Easter Recipes: Traditional Italian Dishes

Seasonal vegetables, savoury pies, Italian cured meats and cheeses, chocolate eggs and, of course, lamb: these are the dishes that characterise the Italian tradition of Easter Sunday.

A festive day that - in defiance of the famous saying "Easter with whoever you want" - most Italians prefer to spend with their families or loved ones, around the table set with crockery and decorations that recall the colours of spring.

But what are the dishes that, according to tradition, cannot be missing from the Easter menu?

Agnello:Cibi pasquali
Throughout Italy, the highlight of the Easter meal is lamb, prepared in different ways depending on the region: baked with potatoes in Piedmont, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Campania, with rosemary and onions in Sicily, "truffled" in Umbria, roasted in Liguria and Emilia Romagna, "cacio e uova" in Molise and Abruzzo, with cardoncelli - a thin, elongated wild vegetable that grows wild in spring - in Basilicata, not forgetting meatloaf Sardinian style and Roman-style lamb, cooked with wine, salted anchovies, rosemary and garlic.

Its consumption is linked to both the Jewish Passover - before the exodus from Egypt, according to God's instructions to Moses, the people of Israel sacrificed a lamb and ate it roasted, together with bitter herbs and unleavened bread - and the Christian Passover - in which it embodies Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Corallina:corallina cibi pasquali
One of the best known and most widespread sausages throughout Umbria, made from three parts of prime lean meat such as shoulder and finely minced ham trimmings, plus a part of fat cut into cubes.

The name derives from the "corallo budello gentile", the first part of the pig's colon, the element that contains the salami and allows the meat mixture to keep naturally for a long time without altering its organoleptic qualities.

A characteristic of this salami is the distance between the rather large cubes of fat, distributed in such a way that they never touch each other. It is usually eaten with cheese cake.

Casatiello:casatiello cibi pasquali

In Naples, every neighbourhood - or rather, every family - jealously guards its own recipe.

Casatiello or tortano is a rustic cake stuffed with every "good thing" (bacon, salami, hard-boiled eggs and sweet or semi-spicy provolone, depending on taste). Traditionally eaten on the evening of Holy Saturday, it remains very soft for several days thanks to the presence of lard in the dough.

Torta Pasqualina:torta pasqualina

Typical of all Liguria, but in particular of the area of Genoa, the torta Pasqualina is made with eggs, cheese, chard, ricotta cheese, spinach and various herbs, all enclosed in a shell of thin dough.

Popular legend has it that in the past housewives used to superimpose as many as 33 layers of pastry, a number chosen to pay homage to the age of Christ.

Torta al Formaggio:torta al formaggio

A dough made from flour, eggs, grated pecorino and parmesan cheese, brewer's yeast, oil or lard, a little milk, salt and pepper, with the characteristic shape reminiscent of Christmas panettone.

Umbrian cheese cake is eaten as part of the classic Easter morning breakfast, accompanied by salami, cheese and hard-boiled eggs. It also belongs to the gastronomic tradition of the Marche region, where it is called 'crescia'.

Impanata Ragusana:impanata ragusana ricette

Present in Sicilian gastronomy since the times of Spanish domination, it is a focaccia made of sheets that can be filled in various ways, but at Easter they are stuffed with lamb or kid meat, cooked in red wine and tomato sauce.

Ortaggi e Fave:ortaggi e fave ricette

In spring, Italy offers an extraordinary variety of products from the land, often eaten at Easter lunch as a side dish to meat.

In Calabria and Sardinia, for example, lamb is served with potatoes but with artichokes; in Puglia we find cardoncelli, boiled, fried in oil and garlic and flavoured with cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese and beaten eggs.

Again in the capital and then throughout southern Italy, fresh broad beans are a must, to be eaten with pecorino cheese, salami and bacon.

Brasato al Barolo:brasato al barolo cibi pasqua

Piedmont is perhaps the only region in Italy where the main Easter dish is not lamb, but braised beef in Barolo, a stew made with beef from the Fassone breed of cattle raised in the Langhe, marinated for at least half a day in the prized red wine - together with celery, carrots, onions, juniper berries, cloves and cinnamon - and cooked in the same liquid for two hours over a very low heat.

The herbs are then blended and added back to the meat, which has to be cooked for another half an hour and can then be served, usually with mashed potatoes or polenta.

Affettati:affettati per pasqua

Soppressata, salame, capocollo, prosciutto crudo, pork loin, pancetta and porchetta: cured meats, the pride of Italian cuisine abroad, are another essential element of Easter lunch - or breakfast in Central Italy - served as an appetiser with boiled eggs.

In Campania, the board of mixed cold cuts is called "fellata" and also includes ricotta salata, a particular type of ricotta, dry and with a strong taste, common in the southern regions.

Uova al Cioccolato:uova di pasqua

An emblem of rebirth, but also of protection, and one of the most popular gifts among ancient peoples, eggs were first decorated in the 14th century, when the custom of giving them as gifts at Easter began.

Chocolate eggs were created under Louis XIV, thanks to the first French mâitre chocolatier David Chaillou, the only one authorised to sell chocolate in Paris at that time.

Colomba:colomba per pasqua
A Lombardy leavened cake made from wheat flour, sugar, eggs, candied citrus peel, yeast and salt, a symbol of peace and salvation.

Over time, many versions of the dove were created, enriched with chocolate, creams, jams and dried fruit, but all sharing the same unique shape and basic dough.

Pastiera:pastiera napoletana ricette per pasqua
Originating in Campania but now made all over Italy, the Neapolitan pastiera is an ever-present dessert in the capital on feast days.

The current version, made with shortcrust pastry filled with ricotta, cooked wheat and candied fruit, seems to have been developed in the kitchen of the Church of San Gregorio Armeno.

It is characterised by the typical scent of orange blossom.

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