If there’s something that unites Italian families, it’s food. Nothing like a good feast to bring all your loved ones together. Easter, which is just around the corner, is the perfect excuse to sit around the table and enjoy the “blessed” dishes that this season brings.
Paola Maggiulli, otherwise known as “The Tiny Italian”, is an Anglo- Italian food blogger. She’s based in London but, she describes herself as an Italian food obsessed. Paola has the perfect mix of the Italian passion and the British reliability.
She grew up really close to the Italian culture and its lifestyle. Her dad -who gives her the Italian flavor- introduced her to the culinary world since she was just a child. She was destined to be an expert on the Italian traditional food world, it was just a matter of time.
Despite living in the United Kingdom, Paola celebrated all the Christian festivities and holidays. She recalls many family pictures, most of them with her loved ones around the table.
“Tradition goes back to religion and family. In Italy, the love and appreciation for the extended family is equally as important to the close family,”says Paola.
“Christian religion is all about looking after the family and appreciating it.” The keyword: family. One of the core values of Christianity is the family and Italians make sure they fully accomplish it.
Eating for Italians it’s not a simple act, it has a greater meaning. It’s a moment of socialization, a moment of union with their families and the unity of it. It is accredited that from the union of the family all their very well-known dishes were born.
Italy is a Catholic Christian country, and so, they follow Catholic festivities. Easter along with Christmas is one of the most important holidays. The importance is reflected in the different traditions and dishes that are cooked, almost exclusively, for this period of the year.
Easter preparation starts with the period called Lent. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends 40 days later right before Easter Sunday. The so-called Lent is based on the symbol of the number forty in the Bible; the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public life (among many other biblical references).
The original spirit of Lent was to have a time for penitence and renovation. During this period Catholics are supposed to follow certain -quite demanding- rules. Abstinence is one of them; you are supposed to give up eating meat on Fridays. Forget and forgive are the words to remember during this period. Despite this practice has decreased considerably during the last years, there still are some faithful followers that mean to stay true to the purpose of Lent.
Never ending symbology
When Easter days, or Pasqua days –to start getting into the Italian mood– arrive, the feast starts. Paola knows exactly how the kitchen works during this time of the year.
“During Pasqua, lamb is one of the main characters of the table because it represents the Death and Resurrection of Jesus,” she says.
The menu wouldn’t be complete without dessert. The Colomba di Pasqua: a dove-shaped cake that symbolizes peace and love. According to Paola it’s very similar to the typical Christmas cake Panettone but it’s shaped differently and it has sugar and almonds on top.
The origin of the Colomba is still unknown. Many traditions place this sweet dove in Lombardi, but that’s the only thing all the stories have in common. Some claim it was San Colombano who brought it, others say it was King Alboin and the list goes on and on. However, the famous dove as we know it today has much more recent origins.
It is necessary to go back to 1930’s Milan. The advertiser Dino Villani came up with the idea of reusing the machines employed for the Panettone to create a brand new Easter cake.
It has to be noted that “when it comes to traditional dishes, families have been cooking those for years and years. So, they pass them on to younger generations. It’s a way of maintaining the identity and creating a legacy,” states Paola.
Pasqua will be noticeable because of the dishes on the table. Otherwise it is just the way of formalizing the family meeting. Despite its original purpose is to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, it all reduces to family and being around them.
Paola sentences: “The time spent together at the table is cherished, because food brings people together as a family.