Throughout Southern Italy, especially in the Campania Region, Easter food traditions are dominated by Pizza Chiena (Also known as “Easter Pizza,” “Pizza Rustica,” “Pizza Gain,” etc.) and Pastiera (a citrusy grain or rice pie). While both of these dishes are beloved staples of the Irpinian Easter table, there are a few more dishes that grace the Easter time table in the area, such as Pizza con l’Erba for Good Friday and the Pigna di Pasqua. This year, I decided to try my hand at preparing a Pigna Avellinese as I had never tried one before and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have gotten more comfortable experimenting in the kitchen.
The Pigna di Pasqua is meant to pay homage to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the dough itself rises considerably during its preparation. Older generations used to say that the Pigna could only be served on Easter Sunday because, if served before, a snake– symbolizing the serpent-devil that caused Adam and Eve’s fall from the Garden of Eden– could be found inside. This was meant to scare off children who were craving the sweet dish as sweets were not as common as they are today.
Today, the Avellinese Pigna di Pasqua is considered an advanced dish to make due to the fact that the dough needs a lot of attention. When I was making mine, I found that my dough needed a lot of kneading to get a proper consistency and I had to keep a close eye on it as it was raising. One of the “secrets” I learned through research before I even attempted to make a Pigna was that you’ve got to be sure that it gets to rise in a consistently warm place. I actually encountered a little bit of difficulty while letting mine rise because no matter where I placed it in my kitchen, it wasn’t warm enough. It wasn’t until I placed it in my warmed oven (turned off and cooling down from making my Pastiera!) that the dough finally began to rise the right way. Also, you need to watch out for which kind of liquor you add to the Pigna. Traditionally, the Pigna di Pasqua Avellinese is made with Strega (from nearby Benevento), but that can be hard to come by in the United States. It also works well with anise or rum, as well as Sambuca.
Overall, I was very satisfied with my first Pigna– it came out similar to a Panettone that we eat at Christmastime, but more like a sweet, citrusy bread. Also to be noted is that a Pigna done in the Avellinese style will have a slightly clean aftertaste, like a palate cleanse, as compared to its counterparts in the Lazio region (also called a Pigna there) and in other parts of Campania, where it is known as a Casatiello dolce.
The recipe I used came from Avellino Zon and was originally written in Avellinese dialect, which can be seen on that website. As I mentioned in previous posts, I am learning Neapolitan, so I was able to translate this recipe.
Below is my version of the recipe from Avellino Zon!
PIGNA DI PASQUA AVELLINESE
3 Cups of flour (I used Anna 00 Flour)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 Cups of whole milk
1/2 Cup of cooking oil
One small glass of liquor of your choice, I prefer to use Sambuca
1 Teaspoon each of anisette, orange, and lemon extract
6 Egg yolks
Prepare yeast according to the instructions on the package if using Paneangeli; otherwise let it dissolve in lukewarm water that is not hotter than 100 degrees Farenheit and mix it with a little bit of flour. Then add this to the other ingredients and mix it to form a nice dough. You may need to add more flour to get it to the proper consistency.
Once your dough is made, place it in a warm place and let it rise for at least one hour. Then put it in an Angel Food Cake pan that has been prepared with butter and flour and let it rise a little bit longer. Once this has been completed, bake it at about 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven.
After you take it out of the oven, you can put a light glaze on top with sprinkles, but some families choose to omit this step.
Below is a poem by Ferdinando Russo, a Neapolitan poet and songwriter, about the Pigna:
Cient’ova che acchiuppate chianu chiano,
s’astipano nu mese primm’ancora,
accorta comm’a guardia fa ogn’ora.
Nisciuno n’o ssapeva e allera, allera
‘a femmena, padrona ‘e chella ‘ntesa
s’appreparava ‘a tiempo ‘e quann ‘a sera
‘o criscito ‘mpastava pe’ l’impresa.
Che facile nun era e tutt ‘o sanno,
a ffa ‘na pigna roce e sapurita,
a Pasqua sulo, p’e ‘na vota all’anno,
‘na devozione semp assai sentita.
‘O ddoce fatt’in casa nun ce steva,
int’a chelle spicialmente ‘e puvurielle,
c’o core e po’ cu a mano c’o ddunava,
pe’ primm se penzava ‘e guagliuncielle.
Ma sulo ropp c’o prèvete veneva,
cu’ ll’acqua a benericere int’e ccase,
n’assaggio ‘e criature po’ c’asceva,
accuminciann’a primma ‘e chelle spase.
Era ‘na scusa e se capeva ropp,
ricevano c’o serpe ce durmeva,
pe’ ‘e ffà parè cchiù belle ‘a sta llà ‘ncopp,
cu ‘a spas ‘e riavulille e gghianche r’ova.
Po’ o pate cu’a preghiera abbenerice,
tutt’a famiglia assieme llà riunita,
a nnomm’e Dio, se mangia , primm dice
ce penza Isso mò e pe tutt’a vita.
Cento uova che raccolte piano, piano,
si mettono nel cesto con una mano,
accorta come la guardia fa ad ogni ora.
Nessuno lo sapeva e allegra, allegra,
la donna, padrona di quell’ambiente,
si prepara per tempo e, quando di sera,
calava la farina nell’impasto per l’impresa
Che facile non era e tutti lo sanno,
per fare una pigna dolce e saporita,
a Pasqua solo, per una volta all’anno,
una devozione sempre, assai sentita.
Il dolce fatto in casa non c’era,
in quelle specialmente dei poverelli,
col cuore e poi con una mano lo donava,
pensando per prima ai ragazzini.
Ma soltanto dopo che veniva il prete,
con l’acqua santa a benedire le case,
un assaggio a quei piccoli poi c’usciva,
Incominciando la prima di quelle allineate.
Era una scusa e si capiva col tempo,
no che dentro (le pigne) s’annidava una serpe,
per farle sembrare più belle spase lì sopra,
farcite a confettini e bianco d’uova.
Poi il padre con una preghiera benedice,
tutta la famiglia insieme là riunita,
nel nome di Dio, si mangia, prima dice,
ci pensa Lui ora e per tutta la vita.
One hundred eggs collected slowly, slowly,
are placed in the basket with one hand,
attentive as the guard at any time.
Nobody knew and happy, happy,
the woman, the mistress of that environment,
prepares for its time and, when in the evening,
she lowered the flour into the dough for her mission
It wasn’t easy, which everyone knows,
to make a sweet and tasty Pigna,
at Easter only once a year,
a devotion always deeply felt.
There was no homemade dessert,
especially in the homes of the poor,
with her heart and then with a hand she gave it,
thinking of the children first.
Only after the priest came,
with holy water to bless the houses,
a taste was given to the little ones,
Beginning with the first of those lined up.
It was an excuse and it was understood over time,
that inside (the Pigna) a snake nestled,
to make them look more beautiful up there,
stuffed with sugared almonds and egg white.
Then the father blesses with a prayer,
the whole family gathered there together,
in the name of God, we eat, he says,
He will take care of it now and for the rest of life.
If you try this recipe or if you have a different recipe for the Pigna di Pasqua Avellinese, please let me know in the comments! Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!
** Special thanks to my friends Patrick O’Boyle and Sonia Lay for their help in making sure the Pigna made it to my Irpinian-American Easter table!
AWARD WINNING ARTICLE
Honorable Mention, Pennsylvania Press Club Contest, 2022