Pastiera Napoletana is an Italian pie, traditionally baked on Maundy Friday and consumed on Easter Sunday. Its origins trace back to Roman times, when eggs, ricotta cheese and wheat would be mixed together to celebrate the coming of Spring.
The cake, as we know it today, was supposedly rediscovered in the XVII Century by the nuns of San Gregorio Armeno, a convent in the city of Naples, that made it famous by adding orange blossom water, candied fruits and spices to the original version.
Here’s the recipe for Authentic Pastiera Napoletana!
For the Dough:
250 gr (8.8 oz) all-purpose flour;
50 gr (1.76 oz) of sugar;
100 gr (3.5 oz) of lard or, alternatively, 125 gr (4.4 oz) of butter;
the zest of 1 lemon;
1 Tbsp of cold water, if need be.
For the Filling:
500 gr (17.6 oz) of sheep’s milk ricotta;
500 gr (17.6 oz) of grano cotto (cooked wheat grains) or 200 gr (approximately 7 oz) of hulled wheat grains to be cooked;
350 gr (12.3 oz) of sugar;
100 gr (3.5 oz) of candied fruits (orange and cedar);
1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp of ground cinnamon;
drops of orange blossom water or millefiori essence (to taste) .
Preparing the Dough
Mound the flour on the kneading board, make a well in the centre. Add the ingredients and incorporate them with your hands. Be gentle in handling the dough and knead as little as possible. If the dough is very dry, add some cold water to the mix.
Form a ball and let it rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours and, ideally, for up to 24 hours.
The Pastiera Filling
1. Prepare the wheat. If you happen to have an Italian store nearby, you may even find a jar of grano cotto, already cooked wheat grains made especially for Pastiera.
Here’s a quick guide to instead do it from scratch:
– Place 200 gr (7 oz) of hulled wheat grains in 600 ml (20.3 fl oz) of cold water
– Change the water every 12 hours, for 3 days
– On the third day, transfer the wheat with at least 600 ml (20.3 fl oz) of water in a pot and boil for 1 hour
-Leave it to cool off in the same pot. When it’s finally cool, it’s ready to use!
2. Separate the egg yolks from the whites and place them in two rather big bowls.
Mix the egg yolks with half of the sugar, until they create a light yellow cream.
3. In another bowl, mix ricotta with the remaining sugar, until it becomes a paste.
Once you’ve obtained a smooth consistency, take a sieve and pass the ricotta paste through the sieve, pressing with a spoon.
4. Add the cooked wheat, the seeds of 1 vanilla pod (or a teaspoon of ground cinnamon)
and the candied fruits into the bowl with ricotta paste. Depending on the strength of your orange blossom water or millefiori essence, add a couple of drops or more to the mixture. Blend all the ingredients together and taste your filling for the cake.
You should distinguish the flavour of the orange blossom water in the mouth.
If you can’t detect it, add some more, until it’s pleasantly there.
5. Whip the egg whites until ‘soft peaks’. Add them carefully to the rest.
Assembling the Pastiera
1. Roll out the pastry dough into a big 5mm (0.2 inches) thick circle.
The dough has to cover the bottom of a 26 cm (10.2 inches) round baking tin, plus 5 cm (2 inches) of the rind. Unroll the dough onto the baking tin, previously greased with butter and well floured, then cut off the additional dough and put aside.
You’ll need it to create the stripes to cover the top of your cake.
Take a fork and prick the dough, both on the bottom and on the rim.
2. Place the filling inside the baking tin. Don’t fill in until the very top but leave a security distance, as the filling will grow slightly in the oven.
3. Collect all the edges of your additional dough, form a ball, spread it with the rolling pin and cut a few 2 cm (0.8 inch) long stripes of it to cover the top of the cake, like in the dedicated picture below. Attach them loosely on the sides, otherwise the pastry stripes will break when baking.
4. Place the cake in a 200°C (390°F) pre-heated oven for 1 hour.
Your Pastiera will inflate considerably as it bakes, but it will naturally deflate when it cools down…so do not panic!
5. Take out the Pastiera and leave to rest for at least 24 hours before serving.
The filling will otherwise be too liquid and you’ll end up with a muddy yellow paste on your plate! Store the Pastiera in the fridge, well wrapped with cling film, until serving time. As an optional decoration, you may sprinkle the top of the pastry with a little bit of powdered sugar, right before serving.
According to the venerable Neapolitan tradition, the authentic Pastiera Napoletana is prepared on Holy Thursday, or on Maundy Friday, and eaten only for Easter Sunday lunch.
Two or three days of resting would allow the filling to thicken, the flavours to marry and the aromas to increase in complexity. This waiting time does not do any harm to your Pastiera, provided you keep the tart in a cool environment and, preferably, in the refrigerator, where it can be chilled for up to one week.
The last slice of Pastiera tastes infinitely better than the first one…just try and see!