Easter is tomorrow and while this year is not a traditional one in my household due to several unforeseen circumstances, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to write about two Easter culinary traditions that come directly from Irpinia.
Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has made Pizza Chiena (filled pizza), also known as Pizza Rustica or Italian Easter Pizza. The recipe for this amazing concoction was passed down through her family, with my Nonno Joe teaching her how to make it. She swears the secret for the crust is using butter-flavored Crisco!
My mother’s Pizza Chiena is stuffed with fresh, homemade ricotta cheese, sharp Provolone cheese, pepperoni, sausage, soppressata, and ham. She also puts fresh basil in the ricotta mixture– this is more of a household variation than a traditional thing as we both love the taste of basil!
While researching Irpinia over the course of my career, I have discovered that many Irpinians prepare different variations of Pizza Chiena, depending on their respective hometowns. Ours is, of course, Guardiese, but there are different versions throughout the area.
For a good recipe that is close to what we enjoy in our household, check out this Pizza Chiena by Italy Advisor.
The second Irpinian Easter culinary adventure I’d like to tell you about is “Pastiera.” This is more of a dessert or a breakfast treat and it is a pie made with fresh ricotta cheese, grano cotto or Aborio rice, and the zest of lemons and oranges. For an extra kick, you can throw in a dash of orange blossom water!
Pastiera is more of a Neapolitan treat that made its way inland to Irpinia. The legend surrounding Pastiera focuses on the siren Parthenope, who was the daughter of Achelous and Terpischore. Parthenope cast herself into the sea and drowned when her songs failed to entice Odysseus as he passed through area surrounding the Gulf of Naples and her body washed ashore near where Castel dell’Ovo is now located.
Every Spring, at the beginning of the season, Parthenope would sing a song to bring joy to the people who lived around the Gulf of Naples. One year, the people loved her song so much that they decided to pay homage to her with gifts from nature, such as the grain/rice, oranges, lemons, and ricotta.
Parthenope was so moved by these gifts that she presented them to the gods, who then mixed them all together, creating the first Pastiera. Legend has it that the flavor of the Pastiera was even more beautiful than Parthenope’s song itself!
Here is a recipe for Pastiera from Great Italian Chefs.
For more about the legend of Parthenope, visit Avellino Zon.