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  • How to Fill an Italian Easter Basket

    Discover the goodies you could use to make your holiday gifts typical of what you'd find in the Boot
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Easter is the unofficial start of the high tourism season in southern Italy, which means airfare prices go way up and the popular resort towns become overcrowded. If that doesn't sound like fun to you (or you just can't make it to the Boot), you can still celebrate like a genuine Italian, starting with the Easter baskets you give friends and family. Here are some ideas based on the traditions you would witness in Italy during this time of year:

    1. Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
    Most Italians I know are suspicious of food coloring (but for a few decorations on cakes and sweets), and you'll never see Paas on the shelves in an Italian supermarket. Instead, Italians use other food items to create colorful eggs. While you can use tea or cabbage, the overwhelming majority use red onion skins, which turn eggs burgundy or maroon. All you have to do to achieve this is add red onion skins to the water as the eggs are boiling. The more you put in the pot, the more dramatic the shade will be. A basket of these – as long as they are properly refrigerated – makes a nice gift.

    2. Chocolate Eggs Filled with a Prize
    Ok, so small Kinder eggs with tiny prizes inside, famously sold in Italy throughout most of the year, are banned in the States because the items are said to be choking hazards. But the bigger chocolate eggs with bigger prizes inside – change purses, action figures, key rings, costume jewelry, and the like – are available during Easter at most Italian specialty stories in the United States. Companies such as Ferrero Rocher and Perugina (of Baci fame) are often the makers of these eggs, and they're not just for kids. Adults exchange them in Italy sometimes, too. If you have egg-shaped candy molds, you might even be able to make customized ones. Just be sure to use the colorful foil to wrap it, so it has an authentic Italian look.

    3. Pastiera
    I'm not the biggest fan of this wheat pie, but it wouldn't be Easter without it – and the many versions from every zia and zingara you know. I can attest to having spent many a Pasqua being force fed the stuff by my so-called friends and family. Some people put candied fruit in it. Some people use ricotta. Everyone seems to put their stamp on it. If you're willing to put in the work, you can put your own modern twist on pastiera. Just remember you have to guilt everyone you know into tasting it (and cleaning their plate) or you won't be pulling off your Italian nonna impression. Trust me.

    4. Dove-Shaped Items
    You are probably well aware of the Italian panettone served at Christmas time. You might have even collected cases of them over the years as friends pass it from one person to another or you turned it into tasty French toast. There's an Easter version, too, and this one is called La Colomba and is meant to be in the shape of a dove. To look at it you might first see a very fat cross (which is also appropriate for Easter). Just sayin'.

    Nonetheless, it's supposed to be a dove. And you could either purchase one of those, which are sometimes available in Italian specialty stores, or make your own. Another way to incorporate the dove, which represents peace and renewal, is to include the dove on note cards attached to your baskets or include chocolates or figurines in the shape of doves. Of course, Italian flags, colanders as baskets and filled with pasta and your homemade sauce, or coins and Italian poems reminiscent of what kids read to their parents would all work, too. Really, you are only limited by your imagination – not to mention your knowledge of Italian Easter traditions.

    Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca's Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 3/9/15

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