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EASTER

Italy’s delicious alternatives to Easter chocolate

Never mind chocolate eggs from the supermarket. In Italy, this is the time of year to sample all kinds of seasonal sweets and cakes, with countless variations across the country. Here are a few favourites.

Italy's delicious alternatives to Easter chocolate
Italian desserts at Easter go so much further than a chocolate egg.Photo: Valentina Locatelli

In many countries Easter means chocolate. Bags of pastel-coloured mini eggs, tin-foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies and the classic hollow egg, ready to be smashed to pieces.

READ ALSO: The essential guide to an Italian Easter

These cocoa-based confections are available in Italy – though not in the same aisle-filling quantity – but chocolate simply isn’t the go-to Easter treat it is in other parts of the world.

Not when these traditional, and often regional, dolci start to appear on the shelves of pasticcerie around the country.

Colomba

Supposedly shaped like a dove – though, in reality, with a more blob-like form – colomba is an enriched sweet bread very similar to panettone

Photo: DepositPhotos

In the 1930s, the Christmastime treat was already being produced industrially but was, of course, only sold for a short period of the year. In order to boost sales, the Milanese baking company Motta came up with a new product which used the same equipment and almost the same dough as panettone.

Traditionally, colomba was made with candied fruit and topped with whole almonds and icing whereas panettone had both dried and candied fruit but no icing. These days the two desserts are almost interchangeable and both come in a variety of flavours, such as pear and chocolate, cherry, and pistachio.

Pardulas

Pardulas are star-shaped tartlets filled with saffron-spiked ricotta. Hailing from Sardinia, they’re customarily made with sheep’s milk ricotta – there are more sheep on the island than there are people – but versions sold elsewhere in Italy may use more readily available cow’s milk ricotta. Other variations include citrus flavourings and the addition of raisins to the filling.


Photo: DepositPhotos

They’re now available all year round but pardulas are still the quintessential Easter treat for Sardinians and are often served drizzled with honey.

Pizza Dolce di Pasqua

Yes it’s pizza, but not as you know it. Think light and fluffy cake rather than a flat margherita-style pie. Eaten in central Italy, pizza dolce di pasqua (‘sweet Easter pizza’) can be enhanced with cinnamon, candied fruit, raisins, or even aniseed.

READ ALSO: 12 Italian Easter foods you have to try at least once

Traditionally, home cooks would make the dough on Good Friday, giving it enough time to rise before baking on Saturday evening. Eaten at breakfast on Easter Sunday, it’s often served with a spread of salami, boiled eggs and hot chocolate. A savoury form of pizza di pasqua, made with Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese, can also make an appearance at the table.


A cheesy torta di pasqua. Photo: Michela Simoncini/Flickr

Torta di Riso

Torta di riso is made with similar ingredients to a British rice pudding, but is baked in the oven until the mixture is thick enough to cut a hefty slice. Both Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna boast interpretations of this comforting dessert and serve it up on special occasions such as birthdays or religious holidays, as well as Easter.


Photo: fugzu/Flickr

Cassata Siciliana

Sicily is well known for its desserts – thanks, in part, to the invasion of the Arabs in the 9th and 10th centuries, who bought with them sugar cane and new sugar production techniques – but the Sicilian cassata is an especially elaborate cake, even for those with a sweet tooth.


Photo: DepositPhotos

Soft sponge is layered with a sweetened ricotta filling before being covered with marzipan and icing. A rainbow of candied fruit on top provides a final excessive flourish to the cake, which was traditionally only served once a year due to its expensive ingredients and labour-intensive recipe.

‘Mpanatigghi 

‘Mpanatigghi are half-moon shaped biscuits filled with a mixture of chocolate, nuts, cloves, cinnamon and… beef.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Trattoria Licchio’s (@licchios.sicilia) on Aug 3, 2018 at 7:19pm PDT

No, they weren’t inspired by Rachel from Friends’ infamous ‘meat trifle’ but were most likely introduced to Modica in Sicily by the Spanish in the 16th century. The minced meat is almost undetectable in the finished product and legend has it that nuns in the local monasteries would make the biscuits during Lent to secretly ensure church leaders had enough energy during fasting.

Ciaramicola

Pink, doughnut-shaped and topped with white icing and multicoloured sprinkles, the ciaramicola looks more American than Italian at first glance. In fact, this cheerful cake comes from Perugia, where it was customary for brides-to-be to give one to their future husbands at Easter time.


Photo: WikiO&L1026 – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

The colours come from a splash of red Alchermes liqueur in the batter and a white meringue topping, and are said to represent the Perugia coat of arms.

Pastiera Napoletana

It’s thought to have links back to ancient times when it was eaten during Pagan celebrations of springtime, but the pastiera as we know it today was perfected by nuns from the Church of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples’ historic centre.


Photo: DepositPhotos

Their recipe of a shortcrust pie with a filling of ricotta, cooked wheat, candied fruit and orange flower water is now an essential for pastry shops throughout Italy at any time of year.

Gubana

Originally cooked up for Christmas and Easter, the gubana is now eaten at any special occasion in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. However, the northern region is keeping the recipe to themselves as this sweet bread is rarely found further afield.


Photo: DepositPhotos

The characteristic spiral shape comes from rolling a brioche-like dough with a filling of walnuts, pine nuts, sugar and lemon zest. Sometimes grappa is also used to flavour this rich cake.

READ ALSO: Dancing devils and egg olympics: Nine of Italy’s most curious Easter festivals

Originally from the UK, Emma Law is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Rome. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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FOOD & DRINK

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study has revealed which of the most common 'crimes' against Italian cuisine are seen as most and least offensive.

