Category Archives: Easter

Buona Pasqua


Come noon on Holy Saturday, that is today, lent is over. Or so this was the tradition in my grandparents’ home. The day before was Good Friday and my mother recalls that on Good Friday, the home was in a state of mourning, as if there was a wake going on (and back then wakes took place in the home). “You couldn’t turn on the radio,” she says. “You couldn’t even step on the cracks of the sidewalk.” She doesn’t remember whose rule that was, but it was, nonetheless, a Good Friday rule for my mom as a little girl.

But by noon on Holy Saturday, the mood shifted to one of preparation for the next day’s big feast. In their home, the Easter meal was usually lamb: chunks of it braised on the stove with garlic and onion, then mixed with spring dandelion greens, scrambled egg and parsley and grated parmesan cheese. In their dialect from Lucera the dish was called spetsada (and I’m not sure of the spelling, considering this is not true Italian). The lamb and the eggs bring important symbolism to the Easter table, foods we take in that tell the story of spring’s renewal through subtle hints of sacrifice and resurrection.

At Grandma Cutrone’s table, the meal was typically a fancy pasta dish like ravioli. And this typically is what our Easter table holds, too. The ravioli are always homemade and that part of the meal is always preceded by a special Easter antipasto called la fellata. It begins with a large platter (we like abundance, so the larger the better!). First on the platter are paper thin slices of salami and prosciutto, and atop them, rounds of pepperoni and soppresata, sliced hard boiled eggs, wedges of sharp provolone and slices of fresh mozzarella. In the very center goes an Italian basket cheese, which we usually call “cheese in the basket,” but just as my grandparents all spoke their particular dialects of the Italian language, even “basket cheese” seems like a sort of Italian-American dialect. Its proper Italian name might be canestrato, but basket cheese seems its most prevalent name, and the name comes from the cheese being formed inside a basket––once reed but now most often plastic––so that the impression of the basket is apparent in the finished cheese once it is removed from the basket and placed on the table. Sometimes, if the platter is just too close to overflowing, we might place the fresh mozzarella and the basket cheese in a platter of their own. If your fellata is to be truly delicious, you’ll procure all of these items from a good Italian market, rather than from the supermarket. (When’s the last time you had good fresh mozzarella from the supermarket?)

What separates Grandma Cutrone’s version of la fellata from that of my mother’s family is the addition of sliced oranges. Perhaps they began as leftovers from Grandma Cutrone’s St. Joseph’s Day altar in March, for she always placed baskets of oranges at her altar for St. Joseph. No matter how or why, the sliced oranges brighten the platter. They are cut in thick rounds with one slice from the center out to the peel, so that the orange sections can be pulled apart into a big toothy grin. And of course colored eggs and baskets of the taralli that were the focus of the last chapter of the Book of Days. (I included a recipe for taralli there should you be looking for a good Holy Saturday project.)

Getting through the meal at the Easter table at our house takes hours. Like the Easter Vigil Mass that begins at sundown tonight, it is an occasion not for the faint of heart. It is an event for which one brings a hearty appetite for food and for life. And as we toast each other at that table so we toast you: Buona Pasqua a tutti!


The Easter Table


When you get right down to it, each holiday in our home revolves around food, and the foods on the table at Easter are some of the most celebratory of the year, coming as Easter does on the heels of Lent and all its spareness. Things begin with a first course that features a plate called La Fellata, an antipasto of sorts. It is a platter layered with slices of salami and prosciutto, wedges of sharp provolone, rounds of pepperoni and soppresata, and topped with orange slices. The oranges are cut in a special way: sliced so they are full round circles, and then a cut is made from the center of the orange out to the peel at just one point, so that the orange can be pulled apart at that cut so the orange sections open into a toothy grin, much like a jack o’lantern might have.

The fellata is always accompanied by fresh mozzarella and, perhaps most important, homemade taralli, which you might think of as an Italian pretzel flavored with wine and fennel seeds and black pepper.

Eggs! Of course there are eggs: hard boiled and dyed, and they are there to be eaten with this first course, but you don’t just crack and peel them. No, first and foremost they are used in egg fights, in which folks at the table are pitted against each other to see whose eggs are strongest when one person’s egg is used to tap the other’s. The eggs that break first are the first to be eaten.

