Easter is particularly exciting for many, partly because of lent. While lent isn’t followed so strictly these days, this Catholic practice traditionally involved a 40 day long period of fasting before Easter.
Fasting for lent doesn’t involve cutting out food entirely, but participants certainly eat less. By the end of 40 days, the sound of a feast would begin to sound pretty amazing. The Easter meal follows lent, giving families the chance to celebrate with food.
It’s no wonder that Italian Easter meals are often elaborate and packed with many different dishes. The celebration isn’t just focused on lent though. It remains a delicious tradition throughout Italy, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Easter Foods From Italy
There are many different Easter foods, so to make things easier, we're breaking them down into categories – starting with the entrées.
Entrées And Light Foods
Let’s begin with the light dishes. Some of these will be served separately, while others feature as part of the main Easter meal. However, you probably won’t see all of these foods as part of a single meal. That would be too much food – even for an Italian Easter celebration!
There’s also regional variation. So, the dishes popular in one part of Italy are often less common elsewhere.
Antipasto trays often feature as part of an Italian Easter entrée. Corallini salami tends to be a key feature. This is a distinctive and delicious type of salami, with notes of pepper and garlic.
The salami is paired with other traditional foods, including bread and hard boiled eggs. This dish is always an excellent choice, as guests can pick at it, choosing the foods they enjoy the most.
Crescia is a type of savory cheese bread that’s popular throughout central Italy. The bread is often tall and packed with cheese. However, thin flatbread-like versions of the bread are made too.
Many Italian stores sell crescia (and not just during Easter either!), but you can also make it yourself. The ingredients should all be familiar, including flour, water, eggs, olive oil, salt, pepper, and plenty of cheese.
Vignarola is often a bright and vibrant spring vegetable stew. It relies on ingredients like artichokes, peas, and fava beans, which create a delightful balance of flavors and textures.
The dish itself is very simple to prepare. The vegetables are just cooked in oil, one after another. It’s also a versatile dish, as if one vegetable is out of season or unavailable, you can easily swap it for another.
Pinza di Trieste
This sweet bread is a little like brioche, except that it also has a distinct orange flavor. The bread is often served sliced on Easter morning with salami and cheese.
The bread is fairly simple, making it an easy one for families to prepare at home. It also has three incisions along the top. These help the bread to rise well and are also symbolic of the crucifixion of Christ.
Here’s another type of delicious bread. This time the bread is savory and shaped like a ring. It is also stuffed, often with plenty of cheese, salami, and some pieces of cubed ham.
There are boiled eggs too, but these aren’t normally in the bread itself. They’re often on the outside instead, sometimes caged in under strips of dough.
These eggs tie into the Easter theme of the dish, as they act as a symbol of new life. Plus, lent once involved abstaining not just from meat, but also from eggs, milk, and other animal byproducts. As such, having eggs after lent would have been an incredible treat.
In some parts of Italy, the Easter meal starts with soup. Italian wedding soup is a popular choice, which features during many celebrations and often relies on leftover greens and meat. But, don’t be fooled by the soup's name, as the meal certainly isn’t reserved for weddings.
This is just one example. Other types of soup can be served as well, as every family has their own traditions and favorite recipes.
Torta al Formaggio
Torta al formaggio is a type of Easter cheese bread. It’s rich and savory, relying on just a handful of familiar ingredients. It’s often served alongside cured meat and is sometimes also used as a type of breakfast food.
Vegetable dishes feature during Easter as well. These vary in style and flavor – often influenced by in-season vegetables. Asparagus, artichokes, and peas are common ingredients, but that’s just scratching the surface. Plenty of other veggies can be included too.
Some regions and families have their own traditions and favorite dishes. After all, there’s endless room for flexibility when cooking vegetables.
Artichokes stand out among the Easter vegetables. Serving them on their own as stuffed artichokes is a particularly popular approach. Here, the artichokes may be stuffed with meat or perhaps with garlic and cheese breadcrumbs.
Artichokes are also served as part of larger dishes, like lamb coratella or risotto.
Braided Easter Bread
This Easter bread is simpler than many others, as it just relies on braided dough in the shape of a ring. The most notable thing is the colored hard boiled eggs on top. These are a classic symbol of Easter and make the bread much more interesting.
