NEAPOLITAN EASTER MEAL & TRADITIONS
In my country at least, I can say with certainty that every important holiday has its own food!
In Naples, the Easter day is characterized by a wonderful lunch made of traditional recipes with a main protagonist: la “minestra maritata” (literally, married soup). Other typical dishes are “fellata” and “casatiello“, as the lamb and the dessert “pastiera“. Each family that follows the Easter tradition will certainly have a lunch made up as follows:
Fellata, Casatiello (with fresh broad beans if available)
Minestra maritata (someone could make it with hen simply)
Lamb with potatoes and peas or grilled
grilled artichoke, green salad
Wine (red or white), limoncello or bitters.
But now, examine in detail the single courses.
The fellata is nothing but a series of cold cuts arranged on a big serving dish and that may include salami, capocollo, bacon, salty ricotta cheese, ham, fresh provolone cheese, mozzarella, or parmiggiano pieces with hard-boiled eggs. The name “fellata” derives from the Neapolitan “fella” (slice) and, since the Easter period (spring) coincides with the harvest of the first (small one) fresh broad beans, eating this appetizer along with broad beans and fresh bread, becomes a lust.
Shortly we could say that Casatiello is a lard bread, but it would be reductive because aside from its delicacy, this bread is unique in that it is completely savory, and this rustic ancient and typical Easter recipe, is also rich in symbolism.
It is made with flour, the basic ingredient of bread, the Christian symbol of “communion”; the rising dough meant the promise of new life; the round shape emulate Jesus’ crown of thorns, and the eggs meant rebirth. There are many variations of this stuffed bread, but it is one of those antique recipes still made at home by many wives.
Many Neapolitans call Casatiello also as “tortano” and historically the Casatiello comes from tortano with the difference that it contains whole eggs on the surface outside and not pieces inside as in the tortano. The basic ingredient of Casatiello is a dough prepared with flour, yeast and water, and left to raise. When the dough has leavened it is abundantly greased with lard, then adding a lot of diced salame and sprinkled with pepper, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano. The dough comes shaped as a ring and left to raise again. Before baking it, some whole and unshelled eggs must be put on the top slightly rooted inside the dough.
Literally means “married pottage”, and so called because the different ingredients mix as ‘to get married’ each other to give an unique vegetable-meat stock. The typical ingredients are: chicory (cicoria), endive small (we call them scarola or ‘scarurelle’), broccoli, borage (which gives it a slightly bitter), chard (bietole), spinach, cabbage (verza) and with turnip (cime di rapa) too; in some variant is also used the Catalonia, while the meat is typically beef, pork chops and rind, other cuts and a typical sausage (made with salted pork intestine). I’ve already submit the recipe of this substantial meal in the post NEAPOLITAN CHRISTMAS DISHES and the fact that it is a dish found in these two major holidays, let us understand its importance, also if it is a typical Easter dish.
Typically we use lamb chops not very big (even sucking one), and cut into small individual chop, especially if they have to be roasted over coals. If, however, we intend to prepare the roast lamb with peas and potatoes (onion is necessary), larger pieces can be used, as the legs.
For this recipe you only must use artichokes species with thorns. After clearing some harder leaves outside and cut a couple of inches to top (to remove the thorns), each artichoke is filled with olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Then start to cook them straight on a grill, while from time to time still pour into each a little oil. The oil that drips and the outer leaves that will burn, cause a lot of smoke and unpleasant smell, so this is a recipe that need an outdoor place or garden to be cooked, trying not to annoy neighbors. But, I assure you that it’s worth to taste them at least once in your life. When the first and second outer leaves are completely burned, it is a sign that the artichoke is cooked to perfection. Eliminate these burning leaves and place the artichokes on a serving plate. Most of us eat this artichoke tearing the leaves one by one and then, maintaining the leaf to the top edge, put it between the teeth and pull by grit teeth. In this way the “pulp” of the leaf (or at least the tender part), will remain in the mouth and, putting aside the leaf repeats the procedure with another leaf. It’s normal for the inner leaves to be more tender and you can eat them entirely.
