Italian Easter Foods: It is proverbial that the only thing as close to the Italian heart as "mama" is "cibo". Holiday foods are particularly relished both because they are different from the ordinary fare and because they evoke memories of holidays past. Each region -- in fact, each village -- has its own particular Easter season delights, and the recipe books can be found in the many good bookstores around Rome. What I remember are Chicago-Italian Easter dishes, which are mostly Calabrian with an admixture of other southern Italian food traditions -- that's just where our bunch of Chicago Italians came from.

I don't remember any particular Lenten hunger -- my father, from a Germanic/Slavic food tradition, never really bought into that, and his mother, living right downstairs, constantly plied us kids with extras, Lent or not.

Good Friday was, of course, fish -- several kinds, all white, all boiled and bland, and not much: you were supposed to be fasting, but if you didn't really live in an Italian neighborhood, who would know. Holy Saturday, especially toward the end of the day, there came more interesting smells -- savory, but still fishy -- precursors of the real piscine delights of the late Easter vigil. They should have been eaten after the late Saturday night Mass, but there was always a lot of tasting.

Everybody would finally go to the late Mass, although it may well have been for the music rather than for the fervor. And then there was a post-midnight Easter breakfast. You didn't make any of the traditional Easter breads: too many were brought by other relatives. Any remaining savory fish dishes soon disappeared, usually eaten on the run before anyone really sat down to the much awaited main Easter breakfast dish -- peppers, pepperoni sausage, and eggs, all fried together.

The old farm tradition had been that the last of the fall-slaughtered pig had been consumed before Lent had even started. Except for a few links of dried spiced sausage that the mother had managed to hide away. These would magically reappear on Easter morning and would be sliced thin and fried with eggs and peppers that had been canned in oil the previous fall. In Chicago, and especially in neighborhoods near the stockyards, there never was a need to hoard pepperoni sausage or any other kind of meat. Everyone just went down to the Italian market and bought what was needed.

Pepperoni and eggs are really easy to make -- fry up some peppers with lots of garlic in olive oil (onions are optional), add the sliced pepperoni sausage, then add as many eggs as you think you need (plus a few extra -- it's really good) and scramble it all together. Serve it with sweet Easter bread that you make yourself or buy from any Roman bakery, fresh fruit, juices, and coffee. The breakfast menu really should end with "eat too much, go to bed, and get fat".

The big Easter meal is in the afternoon, but, for me, the gustatory highlight of the day is still the breakfast/brunch -- yes, in later years, the very early morning pepperoni and egg breakfast has slipped about eight hours and become a brunch, but the taste is still the same.

Recipes for the mid-afternoon dinner:


minestra di Pasqua
carciofi fritti
carciofi alla Giudia
carciofi e patate soffritti
Main dishes (fresh piglet, kid, or lamb canbe used in any of these)
capretto o agnellino al forno
Abbacchio Brodettato
Brodetto Pasquale
capretto cacio e uova
Easter breads
Calabrian Easter Bread
Ciambellone Easter Bread
La pastiera Napoletana
Colomba cake
Serve these Easter specialties with:

Pasta -- your favorite red or white sauce pasta

Broiled or fried veggies -- whatever you like

Salad of baby lettuce, cut cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, onion, garlic, basil, thyme, lemon juice, robusto olive oil

Grilled or broiled Italian sausages are always added in Chicago.