Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter Bread and Frittata

Credit: Double Nickel Farm

For many, Easter is synonymous with candy, marshmallow peeps, chocolate bunnies, coconut eggs, jelly beans, even pastel candy corn. When I was growing up, I looked forward to shopping for a spring coat, dress, and patent leather shoes. My brothers and I anxiously anticipated an end to this season of fasting and penance. We were starving for all the foods we gave up for Lent.  One of my fondest Easter memories involves not candy but bread.

After a long Lenten season, my great-grandmother would celebrate the coming of Easter with a special bread. She started with a rich, brioche-like dough, shaped it into a braided ring, and tucked colored hard-boiled eggs into the spaces in the braid. For her great-granddaughters, she would make pocketbooks from the bread with a colored egg peeking out from the top. For her great- grandsons, she made long-eared bunnies holding an egg in its paws. Did anyone think to write down her recipe? Sadly, no.

The eggs in the bread made the children aware of this important symbol for Easter, which for my great-grandmother was truly a holy day. Eggs represent new life, and for Catholics, Easter is about the Resurrection, so eggs represent Christ's emergence from the tomb.

My brother Michael
with our Easter frittata,
a 50 egg omelet.
Now that even the youngest of our family is too old to hunt for eggs, they are still a part of our Easter tradition. The centerpiece of our Easter brunch is a frittata. This frittata is true to our great-grandmother's recipe that she brought with her from a tiny village near Cassino, but as our family has grown, so has the size of this special omelet. I can remember my father coming into the kitchen, asking my grandmother how many eggs were in the frittata this year. My brother Michael has taken over responsibility for making the frittata, which has grown to 50 eggs. That is not a misprint.

This frittata is not fast food. Michael starts over an hour before we sit down. He carefully cracks fifty eggs into a huge bowl. He finely chops a whole bunch of Italian parsley. He grates orange rind. He adds a three-pound container of ricotta to the eggs and carefully breaks up the yolks and incorporates the cheese. He heats oil in the skillet until is sizzles when he drops a teaspoon of the egg mixture into the pan. And then it's time to pour the egg mixture into the oil, to carefully lift cooked egg to allow raw to seep underneath. Eventually, it's time to flip the frittata over, no feat for the timid, but Michael has never been accused of being a scaredy cat. And then it's time to serve this masterpiece to the oohs and aahs of everyone at the table. We'll say grace and be thankful for our family, and then savor the best frittata ever.

May you and your family have a happy and holy Easter Sunday.

Here is a scaled-down recipe for our family's frittata recipe:

8 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tablespoon grated orange rind
1/4 cup chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
pinch salt
generous grind of fresh pepper

2 Tablespoons canola oil

sprigs of parsley and thin slices of orange for garnish

Mix the eggs with a fork until the yolks are broken, then add the next 5 ingredients. Mix until well incorporated. Heat about half the canola oil in a medium skillet* until it sizzles when a drop of egg is added. Add the egg mixture. As the egg cooks, gently lift the cooked egg and allow the raw egg to run underneath. When the eggs are set but the top is still moist, remove the skillet from the heat, place a plate that is slightly larger than the skillet on top, and flip the frittata onto the plate. Remove any egg that is stuck to the bottom of the pan, wipe the pan clean, reheat with remaining oil. (Work quickly!) Slip the frittata back into the skillet, wet side down, and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Transfer the frittata to a clean plate, garnish with the parsley sprigs and orange slices. Serves two or three generously.
*Use a medium or even a small skillet so that the frittata is thicker than a standard omelet.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Sfinge di San Giuseppe

While the celebration of Easter has to be calculated each year based on the spring equinox and the phases of the moon, St. Joseph’s Day is a fixed late-winter holiday. March 19 is the day Catholics around the world honor the father of Jesus. It is also the day Italians honor all fathers.

The celebration of St. Joseph’s Day is somewhat muted because it always falls in Lent, but most fathers I know prefer less fuss than more, so the tone of the day fits most dads. Of course, it involves food, but it is a meatless holiday.

Every Italian meal includes a pasta course, and many people serve Pasta di San Guise, pasta with breadcrumbs that symbolize sawdust, with the obvious connection to St. Joseph’s profession.

The food most associated with St. Joseph’s Day is Sfinge di San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph’s cream puffs. You can buy them at a traditional Italian grocery, especially if the owner is from Sicily, but you need to buy them early. When I visited Croce’s at noon, there were only a few of the mascarpone-filled cream puffs left.

St. Joseph’s Day also marks the beginning of the spring planting season. My great-grandmother always started her garden on this day, planting peas and onions. She based all her planting on the liturgical calendar rather than the Farmer's Almanac and was always successful. 

To celebrate your father, here is a recipe for Pasta di San Guise:

1 pound of angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions.

As the water is coming to a boil, prepare the sauce.

2 TBSP olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped fresh fennel
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP chopped fresh basil
4 cans of drained, skinless, boneless sardines

Heat oil in large pot, and saute in it the garlic and pepper flakes. Add the fennel, tomatoes, paste, and basil. Cover and let simmer 30 minutes until fennel is tender. Add the sardines and simmer a few more minutes.

1 TBSP olive oil
1 cup fine homemade breadcrumbs

Heat oil, and add crumbs and heat until golden brown. Pour sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.