The first time I came across Naples’ famous Easter dessert, pastiera, I wasn’t entirely sure how to react – except that I knew I needed to have more. It’s a rather unusual, unique pie made with an array of ingredients that seem almost to have accidentally ended up together, but each on their own are symbolic and traditional to Naples. As a whole, they create an absolutely delicious concoction.
Pastiera is the thing to have on your table for Easter Sunday lunch, which means that housewives all over Naples begin making this on the Thursday or at least the Friday before Easter – and this is for those using pre-cooked wheat berries that you can buy in a jar in Italian supermarkets. For those cooking their own raw grains, you need to begin cooking those at least three days earlier. The grains are soaked in water, which is changed often, and then boiled in milk until tender.
- 250 g cooked wheat berries (see Note)
- 200 ml milk
- 30 g unsalted butter
- zest of 1 organic lemon
- 2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
- 350 g fresh ricotta (see Note)
- 350 g caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
- 100 g mixed candied citrus (see Note), finely chopped
- icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
- 250 g (1⅔ cups) plain flour
- 100 g icing sugar
- 125 g unsalted cold butter
- 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
- zest of 1 organic lemon
- eggwash, for brushing
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time: Filling, overnight; ideally, the cooked pie should also rest overnight.
For the pastry, place the flour and icing sugar in a bowl. Chop the cold butter into small pieces and rub into the dry ingredients (if you have a food processor, you can pulse this all together). When you get a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs, add the egg, egg yolk and lemon zest, and knead until the mixture comes together, but don’t over do it. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight while you prepare the filling.
For the filling, place the cooked wheat berries, milk, butter and lemon zest in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and stir for 10 minutes or until it becomes thick like porridge. Transfer to a large bowl, allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight for flavours to infuse.
The ricotta mixture should be made the night before baking. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer or a fork, beat the eggs, egg yolks, ricotta, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and orange blossom water. It should be creamy but liquidy, with no lumps. Leave this mixture overnight (or a few hours at least) to rest.
Preheat oven to 200ºC. Grease a 28 cm-diameter round cake tin. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry and place in the tin. Cut off any overhang and add to the remaining pastry, then roll out again. With a pastry wheel (a crimper, the one that makes ruffled edges is best), cut long strips about 2 cm wide.
Fold the cooled grain mixture, rested ricotta mixture and finely chopped candied citrus in a large bowl, then transfer to the pastry case and trim the pastry to the level of the mixture. Now add your lattice top; it’s really important that the criss-cross of your lattice creates a diamond shape, not a square – it just won’t look right! Press the lattice strips to the edge of the pastry very gently; they will be floating delicately on top of the filling at this stage. You can brush the lattice gently with some beaten egg to make it shiny.
Bake for 50–60 minutes. You are looking for perfectly done, crisp pastry and a beautiful amber-brown top. Allow to cool completely inside the springform pan and, ideally, leave it to cool and rest overnight.
Before serving, some like to sift icing sugar over the top, while others like the lattice top to be more evident. Once cooked, the pastiera can be stored in the fridge for 4–5 days – if the entire household doesn’t eat it all well before that!
• Cooked wheat berries are available from Italian food shops. If you can’t find wheat berries, pearl barley would be a good substitute and won’t take as long to prepare – just boil 100 g until tender, about 40 minutes!
• Use sheep and cow’s milk ricotta, if you can get a mixture of both.
• Candied citrus, such as my preference, citron, or orange is available from specialty food shops.
Recipe from emikodavies.com by Emiko Davies, with photographs by Emiko Davies.