Monday, April 9, 2012

Pasquetta - The ‘Little Easter’ picnic

On Easter Monday – known as Pasquetta, or ‘little Easter’ – the tradition in Italy is to go on a picnic. When the weather permits, the long queues at the motorway tolls are a sure sign that that it’s a tradition still very much in vogue.  It’s not unusual for entire city’s to empty, venturing towards the mountains, the countryside or the sea.

Picnic-watching is a favourite pastime of mine. Italians take their picnics very seriously. Easter Monday lunch is an important meal in the Italian festive culinary calendar and just because it happens to be outdoors doesn’t mean it has to equate to anything less than would be eaten at home. It’s quite a spectacle watching families arguing over how to light the fire or standing anxiously over a huge pot of boiling spaghetti.

Personally I like to keep things simple. Leftover roasted lamb from the day before is always an easy option. Add some sliced griddled artichokes, dress with homemade peperoncino oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt and you have the perfect main for eating alfresco. I always bring a large bowl of rice salad. In the 15 minutes it takes to boil the rice, I dice some cooked seasonal vegetables (again, leftovers from Sunday lunch), add some mozzarella, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and ham. A good drizzle of olive oil, some chopped herbs, salt and pepper and the only problem is finding the lid for the large Tupperware bowl.

Eggs, symbolising fertility and rebirth, are an important addition to any meal over the Easter holidays. The tradition dates all the way back to the 4th century, when Christianity became the state religion in Italy and believers would exchange eggs as a gesture of hope and faith.  They are used for both savoury and sweet dishes. One dish that I’m particularly fond of is the torta pasqualina, a savoury tart highly popular in Ligura which is made with seasonal vegetables, a tangy cream cheese and eggs. It was traditionally made with either 33 ingredients or 33 layers of filo-like pastry, one for every year in the life of Jesus. Today it’s made all year round, though the recipe is generally somewhat abbreviated.

It is, however, a great dish for a picnic. It can be made the evening before, wrapped in foil and refrigerated. The recipe that follows is my own take on the dish. In Liguria it is often made with beet greens and quagliata, a tangy curd cheese. However, I prefer to use a mix of seasonal greens such as chard, spinach and beet and a fresh sheep’s milk ricotta (although cow’s milk ricotta works equally well). All that’s left is to throw the blanket, the picnic basket, the painted eggs and a bottle of sparkling white ortrugo in the boot, muster the children and it’s time for a picnic. Buona Pasqua -  Happy Easter!            

Savoury Easter Tart
Torta pasqualina

Makes one 20 x 30cm tart
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour

2 sheets rectangular shaped ready rolled puff pastry
1kg mixed fresh greens (spinach, chard leaves)
250g fresh ricotta cheese
4 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
30g grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Hard boil 3 eggs for 8 minutes.  When cooked remove from the pan and rinse under plenty of cold water. Whilst the eggs are cooking wash the greens well and place them in a pot with a tight fitting lid.  Place the pan over a medium heat and allow to wilt (this will take about 5 minutes).  When cooked, drain the greens well, removing as much excess water as possible.  Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and add the greens with the garlic clove.  Season well and sauté for 5 minutes until all the moisture from the greens has been absorbed. Allow to cool and then mix in the ricotta cheese.

Place one sheet of the ready rolled puff pastry on a lined baking sheet and place the greens and ricotta mixture on top (allowing 2-3cm of a border).  Peel the boiled eggs and cut in half.  Arrange the boiled eggs over the pie and place another sheet of ready rolled puff pastry over the top.  Fold over the edges of the pie and crimp to seal well.  Beat the remaining egg and brush the top of the pie with the egg wash.  Cut a few slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape and bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for approximately 40 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.


  1. Well that looks good Mario. The great thing about today was that it didn't rain.

  2. It was a beautiful day Cathy - perfect for a picnic!