Easter – or to give it its Italian name, Pasqua – is one of Italy’s most significant holidays. Italy has a strong Catholic heritage, so ‘Holy Week’ is a major event that’s filled with grand processions, festive pageants and traditional religious services.
Because we’re talking about Italy here, food also plays a major role in the festivities. Easter marks the end of Lent, when many people will have given up edible luxuries – from meat and alcohol to chocolate and sugar – so it’s a time for indulgence.
In true Italian style, families and friends across Italy come together over Easter to share celebratory feasts, with many of them punctuated by special Italian Easter dishes. From elaborate Easter breads, to symbolic savoury pies and decadent dolci, here’s some of our favourite traditional Italian Easter foods.
Also known as colomba di Pasqua, this is Easter’s answer to Italy’s most famous celebratory bread: the Christmas panettone. Roughly translated as ‘Easter dove’, this sweet bread is typically baked in a dove-shaped mould, with the dove shape symbolising two themes that are synonymous with the Christian holiday: peace and resurrection.
Similarly to panettone, colomba Pasquale has a fluffy texture and a rich, fruity flavour. Traditionally, the enriched dough is studded with jewel-like pieces of candied citrus peel, before being baked and topped with a sweet, crunchy and downright delicious topping of sugared almonds. Bakers across Italy have also started to innovate, incorporating everything from cherries to chocolate into new spins on the classic colomba.
Colomba Pasquale originated in Milano, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, but these days it’s popular throughout Italy. Italians will often eat a slice for a suitably festive Easter breakfast, normally accompanied by a pot of strong Italian coffee.
Fancy making your own Italian Easter bread? Check out our Head Chef Roberta’s colomba Pasquale recipe. It’s a labour of love, but one that rewards a little pazienza handsomely.
For something a little more savoury, look no further than torta Pasqualina, or Easter pie. Traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday, torta Pasqualina is an Italian pie filled with a spring-focused filling of wilted new season greens and ricotta cheese. Nestled within the vivid green pie filling are whole baked eggs, a traditional Easter symbol of new life.
Torta Pasqualina originated in 16th century Genoa, the capital of the north-western region of Liguria. The original recipe involved 33 sheets of thin, filo-like pastry – one for every year of Jesus’ life – but nowadays it’s more commonly made with puff or shortcrust pastry. The pie’s popularity grew over the years, and at Easter it’s served across Italy as a celebratory centrepiece.
Torta Pasqualina is best when served cold, so it’s more than suitable if you’re planning an optimistic spring picnic, or as a vegetarian main for Easter. In Italy, Easter pie is normally served as a primo, with a more substantial main event following after. We love a slice with a cold glass of white Italian wine – you could even opt for regionally-appropriate Ligurian wine.
If a slice of torta Pasqualina sounds like your kind of Easter dish, you can get the recipe here.
Any Italian feast worth its salt needs a joy-inducing dolce – and at Easter there’s no doubt that pastiera Napoletana wears the crown. Hailing from Naples, in Campania, this dessert features a pastry case filled with a heady combination of sweetened ricotta, zesty citrus, warming cinnamon and exotic orange blossom water. The sweet, spicy filling is flecked with plump cooked wheat grains (grano cotto), creating a dessert that’s part creamy cheesecake, part fragrant rice pudding.
In years gone by, preparing a pastiera Napoletana would have been a week-long Easter baking project, with the wheat grains being soaked for a number of days before being cooked. These days, most Italians buy jars of pre-cooked grano cotto instead. However, many still preserve one key tradition by baking their pastiera Napoletana on Good Friday – giving the cake’s flavours time to infuse before it’s served on Easter Sunday.
Suitably, for an Easter dessert, pastiera Napoletana is thought to have first emerged from a 17th century Neapolitan convent. At the time, it was common for nuns to bake sweet treats of all shapes and sizes that they’d sell to the public – helping them to support themselves. The sweet-scented aroma drifting from the convent ovens would’ve been a surefire sign that Easter was around the corner.
If you’d like to fill your kitchen with the same seasonal aromas, check out our pastiera Napoletana recipe.
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