Easter is just around the corner, believe it or not, and to celebrate it we’ll be talking about one of our favorite European Easter traditions – dining “al fresco.”
When spring arrives at our house, one of the first things we do is pull the grill and patio furniture out of storage to start enjoying some outdoor dining. This year Easter is early, and we’ll be feasting indoors, but for many of our European destinations the weather is already mild enough to enjoy dining al fresco.
I’ve spent many Easters in Italy, most of them on the gorgeous island of Sardinia. There the Easter traditions didn’t include an egg hunt, but just so much food eaten in company. The main meal was Easter lunch enjoyed with family, full of egg-laden dishes, breads, pasta and/or risotto, and seafood.
Pasquetta, Easter Monday, is also a major holiday in Italy, and was the time for a big outdoor gathering, in which often several animals were laid over spits to roast. A suckling pig (the famed Sardinian “maialino”), a small goat, and the requisite lamb were roasted for hours and enjoyed with so much vino sfuso poured from generic glass bottles. We’d also have fresh spring vegetables enjoyed as a “pinzimonio,” with a bit of strong olive oil mixed with salt and pepper for dipping.
And after that? Almondy Easter pastries with coffee and the Sardinian after-dinner digestivo known as “Mirto.”
I remember those days fondly. In the US getting 20 or more people around a single table for a celebration is rare. Certainly it can only be done “al fresco,” and we often did it around the outdoor ping pong table if the group was very large. We’d collapse afterwards in the garden to rest and talk, and to enjoy the first warmth of spring.
When Easter is late, I try to recreate those wonderful feasts of my youth, although usually without the whole animals on a spit! A wonderful grilled lamb is usually the best I can do, but when enjoyed with family and friends in the warm spring sunshine, it’s still pretty near perfect.
What are your favorite al fresco dining memories? Do you try to recreate them at your home?
By Peg Kern
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