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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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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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