Monday, April 5, 2010
It's one thing to grow up in a household that celebrates Easter, but to live in a country where it's a national holiday is another thing. Like Christmas, Easter, or Pasqua, in Italy is another day to prepare a HUGE feast, be with family and friends and eat like it's nobody's business. Because Marcello (my honey) and I weren't able to make it down to Naples and spend Easter with his family, we were invited by one the mother of one of our fellow southern Italian friends' over to help them gorge on their Easter meal. Never wanting to go empty handed, Marcello and I decided to make the traditional Napolitan Pastiera, which is the traditional cake eaten in Naples for Easter. Pastry making honestly is a whole different ball game when it comes to Napolitan or even Southern Italian sweets and pastries. We spent literally entire yesterday making this thing from start to finish, between making the pasta frolla, the three different components of the filling, and the two hour cooking time. I feel as if it's all about technique when it comes to their pastry making. Sure, one can go to the store, find the ingredients and follow a recipe, but it really boils down to how everything is made; it's what the hands are doing that is making the amazing glory of all things delicious. Seriously that's how I would describe any pastry from the southern region. It's all about perfecting la pasta, or crust, and it's always going to have the right balance, never being too sweet or too rich (which can be a bad thing because, how do you know when to stop?). You'll never find a 5 layered chocolate cake, a mammoth sized peanut butter cup, or a decadent New York Style Cheesecake (yet, guilt as charged, these are the desserts that I miss and end up going to town on when I'm home visiting), instead it will be a creamy gelato, a ricotta filled cannoli, baked or poached fruit in balsamic reduction or a slice of one of these marvelous cakes. So what does one typically have at an Easter (primarily Southern Italian) meal?
Antipasto: various sliced meats (salami, prosciutto, sopressata), fresh mozzarella, in-house sun-dried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, olives, country bread, and frittata.
Primo: Lasagna alla Napolitana--(homemade pasta with meat) What sounds as a heavy dish, if made well, is rather light or leggero, NEVER prohibiting one from continuing onto the next corse. The objective is to taste the wonderful homemade fresh pasta with a few bites now and then of cheese and meat as an accompaniment, rather than a gut-bomb over load of meat and oil.
Secondo: Ribs and baby Veal of 10 months. Unfortunately I had to stop at the Lasgna because I'm not a big meat eater, but I can even say that these babies looked divine. The aroma of the meat juices with the tomato sauce just made me want to take a piece of bread and soak up some of the juices..... and maybe I did :)
Terzo: La Rostiera. Pork roast (white and dark meat) roasted all day to perfection. That's all there is to say.
I Contorni: Sides of vegetables and salad were abundant and perfect.
Dolci: Started with fresh gigantic strawberries with a touch of sugar and lemon juice with a center of panna (whipped cream) if people desired. And of course TWO versions of the Pasteria Napoletana (she made one too).
Of course wine was served as well as Grappa before dessert and cafe' at the end to help with the rest of the days digestion.
This sounds and looks ridiculous in terms of quantity, and one might wonder why do American's eat only one huge plate, yet cultures like the Italians can eat all of these various plates and stay slim and healthy? The biggest key is correct proportions. Yes there were two courses of meat, but everyone had a few smaller pieces of each type. Each courses objective was to not fill one's plate to the max, rather it was to take a taste and save room for the next course. Don't get me wrong, we all felt stuffed and couldn't fit another morsel into our stomachs, but it was Easter and I'm definitely one who on the right occasion will enjoy their plate(s) of deliciousness to the fullest.