Italian Easter meal traditions, ingredients and dishes

Crafting The Perfect Italian Easter Meal: Essential Traditions & Dishes

By

|

If you are here it’s likely you are curious to know more about how Italians celebrate Easter, and more specifically what an Italian Easter meal looks like.

Maybe you are thinking of going to Italy for Easter, this year or the next one. Do you want to incorporate some tasty Italian Easter traditions into your celebrations?

Either way, I trust this article will provide you with delicious insights into what Easter is like on an Italian’s table.

Let’s dive in.



5 Italian Easter Traditions Around The Table

Like any Italian Holiday, Easter traditions start around the table in Italy. Other than the religious and cultural events, that are beyond the scope of this article, the most important Italian Easter traditions are all food-related.

Let’s see the top 5 Italian Easter traditions that Italians can’t do without when celebrating Pasqua (Easter in Italian).

  1. Italian Easter Cake or Colomba
  2. Italian Easter Egg
  3. Fresh Homemade Pasta
  4. Cooking with eggs
  5. Ricotta and cheese recipes


1. Italian Easter Cake (Colomba)

The Easter dove cake known as Colomba has its origins in Lombardy during medieval times. As the story goes, the town of Pavia gifted a sweet bread shaped like a dove, symbolizing peace, to King Alboin during a years-long siege just before Easter.

While doves represent peace, the dome shape with sugar icing also symbolizes Christ’s resurrection. Commercially-made Colomba as we know it today was invented in 1930 by marketer Dino Villani to give Easter its own signature dessert.

Italian colomba is the main dessert of a traditional Italian Easter meal


2. Italian Easter Eggs

Decorating Easter eggs originates in Medieval times, but their chocolate versions first came from Louis XIV’s royal chocolatier in the early 1700s.

Handcrafted chocolate Easter eggs became high-fashion gifts amongst Italian nobility in Turin by 1725. That year, shop owner Giambone started the trend of filling chicken egg shells with chocolate – making beautiful gifts that also told the Biblical resurrection story through the symbolism of eggs.


3. Fresh Homemade Pasta

Fresh pasta has graced Italian Easter tables since ancient Roman times. Making pasta by hand wasn’t just about necessity, but gave families a meaningful activity reflecting Italian values around food. 

Specifically for Easter feast days, the extra effort makes the meal special – seen in special shapes, lasagnas, bakes, or dressed pasta. Mothers, daughters, and other relatives often make it together, continuing traditions linking pasta, family, and meaning.


4. Cooking with Eggs

Eggs symbolizing Christ’s resurrection make them essential for Easter meals. But decorated and gifted eggs also represent pagan traditions wishing fertility, prosperity, and rebirth. 

Italians have baked eggs into breads, rustic pies, and stuffed eggs for centuries – with egg pasta playing a special role. Beyond pasta, eggs feature in Torta Pasqualina, appetizers, tarts, pizzas, and desserts. Italians continue making these egg-based Easter recipe traditions today.


5. Ricotta and Cheese Recipes

Called the “official Easter cheese”, ricotta sales always peak around Easter and Spring. After harsh Winters, mild and fresh ricotta welcomes warmer months ahead. 

Beyond flavor, ricotta provides the flexibility central to Italian cooking – used in everything from appetizers to pasta fillings, to cheesecakes and other sweets. Its subtle flavor elevates recipes without overpowering, perfectly suiting Easter’s joy and optimism. 


Lamb is part of an Italian Easter meal

What About Lamb? Do Italians Eat Lamb For Easter?

Lamb is an important part of Italian Easter meals because it has a special Christian meaning. For Jews long ago, the lamb was eaten on Passover to remember how God “passed over” the houses of Israelites in Egypt when He saw lamb’s blood on their doors. 

Later, for Christians, the lamb came to represent Jesus, the “Lamb of God” who was sacrificed. So lamb on Easter reminds Italians of sacrifice and the new hope that comes each Spring.

Italians cook lamb in many ways for Easter. Some popular recipes are roasted whole lamb, lamb baked in the oven with vegetables, and young lamb stews. The dishes are different across Italy, but lamb is on most Easter menus. 

PS: Lamb in Italian is “agnello”.


10 Classic Ingredients Synonymous With Italian Easter

If I could only pick 10 ingredients to have on my Easter table year in and out it would be these. If you ask other Italians, they would likely give you a very similar list. That’s because these ingredients are synonymous with Easter, Spring, Italian cuisine, and celebrations.


