Easter for me has always meant the arrival of spring, church bells ringing in the morning air, and a new coat.
Growing up, I would always wait until Easter to wear the new spring coat my mum would buy for me. Even when there wasn’t a new coat to wear, the holiday meant I could finally leave behind my winter jacket and jumpers in favor of lighter, colorful spring clothes. And even if it was a cold Easter, and I was shivering from the core, I would not deny my inner change of season—in my mind, it was spring, and I was going to celebrate it.
Our meals reflect the arrival of the new, warmer season, too, starring two ingredients that perfectly represent the awakening of nature: eggs and lamb.
Eggs are a constant on our Easter menu. Spring is when the chickens begin consistently laying again, after the winter months, and women in the Italian countryside would find themselves with an overabundance of eggs. They would thus make use of them in many preparations, from starters to fresh pasta to dessert.
For our Easter starters, for example, alongside local cold cuts and seasonal vegetables like fava beans, usually eaten with fresh pecorino, there are always the blessed eggs. These are plain hard-boiled eggs, peeled and placed with care in a small basket lined with a hand-embroidered doily. The eggs are blessed during the Mass on Easter morning, then served for lunch, sliced and sprinkled with a pinch of salt.
Eggs are used also to make fresh pasta: either tagliatelle, to be dressed with a rich meat sauce, or ravioli, stuffed with fresh ricotta. The fresh cheese is yet another sign of spring, marking the time when the dairymen start their production again, after the winter’s pause.
To close the Easter meal, we usually bring to the table the chocolate eggs we gifted each other in the morning. Made of white chocolate or dark chocolate, or sometimes even studded with hazelnuts, these treats are beloved by children and adults alike.
Along with the chocolate eggs, there’s another Easter sweet that cannot be missed on our table: schiacciata di Pasqua. This is not the savory schiacciata you might know, flat and doused with extra virgin olive oil and sold in bakeries next to the pizza. This is a domed sweet bread, with a glossy, burnished surface and a dense crumb made yellow with egg, delicately flavored with anise seeds and rosolio, a sweet liqueur. Its name comes from the Italian word “schiacchiare,” meaning “to break,” as you need to break open many eggs to make it.
Lamb is the protagonist of our family’s Easter main course, another typical holiday food with an ancient legacy, dating back to Jewish Passover traditions.
In Tuscany, lamb is eaten almost exclusively for Easter. It is not a common meat here, compared to other regions of Italy such as Sardinia and Abruzzo, where sheep-rearing is much more prevalent.
In our family, we usually roast a lamb shoulder with fresh herbs and white wine. Sometimes my mum would buy lamb chops from the butcher to fry, along with some artichoke hearts. She would dip the chops in a beaten egg and coat them with breadcrumbs, then fry them until golden brown.
For our side dishes, we traditionally make roasted potatoes, a crowd-pleasing favorite; fried artichokes, a seasonal treat; and piselli alla fiorentina, green peas made according to the Florentine tradition: stewed with a clove of fresh garlic, a pinch of sugar, parsley, extra virgin olive oil, and a few strips of pancetta or prosciutto. Bread is a must, to mop all of the juices left at the bottom of the saucepan. My mum would always use frozen peas from a bag, but if you are able to find fresh spring peas, the result will be so much better.
Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan born and bred food writer, food photographer, and author of five cookbooks, including “From the Markets of Tuscany.” Find her online at her blog, JulsKitchen.com
RECIPE: Fried Lamb Chops