1 Apr 2015

Easter time baking in Italy

Just as hot cross buns line our supermarket shelves during Easter time, in Italy local pasticcerias or bakeries are overflowing with people waiting to buy bread and sweets.  Baking has long been a part of Easter tradition in many cultures.  Although a religious holiday, the word Easter is derived from the name of the Pagan goddess of spring, Eostre. The concept of baking at this time of year was originally introduced to honour the beginning of the season, rebirth and the replanting of crops.  This concept was later adapted by the Christian tradition and applied to resurrection or ‘rebirth’ of Jesus. 

In Italy, each region has it’s own cake or bread that is always consumed at Easter time.  So while it’s hard to go past a warm hot cross bun slathered with butter on Easter morning why not surprise the family with something different at lunchtime. Here, some of our most celebrated Italian/Australian chefs share their own recipes for what they like to bake at Easter.  There is a saying in Italy, "Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi,” which translates as “Christmas with your parents, Easter with who ever you please.”  Pasqua is a time for celebration and sharing and these recipes are to be enjoyed in the same spirit.


Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie), Liguria

Lucio Galletto OAM, Lucio’s, Paddington




This nourishing, vegetable and egg-filled pie traditionally calls for 12 eggs (symbolic of the 12 apostles) and was made with 33 sheets of paper-thin pastry to symbolize 33 years of Christ on earth.  Over time, however, these quantities have been reduced.  “It, like many other dishes is a victim of our modern world where everything is done in a hurry,” says Lucio.  Lucio’s recipe uses six layers of pastry (three on the bottom and three on the top), which he says, is still quite a task for the often rushed, modern day cook. But he insists it is worth the effort. “If you make it properly it will be very rewarding,” he says, “it’s like going to a museum, but instead of looking at history you can taste it.” In the old days, the women of the village would make the tart and carry it to the communal oven.  In order to make sure theirs didn’t get mixed up with somebody else’s by mistake, they would scratch their initials in to the top layer of pastry.

For this pie you need a 28-30cm spring form baking tin


For the pastry

450g flour

sea salt

45ml extra virgin olive oil

90ml warm water


For the filling

1.2 kg silver beet

Olive oil

1 white onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed with the blade of a knife

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 handful flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

7 eggs

120g grated Parmesan cheese

3 sprigs marjoram roughly chopped + leaves for sprinkling

300g ricotta cheese




To make the pastry place the flour in a mound on a clean flat work surface, form a well in the middle, sprinkle some salt and pour in the olive oil. Start kneading, adding a bit of warm water as required to achieve a smooth and soft dough. After about 5 minutes of kneading, divide the dough into 6 balls making one larger than the others which will be used for the first layer at the base of the pie. Flour the bottom of a ceramic container, and place the 6 balls of dough in it. Cover with a damp tea towel and let them rest for one hour.


Clean the silver beets by removing the white stalks, roll the leaves up tightly and cut into them into thin strips. Heat 60 mls of olive oil in a heavy based frying pan over a low heat. Add the onions and garlic and stir with a wooden spoon. Just as the garlic starts to change colour, discard it and continue cooking the onions until they are soft and translucent, stirring regularly so they do not stick to the pan.  At this point add the silver beets to the pan, season with salt and add the parsley, mix thoroughly and continue to cook over a low heat for three minutes.

Drain the silver beet mix and place in a bowl. Break two eggs and beat them with a little salt and pepper.  Pour over the silver beets and add the ricotta and all but one tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Stir in marjoram.

You can start building the pie now, flattening the layers of pastry one by one as you need them.  With a brush, oil the base and sides of a 28-30cm spring form cake tin.

Flour the working surface. Take the bigger ball of dough and first and with your fists before using a rolling pin to flatten it until it is as thin as possible (it should be like silk).

Line the base and sides of the prepared cake tin with dough letting it overhang the sides.

