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Traditional Italian food of Easter typically includes: capretto o agnello al forno (roast lamb), carcioffi fritti (fried artichokes), pizza rustica (a pie stuffed with ricotta, sausage and hard boiled eggs), la colomba di Pasqua (a dove-shaped sweet bread). Taralli, cassatelli, biscotti di pignoli, pena di Pasqua (sweet bread with hard-boiled, pastel colored eggs baked in the center), and torta di ricotta (Ricotta cheese cake) are prepared in every Italian home.
Chocolate Easter eggs are a special treat for children in Italy. The “uovo di pasqua” – a large decorative chocolate egg that comes with a gift inside are beautifully wrapped in elaborate and colorful decorative foils weighing from a few ounces to about 18 pounds. Stores are filled with “uovo di pasqua” creating a psychedelic and festive atmosphere. In past times, parents would take the gifts to their cioccolataio (chocolate maker) and it would be placed inside the chocolate egg.
The taralli is a treasure from Apuglia and are eaten any time of the day. Simple yet delicious recipes are created with eggs and flour. Fennel seed, black pepper, red pepper flakes and wine added and formed into oval or round shapes. In southern Italy, taralli come in many sizes and flavors. These are typically referred to in Neapolitan dialect as “scaldetelli” little boiled things. Many, but not all taralli are dipped in boiling water before being baked creating a nice sheen on the outside. Some are baked and brushed with egg wash. Taralli are biscuits or snack food, but can also make an appearance as a dessert after a meal is over and dunked into wine. In our family they are the star of the Easter desserts along with the Ricotta Torta and Torta di riso. They are traditional desserts that make each and every day special and holidays a delight for everybody. The Italians have a saying “no matter what the argument it can be resolved over a glass of wine and handful of taralli”.
The Easter egg taralli (as I call them) are only made at Easter and have no other flavoring. Typically, taralli are not frosted, but there is a version called “Charmel” that are lightly frosted with a confectionary glaze and sprinkled with tiny colorful sprinkles. Egg taralli are hard, but as light as clouds. Our recipe for egg taralli are boiled and then baked turning a warm caramel color. I make large quantities of them and serve them in an Italian hand painted bowl from Apuglia. Taralli dunked in “Vino Santo”, a sweet Italian white wine coming from the Tuscany is like floating in air. Very appropriate for Easter!
Easter Egg Taralli
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes at 400ºF or until light brown
Yield: 5 Dozen
7 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil
Add the salt to the flour in a large bowl. Mix the egg and oil into the flour and form a ball. This step can be done in a mixer. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel. Let it rest in a warm place for an hour.
Roll out pieces of dough into 6” x 1” cylinders. Take each piece of dough and bring the ends together to form a doughnut shape. Press the ends together with your thumb.
Fill a large saucepan with water and let it to come to a boil. Drop them one at a time into the boiling water. When they rise to the top, remove them to a dry board or kitchen towel. Make a cut along the outside edge of the doughnut. This allows them to rise.
Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 400ºF oven until they are a light golden brown. The taralli will be hard on the outside, but light and airy on the inside. They are not sweet, but more like a biscuit. They will store in an airtight container for weeks.
Serve them with “Vino Santo”, a white sweet wine from the Tuscany.
In “Deserts”: A Frosted Taralli, Charmel are an Easter Specialty
In “Food”: Taralli: An Italian national biscotti
in “Biscotti”: Double Dip Wine Taralli
Torta di Ricotta e Riso
Ricotta is typically made from the whey of mozzarella, provolone, and other cheeses in Italy. It is made from sheep’s, goat, buffalo and cows milk whey. It is a sweeter, dryer cheese then the version made in the US, which is made of cow’s milk. It is lighter and is naturally low in fat. Used in many dishes in Italy such as cassata, biscotti, pizza, and pasta i.e. lasagna and ravioli, Ricotta is the favored cheese in Easter dishes in Italy. Calzone, Pizza Rustico, cassata, torta di riso, cannoli are made in every household on Easter.
Torta di Ricotta e riso is an Easter specialty in my family. Some might call this a calzone or pizzagaina, but we call it a torta or pie. If you are a vegetarian this torta is the original recipe and requires no adjustments as it contains only rice and ricotta. I have added a little lemon zest to the original recipe. This happened by mistake one Easter as I had in my mind another of our Easter recipes and mistakenly add the zest. I really liked it and kept it in my torta recipe. You can use orange zest also, which goes very well with Ricotta. We also make a pizza rustico, ravioli and a torta de formaggio or Italian Ricotta cheesecake.
Torta di Ricotta e Riso makes an impressive luncheon dish.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes @ 350 degrees
Yield: 4 loaves. 8-2” slices per loaf
7 cups flour
2 eggs (allow them to come to room temperature)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm to mix as needed
2 lbs. whole milk ricotta
1 1/2 cups cooked long grain rice
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
Dough in a food processor
Make the dough by mixing the eggs, and flour, baking powder, shortening and salt in a food processor using the dough utensil. Add the water slowly and allow the dough to form a ball. Remove it to a board and knead it for 15 minutes until it becomes smooth. Cover it with plastic wrap or with a clean kitchen towel.
Put the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add shortening and salt and baking powder. Put the eggs in the middle and using a folk, begin to bring the flour into the well until you have all the mixture and flour blended into ball. If you need to add water, do so but only a little at a time. Knead and set-aside covered with a cloth or plastic wrap.
Cook the rice for about 20 minutes until done and allow it to cool. While the rice is cooking prepare the ricotta mixture. Mix the ricotta, eggs, and lemon zest (zest is optional) and salt. Combine the rice after it has cooled with the ricotta mixture.
Roll the dough out to a 12”x 8” oblong shape. Place the filling in the middle and fold the dough over the filling in an envelope shape. Crimp the edges by folding the dough over one section at a time starting at one end. Brush with an egg wash (egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water beaten together) and bake until golden brown. Cool before cutting the torta.