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EASTER

11 Italian Easter foods you should try at least once

Food is central to any Italian Easter celebration. So here are some of the classic Italian dishes to try at this time of year, from traditional lamb and artichokes to an unusual pig's blood dessert.

11 Italian Easter foods you should try at least once
Chocolate is just one part of an Italian Easter feast, Photo by Tamara Malaniy on Unsplash

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 as to the most traditional centrepiece of an Easter lunch in Italy.

There are countless regional variations and recipes: Romans might 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.

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.

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.

READ ALSO: Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Italy?

Photo by Aliyah Jamous on Unsplash

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.

Torta alla Pasqualina (Easter pie)

Don’t be fooled by the word torta: this dish is savoury rather than sweet. It’s a kind of pie or quiche with eggs, spinach and cheese, said to originate in Genova, Liguria.

Tradition dictates that there should be 33 layers of pastry (three being an important number in Christian doctrine) and the trickiness of the preparation is thought to be the reason the pie is reserved for special occasions.

Colomba di Pasqua

This cake is perhaps the most widely-known culinary symbol of Easter in Italy. Colomba means ‘dove’, and the cake is baked in the shape of a bird to symbolise peace. The recipe is similar to that of a Christmas panettone, studded with candied citrus peel and sometimes almonds.

Photo by Massimo Adami on Unsplash

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’. It’s a simple, hearty dish, with the meatballs and eggs prepared in broth with herbs and cheese.

Riso Nero di Pasqua (Black Easter rice)

Another Sicilian speciality, this dish is prepared using black rice. However, while black rice is usually covered with squid ink, this is a sweeter treat – the colouring comes from chocolate.

Riso nero is a dessert similar to rice pudding, made with milk, rice, cocoa and chocolate, and usually topped with cinnamon or 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.

Pastiera Napoletana

This traditionally Neapolitan dessert is found across the south of Italy at this time of year, with a ricotta filling flavoured with orange flower water, orange peel and sometimes with other additions, such as chocolate chips.

If you’re making your own, be warned that pastry 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. 

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, a criss-crossed raisin bread similar to the British hot cross bun, but flavoured with 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.

Sanguinaccio Dolce

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.

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.

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. 

Photo by Patrick KOVARIK / AFP

A version of this article was published in April 2017.

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LA BELLA VITA

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

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

Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]

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