Spring & Easter

ricottawholepie.jpgWhen I think of Easter, I think of pies. Not chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, or colorful Easter eggs, but delicious Italian pies, especially ricotta.

Growing up, my mom always prepared a traditional and labor intensive Easter dinner. In truth, she could have skipped the whole thing and just served her pies. In the week before Easter Sunday, our house became a dairy. The shelves in the second refrigerator in our basement sagged from countless dozens of eggs, pints of cream, pounds of butter, and tubs of ricotta cheese needed for our pie production.

Although it can be made year-round, ricotta pie (torta di ricotta) is an Italian cheesecake that is especially associated with Easter. There are many regional recipes for ricotta pie, some savory and some sweet. Savory versions usually include meats and additional cheeses, while sweet pies are typically flavored with citrus, nuts, and chocolate.

When I called my mom for her recipe last week, I learned that it was Nan's and that it had a storied past. "Nan was the first person in the family to use pineapple instead of citron in her ricotta pie. And boy were her sisters jealous!” I had no idea Nan was a baking maverick.

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big3.jpg When I was little, I had absolutely no idea what Easter represented.  All I knew was it had something to do with Jesus and you got chocolate bunnies for it.  My neighbor, Rory McManus told me Jesus was always by your side.  I loved that idea. Here was a magical being who could witness all my acts of kindness and maybe I’d get a reward of some kind. I don’t know, maybe all the candy I wanted, or maybe I’d be the kind of “pretty” boys fought over.

There was so much about Easter to love. Spring for one thing. I loved that time of year because of the colors.  Spring is beautiful in Los Angeles.  Our street was endowed with bougainvillea in every imaginable variations of pink, yellow, orange, red and purple. The ritual of dying boiled eggs along with the smell of vinegar was intoxicating, and another thing that involved color.  Pleasing ones.  Pastel ones. The candy around Easter time was the best.  

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eggsaladitalianplateWith Easter just passed, who isn't thinking about eggs? When I was a kid I loved dyeing and decorating eggs. But instead of using hard boiled eggs, I thought it was infinitely cooler to de-egg my Easter eggs.

I remember using one of my mother's sewing needles to punch holes on either end of the uncooked egg. Putting my mouth against the egg, I'd huff-and-puff and blow until the raw egg dropped into a bowl.

Admittedly that was a lot of extra work and there were risks. Making the holes and blowing into the egg could crack the shell. Worse, all that huffing-and-puffing sometimes led to hyper-ventilating, so my mother kept an eye on me, just in case I got dizzy and fell off the chair.

In my child's mind, that extra effort was worth it because the feather-weight shells, brightly dyed and covered with decals, were so much more artful than the heavy hard boiled eggs.

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piccadilly.jpgSpring break senior year, two months before I graduate from NYU is not exactly a vacation even though I went to London to visit my Dad.  It’s more like preparation for my final senior project, a focused study amalgamating EVERYTHING I’ve learned up ‘til now, split up by small breaks of art, shopping, and of course, food.  Basically, stress oozed out of every pore the entire ten days.  I tried doing yoga; I tried going for runs; I tried a few breathing exercises, and sure, all of that helped, but there’s really only one thing that hit the spot: chain restaurants.

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cookies.jpg As Easter fast approaches I get excited at the prospect of having a houseful of friends and family that have been fasting for the last 30 hours that I can lovingly overfeed!

When my Grandmother came to America in 1914, all her recipes were stored in her head. As she settled in a small town in Maine, she had a tin knocker make a set of baking pans for her food. I was lucky enough to have these handed down and we fill them every Easter just as she did.

My sister and I cook non-stop for 2 days, then we start decorating the house. The olives need marinating, the eggs have to be dyed and polished, the cookies need to be baked and dusted with confectionary sugar, the lamb butterflied and bathed in wine and herbs. We are busier than santa’s workshop!

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