Winter is coming to an end and spring is just around the defrosted corner here in Italy. So what’s our next reason to celebrate, oh yes – Easter! Aside from it being the most religious holiday of the year, Easter is a celebration of winter’s end and sprouting veggies and blooming fruit trees. Emphasizing the idea of “rebirth” is seen throughout all aspects of an Italian Pasqua, or Easter, from the fresh spring food used in each course to the brightly decorated floral table.
A consistent theme to all Italian food is “What is in season and what are the regional traditions?” So, although the details for each meal generally vary, there are some staple traditions that can be found around Easter time. Mostly the veggies, and of those veggies, you’ll see a lot of Artichokes, Asparagus, Chard, Spinach, & Lettuce.
The main meal is an Easter lunch, and lucky for us the tradition of having 3+ courses rings true even for this special holiday. After all, it marks the end of Lent and that means everyone can indulge a little more! All bets are off. Calories don’t count. Oh what a glorious holiday it is! So here is a run down of what you can expect or what to recreate this Easter.
Be ready to taste some of the best artichokes in the world! No exaggeration! These are common starters even in restaurants this time of year and on Easter we take advantage of the fresh produce and devour all we can. You can find them prepared in a variety of ways, as well. The carciofi alla Romana, the traditional Roman artichoke, is boiled then sautéed with olive oil and salt. Then there is a deep fried version, and better yet recipes with just the choke of the vegetable. Can’t go wrong either way.
There will also be no shortage be on fresh cheese and meat plates laid out on the table for people to munch on as the primo and secondo waft through the homes. But one of my favorite recipes for artichoke hearts is from “Cooking with Nonna.”
The traditional first courses in Italy will be pastas or risottos. This doesn’t change for Pasqua. You can find Torte Pasqualine, which are savory pies with either meat or vegetables, pasta with a creamy artichoke and asparagus sauce, or even pappardelle with asparagus and shrimp. Utilizing fresh vegetables and seafood is a must at this point in the meal.
Lidia Bastianich gives us an amazing vegetable risotto, one of my all-time favorite spring time meals.
It is almost a law in Italy to have lamb, or agnello, for the main course on Easter in Italy. In northern Italy it is prepared with an egg and cheese sauce whereas in Lazio and southern Italy we usually roast the lamb with artichokes, rosemary, and potatoes. The professionals at Barilla provide us with their master secrets on this recipe.
If you’re a vegetarian like me, roast yourself some of the fresh vegetables, serve up an extra helping of the risotto, or save some room for the next, and undeniably best, course.
One of the biggest sweet traditions of an Italian Easter is large chocolate eggs with a toy inside. It is not uncommon for people to even break these open for a sugary breakfast. In Sicily indulge yourself in the famous cannoli. Also from Sicily but eaten all over Italy is the easter egg bread. Eggs are woven into the bread to symbolize fertility and new beginnings. While in Lazio, don’t miss the Pizza Pasqualina, a heavenly mix of chocolate and cinnamon in a half pie half cake concoction. The Pastiera Napoletana, which can also be eaten for breakfast, blesses us from Naples.
Another pie/cake combo with a pastry crust, it is made with ricotta, candied fruit, and orange blossom water. Thank you, Italy. Just, thank you.
While there is not something traditional to drink on Easter in Italy, the wine of course flows. We are eating light pasta’s and seafood, so white wine will dominate the holiday.
If you’ll be partaking in some pre-meal snacks and sipping, treat yourself to a spritz, the most traditional aperitif in Italy.
There is an old Italian saying: “Natale con I tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” In English this means Christmas with your family and Easter with whomever you want. Not ironically, people still spend Easter with family because that is who they enjoy being with on holidays. The simple traditions of Italian holidays are something to be celebrated, and the modest yet impressive dishes are a vital part of their festivities. Let’s follow their lead and rejoice in Easter and all it brings to the table and new beginnings.
If you’re going to be in Rome during your holiday, why not eat great local and authentic Italian food, Check out our Rome Food Tour in Trastevere.
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Discover more form The Roman Foodie and brother The Roman Guy on Easter in Italy with our Insider’s Guide to Easter in Rome. Coming to Rome over Easter? Come see the Vatican with us on our Best Selling Vatican Tour and get access to the Sistine Chapel a whole hour before it opens to the general public! Watch our Easter Video to find out more!