With a brush gently oil the surface of this first layer of pastry. Roll out another thin sheet of dough and place it on top of the first one without squashing it. Again with a brush delicately oil the surface. Roll out the third sheet of dough and place it on top of the second. This one must not be oiled. Instead place the silver beets and cheese mixture on top and uniformly flatten the surface. Sprinkle with some more marjoram leaves.

With the back of a tablespoon make five wells in the ricotta and silver beet mix. Break one egg into each hole, being careful to leave the yolk intact. On each egg pour a few drops of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter the remaining Parmesan cheese on top. 

Now you are ready to close the pie. Roll another sheet of very thin dough and cover the filling with it.  Brush the surface with oil and place the remaining two sheets on top in the same manner. Fold the overhanging pastry over the top to seal the pie. Prick some holes on the surface with a fork, being careful not to break the eggs and brush the top with a little more olive oil.

Bake in an oven at 180ºC for 60 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.


Cassata, Siclily

Dominique Rizzo, owner of Pure Food Cooking, Brisbane



This layered sponge and ricotta dessert is laced with liquor and sweetened with candied peel, chocolate and a little sugar and covered in marzipan or white icing.  The cassata is traditionally eaten at special occasions and is bought my many Sicilians to enjoy at Easter time.  “The cassata is believed to originate from Palermo where my father is from,” says Dominique. “It was originally an aristrocrat dessert and its recipe was heavily guarded by nuns and chefs alike who cooked for the wealthy.”  The delicate flavour of this luscious trifle is thanks to the invasion Arabian invasion of Sicily during the medieval period, who brought with them among other ingredients widely used in Sicilian cuisine, sugar and candied fruit.



500g vanilla sponge , store bought or home made , either is fine

2 cups (500 ml) water

½ cup (110 g) white sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon orange flower water

150g candied fruit for decorating such as glace orange, cherries, figs, candied ‘cedro’ or citron sliced finely with a peeler for decorating


Ricotta filling

1 kg firm fresh ricotta, drained well

¼ cup (55 g) caster sugar

½ cup (80 g) icing sugar

60g candied orange peel, or glace orange, chopped finely optional, if you don’t like orange peel, use 1 tbsp orange zest and add in some glace or candied fruits  chopped

100 g dark chocolate, chopped


3 cups (480 g) icing sugar

1 tablespoon milk



Slice the sponge into three layers of 1 cm thick slices. Grease and line a 23.5 cm spring form cake tin and using the cake tin as a guide cut out two circles the size of the base of the tin. With the other slices of sponge cut into strips of 6cm wide to cover the sides of the cake tin so that you almost completely line the tin with sponge with a disk of sponge left over for what will be the base. 

In a small heavy based saucepan over a moderate temperature dissolve the sugar, orange flower water, lemon juice and water, bring to the boil and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes until it resembles a light syrup. Remove the syrup from the heat and leave to cool for about 15 minutes. Using a pastry brush moisten the sponge on the base and sides of the tin keeping a small amount of syrup for the top of the cake.

 For the ricotta filling, ensure that the ricotta is well drained and quite dry. If it is too wet the cake will be sloppy and will not slice cleanly. To drain the ricotta you may need to place it into a colander or fine sieve in the fridge over a bowl for a couple of hours or overnight for a perfect consistency. Use a fork to combine the ricotta with the sugar, icing sugar, orange peel and fold in the chopped chocolate. You can also add ½ cup of liquor, usually cherry

 Spoon the ricotta filling in to the sponge and smooth over the top. Brush the remaining layer of sponge with the syrup and lay the syrup side down onto the ricotta. Press the sponge down gently and place a piece of baking paper on top of the sponge. Place a plate over the top and weigh down the sponge with tins or a heavy weight.  Place the cassata in the fridge for several hours or overnight to set for best results.

For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add milk. Stir the mixture very well until a smooth and thick white paste forms. Invert the cake onto a large plate. Pour the icing over the cake spreading it with a wet spatula to glaze the top and sides allowing the icing to spill over the cake. The icing should be slightly thick and very smooth. Leave to set for 1 hour in the fridge. Decorate the cake with the extra candied fruit and serve. The cassata is best eaten within two days.


