Easter in Italy is one of the most welcome holidays of the year. It's a hopeful holiday: Lent is over and spring is about to arrive, bringing with it many favorite fruits and vegetables that we haven't seen during the long winter season.
Traditionally, breakfast on Easter morning is a simple affair consisting of hardboiled eggs that have been blessed, a slice of Easter bread and a glass of vin santo-just enough to keep you going until the lunchtime feast, pranzo di Pasqua.
Many of my Florentine friends follow the old dictate, Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (‘Christmas with your own family, Easter with whomever you like'), and organize an Easter feast for friends, with everyone bringing something to the party.
Here's an Easter menu that takes advantage of the first spring vegetables and the traditional choice of lamb as a main dish. A bonus is the recipe for crescia di Pasqua, the famous Easter bread of my family's Italian origins, Le Marche. Make it once and it will become an Easter tradition for you, too!
Aperitivo di Baccelli
Fresh baccelli beans
Salt and pepper
Pecorino cheese, diced finely
Pears, peeled and thinly sliced
Marmellata di more (blackberry jam)
Remove the baccelli beans from their shells and mix them well with the cheese, nuts, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Arrange individual plates with a bit of this mixture in the center, surrounded by fanned slices of pear, and drizzle a little of the jam over all. Wonderful flavors, full of spring, and most enjoyable with a glass of cool Prosecco to wet the appetite for the lunch to follow.
Roast Lamb and Potatoes
Lamb roast, either leg or rack
Salt and pepper
New potatoes, peeled and halved
Choose a lamb roast, with the help of your butcher, to accommodate the number of guests you are having. Allow the meat to sit at room temperature for about a half hour before cooking, while you prepare it. Make small incisions in the surface of the meat and insert slivers of garlic. In a small bowl, mix chopped rosemary leaves with salt and pepper and rub the surface of the roast with the mixture. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and scatter the potatoes around it. Roast at 230C/450F for the first 15 minutes and then 175C/350F for the rest of the time. Allow about 25 minutes per pound for medium rare. If you are using a meat thermometer, it should register 58C/120F. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.
Fresh Spring Peas
One of the first spring vegetables to appear, fresh peas are perfect to serve with lamb.
One kilo of fresh peas in their pod will yield about 300 grams of peas. Cook them in a small amount of boiling water for about 6-8 minutes, drain and dress with a little butter and salt. Prepared in this way, they are brilliantly green and very sweet.
Crescia di Pasqua (Marchegian)
This is truly a Marchegian signature dish, a beautiful Easter bread redolent with the taste of cheese and pepper.
½ cup warm water
12 grams yeast
Pinch of sugar
5 eggs, well beaten
500 grams flour
125 grams cheese (mixture of romano and parmigiano)
125 grams butter, melted
3 grams black pepper
3 grams saporita (droga la saporita, an Italian spice)
15 grams salt
Rind of one orange
Before beginning, be sure that all ingredients and utensils are at room temperature; nothing should be cold. Mix the water and yeast, sprinkle the sugar on top, and let sit to activate. Dump the flour onto a large pasta board or flat surface and add all the dry ingredients, including the orange rind. Mix well by hand and then make a well in the center. Pour the eggs and melted butter into this well and begin to mix by hand, adding the yeast mixture as you work. Work with your hands, adding a bit more flour if needed to allow the dough to be spongy rather than sticky. Gently knead until smooth. Butter a deep baking dish well, put the dough into it, cover it with towels and let it sit in a warm place (no drafts) for an hour or so. The mixture should double in size. Bake in a preheated oven 177C/350F for 40-60 minutes, until it is golden brown. Test with a skewer to be sure it's cooked throughout before removing from oven. This tall, delicious bread will fill your house with great aromas.