Easter Bread, Eggs, and Lamb

Easter Lamb Cake is a tradition in our family - tangledpasta.net
Easter Lamb Cake is a tradition in our family – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

While in a local Italian bakery this afternoon, waiting patiently as the server carefully placed several large loaves of Italian Easter bread into white boxes, we noticed the bakery hummed with activity.

“What is all of this?” one woman asked, as she waved her arm over the various shapes of Easter bread.

“Look at the colored eggs in the bread!” exclaimed another woman.

At this point, an Italian friend entered the bakery; immediately, we began speaking in Italian. The two women stared at us. He and I talked about Easter weekend, Easter food, and family.

In Italian, I asked him, “Are you going to buy that ring of Easter bread?” I gesticulated at the enormous circular bread with multiple pastel-colored hardboiled eggs.

“No, no. My wife baked Easter bread, but we did buy four loaves of Calabrese bread here on Holy Thursday,” he explained. “Did you bake Easter bread?”

I laughed. “No. That’s why we are buying two loaves. I used to make the Easter bread; instead, I roast lamb, make a Torta Pasqualina [Little Easter Torte with Swiss chard, spinach, and ricotta cheese]. I let our fine Italian bakery do the Easter bread honors!”

We wished one another a “Buona Pasqua!” Happy Easter! Had the bakery not been so busy, I might have explained to the two women the significance of the Easter bread. My daughter remarked how taken aback she had been over the women’s ignorance of Italian Easter bread. She understood that not every one is of Italian descent, but she forgets that when we are with family and Italian friends, and in Italian bakeries. The similar instance occurred several days before at Whole Foods. In that discussion I a server wondered about the significance of lamb cake among Italians. This cake is in the shape of a lamb.

Coco Chanel inspects our newly dyed Easter eggs - tangledpasta.net
Coco Chanel inspects our newly dyed Easter eggs – tangledpasta.net

In regard to Italian Easter bread, other cultures have particular kinds of Easter bread, traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. The bread can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Bread was, and still is, a staple in these cultures. What sets Easter bread apart is that the bread is sweet. It is usually baked in the shape of a cross to symbolize the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The egg embedded in the bread is usually baked with pieces of dough in the shape of a cross. The egg used to be dyed red to symbolize the Blood of Christ, and woman’s fertility. In the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches, Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus, of renewal, and a rebirth of faith. In contemporary society, we now see Italian Easter bread in the shape of an Easter basket with colored hardboiled eggs, or as braided loaves with or without eggs, or in circular loaves with eggs. The cake in the shape of a lamb symbolizes the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb, Our Lord. By the same token, the lamb cake is also synonymous with Spring, a time of re-awakening of the Earth after a long Winter.

We prefer our Italian Easter bread without hard boiled eggs embedded in the bread - tangledpasta.net
We prefer our Italian Easter bread without hard boiled eggs embedded in the bread – tangledpasta.net

We embrace our Italian Easter traditions and foods. Tonight I am roasting a leg of lamb with potatoes. The lamb is covered with rosemary and garlic placed in slits. It is then basted with white wine and butter throughout the roasting process. We will eat the lamb and potatoes with fresh asparagus. Many Italians roast lamb for Easter, as do Greeks. It is, after all, tradition!

Buona Pasqua!

Buona Pasqua, Ancora

Cugina Chrissy's limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes - tangledpasta.net
Cugina Chrissy’s limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Easter Sunday dawned auspiciously today:  The sky was gray and overcast.  As I was leaving for Church, rain began to puddle on the patio.  Since I had scheduled the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Easter Sunday in memory of my parents, Catherine “Kitty” and Frank, I realized I neglected to negotiate with the meteorologist for sunshine.  Yet halfway through Easter Mass, the sun shone, filtering through the Church’s stained glass windows.  It was a glorious omen for Easter.

My cugina [cousin] Marianne [yes, we Italians like to continuously recycle family names, which is why three-fourths of Italian women have the same first names, as do the men], invited me over for an Easter breakfast with her family.  Her father, my uncle and Godfather, is ninety-four years young, and, as our family patriarch, happily presided over my cousin’s light-as-air Belgian waffles [we Italians in the Heartland are multicultural in culinary spirit as well as ecumenical], crispy center-cut bacon, and her daughter’s delicious once-over-easy eggs.   Her husband Steve poured us shots of Amaretto di Saranno, which I poured into my coffee, thereby punching up my cup of Joe.

I was touched by my cugina’s Easter Breakfast invitation because sitting down with family reminded me of Easter Sunday breakfasts after Mass with my family.  When I was away at college, unable to get home for Easter, my mother made a point of sending me an Easter basket filled with malted milk balls, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, a large chocolate bunny, jelly beans and decorated eggs.  This year, I too filled my daughter’s furry, musical, ear-flapping rabbit Easter basket with treats and mailed it to her.   It is a worthy family tradition; it even received the Easter Bunny Seal of Approval.

My uncle’s family convened again late this afternoon for Easter dinner at his granddaughter Chrissy’s home.  My cousin follows in the family tradition of fine cooks.  She whipped up enough food to feed the Italian army:  Baked ham, potatoes, corn, green beans, and her mother prepared Italian sausage in a tomato-onion sauce for sandwiches replete with crusty Italian bread.  To top it off, dessert was limoncello cake and a chocolate-raspberry-chocolate chip cake confection.  Naturally, we imbibed vino bianco and vino rosso.  My contribution was an Italian Easter bread in the shape of a crucifix, and a bottle of hearty Chianti.

Tomorrow I am fasting. Alleluia!

Ciao for now.