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Pasquetta offers release from the somber religious rituals of the preceding Lent period and the solemn Holy Week events. It is a day dedicated to leisure and recreation, slow travel and comfort food.
Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi is the Italian adage: "Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you choose," and on Little Easter, the implied appendix for those sequestered in the bedlam of larger cities is "seize that 'whomever' and get out of town." Be the occasion a romantic escape to a secluded tavern by a lakeside, a family pic nic in the meadow or a roaring group at a trattoria on a breezy hilltop, the entire point of Pasquetta is to allow people to eat themselves into a stupor.
In some places, there is more to Pasquetta than just eating. The Ruzzolone race in Panicale, for instance, is a sporting competition that combines elements of bocce, yo-yo and curling. Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. The players send a 9-pound round of Pecorino cheese rolling around the perimeter of the ancient walled town. The cheese is launched with a leather strap, wrapped around the cheese and pulled by a wooden stick. Spotters run alongside the cheese to mark where it falls. The winner, the player who completes the racecourse in the fewest hits, gets to bring home the Pecorino.
Often the prizes go careening into nearby olive groves or get stuck under the one Fiat that didn't get the "No Parking Here Today" handwritten message. When the race is concluded, the winners are acclaimed by the free wine and hard-boiled eggs being served by the village Pro Loco committee and a band of villagers playing pots, pans, cowbells, horns, ladles and spoons worthy of a scene in a Fellini movie.
My Pasquetta was a quiet drive back home with a slumbering E. Our mini vacation down south is over, it's time to resume normality. As the Abruzzo reconstruction begins, we humbly go about our daily chores with a fresh start. Tomorrow it's back to school day, so I need to get dinner ready and a little homesick boy to bed early.
Tonight I'm making a simple holiday dish, made with healthy greens and very little work involved in the preparation. I want to share it with you, officially reopening our recipe dialogue.
Torta Pasqualina recipe
This is an Easter season classic, a rustic, simple and quick fix staple. Any of it left over is great for sylvan picnics on Pasquetta. Best served cold with mixed salumi, frittata and lavish amounts of cheese for a true Pasquetta binge. Ingredients for 6 sinners:
1 frozen double puff pastry shell
1kg (2 lbs) collards, kale, spinach or mild greens
600 g (3 cups) goat ricotta cheese
100 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed
250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
2 tbsp Parmigiano, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Take the frozen puff pastry out of the freezer to thaw. Carefully trim and clean the greens in cold water and baking soda, rinsing repeatedly to remove all traces of dirt, pesticides and other chemicals. While you soak the white bread in the milk, boil the washed greens in 1 cup of unsalted water for 10 minutes, then wring dry. Unroll one of the crust layers in a 9” buttered pie shell, trimming any extra dough from the edges. Return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Spread the blanched greens on a plate and sprinkle with salt, Parmigiano and a few fresh marjoram leaves. Beat 4 eggs and 3 tbsp of Parmigiano in a large mixing bowl. Wring the white bread and add it to the eggs, along with the seasoned greens and the fork-sifted ricotta. Blend lovingly with a wooden spoon as each ingredient is added. Take your time and enjoy the repetitive sensual motion as the elements blend together.
Pour the mixture into the pastry-lined pie plate and dig 6 evenly spaced-out dimples. In each depression pour 1 tbsp of melted butter, then carefully break an egg in it.
Unroll the second disk of dough and cover. Use a fork or your fingers to pinch the edges together. Dot with tiny flakes of butter and cut 4 small slits in the top, being careful to avoid the areas occupied by the eggs. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.
Hint: you can cover the pie edge with a 3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent too much browning. Remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking.