La Cucina di Enzina e Mamma Cucca

My fondest Easter morning memory takes me back to Italy, to being a child, to being with Nonna Elena. Every Easter she used to make Pupe di Pasqua out of pastry, for us children to dunk in our bowl of milk on Easter morning. Following the Italian family tradition, this Easter Sunday I went down to Frank Cucca’s family (one of my best friend and colleague from Marco Polo) to celebrate Pasqua into Neapolitan style. Enzina (Frank`s oldest sister) is passionate for food and cooking was inspired by Margherita her Italian mamma, who taught her not only how to cook, but also how to spread love through food. I sit down with my family for a Sunday meal every week, she said to me. What I would like to do is kind of create a movement for my family and keep the tradition going until one of our younger nieces or nephews takes over. It`s not easy as we are close to forty of us when we are all here on Sundays!
Lamb is the traditional centerpiece of the Easter meal, as it is throughout the Mediterranean. Baby lamb is often roasted whole with bay leaves, rosemary and garlic, and cooked until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. A few days before Easter, mothers, daughters and grandmothers will assemble in the kitchen to make the family’s well-guarded recipe.
Each Neapolitan cook has her own, and like all things involving cooking here, theirs will invariably be the best and only they know the hidden secrets of Pastiera. Enzina is in touch with her friends and relatives in Naples on a weekly basis to share recipes and talk about what they can cook up next.
The best cooks do everything from scratch, from soaking and cooking the wheat to making the pastry. The wheat is soaked for two or three days, cooked and then combined with a mixture of milk, butter, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon and cooked again until the milk reduces. The ricotta is drained, left to sit overnight and then mixed with sugar, eggs, orange blossom water, and candied citron and orange peel. These two mixtures are then combined and baked in a short pastry. The best pastries are made by hand and use a combination of butter and lard and the zest of one lemon. There are short cuts of course, you can use Gran Cotto cooked wheat in a jar or can (which many Neapolitan cooks are now using) and you can get readymade pastry dough, but where would be the fun in that. If you want the true experience you’ll have to do it from scratch.
A lot of people aren’t cooking any more, that’s why Enzina is feeling very fortunate to have been raised with that kind of a food history. Her parents immigrated to Canada in 1968 from Mariglianella, Napoli and brought with them recipes and traditions passed down for generations.
Italians are very particular about their food. Nobody can make anything as good as their mamma or their nonna!

Giorgio Moretti

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