Mom is often the cornerstone in Italian-American households, known for keeping the family together—and well fed—through thick and thin. In Italy, la mamma is respected and celebrated by bambini and adults alike, who lavish their mothers with flowers and gifts for La Festa della Mamma.
First celebrated in Italy in 1957—around 50 years after it was founded in this country—the Italian Mother’s Day tradition was started by a parish priest in Assisi, a hillside village in Umbria. Word of the festivities spread throughout the surrounding countryside and one year later, the holiday was adopted across the entirety of Italy’s 20 regions.
As it is in the old world, we here in this country reserve the second Sunday in May for young and old to honor their mother. We honor her with gifts, flowers, and cards, or—if we can’t be there in person—a long-promised phone call. Beyond those Mother’s Day traditions, one of the truest expressions of love is, of course, through food. A home-cooked meal—either prepared for mom while she relaxes or with her standing over you in the kitchen—is the ideal way to show mom how much you appreciate all the hard work she put in throughout your life.
With that, here are some of our favorite Italian Mother’s Day dishes to cook for mom, with her, or in honor of her.
Mother’s Day is one of the most “brunch worthy” special days of the entire year. Italian moms are notoriously early to rise, which makes brunch an obvious choice for Mother’s Day festivities. And one of the most long-standing food traditions of pre-noon Italian meals is the frittata. Similar to a French omelette, frittatas can be made with meats, cheeses, or veggie, which all serve to make it a more robust and filling plate than a typical scrambled eggs dish. A classic potato and egg frittata is best made in a cast iron skillet, with maybe some broccoli or spinach and whatever Italian cheese you have on hand.
We’ve espoused the virtues of risotto numerous times on this blog, with variations of the dish always serving to satisfy cooks and eaters alike throughout the year. As we’ve said before, the work and attention to detail it takes to prepare truly transcendent risotto is a gift unto itself—as for the taste, well, that elevates risotto from a well-meaning gesture to a remarkable expression of affection. With versions featuring asparagus, mushrooms, and more, your mom will always remember the year you cooked her risotto, no matter how you prepare the dish and what ingredients you choose to incorporate. Check out our recipe for mushroom risotto, here!
Beyond those Mother’s Day traditions, one of the truest expressions of love is, of course, through food.
Lasagna hits all the comfort food requirements necessary for Mother’s Day and any other special day of the year. It’s a hearty casserole with pasta, meaty tomato sauce, melty cheese and a crisp layer of cheese on top, all coalesced into a rich mouthful. Lasagna is the perfect Mother’s Day food because it comes together like an art project in the kitchen, and everyone can get involved. Sheets of pasta are par-cooked, then layered with tomato sauce and whatever other ingredients you wish to include. And the great thing about lasagna is that you can put it all together the day before and heat it on Mother’s Day. This gives you more time to hang out with the family!
Pesto is that wonderfully green sauce that offers a flavor that can best be described as bright and pungent, with a basil-forward, herbaceous garden aroma suspended with delicate olive oil, enriched with pine nuts (pignoli), and kicked into overdrive with Italian cheeses and garlic. This “sauce” is an incredible way to herald Mother’s Day and the spring season the special day brings with it. If we had to choose one shape to use in our pesto preparation, it would be trofie. The tight twists of this ribbed pasta are the best at gathering the finely pulverized ingredients in pesto. Click here for our recipe for Pesto with Trofie!
A favorite dessert at many Italian restaurants, Tiramisù is layered with coffee-soaked savoiardi (more commonly known as Ladyfingers), interspersed with a rich cream comprised of mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, and perhaps a drop of liqueur for an extra kick. The perfect sweet to enjoy after an afternoon of savory Italian delights, this smooth and soft dessert is supple enough to be eaten with a spoon, yet boasts some of the most robust and forward-facing flavors of any Italian dessert. This is a true “special occasion” Italian dessert—and as we’ve established, there’s no occasion more special than Mother’s Day.