Colombe cakes are a celebrated Easter treat throughout Italy, but did you know that Umbria has its own leavened Easter speciality? Today, chef Jennifer McIlvaine joined us to bake the region’s signature Easter bread, Torta Di Pasqua, before she returns home to Cannara. She gave us a little background on this delicious dish, as well as her own recipe. Here’s what she had to say about this beloved Torta.
Easter is the most important holiday in the Catholic church, so for Italians, Easter is the biggest holiday, even bigger than Christmas. In its earliest incarnation, Easter began as a Roman pagan tradition, which the Church turned into a Christian holiday to bring people into the fold.
During Carnevale, we make a lot of fried food because we have to use up all the fats, lard, and sugar in the house before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter. During Lent, tradition says you’re supposed to fast from sweets and meat. But then on Easter morning, we eat Torta Di Pasqua.
Easter is the only day of the year that we eat a salty breakfast. We’ve been fasting from heavy things, but Torta Di Pasqua, or Pizza Di Pasqua, has eggs, pork fat, and lots of cheeses. Eggs were considered very expensive, so anything that has a lot of eggs was a sign of richness. In fact, we eat the Torta di Pasqua with a hard boiled egg. Eggs are another old pagan tradition. They have always been a sign of spring, of rebirth and new beginnings. And that is why we have eggs for Easter.
Another traditional dish we eat on Easter morning with Torta Di Pasqua are the first salumi of the year. Today, farmers makes salumi all year long because we have refrigerators. However before refrigerators, farmers would only butcher pigs in November, December, and January, the coldest months of the year. The first salumi–smaller cuts like salami and capocollo–would age for three months and be ready to eat by Easter. So the tradition is that you eat Torta Di Pasqua, a hard boiled egg, and a slice of salumi. We always have lamb at easter, so we also eat Coratella, a lamb innerd stew, for breakfast as well. In Cannara, our town, we drink a sweet wine called Vernaccia with breakfast as well.
As far as buying Torta Di Pasqua versus making your own, in my town the split is about 50/50. In Cannara, the baker opens up his oven to the people of the town, usually on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, and lets them bake their own bread. So many people makes the dough at home and bakes it in his big oven. The best Torta Di Pasqua is made in a wood-fired oven, so you’ll see people light up their ovens a few days before Easter and then everybody brings their dough over. It’s a community thing, so people cook them together. It’s nice.
Here is Jennifer’s recipe for Torta Di Pasqua, which she made fresh for us today. Snag a mini Torta or get your very own full-sized loaf before they’re gone!
Jennifer McIlvaine’s Pizza Di Pasqua
25 g brewer’s yeast
1 tsp sugar
100g warm water
300g ’00’ flour
500g ‘0’ flour + 100g for dusting
150g grated pecorino romano
150g grated parmigiano reggiano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
5 Tbs e.v. olive oil
150g diced sharp provolone
150g diced swiss cheese
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Slowly add the flours, little by little, alternating with the eggs. Mix well. Add the grated cheeses, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the lard and olive oil. Knead well for about 10 minutes. Add the diced provolone & swiss cheese and knead until well mixed. Divide the dough into two equal parts and form into balls, folding the dough over itself. Place each ball into a deep baking tin that has been greased (with lard) and floured.
Let rise for about 2 hours or until dough has reached the top of the tin. Bake in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes, then 180°C for another 40 minutes. The Tortas are ready when a test stick comes out clean.
Every family has its own Torta Di Pasqua recipe. Check back later for more variations!