Easter is a traditional religious holiday to celebrate the day that Christ rose from the grave after the crucifixion. During the Easter week there are religious processions throughout Italy, often with participants wearing traditional dress and carrying palm fronds or olive branches (a reference to the palm branches a symbol of goodness and victory that crowds scattered in front of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem the week before the crucifixion) or even bread. Easter mass will be held in every church in Italy with the most popular being the mass given by the Pope in the Vatican.
Today, for many people, Easter is a family holiday when families and friends head to the countryside to share a meal and children receive hollow chocolate eggs, often with a small present inside. The chocolate eggs are symbolic of the coloured hard-boiled eggs traditionally used as a symbol of spring’s rebirth and Jesus’s resurrection (the seemingly dormant egg containing new life).
Traditional Easter foods in Italy are lamb or kid goat, artichokes, broad beans, fresh pecorino cheese, eggs, special local breads and Easter cakes like colomba di Pasqua (meaning dove, referring to the shape of the candied citrus zest-flavoured cake).
Some other dishes particularly associated with Easter include:
- torta pasqualina (a savoury pie filled with chard or artichokes, ricotta cheese, eggs and herbs such as borage) from Liguria,
- abbacchio brodettato (baby lamb stewed in white wine and served with a sauce of eggs, lemon juice, parsley and marjoram) from Lazio,
- pizza al formaggio / pizza di Pasqua / torta di Pasqua (a cheese pie accompanied by hard-boiled eggs and cured meats) from central Italy,
- crescia di Pasqua marchigiana (either a savoury flatbread made with pecorino cheese or a sweet flat bread made with raisins and lemon zest, topped with meringue) from Le Marche,
- casatiello (a savoury or sweet crown-shaped pastry with eggs on top) from Campania and
- pastiera napoletana (a tart of cooked barley, corn or rice with ricotta cheese, candied fruits, spices, orange blossom water and lemon zest in short crust pastry) from Campania.
The everyday version of torta pasqualina is torta verde, the main difference being that torta pasqualina is made with 33 layers of pastry (representing Christ’s age when he was crucified) and a dozen eggs are baked on the top of the filling under the pastry (representing the 12 apostles, the primary disciples of Jesus). I prefer torta verde because it is easier to make (only one layer of pastry needed) and it is lighter (no whole baked eggs) so I often make torta verde instead for Easter.
- 500 gms strong bread flour, sifted
- 5 gms/1 teaspoon salt
- 20 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 300 gms water
- 1 kilo chard (preferred), beet greens, or spinach
- 50 gms Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
- 2 pinches of dried marjoram
- 160 mls extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, skin removed, end cut, finely chopped
- 10 large artichokes, frozen or fresh (not tinned), trimmed
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 55 gms breadcrumbs (can substitute 100 grams of cooked rice)
- 250 mls whole milk (if using rice, reduce milk to 50 mls)
- 4 eggs
- 600 grams ricotta, drained
- 20 grams butter
- Black pepper, freshly ground
- Mix the flour and salt and drizzle the oil in, mixing with a fork. Add 300 mls of water, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together. Knead for 15 minutes until the dough forms a soft, smooth, and elastic ball. If the dough is too wet use floured hands to add a bit more flour until it is no longer sticky. If the dough is too hard then sprinkle a bit of water on the dough and work to combine the water. Cover with a wet towel for 2 hours.
- Divide the dough into two balls with ⅔ of the dough in one ball and ⅓ of the dough in the other ball. Roll out the larger ball on a floured surface stretching it with your hands to 38 cm in diameter and place into a metal cake tin oiled with olive oil. (If the tin is not metal, then the pastry might be soggy.)
- Heat the oven to 190C.
- Strain the ricotta.
- If using beet greens or chard, cut the ribs out. Wash the leaves well and cut finely with 1 ½ tablespoon of salt sprinkled over top and let sit for half an hour.
- Squeeze out the leaves to remove any moisture as you want the greens as dry as possible.
- Sprinkle the greens with 20 grams of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and marjoram.
- Heat a large sauté pan and put 60 mls of the olive oil in the pan.
- When the oil is hot, reduce the heat to low and add the onion, cooking for 5 minutes or until soft.
- Add the sliced artichokes and 100 mls of water (if you are using frozen artichokes then turn the heat up to medium) and cook until the artichokes are soft (about 10 minutes) and the water has evaporated and then season with salt and pepper.
- Add the prepared chard, beet greens, and/or spinach leaves and cook until soft, add the lemon juice and 60 mls extra virgin olive oil and turn off the heat.
- Mix the breadcrumbs and milk until the milk is absorbed.
- In a separate bowl, beat the 4 eggs with 20 grams of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Add the ricotta to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
- Use a wooden spoon to mix the breadcrumbs and the eggs together.
- When the greens and artichokes are cool add the egg breadcrumb mixture and 80 mls of extra virgin olive oil and mix well.
- Evenly spread the filling into the cake pan with prepared crust with 1 inch of the crust hanging over the edge.
- Top the filling with some butter, salt and pepper, and 20 grams of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Roll the smaller ball to 32 cm and place on top of the filling. Wet the edge of the bottom crust and fold and crimp the edges.
- Pierce the top of the crust with a fork, using your finger to make indentations, drizzle 20 mls of olive oil over the top.
- Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crispy.
If you prefer to make torta pasqualina then make the recipe for the dough using 1.1 kilos of flour and 60 mls of olive oil. Break the dough into 33 pieces and pull each pieces as thinly as possible, brushing with oil in between the layers to make 11 layers on the bottom of the tart. Once the pastry is filled, use the back of a spoon to make 12 indentations in the filling, place a bit of butter in the cavity and fill it with shelled, whole eggs. Sprinkle some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt and black pepper over each egg before adding the 22 pastry layers on top.