Easter with my “Italian Family” in Spello

I was in a pinch for Easter dinner, with no invitation to join the family at Paola and Leonardo’s house, but I was concerned that accepting another invitation would have been a disappointment to them (and I had several other offers). Finally, on Good Friday, I was asked to join the family, Robespier and the Leonardo’s mother, Isabella, for Easter lunch at Robespier’s house. My invitation and presence were expected all along, as I had thought.

This was my first introduction to Leonardo’s mother, Isabella. She usually comes here to Spello visiting Leonardo and Paola for the Christmas holiday (but lives alone in Terni, where Leonardo was raised, her only child). I have always missed her, and missed meeting her. Finally, this was my chance, at Easter with the whole family.

As usual, Robespier held court at the table, and Paola did all the cooking and serving. Both of her daughters, Giorgia and Arianna, were there, and dressed up for the holiday meal. We usually all eat together when I am invited, and this was no exception. Giorgia is expecting a baby in early October, and will be moving soon to a rental house with Pietro, just across Signor Antonio’s garden from my courtyard. The family is getting very excited to plan for a new baby, and all are pitching in to help clean up the rental house, vacant for several years.

Giorgia, Arianna, Isabella, Paola and Robespier, in his kitchen

Our first course was one enjoyed in much of Spello that day, full of wild asparagus collected from Mount Subasio for the occasion. I have been seeing one person after another coming back from the mountain with handfuls and bags full of the thin, potent wild asparagus, and many families traditionally begin the Easter meal with an asparagus fritatta. For us, Paola had made a lasagne with béchamel sauce, wild asparagus, artichokes and porcini mushrooms.

A creamy lasagne filled with wild mushrooms, artichokes and porcini mushrooms

The aroma was very enticing, and the lasagne did not disappoint—it was fantastic, creamy and full of flavors from both the asparagus and the porcini mushrooms (frozen, from the grocery store—not currently in season).

Leonardo's mother, Isabella, is served the first helping

A lasagne with a mix of strong flavors--wild asparagus from the mountain, cheeses, artichokes and porcini mushrooms

Leonardo’s mother enjoyed the first serving, and I was next—we were both considered “guests,” and getting the special treatment. Robespier was busy trying to fill my glass with “l’acqua di Spello,” which wasn’t water at all—it was white wine. I kept my glass filled with water, instead, and was fortunate to be seated far enough from him that he could not keep filling my glass—a normal occurrence when he can reach my glass.

Food and wine on the table means a break from Robespier's political "discorsos"

Leonardo and Arianna enjoying Paola's lasagne (not exactly diet food!)

One of the traditional foods for Easter (“Pasqua” here) is the “pizza fromaggio,” a bread so full of eggs that it is colored yellow from all of the yolks, and with both lots of grated Parmesan cheese and big chunks of young pecorino cheese mixed into the loaf. It is usually cooked in a deep pan, like this one, and dry like our cornbread. It’s full of the flavor of cheese, and nearly always served as a side dish for Easter.

Paola's "pizza formaggio," always an Easter addition to the table

The food just kept on coming out of the oven, the toaster oven, and off of the stove. Here are our “secondi,” veal cutlets breaded with breadcrumbs, quartered artichokes dipped in batter and fried, and then lamb chops also battered and fried. All were delicious, and there was too much of everything on the table—we only made a dent in the huge heaps of food that were served.

The main course arrives: veal, fried artichokes, and fried lamb chops on the bone

The traditional “dolce” for Easter is the colomba, a light, sweet bread baked in the shape of a dove (“colomba”), and usually filled with bits of candied orange peel.

The colomba is unwrapped, in the shape of a dove and covered with almonds and sugary sprinkles

In the grocery store, these arrive a month before Easter, and I admit to buying one and digging in a while ago. I bought one for a very low price (€2, on special), and it was so dry that I tried it and threw the rest out. When I bought a second one, it was very moist and soft, and I managed to stretch it out for a couple of weeks—and these stay fresh for a very long time. The top is covered with a crunchy topping of brown sugar, whole almonds and white sugar sprinkles. Somehow, when Paola is cutting the colomba and serving the pieces, the almonds always disappear. They were there in the photo of the whole colomba, and never manage to get beyond Paola’s division of the bread for the rest of us.

When Paola slices the colomba, the slices usually arrive to the table "almond-free"

This bread is not unlike the sweet panettone that arrives for Christmas, but without any candied fruits except the candied orange peel, making it lighter and even more delicious (in my humble opinion).

