Easter Monday – Pasquetta

     Despite having all these limitations set in place, I hope you all were able to enjoy your Easter and Passover celebrations.  Practicing social distancing, I did manage to carefully carry on one Easter tradition. I made several Italian Easter Pies and dropped them off to our children, my sister and my mom.  Today is Easter Monday and it has always been celebrated throughout the world.  Even the White House used to have its own Easter Monday tradition with The Egg Roll on it’s the grounds.  But this year, this epidemic has made us all reminisce about Easter and Passovers and how it used to be.

     Growing up, my mom always referred to the Monday after Easter as Lunedi in Albis (Monday in White).  But as a national holiday throughout Italy, it’s called Pasquetta (Little Easter).  After the somber week of reflecting on Jesus dying for us and rising from the dead the Italians get together informally on the Monday after Easter. They head outdoors to enjoy the spring sunshine and warm breezes with family and friends, packing up the leftovers from the Easter feast into picnic baskets.

      In 1972 my dad wanted us all to experience Easter in Italy. We jetted out from NYC to Naples with a stopover in London on the brand new 747!  The trip wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds, though.  Having problems with connection flights we ended up staying 2 overnights in London. Two days of constant running between airline counters trying to get a flight to Naples was exhausting!  Unfortunately, we ended up missing part of Holy Week.  I was 13 years old and besides the memorable flight, there were a couple of other memories that stood out to me during our trip to Italy.  

     One memory was that I noticed how proud all the women were of their Panettones (Easter Bread) or as Napolitano’s call it, casatiello. The process was a huge undertaking because each of the matriarchs of the families baked enough for all their children, the children’s families and even the children’s in-laws.  Each family we visited during Easter week made sure to bring us to a special room where all the panettones were rising.  The women in their kerchiefs and aprons made elaborate gestures of removing the blankets to show off the many pans of bread. This really piqued my curiosity and I asked my mom why all this drama about the rising of this bread. She said they made their own yeast and it took longer to rise.  I remember thinking this bread was almost like Christ rising from the dead in three days. Is this why they all make Easter bread? So, after all the waiting the bread was ready to bake and we got to enjoy it on Easter Sunday and Monday.

     The second most memorable experience was Easter Monday, La Pasquetta.  My brother and I, along with my cousins had a picnic in one of Monte di Procida’s vineyards.  We brought dyed hard-boiled eggs, prosciutto and provolone cheese, bread, the Easter panettone, bottles of water and even a bottle of wine.  I enjoyed it all! Well except for the panettone and the wine.   The pannetone was dry and sweet.  Now that I remember correctly, my brother and my cousins ate the panettone with the wine. Hmmmm? Maybe that’s why my brother was rolling down the hill like an Easter egg.  I wasn’t a wine drinker back then.  I didn’t like it.  Imagine that?   I grew up drinking water with wine mixed in.  Forbidding underage drinking wasn’t a thing in the Italian culture.  Wine on the table was the norm.  Kids drank diluted wine.  I did not acquire a taste for it. When I finally turned eighteen in 1976 (the drinking age back then), it didn’t phase me.  If I wanted a drink, I could have had it long before I was 18.  So possibly the panettone didn’t taste as good to me because I refused to dunk it in wine!  My taste buds changed as I got older. I love panettone now! Especially when it’s dunked in wine!

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    I have attached a recipe for Cornetti (Italian croissants).  I am still daydreaming of sitting at a bar enjoying a cappuccino while dunking a cornetto. The Italian Cornetto and the French Croissant look similar but actually very different.

 1. The cornetto is much sweeter than the French croissant. The Cornetto contains more sugar, while the French version contains more butter, which makes it so much greasier

2. The cornetto is softer compared to the French croissant, which is crispier.

3. Italian cornetti usually have fillings. They are filled either with pastry cream, marmalade, honey, or chocolate (I love the ones filled with pastry cream!), while the ‘cornetto vuoto’ (an empty cornetto) is the pastry without any filling. The French version doesn’t traditionally have fillings.

