Since Easter is only three days away, this post is probably overdue. Nevertheless, I am sure some of you out there are still looking for traditional Italian Easter recipes.
In the next three days I will share with you one recipe a day: the pizza co’ l’erba, the pizza piena and the pastiera. So, don’t forget to come back to my blog everyday!
Easter baking is not just about the food, it is also about rituals, traditions and timing.
My childhood memories of Pasqua (Easter) are really happy ones. During the weeks heading into this Holiday, my mom would take me shopping for
a my new Easter Sunday dress. This was also the first new dress of Spring. With the dress, of course, came new shoes. . . that’s where all started!
It was also time for Spring cleaning, but I have to admit that I was never a big help in that department.
By Domenica delle Palme (Palm Sunday) we were ready for the week ahead. My mom was very religious so the Settimana Santa (Holy week) was marked by specific events.
Religion, however, progressed step by step with the food planning and preparation.
On Thursday my mom would prepare the Pizza co’ l’erba (a savory Greens Pie). After one day of resting, the pizza was ready to be enjoyed on Venerdi` Santo (Good Friday), when only frugal and meatless food could be consumed.
Pizza co’ l’erba is the recipe that I will share with you today.
On Thursday we would also go to visit i Sepolcri (the tombs). The correct designation is: Altar of Repose, the altar where Jesus Eucharist is worshiped. The fact that the altar is adorned with flowers and candles favors the idea of the tomb. Each church dressed the altar in a different way and by the end of the evening everyone discussed which display they liked best.
On Venerdi` Santo (Good Friday), during the day, the kitchen was always a busy place. The Pizza Piena (stuffed pizza) was prepared on this day.
This a typical recipe of the Irpinia, my hometown’s countryside. It is called stuffed pizza because it is – quite literally – stuffed with salami, cheese and eggs. The pizza piena develops its full flavor a couple of days after it has been baked. This is why it must be prepared not later than Friday (even better on Thursday) to be enjoyed on Easter day.
Friday evening was back to church for the Via Crucis. In Rome, the Via Crucis is particularly inspiring, as the Pope leads the procession around the Colosseum.
Sabato Santo (Holy Saturday), was when some of my relatives from out of town would arrive. The home was full and my mom, in between chats, would just keep on baking.
Beside the traditional Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Easter Pie), my mom would also prepare the Casatiello dolce (Neapolitan Easter cake) whose recipe she inherited from my grandmother. This cake starts with the pasta madre (mother dough or pre-ferment). It has a very long prep time but the result is unique. The choice of the baking pan is also very important. You must use an aluminum ruoto (baking pan) with a diameter of not less than 16 inch and with a height of at least 8-10 inch. The dough takes 8-10 hrs. to rise. My mom used to leave the dough to rise overnight into these oversized baking pan. She would usually catch up with her sister and sister-in law through the night while keeping an eye on the dough and making sure it would not overflow.
My mom was the only keeper of my grandmother’s recipe, and unfortunately, since my mother passed, my brothers and I have not been successful in finding it yet. I have, however, done some research and I might have found a recipe that appear to be very close to my mom’s. It will be next year’s Easter experiment.
Of course, the Pastiera Napoletana was always the star of the show.
Finally, la Domenica di Pasqua (Easter Sunday). After three days of silence, the church’s bells are ringing again, and it is time to get ready for mass before the big feast.
I still cannot figure out how it was possible to spend almost two hours at church and then come home where a full – and when I say full I really mean it – meal was served at 2:00 pm.
Il pranzo di Pasqua ( Easter lunch), always started with hard boiled eggs, sopressata (a type of salami), and pizza piena. Il primo ( the first course) was usually tagliatelle con spezzatino di agnello ( tagliatelle with a lamb and egg white sauce). Il secondo (the second course) was baked leg of lamb with potatoes and peas. Then of course a little more pizza piena, a little bit of cheese, a slice a of pizza co’ l’erba, and finally. . . i dolci ( the sweets), my mom special casatiello dolce, the pastiera, the Colomba (Easter Dove bread), and l’Uovo di Pasqua ( Easter chocolate egg).
In Italy we don’t have the Easter Bunny, but we do have the Easter egg, which is one of my favorite tradition and the one the every child cherishes. A large chocolate egg wrapped in colorful paper and with a surprise inside. You can find eggs in different sizes and made with milk or dark chocolate. My favorite is the one with very coarse pieces of hazelnut blended into the chocolate; this egg has a very rough texture compared to the traditional chocolate eggs which are less thick and have a smooth finish. For the first few years after I moved to the States, I had asked my brother to send me the hazelnut Easter egg but then, I stopped asking. This year, however, when my Italian friend told me she was going to spend Easter in Italy and she asked me what to bring me back, I knew what I wanted: The chocolate hazelnut Easter egg!
Over the years I have always managed to find an Italian Uovo di Pasqua for my boys. It has became a tradition for them too and I hope they will carry it on.
Here we are with the first recipe of this Easter baking marathon, the pizza co’ l’erba.
This is a traditional greens pie of my homeland. It is called con l’erba (with grass), because some wild herbs are used. Typically, four different greens are used for the filling: scarola (escarole), borragine (borage or start flower), cardilli selvatici (young leaves of thistles ) and agrifoglio (chervil). You use equal parts of the first three ingredients while a small bunch of chervil is all you need to give this pie its distinct aroma..
I haven’t always been successful in finding the right ingredients, so over the years I have made some adjustments and you might have to do the same.
- You can substitute the borage with chard
- You can substitute the thistles with dandelion or chicory
For the dough I use a typical pizza dough recipe.
Ricetta Pizza co’ l’erba
Ingredients (for a 12 inch pie dish):
For the Dough:
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2-1/8 cup warm water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1-2/3 tsp salt
½ packet dry yeast (1tsp)
1 teaspoon sugar
For the Filling:
1 lb. Escarole
1 lb. Borage (or chard)
1 lb. Young leaves of thistles (or chicory)
1 small bunch chervil
6 salted anchovies (or 12 anchovies in olive oil)
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
¼ cup of pine nuts
¼ cup of raisins (soaked in warm water)
abundant extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
Prepare the Dough: Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Let it foam. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment, add the flour, the yeast, the olive oil, the remaining water work for two minutes then add the salt and work until the dough is elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Prepare the Filling: Wash the vegetables well.
Cook them in boiling salted water (15-20 minutes). Drain, let cool, and squeeze to remove the excess water. Chop them into pieces (not too small).
In a large pan heat the olive oil, add the garlic and half of the anchovies. Cook until the anchovies have dissolved.
Add the remaining anchovies (previously chopped), the pine-nuts, and the raisins.
Stir gently so that everything is coated with oil. Add the vegetables, stir and cook for 5-8 minutes, add salt to taste, stir again. Let cool.
Preheated oven at 425° degree and brush with oil a pie dish.
Roll out 2/3 of the dough and place it into dish.
Arrange a thick layer of the filling (at least 1 inch).
Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pizza, fold the edge of the dough and press it using your finger. Prick the surface using a fork. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle a little bit of kosher salt.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. This pizza is best enjoyed after resting overnight.
Day 2 of my Easter baking marathon, Pizza Piena