Without fail every Easter of my childhood my four siblings and I would wake up to Easter Baskets in front of our fireplace made by my Auntie Florence and Grandmother. These colorful and bountiful baskets were filled with chocolate bunnies, malt eggs and jelly beans and we had the same feeling of excitement when we’d see Christmas presents under our tree, but these baskets meant more because they were made especially for each of us, they were more than candy filled baskets, they reflected my Aunt and Grandmother’s thoughtfulness and kindness and reeked of their love. To this day, I still wake Easter morning thinking somewhere an Easter Basket waits for me. No such luck.
My Aunt’s last Easter in 2006 I made her an Easter basket, she was impressed at first, until she found out I had eaten all the candy, “You little bastard.” She said to me and giggled, “You’re still the same!”
My Mother, Aunt and Grandmother made Ricotta Pie and Pizza Gaina every Easter. They would share slices of their pies and comment on their recipes. My Aunt made her Ricotta Pie with lemon, my Mom made hers with chocolate like her mother. The tasting of their pies seemed all so important and ceremonious to me.
My Mother’s pies, as my Aunt Florence would say, “Were dainty and lady-like.” Auntie would comment on her own pies, “My pies are rough and uneven because I had all brothers. They didn’t care if it looked pretty, it was all about feeding four hungry men!”
Late Thursday night I made the traditional Easter Pie Pizza Gaina for my second cousin Frannie. My Aunt Florence and Grandmother usually made one for him every year and because I love tradition, I started making one for him each Easter. Pizza Gaina is a savory pie fill with cured Italian meats and cheese. I make it a few days prior and refrigerate and serve it cold.
Pizza’s Gaina recipes vary. Some are made with ricotta and a variety of cheeses and mixed with cubes of Prosciutto and bake in a flaky pie crust and others are made with no ricotta. I am not a fan of ricotta so I make mine like my Mother, Grandmother and Aunt; eggs, provolone, romano, parmesan, pepperoni, salami, sweet capicola, mortadella, prosciutto and baked ham.
Note this, Amy had an exchange student from Italy and he was horrified (quite indignant) that we mixed Italian cured meats in sandwiches and in pies. He told me this wasn’t done in Italy. I understood what he was saying because a well made cured meat is considered an art form and something to savior on its own. I guess it would be like mixing tuna fish with peanut butter or something like that, either way, my pizza Gaina is rocking good, my Mother’s Pizza Ganina is still dainty, thin and refined, mine is thick and rustic.
My Mother makes quite a few of these Pizza Gainas and its tradition in my parent’s house to have it on Saturday afternoon before Easter to break lent. But this doesn’t apply to me because I break lent the second it starts. I am going right to hell and I hope with a dead swine ready for barbequing on my shoulders.
I spent Saturday before Easter with my niece Jacqueline. We colored Easter Eggs with silk ties and at the end of this blog I will give you the link how to do this, it was really super cool and in short the print of the neck tie comes off on the eggs. It is so worth the effort! Thanks Martha Stewart. Look at the photo of the eggs on this blog, those are ones I made with Jacqueline. —We’re a couple of egg coloring superstars.
We also made two Easter breads. Jacqueline was giving one to each set of her grandparents. We both had our separate bowls and Jacqueline measured all that we needed. We mixed and kneaded and set the dough to rise. We used so much yeast the kitchen had that strong, yummy yeasty scent. When done, my sister’s kitchen was coated in flour and if Amy saw this white powder catastrophe she would have flipped out on me. Luckily she was at my nephew’s lacrosse game and this gave Jacqueline and me plenty of time to clean up our colossal, floury mess. Yikes.
Next we sat under a wall of windows where the round kitchen table sits. First I made a salami sandwich with mozzarella and olive oil,
“Let’s have a half of sandwich. After all we’ll be eating so much this weekend.”
I sounded like I was reasoning with her, but I was really reasoning with myself. Jacqueline is no dummy though, she looked at me funny. “Okay, whatever.” Her tone of voice said it all to me, you know you’re going to make another sandwich, but she didn’t say it, but Oh, I could feel it, Jacqueline has those expressive eyes that say everything with just one glance…
We sat and talked about things that concern a 15-year-old girl and I advised her and we laughed and she made fun of me and we laughed some more. When done I said, “I think I need another sandwich” and she smirked, “I knew you would do that Uncle Johnny!” She giggled, rolled her big eyes and I made us another sandwich to split. We chatted more and laughed and laughed and laughed and chatted and laughed and chatted and laughed a bit more for good measure.
I thoroughly enjoy my time with Jacqueline and savor the moments because I know within a few years she’ll want zero to do with me and to be honest I think she stuck around Saturday because she felt bad for me. I’m like a nephewless and nieceless uncle since most of them have grown up and don’t want to spend time with their goofy uncle who still thinks he’s twenty-five. Trust me I have done all kinds of crafts and cooking with my other nieces who if I asked them to hang out and color Easter eggs with me they would look at me horrified unless of course it involved drinking an exotic cocktail or making them Duck Confit which is their old song to me now since I made it for them two years ago, “When are we having the duck again!” It took me plenty of coaxing from me to get them to eat Duck and now they’re obsessed– —you’d think they’d color a few Easter Eggs with me. —Little Bastards.
After an hour of busily chatting and wrapping eggs in torn apart silk ties and white cloth we put them to boil in some vinegar. We then got busy with our Easter Bread dough that was now doubled in size. We rolled and braided and made a dough wreath on a sheet pan and placed boiled eggs inside the wreath and let it rise. While waiting I finished off the Salami and unwrapped our eggs, they were breathtaking! Next we baked our bread and the house was full of the scent of sweet bread baking.
“Hey! Want to make Easter Cookies!” I asked Jacqueline. She looked at me as If I were insane and left me standing alone in the kitchen. —-Fear not, I told myself, there are always great nephews and great nieces!