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A Tuscan Easter Picnic : The centuries-old Italian tradition of a post-Easter picnic suits Southern : California's climate and temperament as well as it does Tuscany's.

April 08, 1990|ROSE DOSTI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine Tuscan hills abloom with spring flowers, and picnickers laying fluttering tablecloths over new grass for an Easter picnic.

That's the picture drawn by Agostino Sciandri, chef-owner of Trattoria Toscana in Brentwood, when describing the Italian family picnic that has taken place for centuries on the day after Easter in his native Tuscany and that continues to be a tradition to this day. Many of the dishes in this ancient menu have not changed since their beginnings when shepherds offered the season's bounty to pagan household gods.

Sciandri sees the picnic as an ideal way to celebrate Easter in Los Angeles. "Why not?" he asked. "The weather is perfect, and the picnic is an easy one to prepare." A bonus is that most of the meal can be prepared ahead.

Fresh vegetables fried in olive oil or grilled over coals and drizzled with olive oil are the traditional antipasti. Eggplant, green and red peppers, radicchio, summer squash are some of the Tuscans' favorites.

Torte d'Erbe, a vegetable frittata similar to a baked omelet but filled with seasonal greens, is another standby. Sciandri uses Swiss chard and spinach but any vegetables can be used. Fresh herbs also may be added to the frittata. The dish can be prepared a day ahead and served at room temperature and makes a delightful addition to a Hollywood Bowl or family reunion menu.

For Easter, lamb replaces rabbit as the preferred meat of the season throughout Italy. For the picnic, Sciandri prepares Lamb Chops Milanese, which also can be served cold or at room temperature. The meaty portion of the lamb rib chop is pounded until very thin, then dipped in egg, dusted with dry bread crumbs and fried in olive oil until the coating is golden and crispy. The attached rib makes a convenient handle for eating the chop out of hand.

The traditional Easter dessert of Sciandri's village is called Torta Riciolina ; it's a tart made with pine nuts, almonds and crushed amaretti cookies. Other versions, known as torta di Pasqua (Easter tart), exist throughout Italy.

Brown, white or colored hard-cooked eggs decorate the picnic table and may be scattered around the dishes or hung from tree branches for ornamentation.

PICNIC MENU

Antipasti of Fried or

Grilled Vegetables

Torte d'Erbe

(Vegetable Frittata)

Costolette d'Agnello

(Lamb Chops Milanese)

Torta Riciolina

(Fruit and Nut Tart)

Prepare the fried or grilled vegetables the day before or the day of the picnic and chill.

Prepare the frittata a day ahead.

Prepare the Lamb Chops Milanese the day of the picnic or one day ahead.

The torte can be prepared several days ahead.

TORTA D'ERBE

(Vegetable Frittata)

1/2 pound leeks

1/2 pound green cabbage, cut in wedges

1/2 pound zucchini, trimmed

1 bunch green onions, cut up

1/2 pound Swiss chard, cut up

1 pound potatoes, peeled

3 eggs, beaten

6 tablespoons bread crumbs

1/2 nutmeg, grated

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt, pepper

Place leeks, cabbage, zucchini, green onions, Swiss chard and potatoes in large saucepan. Cover halfway with water and boil 30 minutes until potatoes are tender. Drain well. Cool slightly then chop vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in large bowl.

Add eggs, crumbs, nutmeg, cheese, oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into greased 10-inch pie plate or spring form pan.

Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes. Cool, then cut into wedges. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: Instead of cooking whole, vegetables may be cut into 1/2-inch pieces and steamed in small amount of water 10 minutes or until tender.

COSTOLETTE D'AGNELLO

(Lamb Chops Milanese)

8 Frenched single-rib lamb chops

2 eggs

Salt, pepper

3 cups bread crumbs

1/4 cup olive oil

2 lemons, cut into wedges

Pound meaty portion of lamb chops until 1/4-inch thick, leaving bone intact. Beat eggs and season to taste with salt. Dip bottom and sides of chop into egg mixture, then roll in bread crumbs, making sure to cover well.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add chops and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with lemon wedges. Makes 8 chops.

TORTA RICIOLINA

1/2 pound almonds

1/4 pound pine nuts

1/4 pound walnut halves

1/2 pound amaretti cookies, coarsely crushed

1/2 pound raisins

1/4 pound candied fruit peel

1 tablespoon apricot jam

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 egg yolks

1/4 cup Sambuca

Pasta Frolla

Powdered Sugar

Coarsely grind almonds, pine nuts and walnuts. Add amaretti, raisins, candied fruit peel, apricot jam, honey, butter, vanilla, egg yolks and Sambuca. Mix well. Set aside.

Spread fruit-nut into Pasta Frolla shell. Form reserved pastry into 6 long rolls and place over filling in desired crisscross pattern.

Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Cool, dust with powdered sugar. Makes 1 (15 1/2x10 1/2-inch) tart.

Pasta Frolla

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

Cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl. Beat in flour and baking powder until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at time, mixing until smooth. Chill 1 hour.

Reserving 1/4 of mixture for lattice top, press remaining dough onto bottom and sides of 15 1/2x10 1/2-inch jellyroll pan. Trim at rim or crimp edges.

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