Happiness is drinking eggs, according to one of the many Venezian proverbs associated with Easter. Quite how is not specified, but it’s charming to think Venetians once went about swigging zabaglione after the privations of Lent. Easter is obviously the most important festival of the Christian church, but its celebration had a particular resonance in Venice, as it was the time that the Doge made his annual procession to visit the city’s most important churches. The route included Santa Giustina, Santa Maria Formosa,and San Vic, ending at Venice’s most prestigious convent, San Zaccaria, where the Doge would hear Mass with the Patriarch and feast with the abbess. From the ninth century onwards, the Easter procession was also the occasion for the ceremonial bestowal of the Ducal coronet (more like a pointy hat) the corno, which was first presented to Doge Tradonico by Agostina Morosini ca 860.
The banquet would surely have included sweet Venetian fugassa, which we have described in a previous newsletter, hence the proverbs “Xe Pasqua xe Pasqua che caro che go, se magna fugassa, se beve i coco” (It’s Easter, it’s Easter, we’re so happy to eat fugassa and drink eggs…) and “No xe pasta sense fugassa” (It’s not Easter without fugassa). We have made our opinions on the deficiencies of Venetian baked goods clear in the past, so as far as Easter cuisine is concerned we were more attracted to “Aleluia Aleluia, le pappardelle se desgarbiua” (Praise be, the pasta is untangling!) Eggs were the key luxury ingredient for fresh pasta eaten after the Lenten fast, with meat ragu spiked with vivid green agretti, in English saltwort. These succulent green fronds resemble seaweed and always appear at the vegetable stalls in time for Easter. The taste is somewhere between spinach and samphire, as the food writer Frances Mayes put it, “full of the energy of spring”. Agretti were also baked with eggs into a quiche-style Easter pie.
The Venezian name for agretti is “priest-beard” and the plant was extremely important to the city’s economy, since the dried, burned stems were the source of the soda ash used in glassmaking, which gave Murano crystal its unique clarity and brilliance. From the fifteenth century onwards, a small dish of ash was placed on the convent table at the Doge’s Easter lunch.
Lisa writes- we tried a pasta recipe which substituted spinach for saltwort, but it came out slimy, so instead our recipe this week is for this simple, calcium-rich custard. Less bother than boiling up zabaglione but as near as we could get to the joy of drinking eggs. The Rhubarb and Cucumber salad is fresh, pretty and springlike, with the snap and crunch of the elusive agretti.
This a very quick but really delicious dessert. It was very much inspired by what is known as Russian Custard but with the addition of light ricotta to give it a slightly airier texture and taste. This makes two small portions but because it is rich without being overly sweet a small amount is exactly what you want to finish an Easter meal.
Throw away the spoon if you are feeling particularly traditional!
Ingredients: for two people
2 egg yolks
1 small teaspoon of good quality honey
1 tablespoon of ricotta
Pinch of salt
Method: Beat the egg yolks and honey together with a very small pinch of salt, which helps incorporate air. Beat until the yolks turn slightly lighter and a little creamy. Then you can either fold in the ricotta to try and maintain the texture or else beat this is in but just until well mixed in. Transfer to small individual glasses to be eaten with a spoon.
It can be eaten/drunk straight away but I highly recommend chilling this in the fridge for a few hours or even in the freezer, being careful to remove it 10 minutes before it is needed. Add whatever you like on top. But do make sure to use the freshest eggs as obviously they are not cooked.
Anna writes-One other quick recipe to add along side your Easter feast. Rhubarb and Cucumber Salad is a Persian recipe that we chose for it’s delicious-ness but also as homage to the recently past Persian New Year. The idea that a new year starts at the beginning of spring makes a lot of a sense to me and so this salad is something I look forward to making each year.
RHUBARB AND CUCUMBER SALAD
2 cucumber (if you can find small with thin skin use those)
3 stems of young rhubarb (if necessary peel any tougher outer layers off)
1 tsp (more or less) of salt
Small handful of fresh mint
1/2 lemon juice
1tsp of olive oil
Method: Begin by removing the seeds from the center of the cucumber and then slicing into thin disks or battons. Prepare the rhubarb into similarly sized pieces and mix together in a colander with a generous sprinkling of salt. Let this rest for 30 minutes, before rinsing and patting dry. Tare up some mint and sprinkle over the top with lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) and a little olive oil.
Serve along side anything savoury.
Happy Easter from Sugar Street
Here is a snap shot of last years ferocious Easter egg hunt in Campo Santa Margherita. Apologies for the poor photo but we were too busy finding eggs!
I’m always reminded at Easter of one of Sebastian Horsley’s favourite jokes:
“Don’t knock Alzheimer’s. It’s the only disease I know that allows you to hide your own Easter eggs…”
I am just about to make an easter pie with agretti!