As is the case with most Italian holidays, Easter, too, is celebrated with a mix of religious and gastronomic traditions. You won’t hear much talk of life-size bunnies, bonnets, or egg hunts – in fact, during Easter in Italy, the most important place for an egg to be is perfectly perched atop nonna’s homemade casatiello.
If you’ve never experienced casatiello, you must get ahold of some asap. This is a bomba atomica of the Neopolitan tradition that will leave you busting at the seams and begging for more. Packed with cubes of cheese and ham then topped with boiled eggs, this savory bread-bake could easily replace a day’s worth of calories. There isn’t a table in Campania that isn’t home to the legendary casatiello at Easter – and in very rare Italian food form, it apparently transcends all routinely-followed rules by not having a fixed position on the menu. That’s right, this bestia is badass enough to exist as a standalone food item to be eaten before, during, and after the main meal – or maybe even as a midnight snack (the audacity!). I suppose that kind of treatment is merited for a tradition that’s been documented all the way back to the 600’s.
Then, of course, there’s La Pastiera Napoletana…
Although the pastiera originated in the South, its popularity has spread across Italy and can be found almost everywhere at Easter time and, in some pasticcerie, even throughout the rest of the year. It is a type of pie, made with a sweet pastry dough that is meant to be crunchier around the edges and softer in the middle. The filling is made from a base of sugar, eggs, wheat boiled in milk, and ricotta cheese. The interesting thing about this seasonal delight is the way its taste can vary, depending on the types of spices and aromas used in the recipe. The classic recipe calls for cinnamon, vanilla, orange peel, and candied fruit. Modern versions, however, may see some custard cream or white chocolate thrown in. Then there are the regional variations – such as in Salerno where they use rice in place of wheat, or in Caserta, where they substitute the ricotta for homemade tagliolini pasta.
The best thing about these traditional food items is the diversity in their preparation, not only from town to town, but even from family to family. I have spent many an Easter at my in-laws’ house (who incidentally each have eight brothers and sisters) – and have been forced to try each and every version of both the casatiello and pastiera of each and every nonna and zia. And I’ve been stared at, expecting a response to the question of whose was the best. Awkwaaaard.
In all honesty, I can barely look at either of these anymore because I’ve eaten so much of them both. It’s obscene. I think I’ll be taking a respite for the next decade or so.
Nah… who am I kidding? Easter’s around the corner, so I better start dieting now. Buona Pasqua a tutti!
Check out the other COSI’ members’ insider takes on Easter in Italy:
Rick’s Rome: Favorite Spring Destinations in Italy
Girl in Florence: 3 Favorite Spring Destinations Outside Florence
Sicily Inside & Out: An Early Easter in Sicily
Pecora Nera: Spring is in the Air