How Italians Feast on Easter (Starring Ricotta & Lamb)

March 22, 2016

At an Italian table, Easter is on par with Christmas in terms of traditional dishes, rituals, family recipes, and a large gathering of relatives to share it all with.

Newly-sprung spring has much to do with typical Easter fare, so you'll often find dishes prepared with fresh ricotta made from the sweet and creamy milk of sheep that have been nibbling on new green pastures, along with plenty of eggs.

From top to toe of the Italian peninsula, you'll find dishes—both sweet and savory—that illustrate this well.

In Liguria, there's torta pasqualina, an Easter pie of chard, ricotta, and eggs (of the eight eggs, some are cracked into little pockets dented into the ricotta filling, so that when the pie is sliced, sunny rounds of yolk are revealed).

Photo by Emiko Davies

Or consider Naples' famous pastiera, a ricotta and wheatberry tart that is known to perfume the streets of Napoli with orange blossom water, lemon, and vanilla, and that, when done properly, takes three days to make.

But the main event at Easter is the lamb, prepared just as often for traditional and symbolic reasons as for others (it's much like what turkey means to an American Thanksgiving).

Roman kitches are known for abbaccio al forno, a roast leg of young, local lamb rubbed and stuffed with garlic and herbs and cooked together with crisp, golden potatoe. It's a dish so delicious that it's reason enough to visit the Eternal City at this time of year in particular.

Elsewhere, you'll find the same family favorites that may appear on the Christmas table or at any other special occasion: passatelli in brodo, a light, warming and friendly entrée (think of the equivalent comforting qualities of chicken noodle soup), popular in the central north; or Tuscany's answer to tiramisu, the rather retro zuppa inglese, which is a huge, chilled trifle-like dessert of liquor-soaked sponge fingers layered with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream and jam.

Meanwhile, Easter breakfast is a breeze.

These days, it's customary to gift to each and every friend and family member a giant colomba, a sweet, yeasted bread in the shape of a dove, studded with whole almonds and pearl sugar; it's an Easter version of panettone. By Easter Sunday the kitchen counter will be overflowing with them. For breakfast, simply serve it in thick slices to enjoy as is or with broken pieces of chocolate Easter eggs (there are plenty of those, too).

#freshfromtheoven #italian #easter #cake. La #colomba e pronto per manigare #dolcemio #homemade #oldschool

A photo posted by Dolce Mio (@dolce_mio_cakes) on

Make your own Italian Easter feast:

What dishes are always on your Easter table, year after year? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Kate
  • Fernando @ Eating With Your Hands
    Fernando @ Eating With Your Hands
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Kate March 23, 2016
My family makes something called Easter Pizza (Pizza Rustica) each Good Friday. There's a variation out there for every Italian family but most consist of some combination of the following ingredients: eggs, ricotta, fresh mozz, soppresata, ham, prosciutto, parmesan, black pepper, all mixed together and baked inside a bread-dough crust. Some are thin, some are thick, but all are delicious. We spend the whole day preparing this food and usually do not eat it until the next day (Catholics don't eat meat on Good Friday). Great at room temp or warmed for a few seconds in the microwave!
Fernando @. March 23, 2016
Any excuse to eat Panettone again is always welcome :)