist until Easter Sunday if you can. 

READ MORE: The essential guide to an Italian Easter


Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

A version of this article was published in April 2017.

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