La colomba pasquale / the  Easter Dove

During this past Easter, I discovered yet another regional speciality. The pagnotta (left), made only during this Christian celebration, originated  from a little place called Sarsina (province of Forlì/Cesena), in my beloved area of Romagna (north of Tuscany). It is a slightly sweet, light bread with a small quantity of raisins inside. To be honest, I wasn’t mad for it – it was a little unexciting, but what I love is that Italy always makes me feel a little like Alice in wonderland. Italy, like nature, always dishes up something new in different parts of the year and in different areas. The Italians have always rivalled nature herself in art, so it makes sense that they would do so in food also. The pagnotta was nicer when I dunked it in milk and when I ate it with the boiled eggs that Italians traditionally eat at breakfast on Easter Sunday.

La Pagnotta – Sarsina

The national Easter cake, something for which I do however have great affection, is la colomba pasquale – the Easter Dove (above). It’s like a cousin of the panettone in taste, and indeed it was first made at the beginning of the 1900’s in Milan by the company Motta, already one of the established panettone companies. The difference, however, is that it is in the form of a dove, symbol of peace and rebirth, just like Easter eggs. Like the panettone, the main ingredients are flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and yeast with small pieces of candied fruit (orange and lemon), with the addition of almonds and hard sugar pieces placed on top. La colomba is eaten most often on Easter Sunday after the big lunch.

The Florentines (and those in the surrounding area) however, not being able to wait for the sweet dove to swoop down and break their fasting of all tasty treats on Easter Sunday, created some chocolate biscuits, called Quaresimali (the word Quaresima means Lent – so they are called Lent biscuits), that one is permitted to indulge in during the normally restrictive Lent period, the 40 day period between mardi gras and Easter (below). Nuns near Prato are thought to be the creators of these chocolate biscuits, in the form of the letters of the alphabet, representative of the bible text. Their dark brown colour from the cocoa is symbolic of the ink used to write the word on the paper. Being symbolic of the sacred Christian text, they are permissible during the period immediately before Easter. Indulging in chocolate biscuits, and lots of them, is even given a sacred spin in Florence!

Quaresimali – FlorenceFinally, I must conclude with a mention of one of my favourite cakes in Italy, the Pastiera, traditional around Easter time in Naples. It is spectacular, a pastry base with a lattice top and a filling to die for, made with wheat kernels (its origins have pagan roots as it was historically made to celebrate the beginning of Spring), ricotta, orange flower water, eggs, sugar, pastry cream and diced candied fruits. Crazy, but oh so heavenly.
La Pastiera – Naples