Sep 4, 2017

Casatiello

I'm long overdue sharing this recipe. I have been enjoying casatiello for many years, but only got around to actually making it from scratch last spring in Irpinia, during an episode shoot of ABCheese, my TV show.

Casatiello is an Easter dish from the region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital. Casatiello and Tortano are two rustic Neapolitan savory pies that differ only in how the eggs are placed. In casatiello the eggs are placed whole, in their shell, embedded in the top part of the bread dough, secured by criss-crossed strips of dough. In tortano the eggs are part of the filling. 

Casatiello is a pagan symbol of rebirth and celebration, but also represents a Catholic metaphor for the circular element of the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross. 

Casatiello is in fact normally eaten during the Easter festivities, served with fava beans, salumi and salted ricotta. Whatever is left over is usually packed in the Pasquetta (little Easter/Monday) picnic hamper.


The ingredient list of this rustic and savory bread includes rich and fatty chopped salami, cheese, pork cracklings, eggs and lard. Yes, lard.


The dough which will be the shell of the casatiello needs to be light and flaky, this is where lard comes into play.
This forgotten and now demonized ingredient (living a recent revival, however) is what our grandmothers used as fat in virtually every baked preparation. Inexpensive and stable lard is by no means "healthy" but it does have less cholesterol and saturated fat than butter, and unlike most vegetable shortening, it does not contain any trans fats. Moderation, obviously, is the key word here.
 
Because of its relatively large fat particles, strutto or sugna (rendered lard) is extremely effective as a shortening in baking. Pie crusts made with lard tend to be flakier than those made with butter or olive oil.
Lard, and shortening in general, work by coating flour particles and gluten strands in doughs (virtually "shortening" the strands, hence the term), and preventing them from forming a strong bond. The stronger the bond, the tougher the crust, and vice versa. Lard also has a higher melting point than butter.The picture above shows homemade rendered lard made from the kidney fat of healthy, free range pigs.


Here is the recipe for this sensational southern Italian Easter recipe.

Ingredients
600 g strong, bread flour*
300 ml lukewarm water
25 g brewer's yeast, melted in a small amount of water - or natural sourdough starter
225 g rendered lard
100 g pecorino cheese
150-200 g Italian salami
100 g pork cracklings
150 g sharp provolone cheese
Salt and pepper
4 or 6 eggs, depending on size, plus 1 yolk 

*Strong flour and bread flour generally mean the same thing: plenty of gluten which allows the dough to stretch and incorporate lots of air bubbles. The strenth of a flour is given by its "W" value. Bread flour varies between W160 and W310. This value is usually clearly stated on the packaging.

Start by preparing the bread dough. You're aiming for a wet, elastic dough.
Build a flour volcano. Add the yeast mix in the 'crater' along with 50 g of lard, then pour in the water a little at a time, stirring with a fork or your fingers. Keep adding the flour from the sides of the volcano. Only add a good pinch of salt at the very end (salt nullifies the yeast action). Knead to obtain a soft and elastic ball of dough. Add a little water if it feels too dry. It really all depends on what flour you're using.

Let the ball of dough proof in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap. The mass should double if not triple in volume. I usually place my dough to rise in the oven (turned off) with only the light on. This takes no less than 2 hours.

Move the dough to a flat work surface lightly dusted with flour. Deflate and roll it out to form a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. You could use a rolling pin, but the dough is fluffy enough to do this with your hands. Save a small amount of dough for garnish.

Now the fun part: adding the filling. Slather a third of the dough rectangle with 1 Tbsp lard (use your fingers or a spatula), sprinkle evenly with black pepper, scatter a third of the chopped salami and cracklings, and a third of the grated cheeses. Fold over the "dressed" part and repeat until you run out of filling. I folded over three times.
Roll up the whole thing, burrito-style.

Grease a ring mold with lard and place the rolled up casatiello in it, making sure to clasp the ends together to form a donut. Cover the casatiello and let it proof for additional 2-3 hours (time may vary depending on how warm your kitchen is, and how powerful the yeast is).

Wash the eggs under running water, pat dry and press them on the casatiello, pointy tips facing inwards. Roll the leftover dough into slender ropes. Secure the eggs by criss-crossing the dough ropes on each. Brush the surface of your casatiello with egg yolk. 

Heat the oven to 180°C (375°F) and bake for approximately 1 hour. Check doneness with a toothpick or a raw spaghetti noodle. Crank up the heat at the very end if the surface isn't browning enough.

Serve at room temperature. Who's uncorking the chilled Falanghina?

If properly wrapped in plastic wrap, it will last 3-4 days in the fridge. Mine hardly ever makes it past the day I make it.
 

My casatiello mentor, Patrizia.

5 comments:

  1. I love casatiello and tortano! I blogged too. I think your recipe is somehow similar.. http://blog.pastabites.co.uk/2017/04/a-recipe-casatiello.html

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    Replies
    1. I love them but won't be eating them this year! When I reach my weightloss goal I'll definitely start making it again!

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  2. So interesting that this recipe is a combo of two that my auntie made for us. Both at Easter time. A bread with rendered pork bits and its rendered fat is made to be served with an Escarole/Cabbage soup. And EVERYONE loves it.
    Dessert was a sweet version of your ring with the eggs criss crossed with dough. No yeast was used and it was drizzled with an icing laced with vanilla.
    I have made both over the years and both are hits!

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    Replies
    1. The savory version sounds like Pizza Ripiena (or 'chiena, in dialect). The sweet version must me an Italian-American development.

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  3. This looks amazing-I hope I can find lard at the grocery store. I remember my grandmother making something like this and I'm sure she used lard.

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