Lamb

As I mentioned earlier, lamb is a big Easter tradition since it reminds Italians about Bible stories and Jesus’ sacrifice.


Fresh Pasta

Handmade pasta brings Italian families together on holidays while celebrating food traditions. Italians love preparing complex pasta dishes like lasagna, cannelloni, or fresh ravioli on special occasions including Easter.

Fresh pasta is part of an Italian Easter meal


Ricotta

Ricotta cheese is a must at Easter when Italians use it in savory and sweet dishes. It’s fresh and delicious in the warming Spring weather.


Cheese

Whether baked into pastries, grated over pasta and appetizers, or showcased simply, Italian Easter meals wouldn’t be the same without it.


Pastry

Puff and shortcrust pastries are the stars of rustic Italian Easter pies, including the famous Torta Pasqualina and the various cheese tarts that Italians like to bring to their tables.

Let’s not forget the important role pastry has in Italian Easter Desserts, including crostatas, custard, and other pies, cheesecakes, cannoli, and butter biscuits.


Potatoes 

Rare in everyday Italian cooking, especially when compared to American and British cuisines, potatoes feel special for Sunday roasts and celebrations like Easter. Their heartiness perfectly complements richer lamb and baked dishes.


Asparagus

Asparagus comes into season around Easter, giving a fresh and green taste that signals Spring is here.


Artichokes

Like asparagus, artichokes start ripening in the early Spring. Their unique look and earthy taste seem perfectly suited for the Italian Easter table.


Crusty Bread

Beyond daily sustenance, bread’s crunch and versatility play a special role on holidays – seen in bread-based appetizers, like egg crostini, and big Italian Easter bread like Cuddura cu l’ova.


Limoncello

Limoncello is available and enjoyed year-round in Italy. However, lemon and citrus flavors are reminiscent of spring and summer, and it’s during this time of year that the largest lemon harvest occurs. For these reasons, I cannot imagine ending an Easter meal without a glass.

End your Italian Easter meal with limoncello



7 Italian Easter Recipes To Add To Your Easter Menu

Summing up the key Italian Easter traditions and essential ingredients that truly make an Italian Easter special and loved, I am listing the top 7 recipes that you should consider bringing on your easter table this year and those after.


1. Stuffed Boiled Eggs

This egg dish makes a simple and easy to make appetizer. A traditional stuffing includes tuna, capers, and mayonnaise with the optional addition of anchovies for extra flavor.


2. Torta Pasqualina

Also known as Savory Italian Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica, is the most traditional Easter dish enjoyed during the season in Italy

This savory pie features a flaky pastry crust filled with a luscious mixture of ricotta cheese, spinach, eggs, and aromatic herbs such as parsley and marjoram. The pie is typically adorned with whole eggs baked into the filling, symbolizing rebirth and renewal, making it a fitting centerpiece for Easter celebrations.

Other popular Italian Easter pies include Cassatiello, Tortano and Torta al formaggio.

Torta pasqualina is a traditional Easter meal starter


3. Cuddura cu l’ova

This is a traditional Italian Easter bread typical of the southern regions of Italy, particularly Sicily and Calabria. This festive bread is shaped into intricate designs, often resembling a nest or crown to symbolize abundance and fertility, and adorned with colorful Easter eggs nestled within the dough. 

The bread itself is lightly sweetened and flavored with aromatic ingredients such as citrus zest, vanilla, and spices like cinnamon or anise.

Many savory options exist, including the popular Sardinian Coccoi cun s’ou.

Typical bread for an Italian Easter meal


4. Traditional Lasagna 

Tying it back to the Italian tradition of enjoying fresh pasta for Easter, lasagna or baked pasta is part of most Italians’ Easter menu. I suggest you join in on this tradition, and if you want to take it to the next level you can try a lamb ragu version.

Other great pasta options include cannelloni with beef and spinach and stuffed pasta shells.


5. Artichoke and Asparagus Risotto

If you’d like to keep the first course lighter, you can opt for a vegetarian risotto featuring these two key vegetables of the season.

The preparation is as simple as the classic mushroom or chicken risotto, with the addition of a vegetable or chicken broth, and the optional use of bacon. Of course, don’t forget parmesan and even better pecorino cheese to finish it off tastefully.


6. Roasted Lamb Casserole with potatoes and rosemary 

Whatever cut of lamb you prefer doesn’t matter, but you will never go wrong with a casserole that features these three ingredients, along with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil.


