Buona Pasqua means Happy Easter in Italian. Saying it evokes vivid childhood memories of Easters spent at my grandparents’ house. I remember each and every Easter dress, coat, and hat I wore. But mostly, I remember the food.
An Italian-American immigrant, my father’s mother was old-school when it came to holiday cooking. For Easter, she made lamb. A whole baby lamb. Maybe it’s a texture thing, but I’ve never cared for it. Despite the accompanying caramelized roasted vegetables that decorated the large oval meat platter, the lamb looked like a small dog sprawled out on the good bone china. It was enough to make my little brother cry. “It’s a puppy! Don’t make me eat it…”
My reward for suffering through the lamb was the Easter bread, called “cuzzupe.” My grandmother and her sister each made it differently. A serrated knife was needed to saw through my grandmother’s cuzzupe, which was intentionally dry and hard, to symbolize unleavened bread, while my Aunt Theresa’s cuzzupe was moist with a subtle vanilla aroma. Regardless of which sister you asked, getting the recipe for cuzzupe was not an easy thing. My mother eventually pieced together this much from them:
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Why were they so specific about the SEVEN AND A HALF eggs, yet so vague about the quantity of flour? Did they know just how much flour was needed simply by how the dough felt in their hands?
When I began hosting Easter at my house, I tried making the cuzzupe. It was a disaster. Luckily my mother has the patience, and she continues to make it every year, adjusting the recipe here and there.
Me? I like a sure thing. So I make the “cassata” or Easter cheesecake. And I’m happy to share the recipe with you.