A long time ago, just about this time of year, my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Louie drove all the way from New York to our home in Ohio to share a wonderful Easter with us. We were all torn between learning to play chess with Uncle Louie in the living room or helping Aunt Sarah grind out cavitelli on her magical pasta machine in the kitchen.
Poor Uncle Louie always wound up reading a book.
Aunt Sarah would show us how to "make a well" out of the flour and mix in the eggs very slowly.
"You have to let the eggs 'steal' the flour little at a time," she taught us.
Soon we were twisting and braiding our initials out of dough to decorate the top of an enormous pie filled with cheese and sausages. Just when we couldn't bear the delicious aroma any longer, my father helped Uncle Louie take the pie out of the oven and put it on the kitchen table where we all took turns posing for pictures with it. But we weren't allowed to touch it until the night before Easter - my mother and Aunt Sarah would only let us carefully peel off out initials and devour them piping hot.
Late each night we would lie in bed and giggle as we tried to count the number of eggs used in the day's proceedings. After the third day and the seventh dozen, we were convinced there wasn't an egg to-be found in the entire county, and we rolled in laughter picturing the poor chickens having to work overtime so we could have our holiday dinner.
Each Easter ever since then we've pulled out the yellowed little pieces of paper on which Aunt Sarah carefully copied her secrets long ago. And each Easter they become more and more dog-eared and stained . . . and lovingly treasured. BISCOTTI (Italian Cookies) (Makes 3 dozen) 1/2 pound butter (or half margarine, half butter) 1 cup sugar 6 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla 5 cups flour 1 tablespoon baking powder Pinch salt 1 cup confectioners' sugar 2 teaspoons water 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Add vanilla and mix. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add to mixture, blending to a smooth consistency.
Roll or pat into three pieces of pastry about 4-by-2 inches (about 1/2-inch thick) and place on greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 850 degrees or until golden brown.
Cool slightly and cut (with a very sharp knife) diagonally across, making cookies about 1-to-1 1/2-inches wide and 3-to-4 inches long.
Mix confectioners' sugar, water and lemon juice together to make runny icing. (This may be colored.) Dribble over cookies.
AUNT SARAH'S RICOTTA PIE (9 inch pie) 1 1/2 pounds ricotta 3/4 cup sugar 6 eggs, beaten Salt 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 small milk chocolate bar - slivered 1/2 cup candied citron or candied fruit CRUST: 1/4 pound butter 1/2 cup sugar 2 eggs 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt
Filling: Cream ricotta and sugar with fork. Add beaten eggs, salt and vanilla. Pour into unbaked crust. Sprinkle with slivered chocolate. Bake 1 1/2 hours at 250 degrees.
Crust: Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add to first mixture a little at a time. Mix to a workable consistency. Roll out to fit 9-inch pie pan.
HOLIDAY FRIED ROSETTES (Makes 3 dozen) 6 eggs 4 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 1/2 tablespoons oil 4 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder Pinch salt 2 to 3 cups oil for frying
Cream eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil together. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, and add to egg mixture a little at a time, mixing well.
Roll dough out on floured board to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 3-by-3-inch triangles or diamond-shaped pieces.
Heat oil in deep saucepan until a drop of dough sizzles. Carefully place a few rosettes into oil letting them stay until golden brown, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or colored sugar crystals, or dip in warm honey. Or instead of rosettes, drop half-teaspoons of dough into the oil to make tiny cookies; dip in these in honey and make a large cone-shaped mound. Holiday guests can nibble at his attractive centerpiece.
GREAT-GRANDMOM ADAMS EASTER PIE Crust: 3 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 2 eggs, beaten 1/4 cup oil Pinch salt and pepper Filling: 1/2 pound mozzarella 1/4 pound muenster cheese 1 pound ricotta 2 eggs Salt and pepper to taste 1 1/2 pounds Italian sweet sausage 3 hard-cooked eggs
Crust: Sift flour and baking powder on pastry board. Make a "well" in the center of the mound and place beaten eggs, oil and salt and pepper in this hole. Stir gently with a fork until all ingredients are blended. Let dough rest at least 1 hour, covered.
Filling: Dice mozzarella and muenster cheese. Add ricotta, the two uncooked eggs, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add sausage and mix again. Slice two of the hard-cooked eggs and add to mixture, tossing well.
Roll out dough to line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan (or a cookie sheet with sides for a thinner, quiche-like crust). Dough should be about 1/4-inch thick. Line bottom and sides with dough, reserving some to cover and decorate top. Add filling. Make a lattice-top crust and braid dough around the other hard-boiled egg (which may be colored).