I got the tables turned on me—one photo at the table, thanks to Arianna—behind my almond-free slice of colombo. (Thanks to Paola, not one almond remained on the topping. I’m certain that the whole almonds make the soft colombo difficult to slice, but NO almonds, Paola?)

I made it to the colomba without bursting--all the food was wonderful!

Giorgia had received a chocolate egg from her boyfriend, Pietro, with a pair of gold earrings inside. Here, this is the traditional gift at Easter, with a surprise inside the chocolate egg.

Giorgia's chocolate egg from Pietro, after her new earrings were removed from inside

(There are no Easter egg hunts for kids here.) Irmy once bought an egg with a t-shirt inside for her son, from the Florence soccer team, the “Fiorentina.” The eggs can contain small toys for the young children, and even expensive watches and jewelry for adults. The price of the egg determines the value of the surprise inside, and bars have enormous eggs for raffle prizes, full of soccer tickets, and expensive gifts. No matter what the gift inside, the outside is made of chocolate, and Giorgia was sharing her egg with all of us with our dessert.

White chocolate inside, milk chocolate outside--just break off a chunk to eat

Arianna served us all macedonia, a substitute for the usual fruit that comes at the end of a meal, made from cut up fruits and sweetened just a little.

After the desserts were served, the fruit arrived as "macedonia"

After the meal, everyone was just having fun. Giorgia jumped up and started giving Robespier a shoulder rub, knowing that he has had ongoing problems with muscle spasms in his neck.

Robespier gets his shoulders massaged by Giorgia, his granddaughter

Arianna was braiding Paola’s hair, and all of us were continuing with the good conversation.

Paola gets her hair braided by Arianna after lunch is finished

Finally, the caffé was served, after the “cafeteria” was passed around, because it had been tightened so firmly that we all tried to get it open, and finally Robe succeeded.

Isabella enjoys her caffe', the one true indication that the meal is completed

I managed to get the Giovannetti sisters to pose for a quick photo—too quick, I guess. When I got the photo to my laptop, the best one was not in sharp focus, a real disappointment. Either way, they are great girls, and clearly care very much for each other and for their family members.

Giorgia and Arianna, "le belle sorelle"

Even out of focus, two beautiful young women and loving sisters

Paola and I went out for a walk, a “passeggiata,” to walk off some of the excess meal that we had just enjoyed. In the piazza, on the way to the hike on Subasio, there happened to be a vintage “Cinquecento” (Fiat 500) parked in front of the convent church, with a Maserati right beside in the next parking space. From one camera angle, the sizes looked quite normal—and from the second angle, the huge differences in size were readily apparent. (With the right camera position, many illusions are possible!)

Orange vintage Fiat 500 parked beside a silver Maserati

With a different camera angle, their relative sizes are more apparent

We headed up to the mountain, and were surprised to see that there were still a few asparagus left, after so many people had been harvesting them for their Easter dishes. In this first photo, the asparagus is not very easy to distinguish (by me) from the background plants, but Paola has a well-trained eye, and few get past her quick scans as we walk by.

This asparagus I never would have seen without Paola's sharp eyes

The second photo is more my kind of asparagus hunting, with a VERY obvious stalk that is clearly evident, for the beginners.

"Find the Wild Asparagus" for beginners, like me

This last photo is of a side road into one of the “olivettos,” or olive ranches, on our regular walk, and is one of my favorite photos for this trip to Spello. I really love to photograph “disappearing pathways,” like this roadway, and the rock and poppies in the foreground, combined with the old wooden ladder left up against the tree, made me love the composition of this shot. And did I mention all of the wildflowers?

One of my favorite photos of this trip--sorry I wasn't using my Nikon

The lunch was over when we finished our walk together, and we went our separate ways. Robespier was taking his nap, as was Leonardo’s mother, and I headed back to my place to read e-mail, send Easter wishes to friends, and wait for the Easter procession that was planned for later that evening.

1 comment to Easter with my “Italian Family” in Spello

  • Robin

    I just discovered you blog about a week ago and –as I have become obsessed with Florence (hoping to be there summer, 2015)– I began reading waaaaayyyy back at the beginning and have just finished Easter in Spello with your “family”. I feel like I’ve learned a great deal about the possibilities of daily life in Florence and other parts of Italy, which has both reassured me and heightened my expectations for my trip. As a widow traveling alone, that means a great deal to me.

    This is my first post as I am in love with your last photo here, of the disappearing road and the olive trees and especially the red poppies: they have long been my favorite flower. I wonder if I could buy an 8 x 10 version of it from you? You have my e-mail from this site, so I hope to –eventually :-) — hear from you. Thanks!

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