It’s that time of the year and there is just one thing I can think about, the Italian Pastiera! It is definitely one of my favorite desserts and also a pretty challenging recipe to realize, but I am sure you will do it right with the help of your children!
When Easter comes, Pastiera becomes a family matter in Italy, especially in the South: baking it just before Easter is a job that involves grandmas, mothers, nephew, all the family! If you have tasted it once your life you know what I am talking about. Would you like to make a perfect one with your kids? Here I am to teach you every secret of this typical Italian delicious thing.
THE PERFECT PASTIERA
A BIT OF HISTORY
Let’s start with the basics: the Pastiera napoletana is a type of Neapolitan tart made with cooked wheat, eggs, ricotta cheese, and flavoured with orange flower water, usually eaten at Easter. Pastiera was used in the pagan celebrations of the return of the Spring time. During these celebrations, Ceres’ priestess brought an egg, symbol of new life in procession. Because of the wheat or the einkorn, mixed with the soft ricotta cheese, it could come from the einkorn bread called “confarreatio”, an essential ingredient in the ceremony of the type of ancient Roman weddings named after it. The modern pastiera was probably invented in a Neapolitan convent. An unknown nun wanted that cake, symbol of the Resurrection, to have the perfume of the flowers of the orange trees which grew in the convent’s gardens. She mixed a handful of wheat to the white ricotta cheese, then she added some eggs, symbol of the new life, some water which had the fragrance of the flowers of the spring time, candied citron and aromatic Asian spices.
Fundamentals: pastiera has to be cooked some days in advance, no later than Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, in order to allow the fragrances to mix properly and result in that unique flavor. The Pastiera is not only cooked but also sold and served in appropriate pans called “ruoti” because it is very fragile, so it would easily crumble up if removed from the “ruoto”.
All clear? Let’s make it then!
PASTIERA, A SOUTHERN ITALIAN GRANDMA’S RECIPE
Take your kids, wear your apron and get ready, that’s what you need.
For the short pastry (to put on a ‘ruoto’ of 28 cm diameter):
330 g of 00 Flour (plus a little bit to use on the pastry board)
165 g of soft butter
130 g of sugar
1 egg + 2 yolks
2 g of yeast
1 little spoon of orange flowers’ water
For the stuffing:
350 g of fresh ricotta
300 g of sugar
3 eggs + 2 yolks
1 little spoon of cinnamon (or as much as you like)
4 little spoons of orange flowers’ water
70 g of candied citron and oranges
about 250 g of cooked wheat
100 g of milk
Let’s make the short pastry for Pastiera first: mix the eggs and the sugar in a big container, then slowly add the soft butter the flour, the orange flowers’ water and I use also a bit of lemon peel. Knead with a fork and then with your hands on the pastry board (put some flour on it before) until you get a homogeneous mixture. Put it in a saran wrap and let it stay in the fridge for one hour.
In the meantime, prepare the stuffing: cook very slowly the wheat and the milk until you get a creamy mixture. In a big container, mix the ricotta with the eggs, the sugar, the cinnamon, the orange flowers’ water and the candied, then add the wheat mixture. You should have obtained a big creamy mixture. After one hour, take your short pastry form the fridge, cut like 3/4 of the pastry and put it aside. Roll out the rest with a rolling pin on some baking paper with a bit of flour on it.
Take your ‘ruoto’ and misure if your pastry is big enough to fill it including the board, then reverse the pastry in the ruoto (don’t forget to butter it before) and take off the baking paper. Fill the pastry with the stuffing and use the pastry you left aside to form some strings to put on the stuffing as you do with the tart (cross vertical and horizontal strings)
Done? Put it in the oven (previously heated) at 180 ºC for about one hour. Let it rest for at least 12 hours before to eat it and remember, Pastiera is as much good as long it rests! Enjoy!