Apr 3, 2010

Pastiera | La Primavera in Bocca

Pastiera is the quintessential Neapolitan Easter cake.


Pastiera was purportedly invented in a Neapolitan convent. An unidentified novice wanted her Easter cake to be a symbol of the Resurrection, and to be redolent of the spring flowers growing in the convent’s orange grove. 

So she mixed a handful of wheat grains (abundance) to some mild ricotta cheese (sustenance), added some eggs (symbol of new life), some orange-fragranced water, citron and a mix of aromatic Asian spices. 

The ingredients used in making Pastiera closely, suggest a more pagan spring-welcoming Dionysian type ceremony rather than an enlightened nun’s experiment: wheat kernels, goat milk’s cheese, floral water, eggs, spices and candied fruit? I say definitely mundane.


Be that as it may, Pastiera is commonly consumed during Italian Easter festivities, an intensely religious moment of the calendar.
The name "pastiera" appears to come from the consolidated habit of using cooked pasta instead of buckwheat; there are still some who make pastiera using spaghetti and angel hair. 
There are two different ways of preparing Pastiera: in an older method, the ricotta was mixed with the eggs; in the newer version, a thick pastry cream mixture is added, resulting in a softer amalgam. This recipe innovation was introduced by Signor Giovanni Scaturchio, a Neapolitan genius confectioner whose little shop of miracles still occupies a corner in Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.


A deli in Rome sells these mini 3.5 oz pastierine from Napoli's Scaturchio, and when I got one as a present the other day I squealed with delight. They are the best.



Here's the orignal recipe, handed down by a 100% true Neapolitan. Complex and time consuming, but oh, so worth it:

Ingredients for the shortbread/shortcrust pastry dough:
3 yolks
500 gr (2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
200 gr (1 cup) sugar
200 gr (1 cup) lard (cough) or butter
OR
1 kg (2.2 lbs) frozen shotcrust pastry dough

Ingredients for the filling:
700 gr (3 1/2 cups) sheep's milk ricotta
400 gr (2 cups) cooked buckwheat (can be substituted with pearl barley soaked overnight and boiled for 30 minutes; or round rice boiled for 20 minutes)
400 gr (2 cups) sugar
1 lemon
1 heaped tablespoon candied citron fruit, cubed
1 heaped tablespoon candied orange, cubed
1 heaped tablespoon candied pumpkin (locally called "cucuzzata") last 3 items can be substituted by assorted candied fruits
100 ml (1/2 cup) milk
30 gr (1 oz) butter
5 eggs + 2 yolks
1 packet vanillin
1 tablespoon orange blossom water (if you can't find it, use the zest of 1 orange)
a pinch of powdered cinnamon

If you were unable to find cooked and canned buckwheat, you'll have to cook the raw kind, or substitute it with the other grains and cooking procedures mentioned above.
Soak the raw buckwheat in water. Drain and rinse well under running water before cooking in plenty cold unsalted water. When the water boils, reduce the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 90 minutes undisturbed (no stirring).
In the meantime, if you decide not to use prepackaged and frozen pastry dough, combine flour sugar and softened butter in a mixing bowl. Drop in the yolks one at a time, and work into an even dough. Otherwise thaw the frozen pastry.

When the ingredients are well mixed, work the dough by quickly folding it over a few times. Beware: the more you work shortbread the less it will be soft and supple!

Let the dough rest 30 minutes, covered by a damp kitchen towel.

Mix the cooked buckwheat, milk, butter and the zest of 1 lemon in a saucepan, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir often, and cook until the mixture is quite creamy.

Whir the ricotta in the blender with the eggs and yolks, the sugar, vanillin, floral water and cinnamon. Once this is well blended and fluffy, fold in the candied fruits and cooked buckwheat mix, and stir until fully blended.

If you are using the frozen shortcrust pastry dough, once it is thawed soft, unroll it. Now whether packaged or homemade, the dough needs to be flattened. Use a rolling pin and work the dough to 1/4 of an inch in thickness. Line a 9-inch buttered pie shell with the pastry. With the excess dough cuttings, you can make some lattice strips for decoration.

