From ancient Roman springtime fertility rites to Christian celebrations of resurrection and renewal, the egg has always been a symbol of Easter in Italy. The biggest Easter displays in Italian pastry shops, restaurants, bars and markets center on brightly wrapped, elaborately decorated chocolate Easter eggs, Uove di Pasqua. Many of these eggs are made by artisan chocolate makers like Perugina and Caffarel and are highly sought after. When I visited the Perugina chocolate factory with my Umbrian friends I saw a chocolate Easter Egg that was 3 feet tall! Often filled with a rich chocolate hazelnut cream (gianduja) encased in delicate, bittersweet chocolate they are ostentatiously indulgent. The Faberge equivalent of chocolate.
Designers like RobertoCavalli and Armani elevate the egg into a chic seasonal statement with fashionable chocolate Easter eggs. Armani displays his eggs embossed with the unmistakable branded “A”. Chocolatier’s like Torino’s Guido Gubino create sensual experiences with creative and innovative designs.
Easter Eggs by Guido Gubino
During different times in Italian history, extravagance has found its way into Italian design (think of the Italian Rocco) and the exuberant and energetic style of Italian Easter eggs is a joyful celebration of the season.
Italians celebrate Spring a fuori – outside.
Although Italians are outside year round no matter what the weather, beginning in March cafe’s open their outdoor dining and everyone is walking and gathering at the piazza. There’s no better way to clear your mind that to get outside and enjoy the longer days and milder weather.
Plan a Spring Break Italian style. Visit a local art gallery or museum, try a new restaurant with outdoor dining, take a walk through a nearby park or forest preserve, arrange for a taste and travel trip to a vineyard, dairy or cheese factory. Walk through your town or city and anticipate the beginning of Spring.
Godete di fuori! Enjoy the outside.
It’s the day after the Feast of St. Patrick – the luck of the Irish may have faded away but the luck of the Italians is just beginning. Tomorrow, March 19th is the Feast of San Giuseppe, St. Joseph’s Day. A day that commemorates an event in the Middle Ages when the intercession of St. Joseph during a severe drought and famine produced crops of fava beans that yielded enough food to deliver the hungry people of Sicily from starvation. In gratitude, wealthy families set up tables or altars, called la tavulata di San Giuseppe, with food to help those who were less fortunate than themselves.
Over the centuries the tables have become more and more grand and abundant. Celebratory foods that reflect the Saint’s vocation, such as bread and cakes shaped like carpenter’s tools are traditional expressions of devotion to San Giuseppe. Breads shaped like staffs, pasta with bread crumbs (representing sawdust on St. Joseph’s workroom floor) flowers, candles, figurines, special pastries and dishes cooked with the fruitful “lucky” fava bean fill the tables.
Celebrations in Italian homes and communities offer a chance to share food with others, a way to express gratitude for any sort of good fortune in our lives.
In this case I’m suggesting that you feed your brain. During the day a spoonful of dark Italian chestnut honey, high in minerals and iron, relieves fatigue and tiredness and helps you continue to work energetically the rest of the day. For a good night’s sleep honey is a natural insomnia cure known to induce relaxing somnolence. In Italy honey is famed for its calming properties resulting in a better night’s sleep and sogni d’oro (sweet dreams). The theory is that a spoonful of honey at bedtime provides the body with enough glucose to ‘feed’ the brain during the night. This prevents or limits the early morning release of cortisol and adrenalin (stress hormones) which disturb sleep. It also stabilizes blood sugar levels and contributes to the release of melatonin.
The particular and complex flavor of dark Italian chestnut honey (Miele di Castagno) is very appealing makes it an incredible ingredient in cooking and as an alternative sweetener for oatmeal and milk which happens to be one of the 6 food combinations that help you sleep better at night.
The color of gold has been used to describe the culture and cuisine of Italy for centuries. The illuminated halos of gold in Renaissance paintings, the golden tiles of the mosaics of Ravenna and the chic boutiques of Milan’s Qaudrilatero d’Oro (Golden Triangle) have made the color gold an icon of Italian art and design. The golden balls of the Medici bankers were image makers long before branding became a market strategy and the gold merchants along the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s bridge of bling, are indelible examples of the brilliance of Italian gold. The Doges of Venice wore stiff horn-like bonnets (corno ducale ) made of golden brocade and Italian chefs create culinary alchemy with golden grains of saffron flavored risotto and “liquid gold” from Italy’s extra virgin olive oils while fields of golden sunflowers have Italianophiles longing to bask under the Tuscan sun.
But perhaps the most dramatic symbol of Italian gold is not found in the Vatican museums or the jewelry shops of Florence and Rome but in the farmyards near Pisa where Paolo Parisi has taken the lowly egg and elevated it to the status of Italian gold. Parisi’s heritage bred Livornese chickens, fed on a foraged diet supplemented with scraps from the production of cheese from the goats on his farm, are said to produce an egg of such extraordinary flavor (sweet almonds) and texture that they carry a price tag of €8, or $11 for a half dozen. What makes this egg the richest egg in Italy? The fresh taste and a golden yolk that is softer and richer in fat than most with the capacity to incorporate three times the amount of air than the average yolk when whipped. This means that your pasta, zabione, custards and carbonara will be golden in flavor and appearance because of the creamy, buttery yolks of Parisi’s eggs.
To ensure proper delivery an eco-friendly package with a wrapping of organic fabric (embedded with small seeds of marjoram) to absorb shocks during transport was designed. A culinary jewel box for a golden Italian treasure.
Parisi’s Egg 61 Recipe: Eggs in a warm bath at 61 celsius/141 farenheit for at least 20 minutes. Eggs go into a cup with a few simple ingredients:
•small slice of lemon peel
•small sliver of sun dried tomato
Riddle me this Italian food fact – The outside is strong but the inside is delicate and is entered by a knife the opens rather than cuts. The King of Italian cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, requires a specific knife to open and release the sharp yet rich and delicate flavor of this historical cheese from Northern Italy. First created in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Chiaravalle near Milan in Lombardy, Parmiagiano Reggiano is known as a Grana (grainy) cheese, a classification that refers to its flaky and granular texture and because of this is best opened rather than cut into and served in flakes or bite size nuggets.
Coltello “scagliatore”. Reggio Emilia; ferro, legno; circa 1930. I Musei di Cibi, Parma
To do this you need a special type of knife (a scagliatore) with a specific blade; short, pointed and almond shape. The shape is designed not to cut but to open, highlighting the internal structure and the natural grain of the cheese. First, with the tip of a knife to score the surface crust of the massive wheel, impressive in size and weight (typically 18 inches in diameter, about 8 inches high, weighing about 85 pounds) then with two knives used as wedges to open the shape into two halves. Releasing the aroma and sweet grassy flavors of the Po River Valley and the mastery of the caseificio. Cheese stamped with the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” into the rind of every wheel by members of the Consorzio del Formaggio that guarantees the distinctive qualities of this great Italian cheese.
*the Italian word scagliato means flake, chip, sliver, scale
Italian spelling slip ups happen all the time but perhaps the most egregious is the misspelling of espresso. A word that has become part of the common human vernacular and found millions of times in print is listed as one of the top 25 words/phrases that are routinely said wrong. Weird Al Yankovic among others consider it to be a Word Crime that we should be held accountable for. After all we don’t say “ex-PESH-uh-lee”, do we?