Asparagus in Cream Sauce
This is a classic way to prepare springtime asparagus. Serves four. Snooth Pairing: Gelsomina Lambruso Mantovano 2007.
 
Ingredients:
2 pounds asparagus, washed and trimmed
1-teaspoon sugar
Fine sea salt to taste
Cream Sauce
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup white wine such as Verdicchio
1-teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1-teaspoon salt
1-teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons butter
 
Fill a large sauté pan with water and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and salt and stir in. Add the asparagus and cook over medium high heat until they are just fork tender, about 6 minutes.

Easter Baked Ham
My friend Anna Nurse’s baked ham is a great alternative to roast lamb for Easter. And the leftovers are sensational. Snooth Pairing: Mezzacorona Riesling 2011.
 
Ingredients: 
1 large smoked ham, about 12 to 18 pounds
Whole cloves
3 cups pineapple juice
1-pound dark brown sugar
One 16-ounce bottle dark corn syrup
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
 
Place the ham in a shallow roasting pan. Score the fat and stud it completely with cloves. Pour the pineapple juice over the ham and bake for 12 minutes per pound.After 1 1/2 hours, remove the ham from the oven and carefully pat the brown sugar on top, completely covering the top of the ham. Gently pour the corn syrup over the ham, being careful not to disturb the sugar covering. Continue baking, basting every 15 minutes. When the ham has baked its allotted time, remove it from oven and continue basting until it is cooled-this gives it a beautiful glaze. The remaining syrup can be used again over a side dish such as yams, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes if you are serving the ham hot as a main dish. Otherwise, it can be left on the sideboard or kitchen counter at room temperature during the day for snacking purposes, then stored in the refrigerator for several days.
 
Molded Eggplant and Bucatini Pasta Casserole
This impressive mold of pasta and eggplant is a culinary summary of Sicily on a plate that uses core ingredients that define its cuisine like eggplant, pasta and tomatoes. The dish is best made a day ahead and reheated. Snooth Pairing: Torresella Nero D’Avola 2011.
 
Serves 10 to 12
Ingredients:
3 eggplant at least 11-inches long, cut into 1/4-inch thick lengthwise slices
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup toasted breadcrumbs
 
Sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced onions
1 rib celery, minced
1 large carrot, scraped and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups chopped fresh or canned plum tomatoes
1/4 cup dry red wine such as Corvo Red
1 whole bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
 
Filling for the mold: 2 cups cooked bucatini or spaghetti, broken into thirds, 1-pound ground veal, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 2 tablespoons dry white wine such as Corvo white, 2 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese, 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, 1-teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into bits, 1/4 cup minced Italian parsley. Preheat the oven to 350F. Use 1 tablespoon of olive oil to grease the spring form pan. Coat it with breadcrumbs and place in the refrigerator (do this step a day ahead). Brush two or three baking sheets with olive oil and lay the eggplant slices on them in single rows. Bake the slices in batches, about 5 to 7 minutes, or until they begin to brown; they should be soft, and pliable, not mushy. Cool the slices. For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften. Stir in the garlic and cook until it begins to soften. Stir in the tomatoes, wine and bay leaf. Cover the pan. Lower the heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes. Remove cover and simmer the sauce for 5 minutes. Set aside. (this step can be done weeks ahead and the sauce frozen or made 3 or 4 days ahead).Combine the veal, egg, wine, cheese, breadcrumb, and salt. Mix just to combine the ingredients. Wet your hands and make marble-size meatballs. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 7 to 10 minutes or until cooked. Transfer the meatballs to a large bowl (this step can be done two days ahead and refrigerated). Line and overlap the eggplant slices lengthwise over the sides of the springform pan, leaving about a 3-inch overhang. Do not leave any gaps around the edges of the pan. Line the base of the pan with more slices, and be sure to fill in any gaps with smaller pieces of eggplant. Add the bucatini to the same bowl as the meatballs. Stir in 2 cups of the tomato sauce and the mozzarella cheese. Combine the mixture well. Spoon the mixture into the pan, packing it in tightly. Fold the overlapping ends of the eggplant slices in towards the center of the pan, covering the ingredients. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips. Spread 1/2 cup of tomato sauce over the top of the mold and sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese. Cover the top tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover the pan and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to rest tented for 10 to 15 minutes to allow it to firm up before cutting into it. Run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan. Release the spring and place the timballo on flat serving dish. Cut into wedges to serve and pass additional sauce on the side. Tip: A neater cut will be achieved if the casserole is baked and refrigerated a day ahead. When ready to serve, reheat the casserole, covered on a baking sheet until it is hot, about 30 minutes, and then remove from the oven; let rest for 5 minutes. Release spring and remove pan sides. Place the timballoon a serving dish; cut into thick wedges and serve with additional tomato sauce on the side.

Neapolitan Stuffed Easter Bread
The casatiello is a yeasted, savory ham and cheese filled Neapolitan Easter bread that my nonnaGalasso made. The name derives from case, which in Neapolitan dialect means “cheese” because of the use of cheese in the dough and in the filling.Makes one large 10.5 inch round loaf. Snooth Pairing: BuglioniIl Valpolicella Classico 2012.
 
