EASTER FOOD AND WINE IN ROME
Pasqua - a word derived from the Aramaic Pascha - and its celebrations have been formally recorded in Rome since the 2nd Century A.C., while the term Easter was adopted by Anglo–Saxons much later - in the 8th Century - borrowed from Eostre, the ancient Germanic Mother Goddess.
Eostre's pet was a hare, a symbol of fertility, and in her honor sacrifices were offered around the spring equinox. Not by accident, Pasqua falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. In fact, Easter as we know it today is a patchwork of Pagan beliefs and practices related to the themes of springtime, rebirth and renewal adopted by early Christians celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus, his return from the underworld to life.
The Holy Week anticipating Easter is one of the busiest times of the year in Rome. Tens, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims arrive from everywhere in the world to see the Eternal City come alive with what amounts to one of the most important events in the Catholic calendar. Families attend Church services: hooded penitents take part in religious processions and children expect to be gifted Easter milk or dark chocolate eggs with surprise toys inside, a tradition which in Northern Italy started by the end of the 19th Century.
Easter celebrations in Rome are marked by many traditions which Romans maintained since their ancient times through the ages, like the ancient folk custom of decorating and dyeing eggs, symbols of new and everlasting life, which are also incorporated in baked sweet buns called Pani di Pasqua.
A lot has been already written about Easter Sunday, let us focus instead on Easter Monday, called in Italy Pasquetta - little Pasqua. The day the Angel announced the Resurrection of Jesus before the open tomb it is a holiday in Italy and heralds the onset of spring. Even in a rainy day, most Roman families make sure to celebrate by going outdoors, with relatives and friends, in the Lazian countryside. Rows of cars brave the narrow roads of a series of hill-towns South-East of Rome called Castelli Romani, scattered around Nemi and Albano volcanic crater lakes.
For the last couple of centuries, Romans climbed up to Castelli Romani's towns of Marino, Frascati, Grottaferrata, Ariccia and Velletri, among others, to enjoy both the lush countryside and the oeno-gastronomic treasures of the area. In Italy it is almost mandatory to have Agnello - lamb - as the main course for the Easter meals and, of course, Carciofi, artichokes.
The hidden meanings? Jews sacrificed a lamb for Passover during Moses times and Christians believe Jesus is the Paschal lamb sacrificed for our sins. Artichokes have no symbolic implications but satisfy a consistent motif to all Italian food: "what is the season and what are the regional traditions?"
So, once at the Castelli, Romans would definitely have Abbacchio (milk fed lamb born and bred in Lazio) and Carciofi (the native artichoke Carciofo Romanesco del Lazio) for their Pasquetta lunch.
You can have any of: Abbacchio alla scottadito (“burning finger” crispy grilled lamb ribs with rosemary, oil, pepper and lemon), alla cacciatora (cooked in a pan with vinegar and seasonal herbs) or alla romana (roasted with potatoes, anchovies, rosemary and garlic). Always accompanied by the finest varieties of D.O.P. artichokes from Sezze or Cerveteri like Carciofi alla giudia (deep fried artichokes), Carciofi alla romana (artichoke, parsley, mint, garlic and white wine), or Carciofi with coratella (artichokes with lamb entrails).
Delicious food to be paired with a full bodied Cesanese del Piglio DOCG, the preferred native ruby red, structured wine pairing for the lamb, with rich tannins and ripe black fruits notes or a white, dry, delicately scented Frascati dei Castelli Romani Superiore DOCG medium-low bodied soft wine, perfectly suited for the artichokes. All specialties mentioned rely heavily upon high quality extra-virgin olive oil from Lazio’s Tuscia, Sabina and Ciociaria areas, and a wide range of local fresh seasonal herbs and spices.
No matter what, the classic Easter meal on Roman tables always starts with savory slices of a regional salame called Corallina, a cold cut spiced with peppercorn and garlic appropriately accompanied by the Crescia, a golden cheese bread typical of the Lazio region enjoyed with hard boiled eggs, because "Omne vivum ex ovo", all living things come from an egg, as the ancient Romans used to say.
As for the desserts, in Italy many regional Easter cake and pastries became so hugely popular that are considered part of national cuisine such as the Pastiera from Napoli made with cooked wheat, eggs, ricotta cheese and flavored with orange flower water, or the Colomba from Pavia, a fluffy cake in a shape of a dove made with flour, eggs, sugar, butter and natural yeast. Romans enjoy those traditional desserts as well, matched by sweet local Passito style wines like the golden, fragrant Moscato di Terracina DOC and the superb, almost extinct, Malvasia di Grottaferrata.
Finally, a classic springtime meal ending, according to a tradition going back to Imperial Rome, is Fave e Pecorino (broad beans and sheep cheese) the very same sheep’s milk cheese used for the universally famous Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe and Gricia local pastas.
As the Pasquetta sun-rays fall obliquely at the end of the afternoon, imagine a peaceful and satisfied multitude of Romans lazily nibbling fresh fava beans with chunks of savory Pecorino irrigated by a native dry, aromatic Bellone Lazio IGT white wine, with distinct floral and spicy notes.