 I tried a couple of different recipes for cornetti but this is my favorite.  I used brown sugar  because I didn’t have can sugar and it still came out perfect.  The texture is just what a remember about them.  Not greasy at all. I didn’t fill these with pastry cream but next time I will try filling them!

Cornetti (Italian Croissants)

Basic Dough

•             1 cup of water

•             1 tbs of honey

•             ¼ cup of  cane sugar or brown sugar

•             1 egg

•             1/3 cup melted butter

•             Zest of  1 lemon

•             1 cup of flour

•             1 cup of oo flour

•             1 envelope of yeast (preferably brewers yeast)

•             2 tsp of sugar

For the layers

•             ¼  cupof cane sugar or brown  sugar

•             1/8 cup of melted butter

For the finishing

•             1 egg yolk to brush before cooking

•             Warm honey to brush after cooking

Directions

1. In a bowl, add the flours, the envelope of brewers yeast and the two teaspoons of cane sugar that will serve to activate the yeast. Mix all the ingredients.

2. In another bowl pour the warm water and then add and a tablespoon of honey.

3. Into the bowl with warm water and honey, add the brown sugar, the grated lemon peel, the melted butter and the egg.

4.Mixing it all together with a fork, add the flour a little at a time.

5. Continue to work the dough with your hands and add the flour, until we get a dough with an elastic consistency.

6. Put the dough in a bowl, engrave in a cross with a knife and cover with cling wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place, until the volume doubles, it will take about 2 hours.

7. After it rises lightly work the dough and to form a long log. Divide it into 8 equal loaves of about 4 ounces each.

8. Prepare the pastry by rolling out the loaves to form 8 discs about 2mm thick (very thin!)

9. Spread the loaves one at a time, with the rolling pin and brush the melted butter and sprinkle the cane sugar on the surface. Continue laying out and overlapping all the discs.

10. After fixing the last disc we stretch with a rolling pin to get a round pastry, about half a centimeter thick (less than ¼ inch thick)

12. With a pizza cutter make 8 wedges and a small incision in the center of each wedge. Roll up the wedges to form the croissants and fix them in the baking tray, covered with parched paper. Cover with clingwrap and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.

12. Brush with egg yolk and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes.

13. As soon as  you take the cornetti out of the oven , lightly brush them with warm honey!

14.  And don’t forget to dunk it in a cappucino.  Or maybe wine!   hiccup!

Tradition

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the definition of Tradition is a way of acting that people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a longtime.

      This past year I struggled with finding my path.  As you have noticed I really slacked off with keeping up with my blog and my recipes. I am not sure what has happened.  I think with the marriage of my last child maybe I lost myself.  I lost who I was and started thinking that I needed to slow down.  But I found I am not comfortable with this new me. In my quest to find myself again I realized that maybe I need to go back and reflect on how things used to be.

My Great Grandfather Isidoro Amalfitano with his fishing crew circa 1930s.

      I found a picture of my great grandfather on my mother’s side.  He was a fisherman along with his brothers on the island of Ischia in Italy.  The Amalfitano men made a living as fishermen.  Unlike most other Ischitanos living on the island the Amalfitano brothers stood out by their tall muscular stature. They had a good life until World War 1 and the Spanish Flu of 1918.  The soldiers coming home from the war brought with them the Spanish Flu and it spread to so many Ischitanos!  It was a deadly flu.  It is said that by the spring of 1919, the influenza pandemic had sickened an estimated one-third of the world’s population and may have killed as many as 50 million people. And Ischitanos were part of that statistic.  The townspeople couldn’t keep up with individual grave plots and ended up having to have mass burials.  My great grandmother became one of those casualties leaving behind a husband and four children.  Soon things leveled off and my great grandfather remarried.  He continued his fishing business with his family and life went on.  My grandmother became of age and she married starting her own family.  Soon afterwards WW2 hit, and my grandfather went off to serve as a medic leaving his family behind to struggle.  The island of Ischia entered another sad time as they dealt with food and water shortage.  Families struggled as the heads of household were off to fight in the war.  After World War 2 ended Ischia struggled economically. My grandfather looked to move to another country for a better life for his family.  He tried out Argentina for 3 years hoping to bring his family there, but Argentina’s economy crashed, and my grandfather soon came back to Ischia.  Instead of feeling defeated he continued his dream of making his family’s life better and made plans to move to the United States. In 1955 he moved half of his family to Marlboro, New York. My grandfather along with my mom and two of her sisters worked to make enough money so that they could bring my grandmother and the rest of the siblings to join them in the US.

