This four-course Tuscan Easter Menu has been designed by Tuscan Native, Giulia Scarpaleggia of Jul's Kitchen so that anyone can celebrate the holiday Italian style. Easter in Italy is much more than mini-eggs and pastel colours. The religious holiday is also intricately entwined with ancient pasts and the renewal of life in Spring. Each of these foods tell a stories of time immemorial and continue to thrive in the kitchens of families throughout Tuscany.
An Easter lunch is usually a showcase of the best seasonal produce: fresh cheese like young pecorino and ricotta, many eggs, fava beans, asparagus, peas and artichokes are more than side dishes. In a typical Tuscan Easter meal seasonality and tradition team up to deliver a fresh and tasty menu.
Uova benedette, blessed eggs, usually open a Tuscan Easter lunch. My grandmother boils them the day before, simmering them in the water for as long as it takes you to recite the Apostles Creed. She carefully removes the shells to leave the egg white as intact as possible, then piles them up in a tiny basket to bring to Easter mass. The eggs receive the priest’s blessing along with the congregation crowded in our tiny church in the countryside.
At lunch the eggs are cut into wedges, simply sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper and shared, the plate passing from hand to hand.
Sometimes these eggs are also accompanied by uova ripiene, the Italian version of deviled eggs. The hard-boiled eggs are sliced in half lengthwise, the yolk is mixed with canned tuna and a dollop of mayonnaise and then artfully piped or more rustically spooned back into the empty whites. A lonely caper may decorate each egg.
Among the appetizers, cheese and cold cut boards can and should find their way to the Easter table. Young pecorino with fresh fava beans, shelled directly at the table, during the meal. A little insider tip, dip the shelled fava beans in a tiny bowl of salt: their slightly bitter taste marries beautifully with the mellow milky pecorino, while the salt adds a kick of savouriness.
The first course is usually devoted to fresh pasta, whether it is lasagne, tagliatelle, pappardelle or ravioli.
To celebrate the festive days, make tagliatelle paglia e fieno (straw and hay). The yellow tagliatelle — straw — is traditionally prepared and have a lovely warm colour from the use of semolina flour, which is more textured than plain flour. The green tagliatelle — hay — is made by adding a handful of cooked and well-drained spinach to the semolina dough.
Dress the tagliatelle with cinta senese ragù, a rustic meat sauce, seasoned with bay leaves and juniper berries, herbs and spices that are typical in the rural areas of the Maremma. They are crucial to the unique flavour of this sauce as they match well with the intense taste of the cinta senese meat, a local breed of pork. The sauce simmers on low heat, gracefully combining the tomato, red wine and pork into a hearty ragu.
If there’s one ingredient which is present in every Easter meal, though, it is lamb. It has a place on any Easter menu, either as a main or a simple tasting, as it is considered a benedizione (a blessing). A belief that reaches back to an ancient legacy of Jewish Passover, though now it is more a tradition, that has become a familiar culinary habit.
You could have fried lamb cutlets, agnello in umido, slow cooked lamb with some tomato sauce and rosemary, or a lamb shoulder roasted in the oven.
To keep with the tradition, make a roasted lamb shoulder, accompanied by roasted potatoes and piselli alla Fiorentina, fresh peas cooked with fresh garlic, a few cubes of guanciale and olive oil.
The perfect wine to pair with the tagliatelle paglia e fieno and the roasted lamb shoulder is an Altesino Rosso I.G.T., a dry, savoury and clean wine, which complements both the pasta and the lamb.
If the other courses slightly change year after year, dessert is a guarantee. The typical Easter sweet bread of Valdelsa is known as schiacciata, not because it is flat, but because many eggs are schiacciate — broken — to bake it.
In Spring, hens start to lay eggs again, at a fast pace. To not waste them, eggs are boiled, fried, they become sauces for the meat in a fricassea, but mainly a backbone for festive desserts.
At Easter, every family used to produce schiacciate in large quantities, to give to their neighbours, to their relatives, to the doctor, to the pharmacist; any person deemed ‘important.’ While it is a dying practice, in smaller villages and rural areas, schiacciata are still baked as thank-you gifts for local doctors and the like.
The schiacciata, or sportellina, as it is known in my family, is a sweet soft domed bread, typically scented with aniseeds, rosolio mint and maraschino cherry liqueur.
Bake the schiacciata and eat it according to the local custom, with a few pieces of a chocolate Easter egg along with a tiny glass of vinsanto.
The Vin Santo d’Altesi, rich, warm and full-bodied with long and persistent aromas of honey
and dried fruits are perfect to close the meal with a slice of schiacciata.
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