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An Easter table in Italy is as ripe with tradition and symbolism as a Christmas one. Ingredients recall what were once seasonal specialties that today, perhaps out of convenience, are commonplace: eggs, lamb, and ricotta made with springtime milk. Vegetables like peas and fava beans are waiting to be podded, and long-stemmed artichokes, bursting out of their crates at the market, are waiting to be fried. But it's the way these Easter heroes are used that distinguish regional dishes.
In Rome, the lamb is roasted, in Florence it's fried, and in Abruzzo they cook it as a one-pot dish with cheese, eggs and fresh peas. Eggs make it into every baked treat and dessert throughout the country, especially the classic colomba, an egg-enriched, panettone-like bread in the shape of a dove, often eaten at breakfast, or with broken shards of chocolate eggs. Ricotta is ubiquitous too, in specialties like Naples' pastiera, an orange blossom-perfumed tart of wheatberries and ricotta that takes three days to make properly, or pardulas, star-shaped Sardinian tarts consisting of crunchy pastry shells stuffed with saffron-spiked ricotta (which you can make in a much shorter amount of time).
Pardulas hail from southern Sardinia. They're the kind of thing you might find on a huge plate, as they are often offered to house guests as a gesture of hospitality. For this reason, they are often made in huge quantities, enough to feed all your friends and relatives during Easter, as well as surprise guests. When eaten warm, just out of the oven, with the perfume of citrus and saffron still hanging in the air, there could be no better Easter welcome.
You could use your favorite pastry recipe for these, but the traditional pastry couldn't be simpler: flour, a touch of lard (or olive oil, but lard gives it a distinct crunch), and a splash of warm water to bring it together. It's rolled into a very thin sheet, from which circles the size of little espresso saucers are cut out. The filling is spooned into the middle of each pastry round, and then the edges are pinched together in five or six places to create their little star-like cases, that are then baked. Some like to sprinkle the tops with cinnamon, and others like to drizzle them with warm honey—that's my preference, too, as I'm quite fond of Sardinian pastries doused in honey. A simple dusting of powdered sugar would also do.
For the pastry:
- 2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) warm water, or as needed
- 3 tablespoons (50 grams) lard (or butter or olive oil), room temperature
For the filling:
- 1 pinch of saffron threads
- 14 ounces (400 grams) fresh ricotta, well drained
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
- 2 eggs
- zest of 1 lemon or orange
- 1 pinch salt
- cinnamon, powdered sugar or warmed honey, optional, for serving
Will you bake as the Sardinians do this Easter?