Casadinias, Sardinia

Giovanni Pilu, Pilu at Freshwater

These cheese tarts are made with thin, white pastry that is free-formed in to a round, flower-like shape.  In some parts of Sardinia they are called ‘Pardulas’ and throughout Italy they known as ‘Formagelle’ but for Giovanni Pilu, they have always been called ‘Casadinas.’ “At Easter time, we always had Casadinias,” says Giovanni. He remembers his mother and aunties putting them in the bed between the bed sheets to keep them fresh. “I used to sneak in and steal one (or three), before lunch,” he recalls. If you own one, Giovanni recommends using pasta machine to roll the dough as finely as possible. Otherwise, a rolling pin is fine. This recipe makes quite a few and can easily be halved but they’ll keep for a week covered and refrigerated, just warm them through in a 100°C oven for 10 minutes or so before serving.


Makes about 40


For the filling

100g sultanas

350g well-drained ricotta

150g young Pecorino Sardo, freshly grated

60g fine semolina, sifted

Pinch fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon saffron threads

3 eggs, lightly beaten

100g castor sugar

1 orange, zest finely grated

1 lemon, zest finely rated

Tipo 00 flour, for dusting


For the Pastry

400g tipo 00 flour

Pinch fine sea salt

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 cup water, more or less

25g butter, melted



Cover sultanas with warm water and set aside for about 30 minutes to reconstitute them; drain and pat dry.  Sift flour and salt into the bowl. If possible, mix use with the dough hook attachment on your electric mixer.  Pour in the egg whites and150ml of the water and mix until absorbed. Mix in butter, then start adding remaining water, a little at a time, to form a firm dough.  You may not need it all; towards the end it doesn’t take much extra water for the dough to become too soft. Tip dough onto a clean, lightly floured work bench and knead with the heels of your hands for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, push ricotta through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl. Stir in Pecorino, semolina, sultanas, salt, and saffron. Add eggs, one third at a time, beating each lot in before the next is added. Stir in sugar, lemon and orange zest and mix well.

Cut the dough in half and, using a rolling pin on a clean, lightly floured work bench, flatten slightly. Cover one piece of dough with a clean tea towel to prevent it drying out. Pass the other piece through a pasta machine on the widest setting, then fold in half and pass again, then fold in half and pass a third time. Reduce the setting by one notch and pass the dough through the machine 3 more times, reducing the setting by one notch each time dusting lightly with a little flour if it starts to stick. It should end up about 3mm-thick. Whenever the dough gets too long to handle, cut it in half and continue with each half separately, keeping any dough that isn’t being rolled under the tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 150°C.

Lay a sheet of pastry out on a clean, lightly floured work bench and cut out discs with a 9cm round cutter. Place discs on a clean tea towel and cover with another clean tea towel. Cover leftover pastry with a clean tea towel as well. Repeat with remaining pastry, then reroll off-cuts to make more discs.

Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre of a disc and gently press it down to flatten a little. Fold the sides of the disc up, pinching them to form a cup around the filing. Using an egg lift carefully place the filled tart on a baking paper-lined baking tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and repeat with remaining discs and filling.

Place trays in oven and cook for 20 minutes, then swap the positions of the trays and cook for a further 20 minutes or so, until the filling is well browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Serve just warm.


Pastiera Napolitana, Campania              

Armando Percuoco, Buon Ricordo



“Naples is a city that revolves very much around food and all of our special days and celebrations are associated with a particular dish,” says Armando. “In the old days, you could close your eyes and tell what day of the year it was because of the smell in the air and at Easter you could always smell a Pastiera baking.” These days, this sweet, ricotta-filled pie is sold year-round and is popular throughout Italy. The wheat or ‘farro’ in the filling is symbolic of the pagan celebration of spring, the planting of new crops and rebirth. Although the pastiera is eaten throughout the Easter period Armando’s memories of the pie revolve mainly around Pasquetta (Easter Monday). “On Pasquetta, the whole of Italy goes on a picnic,” says Armando “and we always wrapped up a Pastiera to take with as and enjoy.”



