It's all about eating oneself into a stupor, as a celebratory ritual, which in some southern Italian homes may begin with the head of the family, or the eldest member of the group, blessing the table, foods and its invited guests. In our home this is done by solemnly dipping an olive twig (saved on Palm Sunday) in some holy water (collected earlier at morning Mass) and splashing everyone with a prayer, and a word of hope.
If you're looking to cook your own Italian-inspired food fest, here are a few ideas for a typical Easter menu.
The classic Easter meal always starts with Corallina salami, golden and savory cheese bread and hard boiled eggs, ritually painted together on Good Friday. Casatiello is another Easter specialty, a rustic bread made with lard, and studded with an assortment of pork cracklings, salami, pancetta and provolone cheese – and which differs from similar "tortano" thanks to the symbolic addition of eggs that cook whole in their shells nestled within the dough.
A typical primo (starter) could be the world's easiest baked pasta dish ever, my unfailing angel hair timballo, whose condiment of choice could be the appropriate Vignarola, a flavorful medley of Spring vegetables and legumes like fava beans, peas and artichokes, sautéed together with chunks of crisp guanciale. Another Easter pasta tradition is making Lasagna, and in the south of Italy this means a complex production involving hard-boiled eggs, rich tomato sauce, ricotta, pork meatballs or crumbled sausage.
The Italian Easter meal cannot be complete without some kind of roasted ovine meat. This year, we will be having both, lamb AND capretto, duly accompanied by roasted potatoes and other side dishes, which may include seasonal delights, or savory vegetable pies, like Pizza di Scarola, braised artichokes "alla Romana", and a delightful specialty of Puglia, Fave e Cicoria (sautéed chicory and fava bean purée).
The meal usually ends with a slice of freshly baked Pastiera – a pie made of wheat, ricotta and orange blossom water; and colomba, a cake whose dough is similar to Panettone, and whose dove-shaped crust is studded with almonds and pearl sugar sprinkles. Copious amounts of wine obviously complement the meal.
A steaming cup of freshly brewed espresso, and a glass of Amaro to be sipped slowly, prepare both body and mind for a restorative nap, and... plans for the following day's Pasquetta meal.