The fellata is delicious and more fun than you’d expect a holiday meal should be. And here’s what happens after the fellata every single year: someone says, “Let’s skip the ravioli and move on to the basket course.” Which, of course, means the Easter basket, chock full of malted eggs and solid chocolate bunnies and jellybeans. But to skip the ravioli would be sacrilege. And already the water is boiling on the stove, and the ravioli that were made by hand the day before are ready to be tossed into the pot and served up with a light tomato sauce. A formality just to get to that anticipated basket course? Perhaps. It is the same story year after year, wonderful and delicious. Buona Pasqua a tutti! Happy Easter to all!


Image: The makings of a perfect fellata plate, complete with taralli.



A People in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light


We celebrated the mysterious holiday/holyday of Maundy Thursday by night, and this gathering by night returns again for Holy Saturday, the last day of the Easter Triduum. The mysteries deepen as sunset brings the Easter celebration in its oldest form: the Easter Vigil. We gather together and we begin in darkness. A fire is kindled, and from that new flame, all the candles are lit. Each and every person holds one. The transformation and the return of light is tangible and real. There is no mistaking it: darkness is overcome.

It’s been a long Lenten journey. My gift to you today: a little levity. What follows is a Convivio Dispatch from a few years back, one of our most popular dispatches ever. The scene is Easter Vigil mass on Holy Saturday. Have you ever been to an Easter Vigil mass? It is one of the most beautiful ceremonies you’ll witness, to be sure, but it’s a marathon mass, a true test of stamina, not for the weak of spirit or of strength. If you’re going to an Easter Vigil mass tonight, maybe you should read this first, just for the fun of it. ––jlc



It’s Holy Saturday, the night that officially closes the somber and reflective season of Lent, and the even more somber and reflective week known as Holy Week. We Catholics cap off the week with the hours-long Easter Vigil mass, a test of will for anyone, to be sure. But it is this mass that is the high point of the liturgical year, a grand spectacle to usher in the miracle of Easter.

Tonight’s long Easter Vigil mass at St. Bernard’s lacked a little something, though, and the general sense was that this year’s transition from Darkness to Light, from Somber to Joy, from Death to Life, was not quite as dramatic as it was in years past. And we can all pretty much place this sense of inadequacy on the statue of the Risen Lord at the back of the church. The concept each year is the same: We begin after sunset in a dark chuch, and once the good news is proclaimed, the lights and the organ grow gradually brighter and louder, while the bells ring triumphantly, as all the marble statues are released from the purple shrouds that have covered them since Holy Thursday.

But the statue of the Risen Lord, which hangs some four feet above the doorway opposite the altar, is well known amongst the congregation as the the Statue That Fell Upon the Head of the Usher, which happened as the unfortunate man was using a pole to release it from its purple shroud on another Easter Vigil night, three or four years ago. It’s happened just that one time, but still, the ushers grow increasingly timid with each passing year, and what used to be done with great zeal and flourish is now done rather gingerly and with palpable fear. The lights are all on and Sister Kathleen, the reluctant organist, has gone well past crescendo and so has no choice but to settle into quiet notes––notes that feel a bit like they’ve worn their welcome––and Father Seamus watches and prays from the altar, and the congregation turns and winces and looks away because they don’t want to watch what’s happening with the pole and the purple cloth but they turn again to watch anyway, lest they miss what might happen if it happens, and there is more wincing, and then finally one usher goes in for a folding chair, one of the chairs behind the back pew for the potential overflow Easter crowd. He gets the chair to stand on it, so as to have more control over the situation, or perhaps to lessen the blow should the statue fall again by reducing the distance and velocity it would travel downward toward his head––but then he hesitates again and Sister Kathleen just flat out stops playing and finally the other ushers just gather together and go for it in a great show of Christian strength and solidarity. They push the pole up under the purple cloak and lift it from the head of Christ and the statue rocks back and forth and there is, somewhere, an audible gasp.

But the statue of the Risen Lord settles down again, and all is well for another year, no ushers are in need of stitches, none have been clobbered into unconsciousness.

Jesus Christ is risen today!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
And the ushers are all okay!

And when the nighttime mass is done, we great each other with “Happy Easter.” And so Happy Easter, Happy Spring. May your days have great flourish when they need to.


Image: Easter Morning by Caspar David Friedrich, oil on canvas, 1833, [Public domain], via WikiPaintings.