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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
Learn about the dishes which traditionally fill an Italian Easter dinner table. Photo: Gunilla G/Flickr
09:05 CEST+02:00
After carefully avoiding overindulgence and tasty temptations throughout the Lent period, Easter is the time when Italian Catholics can fill their plates as they celebrate Jesus's resurrection.

Here are 12 classic Easter dishes you're likely to come across at the dinner table, from traditional lamb to cakes of all varieties, and an unusual pig's blood and chocolate 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 popular centrepiece of the lunch table. Romans often prepare lamb soup or cook it in an egg and citrus sauce, and 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

Lamb is traditional not just as a symbol of springtime, but also because of the religious connotations. Jesus is referred to as the 'lamb of God' and Jews traditionally sacrified a lamb each year at Passover in commemoration of their liberation from bondage in Egypt.

However, recent years have seen the meat fall off the typical menu, coinciding with a rise in Italians opting for a Vegan diet. In five years, the number of Italian lambs sent to slaughter fell by more than half. This year, ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi 'adopted' five lambs in a pro-vegetarianism advert. If you don't eat meat, why not opt for the veggie-friendly lamb cake - an elaborate dessert made in the shape of a lamb, which you can find in many bakeries.

Fish

Good Friday was traditionally a day of fasting, and is a sombre date in the Catholic calendar, marking the killing of Jesus. 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 an attempt to imitate Jesus's own period of deprivation.

Fried artichokes


Photo: Maggie Hoffmann/Flickr

Enjoyed as a side dish or appetizer, artichokes are a springtime staple and a likely candidate for the Easter meal.

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

Sciusceddu (Meatballs and egg soup)

Originating from Messina in Sicily, this dish is traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday and is fairly similar to Chinese egg drop soup. The name comes from the Latin word 'juscellum', meaning 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. 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 British people call 'black-pudding' and what Americans know as 'blood sausage' yet confusingly, sanguinaccio dolce doesn't contain a single sausage and 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. In the TV series Hannibal, the title character lists it as one of his favourite desserts.

Colomba di Pasqua

Perhaps the best known culinary symbol of Easter in Italy is this cake. Its name translates as 'Easter Dove', due to being baked in the shape of a bird to symbolize peace, and it is 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 which holds a special place in local residents' hearts, and is 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. 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. 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: Corrada Forino/Flickr

The original recipe is thought to have been created by a nun who specifically chose to use ingredients signifying life.

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 seasonal comforts, fear not - chocolate eggs have become a part of Easter tradition in Italy, often with a hidden treat in the middle. 

In fact, you'll notice that plenty of the foods on this list include eggs as an ingredient. The humble egg is thought to be a good symbol for new life and the resurrection, making it a suitable part of Easter recipes.

READ MORE: The essential guide to an Italian Easter

The essential guide to an Italian Easter
P
hoto: Mario Laporta/AFP

 

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