“Natale con i tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi” goes a famous Italian saying. It means “Spend the Christmas holidays with your family, but enjoy Easter with whoever you wish” – and it pretty much sums up the attitude with which Easter is experienced by the majority of people. Easter is in fact a national and bank holiday that usually offers the first opportunity of the year to enjoy a brief getaway to enjoy a few days in the sun. The day after Easter (called ‘pasquetta’, meaning ‘small Easter’) is traditionally dedicated to having a picnic with friends – and to recover from the calorie-rich lunch and dinner of the day before. Italian highways are hence customarily packed with slow-moving cars and hotels are full: travelling in advance to your chosen destination is recommended, and bookings for rooms and restaurants tend to close as far as six weeks in advance.
Keeping in tune with its character, Italy does have traditional Easter foods that make a great use of seasonal ingredients. Lamb dishes like abbacchio alla romana are a classic: until the new millennium it was almost inconceivable to eat anything else on Easter day! Eggs do not appear on menus as often as in the past either, but they are an ingredient of torta pasqualina, or Easter cake. That’s not a sweet cake, however, but a very hearty vegetable pie originally from the Genova area and subsequently adopted all over the country. Chocolate eggs are of course the dessert of choice, along with colomba pasquale (Easter dove), which can be best described as a Christmas panettone shaped in the form of a flying dove symbolizing the triumph of Christianity.