We’ve highlighted a few types of Easter bread so far, but there are plenty of others. There’s also endless variation to the recipes. Some families may even prepare the traditional breads, but do so using their own unique twists.
Let’s move on to the mains. These are the more filling and robust meals. Many of them could easily be a dinner in their own right, although few Easter celebrations stop with just a single main course.
Lamb is a classic symbol of spring and Easter, but we’re not just talking about live lambs here. Cooked lamb is also one of the staple meat dishes served during Easter celebrations.
The most familiar version is roast lamb, which may use rosemary for seasoning and be served with roast potatoes and other vegetables. However, that’s just one approach. There are plenty of other ways to serve lamb too, like lamb stew, lamb meatballs, and complex lamb dishes.
Abbacchio A Scottadito
Abbacchio a scottadito is simply a dish of marinated lamb cutlets. This can be a helpful way to serve lamb for Easter, as it’s easier to cook cutlets well than trying to deal with an entire roast lamb.
The marinade is particularly important here. This helps to keep the lamb moist, so there’s little risk of overcooking it.
Pesce al Forno
Pesce al forno translates as baked fish. It’s a useful alternative to lamb for anyone who doesn’t want too much meat.
Some families might even choose to serve more fish-based or vegetarian dishes over Easter. After all, traditions always get tweaked based on individual preferences and needs.
Torta pasqualina is a savory pie that relies on many layers of either filo or puff pastry, plus a filling of ricotta cheese, hard boiled eggs, and plenty of greens. The eggs are particularly interesting, as they stand out against the greens and look amazing.
The traditional version of this dish can be frustrating to make, as you have many thin layers of pastry. However, there are simpler recipes too, ones you can easily make at any time of the year.
One version just uses a flaky pastry shell with the eggs, greens, and ricotta inside. This means you don’t need to deal with many different layers.
Pasta plays a huge role in Italian Easter celebrations. Families may even serve multiple pasta dishes as part of their meals, including simple and complex versions.
Lasagna is a particularly popular choice, featuring throughout Italy. However, the style of lasagna varies depending on where you are.
In the south of Italy, lasagna is often complex and can even include layers of hard boiled eggs and crumbled sausage. In other parts of Italy, lasagna is simpler, but uses green sheets of pasta, rather than traditional pasta. And, those are just a few of the tweaks. There’s no shortage of different ways to prepare lasagna.
Culurgiones look amazing, which makes them perfect as a celebratory meal. They’re simply small dumplings with a cheese and potato filling (although, other fillings can easily be used), so they’re tasty and easy to eat.
The shape can be challenging though. It takes a fair amount of trial and error, or a really good teacher, to get the braiding right.
Ravioli Del Plin
Here’s another pasta dish. Ravioli del plin is simply meat-stuffed ravioli. The name ‘plin’ translates to pinch and is a reference to how the ravioli is sealed.
The ravioli is famous for its small size and is often served in some type of sauce or even braising liquid. Interestingly, the recipe and filling for ravioli del plin can vary dramatically, but it always remains roughly the same size.
Then there are the desserts, which round the whole meal off nicely. There are plenty of these to choose from, in various flavors and styles.
Colomba di Pasqua
Colomba di pasqua translates to Easter dove, as this Easter bread is literally in the shape of a dove. It’s a sweet and rich cake, a combination that makes it perfect for dessert.
There may also be chocolate or candied fruits mixed into the dough, which make the dessert even more delicious.
This traditional dessert is so popular that you’ll now see it throughout the year, rather than just during Easter. It is a ricotta-based cake that relies on orange juice and candied orange for extra flavor.
The authentic version of the dessert was seriously involved, sometimes taking up to a week to prepare. Even modern recipes are complex and need to be started well before the day of serving.
Still, the cake is delicious, so it’s worth all the effort. There’s also something nice about slowly and carefully working on a meal over multiple days.
Finally, there are the chocolate eggs. These mightn’t be what you expect at all, as Easter eggs in Italy tend to be large and hollow, often containing toys or other types of trinkets for kids.
It’s easy to see why these eggs are popular. Not only do they contain a lot of chocolate, they’re also well-made and often quite beautiful.
Trinkets aren’t the only style for these eggs. Some are completely hollow instead, while others have a creamy filling.