Pour the filling mixture in the prepared pie shell, fold the brim inwards and decorate the top part with the strips of extra dough. Brush the criss cross lattice with egg yolk or melted butter mixed with sugar if you like. This will make it shine.

Bake in the oven at 180° C (= 350° F) for 90 minutes, or until amber in color.
Let the cake cool completely and dust it with confectioner's sugar before serving.

~

It's hard work, I know.
The Pastiera should be cooked a few days in advance, in order to allow the fragrances to mix properly and result in that unique flavor, but I never manage to resist more than a few hours.
A mouthful of Pastiera, followed by a sip of dry red wine is known to bring springtime in your mouth, La Primavera in Bocca, precisely.





Buona Pasqua!

26 comments:

  1. mmm...so you making enough to share? hope you have a fabulous easter weekend!

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  2. Sounds delish! Happy Easter to you, Lola.xx♥

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  3. OMG ! Is this the ancestor of cheesecake ! I love cheesecake, so I'm sure I'd love this too... A cruel temptress you are, dear Lola ! I wonder how many calories a slice of this pack ?!? 3 cups of sugar... mmmm... And it's a shame we couldn't hear that squeal ! LOL !

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  4. since both my grandparents are from Naples I am familiar with this great treat! it is soo good! great post and love the photos!!! thank you !!

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  5. OMG! I just had a huge Mexican torta and I am so full but now I want a bite of this!

    Eleonora, you talk about these dishes so passionately. I love that about your blog plus the photographs are so beautiful.

    Oh. I had a dream about you the other night. I saw your avatar at the Ufizzi! I have never dreamed of any blogger and there you were at the Uffizzi!

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  6. Thank you friends for coming over for a slice of Pastiera!
    Considering Owen's kind comment, I reconsidered the amounts for the recipe (I always cook in bulk amounts), so I reduced the ingredient quantities now, correcting them to fit more sensible final yields.

    Ciao and again Happy Easter!

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  7. I have seen versions which had whole eggs embedded on the top too!

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  8. Spacedlaw: that was casatiello perhaps, not pastiera!

    see an image of casatiello here

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  9. Sweet Easter greetings from Frog Hollow Farm. Oh, Eleonora, you make me yearn for Italy and all of it's yumminess (is that a word?) It's funny, I don't usually eat too much dessert in the states (I'm a lover of the savories) but the bakeries in Italy are just so wonderful - how can anyone help but take a bite from everything? When I was in Verona this September I found a bakery that sold these large, round packaged shortbread cookies with a very long name that I think began with an 's'. Are you familiar with that cookie - I would love the recipe or know if they can be delivered to the states.
    Buona Pasqua my dear!

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  10. I'm a savory person too, but some desserts here are just to die for. Pastiera, Tiramis├╣, MontBlanc, Struffoli, Gelato... I do make some exceptions to the savory rule.

    As far as the shortbread biscuits that start with an "s" I'll have to do some research. Were they a Verona specialty? Or a supermarket item?

    Buona Pasqua and come back soon!

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  11. This is a post I speedily skimmed through. Lola, but I do want to wish you a very Happy Easter weekend

    Julie

    xx

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  12. Oh, never seen those before, they look similar to Hot Cross Buns which they have in the UK at Easter. They are just currant buns with a cross on though.

    Happy Easter

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  13. This looks fabulous!
    «Louis'» gotta try this!

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  14. Julie, I know love–this is all torture material for you. Skip the recipe and focus on the history if you like.

    LindyLouMac, pastiera is a veritable cake, so no less than 9 inches in diameter. The one photgraphed here is a mini! I've never tried hot cross buns... shame on me.

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  15. oh i want to eat this! but after a 6 mile uphill hike yesterday, i am only going to look! (calories out!!) but i'll still have a glass of wine with you!