Pasta with sauce on top and vegetables on the side.
The Italian food police are on their way. Photo: logan jeffrey on Unsplash

It turns out that putting cream in carbonara is not actually the worst thing you could do when holding a dinner party for Italian friends.

And, while not ideal, neither is snapping your spaghetti before cooking it, or even serving it as a side dish.

The many unwritten rules around eating and drinking in Italy are often baffling to foreigners, while Italians themselves are famous for raging against what they see as “disgusting” interpretations of classic dishes.

READ ALSO: Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

But in Italy, some of these food-related faux pas are viewed as far more upsetting than others, according to the results of a international study published by YouGov.

At the end of last year, researchers compiled a list of 19 ways in which foreigners are often accused of abusing Italian cuisine and asked people in 17 countries, including Italy, whether each was acceptable or unacceptable.

Of these, eight culinary practices were judged as being either fairly acceptable or divisive by Italian survey respondents.

Eating pizza at lunchtime instead of in the evening was deemed wrong by only a minority of Italians; while many also reserved judgement on people combining Bolognese sauce or ragù with spaghetti – which is famously not the done thing in Bologna.

Putting sauce on top of pasta, as opposed to serving the pasta coated in the sauce, meanwhile, was seen as mildly controversial.

However, the majority deemed 11 of the listed transgressions to be completely out of order, issuing a clear warning against certain habits which are widespread outside the country – and which, for the most part, were not seen as problematic by the majority of respondents in other countries surveyed.

Here’s the list of the very worst crimes against Italian food according to the study – ranked from the offences seen as deeply disturbing to those deemed slightly less terrible.

1. Putting ketchup on pasta – this was by far the most distressing item on the list according to Italians, scoring -82. It was one of only two food crimes on the list that Americans also deemed unacceptable (-48), with Spaniards similarly against (-46). However, in 11 countries people said this was perfectly fine, with Indonesians (+76) and Hong Kongers (+79) the most enthusiastic. People in Sweden also seem to enjoy pasta with ketchup, the survey found (+46).

2. Putting pasta in cold water and then boiling it – the results are clear with a score of -71: don’t do this in front of an Italian unless you want them to run screaming from the kitchen. Of course, you’re supposed to add the pasta to water that’s already gently boiling. Adding pasta to cold water was the most disdained practice around the world overall, including by Americans, with only Chinese (+16) and Hong Konger (+31) respondents more likely to be ok with it. 

3. Putting pineapple on pizza – there’s a reason you won’t see a Hawaiian listed on the menu in many pizzerias in Italy – it’s seen as the third-worst thing you could do to the national cuisine with a score of -63 .France isn’t keen either (-15) though Australia appears to have plenty of fans of fruity pizza toppings (+50).

4. Serving pasta as a side dish – think a mound of spaghetti would be a nice accompaniment to your grilled meat or fish? Think again if you’re in Italy, where the idea of having pasta as a contorno ranked as one of the worst possible food crimes with a score of -63. As all Italians know, pasta is served before the meat, fish or other main course, as a primo. No other country surveyed had a problem with this, though, and the French were especially big fans of pasta as a plat d’accompagnement.

5. Cutting long pasta with a knife while eating – the message is clear: don’t snap it, don’t cut it; you’ll need to learn how to twirl your spaghetti elegantly around your fork if you want to be invited back to an Italian home for dinner. This habit is another one people in the country apparently find disturbing, with a score of -46.

6. Putting cream in carbonara sauce – perhaps surprisingly, this famous crime against Italian cuisine – which regularly provokes furious online outbursts and stern warnings from Italian chefs – came in at only 6th place with a score of -45. As any Italian will tell you, there’s no need for cream in the authentic recipe.

7. Topping seafood pasta with cheese – this rule may not seem obvious to non-Italians, but we don’t recommend asking for the grated parmesan after being served a steaming plate of spaghetti alle vongole. It’s a major faux pas in Italy, where it scored -39, while Americans gave a far more positive rating of +38.

8. Rinsing cooked pasta in cold water – while many people abroad may think they need to rinse boiled pasta, Italians wouldn’t do this. Instead, many recipes call for the starchy pasta water to be conserved and used to finish the sauce. While perhaps seen as more senseless than revolting, this practice scored -23 in Italy.

9. Drinking cappuccino after lunch – Long, milky coffees are for breakfast in Italy, and while the barista probably won’t refuse to make you a cappuccino at 3pm, be aware that this might cause confusion and could turn other customers’ stomachs, as Italians gave this habit a score of -23. That’s despite the rest of Europe being fine with the concept; it scored +65 in Spain, +62 in Germany and +53 in France.

10. Boiling pasta without salt – Italians will tell you that a pinch of salt is essential in the cooking water for pasta, and leaving it out is highly controversial, with a score -17. Meanwhile, the British don’t see a problem (+15).

11. Eating garlic bread with pasta – While the rest of the world may ask what could possibly be wrong with this, the concept of filling a baguette with garlic butter and baking it just doesn’t really exist in Italy – even if it does seem to exist in every Italian restaurant on the planet outside of the country itself. Americans are particularly enthusiastic about this combination (+83), as are Brits (+80) but Italians gave it the thumbs down with -14.

The results also showed that attitudes to some of the established food rules are shifting among young Italians.

The biggest difference comes with drinking cappuccino after a meal, something which 18-24 year-old Italians tend to think is fine (+24), but which older age groups – and especially the over 55s (-36) – say is unacceptable. 

READ ALSO: The common Italian food myths you need to stop believing

Young Italians are also substantially more likely than their older peers to say that eating garlic bread with pasta or having risotto as a side dish is ok.

However, younger Italians seem to have turned against the practice of adding oil to the water when cooking pasta. Those aged 18-24 and 25-34 tend to consider this unacceptable, whereas their elders tend to see it as fine, the survey found.

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