Ingredients:
For the dough –
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-teaspoon salt 
1-teaspoon coarse black pepper
 
For the filling --
1/2 pound chunk provolone or scamorza cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
1/2 pound chunk salame, mortadella or ham cut into ½ inch cubes
Salt to taste
Grinding black pepper
4 eggs
 
Grease a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom and set aside. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and allow it to get foamy looking. Heap the flour on a work surface or add it to the work bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, olive oil, salt and pepper and work it into the flour; add enough additional warm water to make a soft ball of dough. Cover and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours in a warm place or until it doubles in size. Punch down the dough with your hands and break off a large orange size piece and set aside. Knead the remaining dough and roll out into a large 18 x 14 inch rectangle and scatter the cheese and ham or salame over the surface to within an inch of the edges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Starting at the longest side, roll the dough up as for a jellyroll making sure to tuck in the ends and place it in the tube pan. Tuck the two ends together. Cover and allow to rise for about 1 hour or until the dough is 3/4 the way up the sides of the pan. Place three of the eggs randomly on the top of the dough, pressing them in to anchor them. Divide the saved piece of dough into 6 equal pieces and roll each piece into a 4-inch long length. Use two pieces to a make a cross over each egg. Beat the remaining egg with a fork and brush the surface of the dough. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown. Let cool on a rack then run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan, and loosen the bottom and remove it. Turn the bread out. Serve warm cut into wedges.
 
Pastiera (Neapolitan Easter Pie)
Pastiera means only one thing: classic Easter wheat pie from Naples and no Easter table was complete without several of them. Over the years, pastiera’singredients have been tinkered with a lot. The wheat berries have given way to rice, the orange flower water to other flavorings and the citron replaced with raisins. Begin the life of this most venerated confection by soaking the wheat berries two days before. Makes one 9 ½-inch pie. Snooth Pairing: La SpinettaMoscatoD’Asti 2014.
 
Ingredients: 
For the pastry dough --
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 extra-large egg plus 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
 
For the filling --
1-cup wheat berries covered with cold water and soaked overnight
2 cups whole milk 
One 3-inch long piece of vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
1 pound fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup candied orange peel
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
 
Spray a 9-½ inch spring form pan.  Set aside. To prepare the dough; mix the all-purpose and cake flours, salt, and sugar in a food processor or bowl. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse to blend if using a food processor, or use a pastry blender or fork to blend the ingredients by hand. Add the eggs and pulse or mix them in by hand. Add just enough ice water to make a dough that is soft and not dry. Do not over mix the dough or it will be tough. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for 30 minutes. To prepare the filling, Drain the wheat berries in a colander and put them in a medium size saucepan. Pour in the milk and use a small paring knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the berries absorb all the milk. This will take about 10 minutes. Transfer the berries to a bowl. In another large bowl, beat the ricotta cheese, eggs, zest, and sugar until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract and cinnamon. Fold in the wheat berries and candied orange rind. Set the mixture aside. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Roll 2/3 of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 14-inch circle. Line the pan with the dough and trim the edges even with the top. Scrape the filling into the pan. Use a pastry cutter to cut ¾-inch lengthwise strips of dough from the remaining sheet of dough and place the strips about ½ inch apart over the filling to make a lattice top. Trim off the excess dough, making sure the edges are sealed. (Leftover dough can be re-rolled and cut with cookie cutters, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and baked). Bake the pie on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center. Cool the pie on a rack, then carefully remove the sides of the pan and place the pie on a decorative serving dish. Cut into wedges to serve.

Risotto with Artichoke and Lemon
Serves four to six. Snooth Pairing: Terenzuola Vermentino 2013.
 
Ingredients:
8 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
6 frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and chopped
2 1⁄2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
Juice of one lemon plus the zest
Salt to taste
1⁄2 cup grated Grano Padano cheese
 
Heat olive oil in a large heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until wilted. Stir in the rice and cook until rice crackles but is not brown. Stir in artichoke hearts and cook 1 minute. Lower heat to medium and begin adding ladlefuls of the stock and allow the rice to absorb each addition before adding another. Add enough broth to finish the risotto to the al dente stage. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest. Mix well. Stir in the cheese and serve immediately.
 
Roast Leg of Lamb Roman Style
Serves eight. Snooth Pairing: Italian Bordeaux Blend such as Villa Collazzi Toscana 2006
 
Ingredients:
4-pound leg of lamb with shank bone attached
3 cloves garlic, slivered 
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves   
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1-tablespoon salt 
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper 
1 cup dry white wine such as Chardonnay
 
Wipe the meat dry with paper towels. With a small knife make slits about 1-inch deep all over the meat and insert the slivers of garlic and rosemary. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix well with a fork. Rub the mixture all over the lamb, coating it well. Place the meat in a deep dish, cover it, and let it marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and add the wine to the pan. Roast for 1 to 1 -1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg registers an internal temperature of 135-140 F for medium rare or 160 F for medium. Baste the meat every 15 minutes with the pan juices. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and let it cool slightly. Carve into pieces, arrange on a platter, and pour the pan juices over the meat. Serve immediately.  To make a gravy for the roast, skim off the top fat from the pan drippings and place the pan over two stove top burners. Over medium heat stir in 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth and stir to make a smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve on the side. Mint jelly and roasted new potatoes are perfect to serve with the lamb.

Mary Ann Esposito is one of America’s most beloved television chefs. Through her long-running PBS program Ciao Italia and appearances on other television programs including  The Today Show, Regis and Kelly, QVC, the Food Network, Discovery Channel, Fox, Martha Stewart Radio, RAI International, The Victory Garden, Simply Ming, and so many others, she has been able to share traditional Italian cooking with audiences around the world.
 
Mary Ann has worked beside world-renowned chefs like Julia Child, Todd English, Daisy Martinez, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, and countless others who share the same passion for cooking. Mary Ann is the author of 12 cookbooks. Her most recent, Ciao Italia Family Classics, is available here. For more information visit here at the Ciao Italia home page and on Facebook.