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  16. Buona Pasqua! I love your recipe. We have never used canned pumpkin - sounds enticing. My children won't let me deviate from their grandmother's recipe -yet. I love all the stories surrounding this wonderful pie. It is worth all the effort.

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  17. That cake is incredibly beautiful! Good job getting those wonderful photos before having some! I'd squeal with delight too. I love hearing about the ingredients and how it's made, but I think I'd prefer the one from the bakery. Happy Easter!

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  18. Hello Eleonora, I'll email my friend Stephanie to see if she remembers the name of the shortbread cookie - she remembers everything!

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  19. Lori~ I understand, you wouldn't want to waste all that calorie burn-off! ;)

    Claudia~ I use pre-cooked and canned buckweat kernels, the pumpkin is candied and it's a Napoli touch.

    Margo~ I had some more today, homemade from scratch. It was amazing!

    FHFGirl~ Good, because I have been wracking my brain over this!

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  20. This is so yummy !! Looking very delicious !! Thanks for sharing !!Unseen Rajasthan

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  21. Hi!
    Blogger struck again over the weekend but this time deleted a number of my followers! I’m furious! I’ve complained and, as you’ll notice, have reinstated your link. I apologize (though it should be Blogger doing this) if you thought I’d done this intentionally and hope you’ll likewise reinstate me as a follower on your great blog!
    Have a good week!
    Lola:)

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  22. Bharat & Nora,
    thank you for your visit and kind comments! Hope you had a fantastic holiday weekend.

    Ciao

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  23. Hi Lola!

    Great to *see* you again! Blogger should be really ashamed of all the problems it causes us!

    Hope you've had a great holiday weekend and will have a great week ahead!

    XOXO LOLA:)

    PS really yummy recipe - will try it! xx

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  24. Eleonora and Frog Hollow Farm Girl:

    Are these the cookies you were talking about? I just stumbled across your blog looking for a recipe for pastiera with noodles.

    Susamielli
    (Neapolitan "S" Cookies)

    These are traditional Neapolitan Christmas cookies, and are S-shaped. For two possible reasons: First, in the past they were called sesamielli, and covered with sesame seeds. Second, they were (and are) called Sapienze, because they were made by nuns of the Monastero della Sapienza.

    2 cups and 1 tablespoon (250 g) flour
    9 ounces (250 grams, or about 1 cup) good honey
    1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
    1/4 pound (100 g) chopped almonds
    diced candied orange peel, melon peel, and citron
    a mixture of ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (1 teaspoon)
    pinch baking soda

    Combine the almonds, citron, orange peel, and melon peel with the flour, and then heat the honey over a gentle flame.

    Meanwhile, make a mound of the flour and scoop a well into it, and preheat your oven to 340°F.

    As soon as the honey has heated and become liquid stir it into the flour, together with baking soda and the teaspoon of the mixed spices. Knead the dough until it is smooth and uniform.

    Roll the dough out into a 3/4-inch thick snake. Cut it into sections about 8-inches long and shape them into an S shape, pressing on them gently to flatten them slightly, and arrange them on a greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake then 15 to 20 minutes. Cool them on a rack.

    Notes: Susamielli are dipping cookies, and come out quite hard -- a Neapolitan site says a prova di denti, which roughly translates as impervious to teeth. You'll want to dip them in either a sweet dessert wine, coffee, or a caffelatte.

    Sapienze, the Susamielli made by the nuns of the Convento della Sapienza, are dotted with whole almonds.

    Susamielli taste wonderful but eating them takes work, and because of this Neapolitans will call a serious, standoffish person who has a hard time socializing a Susamiello.

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  25. I know this isn't the righttime of year,but what size and type of baking pan would I use that when making the pastry dough by hand?

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  26. John~
    I don't know if these are the ones... Did you post this comment on Frog Hollow Farm Girl's blog?

    S.Pellegrino~
    Like it says in the recipe description, "Line a 9-inch buttered pie shell with the pastry. With excess dough cuttings, you can make some lattice strips for decoration.
    " :)

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Eleonora

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