Two Easter Traditions from Irpinia

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A slice of my mother’s amazing Pizza Chiena or Italian Easter Pizza.

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.

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Fresh pastiera– can you smell the aroma? Photo from Cucina Fanpage.

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.

 

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A Holy Week Tradition in Vallata

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On April 18 and 19 in the town of Vallata (AV), a Holy Week tradition will take place as it has done for nearly 500 years.

The Via Crucis, or Holy Procession, representing the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, is a popular commemoration of that fateful event throughout all of Southern Italy; however, the Good Friday procession that takes place in Vallata is considered one of the most evocative and most representative of what really happened.

According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, the procession dates back to 1541, when the Jewish community of Vallata converted to Christianity and began to hold this manifestation during Holy Week. Photos of the event date back to 1928 and little has changed over the event’s storied history. The Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata stresses that the procession is different from a traditional Via Crucis, as well as different from other processions that were similarly done in the Middle Ages, since there is no Stations of the Cross component to the procession.

894072_585194214826074_1938448219_oTradition has it that young people dress up as Roman soldiers, wearing a breastplate and parading through the crowd as a test of initiation through physical performance. In addition to various symbols of Roman power that are carried through the streets, the so-called “Misteri,” which are symbolic objects exhibited by men wearing hoods, are also taken on procession. Eighteenth-century paintings representing the scenes from the life and death of Christ with phrases from the Gospel of Saint John are also carried on the procession.

About two hundred participants participate in the Venerdì Santo Vallata procession. Everyone’s pace is marked by the rhythm of a characteristic sound of trumpet and drum, which, according to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, helps to create an environment of moving reflection on the great mystery of Christ’s pain. This meditation is further solicited by some singers who sing the verses of the “Passion of Jesus Christ” by Pietro Metastasio. The verses have been handed down orally or through uncertain writings, for which they have taken a strong dialectal accent, resulting incomprehensible to the majority of bystanders. The procession is completed by the coffin of the dead Christ surrounded by the mayor and by the doctors of the town and the Sorrowful Mother surrounded by little girls with mourning flags.

According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, this tradition is so strongly felt by the Vallatese population that there is no need to work hard to hand it down generation by generation– it just happens naturally. It is a collective procession that unites the entire town and is a true representation of what it means to be “Vallatese.”

See below for a video of the procession and a further explanation of its history (in Italian):