7. Italian Easter Cookies

If you want to get baking, I would suggest making Italian biscotti di Pasqua or Easter cookies, which are rustic cookies with sprinkles on topHere’s a great video recipe. 

Feel free to omit the hard-boiled eggs and don’t forget to turn on the English subtitles.


Every Italian Easter meal ends with a chocolate egg

Best Italian Easter Desserts

The easiest way to add a taste of Italy to your Easter dessert selection is to enjoy an Italian Easter egg like the classic Kinder chocolate egg, popular among children, or the Perugina ones, appreciated by both children and adults. 

We can’t of course forget about the Italian Easter Cake, “Colomba”, the Easter version of panettone. I suggest  you try to get your hands on an artisan Colomba, instead of a supermarket one. Good options are Vergani, and Olivieri as opposed to Bauli (nothing wrong with Bauli but it’s a more commercial brand).

If there’s an Italian confectionery in your town, you could also buy a Pastiera Napoletana, a rich ricotta tart with orange peel from Naples.



Final Thoughts

I hope this article has inspired you to add a few Italian culinary traditions and recipes to your Easter table.

Remember that Italian Easter meals are just another occasion for Italians to come together, enjoy meaningful connections and keep cherished customs alive from Nonna’s kitchen to the next generation.

Read these next..

Italian Food Glossary
Italian Traditions
Italian Aperitivo



Italian Easter Celebration FAQ

What is the traditional Italian Easter dinner?

Typical Italian Easter dinners center around lamb or other meats alongside seasonal veggies. Common items are roast lamb, lasagna, braised artichokes, roasted potatoes, and Italian Easter breads and pies, followed by the traditional Colomba cake.

What is traditional Sicilian Easter food?

In Sicily, traditional Easter foods include impanate ragusane, small pies stuffed with lamb, potatoes and peas; and pasta ‘ncasciata, a baked pasta featuring a meat ragu plus eggplant, caciocavallo cheese, and other ingredients.

What do Italians give for Easter?

Common Italian Easter gifts include chocolate eggs, colomba cakes, pastries, flowers, and offerings to godchildren like money or jewelry.

What is a traditional Easter dinner menu?

A traditional Italian Easter menu often has roast lamb, lasagna or stuffed pasta, seasonal vegetables like artichokes, roasted potatoes, Easter breads/pies, and Italian Easter desserts like colomba cake.

How do Italians celebrate Easter Sunday?

Italians celebrate Easter Sunday by having a big family meal, attending church services, exchanging gifts, enjoying Easter sweets, and sometimes participating in local processions.

What do they eat in southern Italy for Easter?

Southern Italy Easter foods include timballi, lasagna or another baked pasta,  lamb or capretto (baby goat), scarole salad, pastiera napoletana cake, and colomba.

What do they eat in Rome for lunch on Easter?

In Rome for Easter lunch they often eat abbacchio (baby lamb), corallina salad, roasted potatoes and other artichokes dishes. Dessert is typically colomba cake.

Why do Italians eat colomba for Easter?

The dove-shaped colomba cake symbolizes peace and Jesus’ resurrection. It was invented in 1930 based on older Easter bread traditions.

What is Easter lunch in Sicily?

A typical Sicilian Easter lunch includes dishes like lamb, insalata di cavolo, caponata, cannoli, cassata cake, and limoncello. 

Is Easter a big deal in Italy?

Yes, Easter is a very big family and religious holiday in Italy with large feasts and local celebrations.

Why is Easter called Pasqua in Italy?

Pasqua means Passover in Italian, relating to the Jewish origins of the Easter holiday traditions.

What is an Italian Easter egg?

Italian Easter eggs are often handmade, decorated chocolate eggs given as gifts. Chocolate eggs with surprises inside are popular.

What is pizza rustica?

Pizza rustica is a savory Italian Easter tart or pie with pastry dough filled with cheese, cured meats, vegetables, herbs and eggs.

What’s the name of the famous Italian Easter pie?

The famous Italian Easter savory pie is called Torta Pasqualina. There is also a sweet Easter pie called pastiera.

At what time is Italian Easter dinner typically?

Italian Easter dinner is usually later, around 1pm – 2pm as lunch goes longer into the afternoon.

What’s an Italian Easter dessert made with ricotta cheese?

Popular Italian Easter desserts with ricotta include cassata cake, cannoli, and pastiera pie.

Posted in

|

Tagged with:

Alessia
Alessia Spampinato