sábado, 4 de abril de 2015

The italian Easter Colomba cake

When you think about Easter time in Italy, the first things that comes up to your mind are sweet desserts, there are just too many Easter-themed sweet dish that you wouldn't believe! North to south, there are chocolate eggs, casatielli, pastiera, cassata...you name it! But there is a dessert that makes everyone happy: the Colomba pasquale, a cake very similar to the fluffy Christmas panettone shaped like a dove. "Colomba" in italian means actually "dove".

While the symbolical meaning of a dove-shaped cake to celebrate Easter is clear to everybody (dove is the symbol of Peace), the historical origin of the Colomba pasquale is somehow unclear.

Pavia still has lots of heritage from the Longobards era.
Of course, like everything else in Italy, there are lots of legends around it. One of them settles the birth of the Colomba in the era of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Italy's falling under the hammer of the barbarian invasion, we're in year 572, and Alboin, the king of the Longobards, is taking in siege the roman city of Ticinum (nowadays Pavia). After the conquer of Ticinum, the king is decided to execute a large amount of the population. To avoid the unpleasant decision, the ticinenses decided to create a delicious culinary gift as an hommage to the king Alboin: a sweet bread shaped like a dove, in sign of pacification. The cake is so tasty that the king decide not to execute the population: a good dessert can actually save thousands of lives! And there's more to it! Ticinum later became the capital city of the Longobard reign, under the name of "Papia", that is the city of the "pope" (or to better say, the main religious authority of the Longobard reign, the Arian Archbishop).

Loved the legend? Want one more? Ok here it goes: we're again in Lombardy, some decade later that the history of Alboin we saw before: the Longobard reign is now completely settled, and the legend we`ll see takes place when the king is Agilulf and the queen is the catholic Teodolinda.

Queen Teodolinda portrayed in a fresco in the Teodolinda Chapel, in the cathedral of Monza. A masterpiece of gothic art from the Zavattari brothers, a must see!
The carismatic queen Teodolinda wanted to convert many of her subjects from Arian heresy to catholic orthodoxy, and to do so she invited lots of great preachers of the time in Lombardy. One of these great preacher, that was reaching Rome through the Via Francigena (a great pilgrimage route like the Camino de Santiago), was Saint Columbanus, an irish monk.

The Via Francigena pilgrimage route passing through Pavia

When invited to a lunch with the queen Teodolinda, just few day prior to Easter, he found himself very uncomfotable: too many dishes, too many meals and kinds of meats and he was in the amidst of Lent Fasting. To find a solution, he offered himself to bless the food. But no sooner had he blessed the lunch than the meat was transformed into a delicious sweet bread shaped -guess how?- like a dove! Wow! A miracle! Saint Columbanus, which is a latin translitteration of the irish words Colum Bann, "white dove", actually transformed the meals according to his name. He was a boss!

The original Colomba pasquale by Motta

That's enogh with the legends, but what about the real history of the Colomba? Well, the history is actually more prosaic, and it startes in the Thirties of the Nineteenth century. The creator of the modern days Colomba is the ad man Dino Villani, that wirked for the Motta, an historical firm that produces (back then as it does now) the milanese Christmas cake par excellence: the Panettone. Dino Villani had the brilliant idea to keep working the industries after the Christmas season producing the traditional dove-shaped cake using a modified version of the dough of the Panettone. Of course, the idea was a big time success! Dino Villani was a genious and one of the very first modern-days advertising man: he also designed the Motta "M" logo that you can easily identificate all over the world with high-quality milanese sweet threats.

The iconic "M" sign for Motta, idea of the advertising genius Dino Villani

Now that you have the complete story, you can choose which one you prefer to believe in! The Colomba is a delicious dessert, you can find it at any good Italian shop or also at Eataly (and there you can find the Motta's Colomba too!).
Today, the Colomba is an excellence traditional italian product enlisted as a P.A.T. (Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionale) by the italian Ministry of Agriculture.
Don't miss it if you can!

Buona Pasqua!
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