If you’re traveling in Italy this week, you’ll have a front-row seat to many of the religious and cultural traditions associated with the Easter holiday.
But another bonus of spending Easter in Italy is that it offers a unique opportunity to savor some of the specialty foods associated with the holiday.
From north to south, you’ll run into a bevy of religious processions, parades, festivals and special events. Almost every church and cathedral holds an Easter mass celebrating the Resurrection of Christ.
Schools, banks and most businesses are closed on Easter Sunday, and many of them remain closed or adjust their hours on Easter Monday (Pasquetta).
Food, glorious food
Italy is beloved worldwide for its extraordinary foods and wines, and Easter doesn’t disappoint. Italian families gather together on Easter Sunday for a celebratory feast, usually at lunch.
But every visitor can partake in special Easter meals. Fortunately, most restaurants in Italy are open. And even when reservations are hard to come by, tables are usually available at one of the many hotels and resorts.
Here are some of the spring culinary traditions in Italy that you’re likely discover:
Colomba Easter Bread
During the holiday, bakeries make Colomba, a special, dove-shaped Easter bread that is an Easter tradition. Americans tend to be more familiar with Panettone, the yeasty round bread that is so popular at Christmas time.
But the Easter version, Colomba, is baked in the shape of a dove, symbolizing the message of hope. In addition, the raisins embedded in classic Panettone are replaced with candied orange peel and topped with almonds and sugar bits.
The bread is typically served as dessert, often accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or Prosecco. Leftovers are enjoyed the next morning with cappuccino or with tea in the afternoon..
Boiled eggs are a prominent part of the Italian Easter meal, symbolizing life, renewal and fertility. Sometimes, parishioners bring boiled eggs or chocolate ones to church to be blessed at Sunday mass.
Of course, while you are less likely to see Easter bunnies in shop windows, chocolate eggs (uova di Pasqua) seem to be ubiquitous during the Easter holiday.
Large ones, elegantly wrapped in colored foil, are often filled with presents for adults or toys or trinkets for children. Just about every Italian chocolatier makes smaller Easter eggs, either solid or filled.
The Easter Meal
Garibaldi may have united Italy in 1861, but different regions and towns still have their own special culinary traditions.
The first course (primo) for an Easter feast is usually soup, risotto or pasta. Risotto and polenta tend to be more popular in the north and pasta in the south.
Lamb is a common second course (secondo) at Easter time, representing the new birth and the shepherd. Capretto (roast kid goat) is another popular choice.
Springtime brings a variety of fresh vegetables to the Italian table. Originally a product of Liguria, Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie) has become a popular dish across Italy. It’s made with vegetables like spinach, chard or artichokes coupled with ricotta and eggs, then baked in a pastry crust.
In addition to Colomba, the dessert course often features other sweets and pastries, sometimes linked to a particular region. In Sicily, quaresimali, almond biscotti with sugar and cinnamon (also called Lenten cookies) are popular. In Calabria, people may opt for uncinetti (also called ‘ncinetti), glazed, knotted Easter cookies that are traditionally prepared on Palm Sunday.
Wines, of course
An appreciation of wine, produced in all of the 20 regions, is deeply embedded in Italian religion and culture, with a history of winemaking going back to Roman times. Red, white, and sparkling are all options during Easter. The pairings are, of course, dependent on the menu and also personal preferences.
Prosecco has become the best-selling Italian wine within Italy and across the globe. And it’s versatility also makes it an excellent choice for Easter, from aperitivo, through the meal, and into the dessert course.
Although most people think of a flute of sparkling wine or Aperol Spritz or Negroni cocktails to stimulate the appetite before dinner, Prosecco is easing its way into meals.
For example, Valdo Marca Oro Brut Prosecco DOC makes a perfect companion for goat-based dishes, Zardetto Prosecco Rose Extra Dry DOC 2020 for the intensity of lamb-based dishes, and Brilla! Prosecco DOC to sip with traditional Colomba or a celebratory toast.
Extra dry Proseccos or Vin Santo (also called Holy Wine) are also popular after-dinner choices for Easter, paired with Colomba.
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