Easter: Crescia, Tiramisu and Rebirth.

I realize that Easter, which is to be regarded as a moment of renewal, means nothing to many people.

I do not mean to talk about religion, but I would like to mention some symbols that belong to this moveable feast.

Here in Italy, Easter has always represented the most important festivity of the year. In a rural world in which winter hardships could be overwhelming and Lent was not difficult to observe when food was scarce, religiousness was often only fake zealotry dressed up to conceal hunger. Easter was a funeral before being a celebration.

I often stop and think of the expectation there was in the hearts and minds of those who had to live on potatoes and cabbage alone for an entire season. Can you imagine the moment when they could bake rich breads loaded with cheese, have freshly made ricotta with sugar and Zabaglione, and deep-fry Acacia flowers? Can you imagine what the smell of cheese-loaded bread baking in the oven meant for those who faced malady and frustration?

Grandmas would hard boil eggs, have their grandchildren decorate them, then put them in little baskets lined with white cloth and take them to church to be blessed during Mass. They would all dress well, and each year the girls would have a new piece of flounce sewn on their skirts to second their growth. The blessed eggs would then be eaten on Easter morning – the morning of the resurrection.

Blessed Eggs - Italian Easter Table

The arrival of spring, the blooming flowers, the abundance of eggs – all seemed to talk about this rebirth that Easter is all about.
Rebirth is about the cancellation of fears, and the renewal of what truly belongs to human beings.
We shall have no fear of losing the things around us, for what was not meant to belong to us leaves  anyway if we do not let go first. The bad, the wrong, and the unnecessary was never meant to pertain to our lives, so fear of letting go of what is not meant to be with us should never linger on our minds.
Rebirth occurs each time we recognize what is ours and deeply rooted within our soul. Every time we lose something in our everyday life feels similar to a death, but losing what is not meant for us is the closest to salvation we can get.

Easter flower boxEaster flower italian table

Just as hunger squeezed my ancestor’s stomachs, the desire to be born anew  each day reaches for our hearts today. The food on the easter table is the remembrance of the meaning behind this whole intense week.

So today, I want to share two recipes that are profoundly rooted into this region’s Easter tradition.
The first is a cheese crescia. ‘Crescia’ is a dialect word that gives the idea of something that’s rising, and I like to think it stands as a symbol of resurrection, as well as of the end of hardships and relief from hunger. It is only baked in the Holy Week, and eaten on Easter morning with the blessed hard boiled eggs. Crescia is only baked in the Marche region, as each region usually has their own breads to celebrate. You can read more on the article I wrote about it on Food52.

The second is a recipe for classic tiramisu, which seems to be the dessert of choice during the Easter period, very likely because of the abundance of eggs.

I realize none of these what you would call ‘healthy’ recipes, but they are genuine preparations made with simple, local ingredients that are eaten no more than twice a year.

After all, we are celebrating rebirth, and that is quite an occurrence. Don’t you think?

Cheese Easter Crescia
See the article and the recipe over at Food 52

(Serves 8)

10 to 15 Savoiardi cookies (roughly 7 oz.)
3/4 cup Espresso, or strong coffee
Sweetener for the coffee (sugar, honey, or agave syrup)
Cocoa Powder to dust on top

250g (9 oz.) Mascarpone cheese
3 Eggs, room temperature
4 tbsp Sugar (or substitute honey or agave syrup)

Extra: some finely chopped chocolate, a splash of rum

NOTE ON THE SAVOIARDI: It’s no catastrophe if you cannot find them. In fact, only 10% of the people I know make tiramisu with Savoiardi. Though I find they give the best result hands down, you can also make great tiramisu with thin layers of sponge cake, or some other kind of dry, light cookie.
NOTE ON THE EGGS: Prepared this way, the eggs in tiramisu remain raw. This is the way tiramisu has always been done and everybody here has no problem with that. Salmonella and bacteria are usually on the outer shell, which naturally has a protective layer that prevents bacteria from permeating into the eggs. What we’ve always done is wash the eggs well *right* before using them. Never wash eggs if not using straight away!
I found some interesting info on this link.
Buy eggs carefully. Having access to eggs from a local source is great and you should never compromise with eggs. This doesn’t mean that free-range eggs cannot have salmonella, but it is also true that our bodies build up a defense against it. My best suggestion is tow ash the eggs very, very well.

Also, you can freeze the tiramisu for 2 or 3 days, then thaw it at room temperature 20-30 minutes before consuming. This way it resembles a semifreddo and it is equally delicious!

Prepare your assembly place: make the coffee and sweeten it to your liking (you want it quite sweet), and pour it into a shallow bowl that will fit the length of the savoiardi. Make sure it is the first thing you do, so it has time to cool down. You can, for an extra kick of flavor, add a splash of rum – even Frangelico or Bayleys would be a good fit. This is completely optional.
Also prepare a container for your tiramisu that will go in the freezer if you are planning to have it go through the freezing phase.

To prepare the cream, separate the yolks from the whites. Drop the yolks in a large bowl and add the sugar. Note that, if beating the yolks with honey, the cream will end up being less stiff – which is fine if you are going to freeze it, but consider that using sugar will produce a better result. Beat the yolks until very pale and really thick and creamy.
Add the Mascarpone, and beat until you end up with a smooth cream. Add the liquor too at this point, if using.

With clean and dry equipment, beat the egg whites until stiff. Incorporate them to the yolk cream, folding them in delicately, until everything is smooth and with no lumps. Note that this mascarpone cream can also be chilled and served on its own with savoiardi on the side. It is most delicious topped with a berry compote.

working quickly, dip the Savoiardi into the coffee, and line them on your vessel. Savoiardi are very spongy, so a super quick dip will do – they soak up more liquid than it seems.
Once you have formed the bottom layer, slather a good half of the mascarpone cream on top. Lightly dust with cocoa powder and, if using, with chocolate shavings.
Repeat this whole step to form another layer.

Finally, add a good dusting of cocoa powder and sprinkle some chocolate shavings on top. Refrigerate before serving as is, or freeze for later consumption. In this case, let it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before serving, or in the fridge for an hour or two.

Classic Tiramisu - Italian Easter Table


I hope everybody had a great week – Easter, Passover, or not.

Flower - Easter Italian Table

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