eastercake

Tradition is important in the Italian-American culture. Second only to Christmas Eve in the way of Italian-American traditions, Easter is a big holiday and, as such, it is centered around food—as most Italian-American celebrations are. From Easter breads and ricotta pies to roasted lamb and asparagus, there are numerous dishes on the Italian American table. Here are some recipes for just a few of them.

Pizza Rustica

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Also, called Easter Pie. There are as many recipes for this dish as there are Italians. Most pies contain ricotta cheese, eggs and some type of Italian meat. Italian Americans love to make this pie for their family members.  I remember vividly, my father visiting his family at Easter time and coming home with pies made for him by his sisters and sisters-in-law. It twas a bit overwhelming.

Pastry Crust

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons icy water as needed

Directions

Put the flour and salt into a food processor bowl fitted with a metal blade. Pulse to mix the dry ingredients.

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and drop them onto the flour and pulse the machine in short bursts about 10 times. The mixture should be crumbly.

Put in the eggs and pulse a few times to mix the eggs into the dry ingredients.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water on top of the dough. Pulse 6 times for just a second or two. The dough should resemble cottage cheese. Pick up some dough and press it together. If it doesn’t hold together, add another teaspoon of water until it does.

Scrape the dough onto a floured board and knead together just to form a smooth, tight dough.

Form a flat disc and wrap the dough in plastic. Refrigerate for a few hours before using.

Filling

  • 32 oz. ricotta, drained
  • 2 eggs
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cut in a ½ inch dice
  • 4 oz diced Prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 oz sopressata cut into ½ inch dice
  • 1 cooked sweet Italian sausage link (4 oz.) cut into ½ inch cubes
  • Egg Wash (1 egg beaten with one tablespoon of water)

Directions

In a large bowl combine the ricotta, Pecorino, pepper and eggs.

Add the mozzarella, prosciutto, sopressata and sausage and mix well into the cheese mixture.

To Assemble the Pizza Rustica

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan or a 9 inch deep dish pie pan.

Cut off 1/3 of the dough and set aside.

With a rolling-pin, roll out the remaining pastry dough to about 15 inches in diameter. It should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Flour the board and top of the dough to avoid the dough from sticking.

Place the dough in the pan and pat the dough to cover the bottom and sides. If the dough breaks just patch it.

Pour in the ricotta mixture.

Tap the pan on the board to ensure the filling settles.

Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round. (You can also cut the dough for the top into lattice strips.)

Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal, then crimp the dough edges decoratively.

Brush the egg wash over the entire pastry top. Bake on the bottom shelf until the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.

Let stand 15 minutes. Release the pan sides and transfer the pizza to a platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

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Spring Minestrone

 

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces ground chicken
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1 large egg, whisked
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 6 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup orzo or ditalini or other small pasta
  • 1 cup 1/2-inch rounds of peeled carrots
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach
  • Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix chicken, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, 2 minced garlic cloves, chives, egg, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl.

Form into 1/2-inch-diameter meatballs (I uses a melon ball scoop). Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the meatballs on the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced leek to the pot and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.

Add the remaining garlic; cook for 1 minute. Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil.

Stir in pasta and carrots;turn heat to low and simmer about 8 minutes.

Add meatballs; simmer until pasta is al dente and the carrots are tender, about 3 minutes.

Add spinach and remaining 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese; stir until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and additional Parmesan, if desired.

Spinach Lasagna

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For the white sauce

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions

In a medium saucepan melt butter over moderately low heat. Stir in flour and cook the roux, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add milk in a steady stream and bring mixture to a boil, whisking until thick and smooth.

Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer sauce over low heat, whisking occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes, or until thickened. Transfer sauce to a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap.

Cheese Filling

Ingredients

  • 32 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1-10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Lasagna

  • 1 lb.mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
  • White sauce, recipe above
  • 12parboiled spinach lasagna noodles

Directions

Mix the ricotta with the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients together until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Completing the Lasagna

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish.

Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of the dish and place a layer of noodles on top.

Spread one-third of the sliced mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta and then one-third of the ricotta cheese mixture over the mozzarella; top with another 1 cup of sauce.

Repeat the layers twice, then top with a layer of noodles. Spread 1 cup of sauce over the top layer of pasta.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes longer.  Let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Sprinkle the top with extra parsley for color.

Italian Baked Ham

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Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 jar fig jam
  • 1 large ham (8 to 10-pounds bone-in, spiral cut or 4- to 5-pound boneless)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a rack on top.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and juice and olive oil.

Set the ham on the rack and rub the ham with the rosemary mixture. Season with salt and pepper and cover with foil.

In a small pot, heat the fig jam with a couple of tablespoons of water.

Bake the ham for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and glaze the ham with the fig jam.

Continue brushing the ham with the glaze every 15-20 minutes with a pastry brush, for another hour or until heated through.

If the ham starts to get too brown, loosely cover it with foil. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

Easter Lamb Cake

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Ingredients

  • 1 pkg store-bought chocolate or vanilla cake mix
  • 1 cup water (use 1/4 cup less than the package directions-my cake mix calls for 1 1/4 cups of water)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Whipped Cream Frosting, recipe below
  • 1 lamb mold

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Prepare the lamb mold by coating it with vegetable oil. Let sit for a few minutes then wipe clean with a paper towel.

Then grease (use a solid shortening) and flour the lamb mold, making sure to get all the creases.

Place the front of the mold on a baking sheet.

Prepare the cake batter according to the cake mix directions.

Fill the mold to the top for the front of the cake, do not fill the back side of the mold.

Place the back of the mold on the front and place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the cake tests done. (Test with toothpick through a vent hole in the mold.)

Remove the mold from the oven, wait 10 minutes and remove the back of body mold.

Stand the cake up and gently remove the front of the mold. Have clean towels rolled up and ready to support the head of the cake, while placing a rolled up towel in back of the cake to support the that part also.

Place a dab of icing on a plate and stand the cake in an upright position. Frost and decorate with jelly beans, raisins, cherries, or chocolate chips for the eyes and nose.

(Best results cool cake in the refrigerator before frosting, this makes a firmer surface for the icing.)  Place green tinted coconut around the base of the lamb; add jelly beans and a colorful bow at the neck, if desired.

Whipped Cream Frosting

This is a great whipped cream recipe because it does not weep after it sits on the cake.

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Directions

Combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract and almond extract in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a electric stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment and mix on medium speed until smooth.

While the mixture is still whipping, slowly pour in the heavy cream. Stop and scrape the bottom of the bowl a couple of times while you continue whipping until the cream can hold a stiff peak.

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