Letters from Italia: Pasqua to Pasquetta

Agrate church towerAnother cool grey day, but the forsythia are blooming and the magnolia buds are swelling, so spring is definitely in the works.

We did make it to church in yesterday’s glorious sunshine. The streets flowing into the central roundabout turned into a parking lot and every pew was filled, though there can’t be more than 150 spots.

Having watched The Vikings back home, my first thought was: Wouldn’t this marble palace be ripe for plunder, the gold busts of popes behind the altar easy to snatch. I didn’t expect the modern touches – the guitar, electric piano and flute for music, a choir of a dozen locals, 50-somethings in regular clothes, and the passel of tiny altar boys and girls in white robes with a red stripe.

Young and old took turns at the lecturn reading scripture bits as kids squirmed in the pews and a babe in arms chatted to herself. What a clever priest to involve the community in his church. The choir’s first song had an English chorus. Since choirmasters can’t be expected to be English teachers as well, Jesus Christ, You are my Light, became Jesus Cry, You are my Lie. I speculated that the assistant priest, who spent the hour keeping a sharp eye on the action when he wasn’t dousing the altar and the head priest with clouds of incense or holding up the Bible for him to read a few words, was the entertainment director as well.

The service zipped right along, requiring only the occasional phrase of thanks or an Amen from parishioners. Even the sermon sounded interesting. I heard something about economic crises and supermarkets but didn’t catch much more. Being a food writer, I also caught the reference to agnello di Dio, or lamb of God.

Exactly an hour later, we all filed out into the courtyard facing the splendid 13th century stone baptistery. Imagine growing up beside an 800-year-old building! Sandro met a few of his friends, and one of their wives came up to say she remembered him when he was This High! The first year we came together, the old women who remembered him as a skinny kid were horrified at how he’d filled out as an adult, though he’s not the least bit large.Panettone Gastronomica

Easter lunch unfolded as all our meals do here, in leisurely courses. Remo had concocted a panettone gastronomica, which would be perfect for entertaining at home if we, too, could buy the savory version of the famous tall Christmas bread. He’d sliced it cross-wise into thin circles, and turned every two layers into a sandwich. There was a layer of smoked salmon, one of salami, another of gorgonzola, whatever he had in the fridge. He also made a French tart pissaladiere, with tons of melted onions, olives and anchovies.

The day’s hot dish was a fondue chinoise, or hotpot. We took turns wrapping super-thin slices of veal scallopini around fondue forks, cooking them in a pot of broth warmed by a flame and dipping them in mayo-based sauces. We drank the broth afterward. More cheese, of course, and salad, followed by an apple tart or square of the ricotta cake he’d made at the restaurant.

We were so full, a nap was the only option. But it was so gorgeous out, I couldn’t stay inside. Sandro proposed taking the Volvo to Suno, the next town, for caffe and a bit of a walk.

Before getting in the car we had to stop to admire the mountains, which had appeared like magic. The entire chain stretches in a long snow-capped line that seems so close yet always stays in the distance.

No mountains today. It’s Pasquetta and everything’s closed, though there’s probably a caffe open somewhere. Asparagus risotto and yesterday’s leftovers for lunch, along with a plate of pale green asparagus-like stalks. Fresh bamboo, Marisa said. From the supermarket? No, from the garden!


  1. Bamboo is invasive, so best to pull it up and cook it while young. Glorious writing, as always, Cynthia. Most delightful. Best to you both and enjoy!

  2. From an Italian in Toronto who misses Italy it’s great to read your updates.. Yes it’s getting close to asparagus season. If you were closer to Verona i would recommend you visit a cafe that opens his back room kitchen and serves his white asparagus lunches for 1 month every year.
    The food is simple and great… the only exception is that the owner is like Seinfeld’s soup nazi. “First come first serve” & “You eat what I make, no more no less”… It’s an experience and great meal.

    • ciao Enzo! Thanks for your note. I wish we could stay longer and visit Verona again and all the other smaller cities we’ve grown to love. Would he be serving white asparagus in March or April? I’ll be writing about white asparagus for The Star when I return to TO. Of course now I wish we could stay longer and visit Verona again.Oh, I’m being called downstairs for caffe! xcy

      • Thanks for your reply. I called and depending on the weather, they would generally start picking this week to mid April until the end of May first week of June. The white Asparagus is very popular in the Verona area and throughout Bassano from what i’m told.

        Like everything else in Italy, they have Asparagus Festivals in different areas of Verona from April 28th to +/-May 18th.
        Asparagus, mushrooms, grapes, figs, chestnuts, olives ….everything has a season and there is always a festival..

        In as far as Toronto, we are a little further behind. I asked my son Domenic, chef/owner of Farina+ fresh pasta shop in Maple and he says that based on the season he will also keep up with tradition and start making his fresh asparagus filled pastas starting in May/June.

        Enjoy your remaining time in Italy. Look forward to your interesting blogs.
        Safe travels.

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