Food Traditions That Win Easter in Italy

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.

casatiello-napoletano

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

pastiera-napoletana-ricetta

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

Surviving in Italy: https://survivinginitaly.com/2016/03/03/spring-break-italy-agriturismo-eco-travel-edition/

Pecora Nera: Spring is in the Air

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Tips for Happy Travel in Italy

So, some members of the COSI’ group got together and decided to share some words of wisdom on travel to Italy.  Who better to give the inside scoop than those who’ve been on the receiving side of the summer stranieri (foreigner) takeover year after year?

I kept it short and sweet with mine:

1. Cross the street with confidence: Roman drivers can smell fear.

2. Embrace the bidet (yes, you heard me).

3. Dress the part – but don’t overdo it, for god’s sake.

4. Take advantage of the free, fresh water flowing out of Roman fountains.

5. Good wine and great food makes it all even more beautiful – so eat and drink as much as possible!

Check out the details of these, plus more great advice from Rick’s Rome, Surviving in Italy, and Girl in Florence in the video below (it’s our first time, so cut us a break):

Buon viaggio!

SL&N

Operation: Italian Thanksgiving – “La Festa della Gallina”

Ciao amici!  This is my first collaborative post with the C.O.S.I. (Crazy Observations by Stranieri (Foreigners) in Italy) blogger roundtable team.  A fun, talented group of expats taking on Italy one day at a time. We all post once a month on a common theme with different points of view. You can connect to the other members’ fantastic blogs here.  Also, if you would like to share your own experience in Italy about our monthly subject (this time it’s regional foods with a Thanksgiving spin), just use the hashtag #COSI when posting.

For as long as I can remember, in my house Thanksgiving had another name: “La Festa della Gallina” (The Feast of the Chicken).  This term was coined by my immigrant grandfather, Papa Guy.  Every year we would joke about it and ask him to explain the significance of Thanksgiving; he would just shrug his shoulders and ask to pass the stuffing.  It was a holiday all about food – an exorbitant amount of food – and that was good enough for him.

The Italians don’t have much of a clue about how or why this unique holiday is celebrated (then again, neither do some Americans) – but they are quite intrigued by it (Ma quanto pesa ‘sta tacchino?! How much does this turkey weigh?!).  The only saving grace is the fact it’s essentially all about food, as most of their holidays are, which they can certainly relate to and appreciate.

Celebrating Thanksgiving as an expat, as with many other things, has been an adventure and an evolution.  I like to think I’ve mastered it over the course of passing six of them in a country where it doesn’t exist.  But it hasn’t been easy.

My first year here, I’m pretty sure I had either inadvertently forgotten about it, or ignored it all together for the sake of assimilation.  The second year, my husband (then-boyfriend at the time) knew I really missed being at home that day.  I called him from work, glued to my computer screen watching the live streaming Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ridden with nostalgia, tears rolling down my cheeks.  So he very sweetly surprised me with an evening out at the Hard Rock Café Rome, where they have a special menu every year.

The third year, I was motivated to see if I could remotely pull off a mini-Thanksgiving for two.  I quickly realized though, since Italians don’t eat a lot of turkey in general, at a last-minute glance the bird was no where to be found.  So, I asked myself: what looks like a turkey and tastes like a turkey, enough to pass off as a turkey?  The biggest chicken I could find, that’s what!  And it was then, during that first attempt at a Thanksgiving re-creation abroad, that I finally understood and celebrated the true meaning of Papa Guy’s “Festa della Gallina.”  I whipped up some mashed potatoes and peas and called it a day.  Gimmi was mildly impressed.

By the fourth year, I finally got my act together and was ready to attempt a true reproduction.  I successfully formed a troupe of brave Italians to share my table with whom, incidentally, were way more excited about it all than they should have been.  Hey, it’s not every day un’americana invites you to Thanksgiving dinner.  But little did I know the search for proper ingredients would be una vera rogna (a royal pain in the…), and they would cost a small fortune when I finally tracked them down.

One of my most enthusiastic friends directed me to her favorite macellaio in Parioli (a wealthy area of Rome).  Never had I seen a more glamorous meat market; it looked like a film set of handsome actors making jokes and suave glances between their choice cuts.  They could get us a turkey, but it would take a month and cost €75.  “Were they going to have to go on a group hunting trip to the Tuscan countryside and shoot it themselves?”  I wondered.  The famous specialty foods chain in Rome, Castroni,  turned out to be the best resource for all the rest of the accompanying delicacies – but at what cost?  A can of Ocean Spray cranberry jelly was €8?!  Porca troia!  I’d have to sacrifice next month’s rent to put this meal on.  But I was committed; there was no turning back on Operation: Italian Thanksgiving.  And it was a grand success.

Last year,our group reunited again and had a fantastic time cooking and enjoying together.  I had created a new tradition in my new home, and it felt great.  Oh, but I did wise up and ordered the turkey from my local butcher.  He only wanted €30.  Had a great laugh when I went to pick it up though.  The conversation went something like this:

Macellaio: That’ll be 60 euro.
Me: Seems like a lot – the guy I ordered from said it would be around 30…
Macellaio: 30 euro, for a 35-pound turkey?
Me: 35 pounds?? I asked for a 10 to 12-pound turkey!
Macellaio: Ooooh, wait a second – you ordered the female turkey… You must be the other American (good to know there were only two of us in town, and she had the bigger oven).

Pulling off a stellar Thanksgiving in Italy means adapting to what’s available and unifying it with as much tradition as possible.  Trust me, your average peas are much better with a little pancetta added in for good measure anyway.  Italy makes everything taste better, so of course, Thanksgiving does, too.

Happy Feast of the Chicken to all!

Foodgasm of the Moment: La Festa del Cioccolato

I suppose if anything deserves its own festival, it’s chocolate.

The only question that comes to mind is: why did it take me thirty-odd years on this planet to attend a party in honor of chocolate?  Because, once again, Italy has its priorities straight.  That’s why.  Which other country would lovingly dedicate its time and energy to such humble pursuits?

These sagras, or festivals in honor of a specific gastronomic delicacy, never cease to amaze me, and bring a whole new perspective to life.  Stand after stand of fantastically-crafted delights. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s entirely possible that Italy’s role in the world may just be to teach everyone else how to slow down, and rather than smell the flowers, taste the (insert food of choice here).

After all, it is what they do best.

 

Foodgasm of the Moment: Italian Cheesecake

Foodgasm of the Moment: Italian Cheesecake

Yes, you read that correctly, America: the Italians have taken one of our only claims to culinary fame, and perfected it. They do it every time. First, it was cheeseburgers, then brunch… now this? Bastardi!

Creamy, delicious, and a mile high, this cheesecake ai frutti di bosco at Dolce (one of my favorite dessert places in Rome: http://www.dolce-roma.com/home/home_popup.asp#home) beats anything I’ve had in the States. Once again, it’s the freshness of the ingredients that makes the difference.

And I can’t forget to give a nod to its gorgeous neighbor on the left, the millefoglie, which is perhaps my favorite of all Italian dessert staples and always keeps me coming back for more.