Traditional Easter Fare in Italy

If you happen to be exploring Italy at Easter time then keep an eye out for the traditional foods still prepared for this time. Most cultures have certain food styles that relate directly to a particular festival time. Naturally these were based on what was available 'locally' as opposed to todays world when we can enjoy apples year round. By indulging these seasonal festival foods you can be reasonably confident that the food produce is very local - and many of us hold the belief that this means better flavour!

Traditional Easter fare differs from one region to the next, but there are some common ingredients: eggs, salami type products, artichokes, lamb, pastiera and colomba. Easter is also the time for salami and other cured pork produce. Even today, families butcher pigs in the period after Christmas, which means that the salami and capocollo and other similar produce are perfect for eating at Easter. It's also customary to have some type of chicken soup, seasonal greens like chicory and escarole, and of course lamb.

Then there are other specialties like casatiello: a simple, traditional bread that was originally made at home during the Easter period and handed out as a gift to friends and family. Initially it was made from a basic bread dough with the addition of lard, but over the years different ingredients were added to make it more special. Nowadays it is easy to find richer and more complicated versions on sale all over Naples, large rings of bread with hard boiled eggs embedded in the surface and covered with a cross of dough, the inside flavoured with cheese and pepper. The version we give below is a sweet casatiello that is very simple to make.

Many regions serve a large selection of mixed antipasti including, prosciutto, salami, cheese and eggs. Often this will be served with casatiello, a rustic type of bread made with lard, salami, bacon and eggs, or a variation on the stuffed pizza theme, such as the endive pizza for which we give the recipe later on. Next might come some kind of chicken soup or broth, often enriched with eggs, or even small white meat meatballs.

Main Dish
Lamb is a great favourite at Easter, as is kid meat. But in the old days, families used whatever they had, which often meant the inclusion of rabbit, still popular in many regions at Easter. The meat was usually roasted very simply with a few fresh herbs over a hot grill and accompanied by seasonal vegetables, but in the warmer areas, small packets of meat might be marinated then wrapped in lemon leaves and cooked over hot coals, allowing the meat to become gently suffused with a smoky lemon flavour.
For dessert, most families opt for the popular pastiera, a cake made with cooked wheat, ricotta and candied fruit and almost everyone has a colomba in the house, a delicate sponge cake scented with orange zest, cream, sometimes chocolate and even soaked in liqueur. Another possibility is a sweet version of casatiello, like the recipe we provide further on, flavoured with aniseed liqueur, or a whole variety of sweet little cookies made in the shape of rings, doves or eggs; and covered with icing and coloured sugar candies.