It can be considered the most popular and celebrated dessert in Naples and can’t be completely appreciated unless it is prepared in the authentic manner, with a very delicate pastry crust and the wheat kernels which are at the core of its meaning. I realize it’s not an easy recipe and I already mentioned this dessert in the post dedicated to Neapolitan Characteristic desserts.
Beyond the recipes, you will realize that this Neapolitan meal, typical of Easter, contains ingredients that even respond to pagan symbolism earlier to Christ, like the pagan rituals connected to the resurrection of nature in spring, when after the winter “death”, lambs were sacrificed, for example. The Lamb is the symbol of innocence, pure and innocent creature. For this, Jews offered it in sacrifice during Passover. For Christians it represents the innocence of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Not surprisingly, we find the lamb as dish or the sheep milk cheese for preparing casatiello or fellata. Many other ingredients such as lard, meat, sausages, pork rinds come from the pig, an animal that was killed during the spring and also refers to the ancient ritual and sacrificial killing of the pig, which is symbol of fertility and prosperity. Then there are the eggs, typical Easter symbol. The Egg, symbolizing the primordial seed from which later the world is created, all enclosed in a shell that indicates the Creation already foreshadowed from the beginning.
At last, let me conclude by pointing to other ancient Easter traditions in Naples.
One of these is the “struscio” a term derived from the Neapolitan word “strusciare” (to rub).
The struscio is an old custom (not so common nowadays) that was observed on the day of Holy Thursday, when the Passover tradition and liturgy of Holy Week provides that the people can visit the sepulchre prepared in any church, and, according to the ancient tradition, it had to be visited at least three churches or, anyway, always an odd number. For this reason, it was also called ” giro dei sepolcri” (to go around sepulchers).
In Naples, the Spanish viceroyalty imposed, as it already was tradition in Spain, to go around without horses and wagons during the Holy Week. The believers, who observed in large numbers this rite, then were forced to move on foot along the main thoroughfare, to get to various churches and, because the crowd, the walking was slow (crawling) and proceeded then they rubbed feet slowly on the pavement and even the garments, still stiff because new clothes just worn for the occasion, rubbed each other, producing a soft sound. Then with time this rite now, and not only in Naples, stands for “stroll” simply, and takes place on the Thursday before Easter through the streets of every country center. In the past, especially in small provincial towns, the “struscio” became a time for socializing, making new friends and took the opportunity to show off new clothes. Especially young people looked forward to this day to get new clothes from parents to wear for the Easter holidays.
Another tradition was to bring to church, ” il grano del sepolcro“ (the the sepulchre wheat ), in the evening or before Wednesday’s visit to the Holy Sepulchre. It was a containers or a plate containing seeds or grain legumes (lentils, chickpeas or chickling vetch), left to germinate in the dark in the days before. This led each seed to have long and thin leaves of a yellow tone which, once brought into the church, by the light, slowly then became green in the following days.
To complete the holiday then comes Monday the day following Easter Sunday, called “Easter Monday” or “Pasquetta“ (little Easter) as we Italians call it. It takes its name from the fact that on this day Christians remember the meeting of the angel with the women in the tomb of Christ. Civilly Easter Monday is a holiday introduced by the Italian state after the last war, and that has been created to extend the feast of Easter, similarly as December 26, the day after Christmas.
Easter Monday in Italy, is a day of celebration that is usually spent with family or friends along by a traditional outing, picnic on the grass or outdoor activities. A religious interpretation of this tradition, would be to remind the disciples to Emmaus. In fact, the same day of the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples journeying to Emmaus a few miles from Jerusalem. So, to commemorate the journey of those two disciples then, we celebrate Easter Monday by taking a trip or a picnic “outside the walls” or “out of town.” Here in Naples, Easter Monday is nowadays a strong demand from young people who take the opportunity to go somewhere, a place to visit or a day spent in group. On the other hand, there’s the old Italian saying that informs: “Christmas with your family and Easter with whomever you want“.