When my brothers and I were growing up, spring and Easter always came hand in hand. In anticipation of the season and the holiday, my mother and grandmother cleaned the house from top to bottom, changing the heavy drapes for criss-crossed sheer curtains, steam cleaning rugs, dressing the furniture in flowered slipcovers. My brothers and I always had brand-new outfits that we wore to church on Easter Sunday, there were pots of lilies and hyacinths and azaleas wrapped in pastel foil for my mother and grandmother, and the Easter Bunny always hid huge, cellophane-wrapped baskets filled with candy. In the center of each basket was an enormous chocolate-covered egg inscribed with the name of its owner. We itched for mass to be over so we could go home, tear into our baskets, and search for hidden eggs, both hard-boiled and plastic, the latter stuffed with yet more candy. We had all given up chocolate for Lent, so after 40 days, our sweet tooths were ravenous.
It is no surprise that I wanted to continue this tradition with my own children. However, my husband and I had made a decision about their upbringing early on. We wanted them to have a healthful diet, and twenty-five years ago, that meant substituting carob for chocolate. Sugar was out, honey was in, and children weren't even allowed honey until after they were a year old. Somehow, an Easter basket filled with carob-coated raisins and peanuts and bear-shaped bottles of clover honey didn't have the same cachet as the baskets I remembered. So, throwing caution to the wind, a certain bunny was allowed to deliver baskets containing candy in many shapes and every size. The baskets bulged with bonbons--foil-covered chocolate eggs, egg-shaped peanut-butter cups, dark chocolate crosses stuffed with marshmallow, pastel candy corn, yellow and pink marshmallow peeps, robin-blue speckled malted milk eggs, mini chocolate eggs covered in bright candy coating. In the center of each basket loomed a large chocolate bunny, almost as big as the kids themselves. Although both our daughter and son questioned the existence of Santa Claus early, they never doubted the Easter Bunny was real. What else would explain the flood of candy after a year-long drought?
These chocolate orgies have always culminated in a big Italian Easter breakfast with the extended family. The centerpiece of the meal is still the frittata. To say a frittata is like an omelet is like saying that Penn State is just a college. Like the chocolate eggs of my youth or my children's Easter bunnies, the frittata dominates the table because of its size. When I was a child, my grandmother always made the frittata, and my father's first question was always, "How many eggs this year?" Back then, when there were nine of us at the table, her answer was usually a number in the low thirties. The other ingredients vary from region to region, but we follow the same recipe that my great-grandmother brought with her from Italy, which my Italian cousins still make. Now that the family has expanded to include spouses and grandchildren, there are some changes. Instead of my grandmother, my brother makes the frittata. Instead of thirty eggs, he uses at least fifty. He stands over the stove for over an hour, gently stirring the eggs to create a masterpiece for our family, just like my grandmother and her mother.
Over time, our children's taste in candy has changed. They are looking for quality, not quantity in their sweets, so the Easter Bunny now limits her shopping to Eclat Chocolate. However, the Easter highlight is still the frittata. Here is a rendition for smaller families to enjoy.
12 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
several generous grinds of fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
zest from one large orange, finely grated (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons freshly grated locatelli cheese (you may substitute other sharp Italian cheeses) plus additional for garnish
1 cup ricotta cheese
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
orange slices for garnish
Break the eggs into a large bowl. Beat until well blended, and add the salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley, orange zest, and grated cheese. Gently add the ricotta cheese, but do not completely incorporate it into the egg mixture. You should see small pieces of ricotta floating in the beaten eggs.
Heat an 8-9 inch frying pan over medium heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Test to see if it is hot enough by adding a small cube of bread. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Remove the bread cube. Carefully add the egg mixture to the hot oil. Allow the egg to start to get firm before gently moving the cooked egg to the center of the pan. Continue to stir gently to move the cooked egg into the middle, but not so often to create scrambled eggs. When the frittata is firm and almost cooked through, either flip or broil the frittata .
Option 1: Flip the frittata--Cover the pan with a plate that is slightly larger than the pan. Carefully invert the pan and plate, shaking the pan gently to move the frittata onto the plate. Remove the pan. If there are any bits of egg remaining on the bottom, remove them with a spatula. Clean the pan with a generous wad of paper towels. Return the pan to the stove, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and return to temperature before returning the frittata to the pan, uncooked side down. Allow it to finish cooking without stirring. Gently shake the pan to keep the frittata from sticking. Continue cooking until the bottom of the frittata is lightly browned.
Option 2: Broil the frittata--Preheat the broiler when you add the egg to the pan. Move the pan with the frittata under the broiler until the top is golden and the egg is cooked through.
When the frittata is completely cooked, slide it onto a serving platter. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese, and surround the dish with orange slices.
Serves 4 to 6 people.