Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!
(See photos under Portfolio)
Today is Monday, Pasquetta (little Easter), or Lunedi dell’ Angelo, and a holiday in Italy. Easter is just behind Christmas as the Italian holiday that is the most food-oriented. There are many Pasqua foods and I will try and introduce you to a few. That also means that today’s Italian lesson is delayed for three days, giving me a chance to catch up on some blogging.
You might be wondering how the Italian is coming along after four months of lessons? I will begin by saying we are still enjoying our lessons because we are so fond of our friend/teacher. He feels two hours a week with each of us is not much time but if we increase our lesson time I fear we’d be able to do nothing else. I can only speak for myself here. I have not put this much time into any one thing since our kitchen remodel but my study habits are undisciplined and “the little grey cells” are old and not very cooperative. There is so much data going into my head that my brain aches, but there is little coming out yet. I am hoping that at some point physics prevails and my brain will run out of space and the Italian will have no choice but to escape through my mouth. (Nose, ears? Please no lower!) I can now translate about 30% of what I try to read and understand about 20% of what people say if they speak to me like I’m a small child. (Larry is far ahead of me, no surprise.) Why I am hesitant to speak Italian, except after two or more glasses of Italian wine, I do not know. Intellectually I understand that practice is the key, and our friends are more than kind and helpful. It seems one day I feel I know many words but when I want to speak I panic and cannot remember them. Our teacher, Serafino, said to relax and keep reminding ourselves, “they are not French, they are not French.” Oh well, we have nothing if not time and some very patient friends, who speak much better English now than when we arrived. Nice to know someone is making progress.
Today we are in a post-Pasqua pranza (redundant?) food comma and taking a sloth-like approach to celebrating Pasquetta. It is supposed to be a day where people plan to go out for a spring picnic (great way to eat up leftovers?) but the prediction was for rain and we are still unable to look food straight in the eye – so we made no plans. However, the sun is now out so I am blogging from our terrace.
Yesterday was a lovely, mostly sunny, Easter Day with friends. Sergio, Laura & their beautiful daughter Alice took us to the tiny town of Pretare at the base of the mountains to enjoy a casual pranza with 24 family members and friends at Restorante L’Ara Della Regina. This was no fancy-smancy meal with artfully arranged platters but a country meal beautiful in its simplicity and purity. Antipasti consisted of prosciutto and other cured meats, Pizza al Formaggio (cheese & egg bread), Pasqua fritatta and coratella (see below). Primi was timballo (lasagna), and secondi consisted of roasted lamb with potatoes, then a fried platter of lamb ribs, polenta, artichokes and olives all’Ascolana. Contori was a simple salad, all washed down with some local wines. Dolci was strawberry tiramisu and a Pastiera Napoletana (cake from Naples made of wheat grain and flavored with violets) and caffe. I’ve had nothing but water and my morning cafe since. With the day not over yet, we drove to Castel di Lama and spent a couple hours with a kind and lovely friend of theirs (and her sister and brother-in-law) who resides in a beautiful villa with grounds and an incredible view. For city-dwellers, that is quite a treat.
Note: Coratella was served in a small dish as part of the antipasti. Sergio told me it was liver and that is definitely what it looked like. No problem, I like liver. (As I child my mother slaved over a frying pan, with only a can of beer to keep her from fainting from the smell, to cook liver and onions for me because I was anemic and needed the iron. At least that’s the way she tells it.) After a couple bites Sergio corrected himself and wanted to know how you say “inside the chest” in English – like lungs? Yes! But I kept eating anyway because it really did taste like liver. Alice, who just turned 18, told me that kids (to include herself) would not eat the stuff but said, “I must be a woman now, because I like it. Pass me some more coratella!” If curious, Google it for the grisly details of what’s in it.
Taking full advantage of my delayed Italian lesson, on Saturday I did try my hand at a couple traditional Pasqua dishes. Lemon cakes are one of them so I Googled Ina’s trusty lemon yogurt cake recipe – yum – and covered it in spring strawberries. Then I made a savory Torte di Pasqua of spinach, boiled eggs, and ricotta, provolone and parmesan cheeses in a puff pastry – pretty good. Between the differences in ingredients, measurements, oven temperatures and pans – some days I feel like I’m learning to cook all over again.
We ran into our Italian angel, Caterina, in the piazza on Saturday. She just returned from six months in Vancouver and looked great but was on her way to an appointment so she couldn’t linger. As she was walking away she asked if we had tried Piconi (a cheese filled puff that is an Ascoli favorite at Pasqua) and said we should eat it with sausages. Since we always try to do what our angels tell us, we picked up a few piconi at the next street vendor and a wild boar sausage to go with them. She was correct – not to be missed. (Also not to be confused with piccione, which is pigeon.)
Antonella, our neighbor upstairs, bought us a Pasqua gift of great coffee packaged with some chocolate eggs – so sweet. We purchased a very yummy looking chocolate egg of high-quality dark chocolate from our favorite place, Yoghi, to thank Sergio and Laura for including us in their plans for Pasqua. Eggs, lambs and the dove are the big symbols of Pasqua here. You will see bunnies and chicks in store windows specializing in items for children but I did not see anyone dressed up like a rabbit. We saw no displays of Easter bonnets, but we also did not hang out near any Catholic churches around the time of mass so I don’t know if that is a tradition here. Our friends that go to mass often go in jeans.
Pasqua coincided with Ascoli’s weekend for the Antiques Market and the merchants were all here. To the delight of us all the weather forecast was wrong the sun stayed out today so we decided we needed to take a walk. We were totally surprised that the Antiques Market was still going strong. The piazzas and adjoining walkways were buzzing as everyone was out on this lovely Pasquetta Monday browsing and socializing. We finally sucumbed and purchased a dark chocolate hen for our own consumption as it was marked half-off. We strolled for a couple hours and returned home hungry, and so the feeding cycle began again with some piconi and sausage.