For the Filling

300 g (10 oz) farro (or gran cotto)

1 tbsp pork dripping (or butter)

pinch of salt

1 litre (35 fl oz) milk

10 g (2⁄3 oz) ground cinnamon

vanilla stick

zest of 1 lemon, sliced very fine

500 g (16 oz) ricotta cheese

zest of 1 orange, sliced very fine

250 g (8 oz) candied fruit

125 ml (4 fl oz) orange blossom


100 ml (3. fl oz) Strega liqueur

6 eggs, separated

6 tbsp sugar

icing sugar for dusting


For the Pastry

500 g (1 lb) flour

200 g (6. oz) sugar

pinch of salt

300 g (10 oz) butter, cut into

small cubes

1 egg

1 x baking dish, 25 cm diameter

x 5 cm deep (10 x 2 inches)



Put the farro into a large saucepan, cover with 2 litres (72 fl oz) of cold water and add the pork dripping and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for 3 hours. Strain and put it back into the saucepan. Add the milk, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon zest. Cook for another 2 hours until the faro resembles porridge. If it starts to dry out, add more milk. Set aside to cool. If using grano cotto, skip the initial 3 hours of cooking. Put the grains in the saucepan with the milk and flavourings and cook for 2 hours as

described above. For the pastry, mix together the flour, sugar and salt, then rub in the butter.

Beat the egg with a fork and knead it with the flour. Gather the dough into

a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Sprinkle some flour on a bench top and on a rolling pin, and roll out the dough to about 5mm. Cut out a large circle of pastry wide enough to linethe base and sides of the baking dish. Cut off the excess pastry, gather it into a ball and set it aside in the fridge for decorating the pie later.

Sieve the ricotta into a large bowl. Add the ‘porridge’, orange zest, candied fruit, Strega and orange flower water. Mix well. Beat the egg yolks and the sugar until smooth and creamy, then add to the ricotta mixture. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff with a whisk or an egg beater and gently fold into the ricotta mixture.

Pour the filling into the pastry case. Cut the remaining pastry into strips

about 1cm wide and lay the strips across the pie in a lattice

pattern. Where they meet at the edges, press the pastry case and lattice

strips together. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Cool.

To serve, dust with icing sugar. It is good with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

time 6 hours (or 3 hours if using precooked grains)


Torta Sbrisolona, Lombardy

Stefano Manfredi, Bells at Killcare



La Columba di Pasqua originates from Lombardy and is the most common dessert consumed at Easter time in Italy. With a similar texture to Panettone, it is baked in the shape of a dove and decorated with granulated sugar and candied fruits. These days, La Columba is usually bought from the pasticceria, and for good reason, says Stefano. “It's a very complicated yeasted cake that calls for multiple risings and is quite difficult for people at home to make.”  A more simple and equally delicious Lombardian option is Torta Sbrisolona.  “Torta Sbrisolina gets its name from the word 'bricciole' meaning grains,” Says Stefano, “and refers to its sandy texture.”  This peculiar texture is a result of the polenta used in the mixture.



Makes 2 x 18cm torte

125g plain flour

80g fine polenta

100g blanched almond meal

80g castor sugar

1 egg yolk

60g butter

50g duck fat

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons grated lemon rind



Mix the flour and polenta with the almond meal, sugar, yolk, lemon juice and rind. Incorporate the butter and the duck fat. Place dough at about 1cm depth into two well buttered 18cm round tart moulds and bake for 30 minutes at 180C. They should be lightly golden. Let cool completely before serving. Sbrisolona is never cut but broken into pieces. Perfect with coffee and sweet wine.


Written by Amanda Vallis and previously published on SBS Food.



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