Even though the family moved to the US, they continued to follow their Italian traditions.   One of the traditions they never forgot was fishing. Even though my grandmother and grandfather settled inland away from the ocean they couldn’t let go of the love for the sea.  I don’t how they found this place in Norwalk, Connecticut but they did! With the little bit of English that they knew they found a place to rent a motorized rowboat and go fishing in the Long Island Sound.  Many of my summer memories included going to Norwalk, CT to go fishing with my grandparents.  My dad grew up on the mainland of Italy, but his town was a small mountain surrounded by water on three sides so he too enjoyed fishing.  It was a huge family excursion with 3-4 boats getting rented.  We brought steak sandwiches and we always included spaghetti pizza. Once I got married and had children my dad also introduced my children to fishing on the Long Island Sound in Norwalk, CT.

My grandfather Giovan Giuseppe Mazzella fishing on the Long Island Sound near the Norwalk, Connecticut Marina circa 1960

Life got busier and we no longer went on fishing excursions. But just a few years ago a restaurant was recommended in Norwalk, Ct and my husband and I and our children went to try it out. When I arrived, I immediately recognized the spot even though the dock, bait shop, and boat rentals were no longer there.  But now a beautiful seafood restaurant took over the spot. 

  So, as the old year is left behind and a new year is started, I rethink my purpose in life. Maybe I need to go back to my roots. To go forward, one must go back first and ponder.      This past week my husband and I took the family out to dinner to the seafood restaurant in Norwalk.  I handed them all pieces of paper from the oldest to the youngest (who happens to be my granddaughter Emma) to write down their dreams for the new year.  I thought what a perfect place to ponder our dreams.  As I looked out to sea, I thought of my grandfather who never gave up his dream to make a better life for his family. He didn’t succeed at first but that didn’t stop him.  I sat and looked around the table and I realized that I really am living my best life surrounded by my family.  The least I can do is to not give up my dreams!  And you know what?  In order to fulfill our dreams, we must never forget where we came from and who we are.   I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true!  Tradition! It’s the fuel to follow your dreams!

My husband, children. spouses and grandchildren eating dinner in Norwalk, CT at the same place my grandparents went fishing ….2019

Spaghetti Pizza

My mom always made spaghetti pizza for our picnic when we went fishing in Norwalk, Connecticut. Here’s our recipe. There are quite a few versions of it. My grandmother would make a sweet variety. While my Zia in Monte di Procida would make a savory one and sprinkle it with a bit of sugar on top. But I thought I would share my mom’s version which my kids also love! One time when my son was three he got all excited when he saw my mom making it and got all excited thinking we were going fishing!

Ingredients:

1 pound of cooked spaghetti al dente

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/2 cup of cubed prosciutto

1/2 cup of cubed fresh mozzarella

1 1/2 cups of shredded dry mozzarella

1/2 pound of cubed Auricchio Provolone

3 eggs

1/4 cup of Grape seed oil or corn oil. I like to use grape seed oil.

Procedure:

1. Mix all the cheeses and the proscuitto

2. Beat eggs and add to pasta to mix.

3. Add the cheese and prosciutto mixture to the pasta

4. Heat 1/4 cup of grape seed oil in a skillet

5. Add pasta mixture to pan and spread out tucking the cheese inside the pasta.

6. Let fry about 10 minutes or more until you can easily slide spatula underneath the spaghetti feeling that it’s crispy.

7. Flip the pizza over and cook 10-15 minutes long until the other side is crispy.

8. Take out of pan and let sit on paper towel to drain some of the oil and then serve!

Buon Appetito!