Around the world, the Easter holidays have long been a time to celebrate rebirth and renewal (and filled with tradition). In church, Easter marks the end of a time of reflection (Lent) and celebrates Christ's resurrection. The Easter rabbit and dyed Easter eggs are both symbols of new life that have evolved from old Pagan tradition. In the natural world, the holiday coincides with the coming of spring, with the re-emergence of tender baby vegetables in markets and once-bare trees beginning to bud with bright blossoms and heady fragrances. After a long, dark winter, it is no surprise that these spring delights are an integral part of Easter celebrations around the world.
In the United States, Easter is a one day celebration filled with lots of bright candy, egg hunts of all sorts, and big family meals featuring an array of fresh, spring dishes. However, in Italy, the holiday, known as Pasqua, extends over the course of a couple of days. To celebrate, sweet treats like Taralli di Pasqua, egg-stuffed Easter breads, and displays of giant chocolate eggs (often given away to children through contests) are widely available.
Italian Easter Sunday
Easter, the first spring holiday in Italy, is a time of great joy says Nicola Marzovilla, the owner of I Trulli Ristorante in New York City. It is also a time to think about the growing season ahead. Growing up in Puglia, everyone would attend Sunday mass “dolled up in bright-colored spring outfits,” Nicola recalls. Afterwards, people would gather to watch the traditional letting of a dove go free near the entrance of the church. “If the dove went in and then returned, that year’s harvest would promise to be good,” Nicola explains. And if not, it didn’t bode well.
A large meal, often enjoyed with friends, would follow. In Nicola’s family, Christmas would be celebrated with family, but “you could celebrate Easter with whomever you’d choose.” Spring favorites like fresh baby vegetables and baby lamb were the focus of the meal. Nicola’s family would begin with Stracciatella, a simple broth-based soup studded with small stuffed pasta. His mother’s lamb casserole, made with chunks of braised lamb topped with a blanket of cheese, eggs, and fresh peas — kind of like an omelette — would follow. This would be served with whatever fresh spring vegetables were locally available, like artichokes or baby greens.
Following the more solemn Easter Sunday celebrations is Little Easter, called Pasquetta, which falls on Easter Monday. “No one works (it's a national holiday) and it's celebrated with one big festive celebration outdoors,” says Nicola. In his family, it was a grand picnic day. “We would pack up a meal and head either to the beach or the forest for a day of fun.” Large groups of family and friends would join together to to share an assortment of easily-portable dishes made with eggs, like omelettes and frittatas, each made with ingredients repurposed from the previous days’ celebrations. Of course, any leftover hard-boiled eggs would be devoured, too.
How to do celebrate Easter in your family?
An Authentic Italian Easter Menu