Pastiera di Pasqua
No Easter is complete in Naples without Pastiera. Custard-like in texture, and filled with grain and citrus aromatics, Pastiera is a dessert tart of legends. Eggs, a universal symbol of rebirth, prominently feature in this classic dish, which make it an indispensable part of Easter throughout much of Campania.
Making Pastiera is an event in itself. The true recipe calls for ‘grano duro’ or farro that is soaked in several changes of water for at least 24 hours. Many take the easier route and buy pre-cooked grain, which is convenient, but lacks a certain ritualistic authenticity. And I will forewarn, the recipe below is a beast! It contains many steps and A LOT of ingredients. It also bears noting, that in Naples, we always make Pastiera in large quantities—as in enough to feed an invading army. The recipe below is for four Pastiera.
You might feel like Stanley Tucci preparing his infamous Timpano in Big Night when you make this Pastiera, but it is worth it. Get ready for some fun. You will need to be prepared and organized! I highly suggest using a kitchen scale to weigh your dry ingredients. The metric system, which I use in the recipe below, might be a bit of switch for those accustomed to American baking methods, but the recipe is easier to remember and prepare according to the universal metric system. That aside, Pastiera is a joy to make. The aromas of orange blossom, cinnamon and vanilla in the recipe below are enticing and are forever associated with Easter in my mind.
Yes, there are a striking number of steps. Yes, there are easier ways to prepare Pastiera. But it's Easter, and this is the ultimate celebratory recipe. In the last week I have had the privilege of making Pastiera with many women in Agerola. These ladies make Easter special for us all. The recipe below is based on my experience with these fine women and amazing cooks. Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Fiorina and my good friend, Silvana for making my first Easter in Agerola a memorable (and delicious) event!
Happy Easter to All!
Makes four Pastiera, 9" in diameter
- 1 kilo farro
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 liter whole milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 kilo + 250 grams granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- Zest from two lemons
- 1 kilo(about 2.3 lbs) fresh ricotta (*Note: If you purchase industrial brand ricotta outside of Italy, it will be heavily water logged. To remove the excess moisture, set ricotta over cheesecloth covered bowl overnight in fridge.)
- 15 eggs (room temperature)
- Zest and juice from two oranges
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon extract (or ground cinnamon)
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom extract
- 1 ½ tablespoons Millefiori extract (** Note: Millefiori, literally means ‘one thousand flowers’ in Italian. It is an extract that is ubiquitously used in Easter Pastiera. You can order it online or find it in Italian markets. If you are unable to find it, mix equal parts lemon extract and vanilla extract as a replacement.)
- 150 grams minced candied orange
- 150 grams minced candied citron (***Note: You will generally find candied fruit in your grocery’s spice and baking aisle. If you can’t find candied citron or orange, buy mixed candied fruit that might look vaguely like something you would put in a fruitcake. I promise the results of this recipe will be far better than fruitcake!)
- Soak farro in large bowl or casserole dish with enough water to cover it for 24 hours, changing water at least four times.
- Place soaked farro in large, heavy-bottomed pot, add a 1½ teaspoons salt and cover with cold water.
- Bring farro to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for one hour, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon (****Note: It is important to stir regularly or farro will begin to stick to the bottom of the pot.)
- When water is completely absorbed and farro is tender (but not mushy), the farro is done. Allow to cool completely! (*****Note: You can place farro, covered in fridge and continue with further steps the following day if you prefer.)
- Once farro has cooled, place in large, heavy-bottomed pot, and add 1 ½ teaspoons salt, milk, butter, 250 grams sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and zest from one lemon.
- Bring farro mixture to boil.
- Once farro mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
- While your farro mixture is cooking, whip ricotta and½ kilo sugar in a very large bowl (this will be the bowl into which you later mix all of your ingredients), using an electric mixer on medium speed for three minutes. All lumps should be removed.
- In a separate bowl, using an electric mixture on medium speed, beat eggs with additional ½ kilo sugar for two minutes.
- Gradually add egg mixture to ricotta mixture, using electric mixer on medium speed to fully incorporate.
- Set aside ricotta/ egg mixture.
- When farro mixture has finished cooking, off heat and set aside to cool completely.
- Once farro mixture is completely cool, fold it into egg/ ricotta mixture using a rubber spatula. (******Note: If you really can’t take it anymore, you can cover and refrigerate your mixture at this point and pick up tomorrow.)
- Add remaining lemon zest, orange zest, orange juice and remaining tablespoon of vanilla extract to mixture, stirring to incorporate with a wooden spoon.
- Add cinnamon extract (or ground cinnamon), orange blossom extract and Millefiori extract (or mixture of vanilla and lemon extracts), stirring to incorporate with a wooden spoon.
- Add candied fruit and stir to incorporate with a wooden spoon.
- Your Pastiera filling is now (finally!) complete. Set aside while you prepare your crust.
Pastiera Crust (Pasta Frolla)
- 1 kilo all purpose flour
- 400 grams sugar
- Zest from one lemon
- 6 eggs (room temperature)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 400 grams lard at room temperature (*Note: Alternatively you can use butter.)
- Dump flour onto clean work surface.
- Create a well in the center of flour pile.
- Add sugar, lemon zest, eggs and vanilla to center of flour well and beat with a fork.
- Spoon lard (or break butter into pieces) in the center of the egg mixture.
- Use hands to mix fat into egg mixture, and then gradually incorporate flour.
- The dough will begin coming together at this point. Continue using hands and mix together as if forming a ball of cookie dough. Your crust is complete when flour is fully incorporated and resembles play dough. (**Note: The texture of this crust, known as Pasta Frolla, is quite different from a typical American pie crust. It more closely resembles cookie dough. Recall that your ingredients are at room temperature, which is the opposite of an American pie crust, and the result is more cookie like.)
- Form your dough into a big loaf and cut into four equal parts. (***Note: You do not need to refrigerate your crust for this recipe.)
Pastiera Final Assembly
- Ricotta/ Farro filling
- Pasta Frolla Dough
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Butter and flour four 9” pie dishes.
- Dust work surface in flour.
- Roll first portion of dough into a roughly uniform circle about 1/4 “ thick and 14” in diameter.
- Place crust in pie dish, firmly pressing into bottom.
- Trim excess crust, using a fluted pastry wheel.
- Set excess crust aside.
- Perforate bottom of crust in pie dish with the fork tines.
- Repeat to form 4 total Pastiera crusts.
- Form all remaining excess dough into a ball and roll out to create a sheet 1/4” thick.
- Using fluted pastry wheel cut 32 strips of dough roughly 1/3” wide and set aside.
- Fill each pie dish to just below crust with ricotta/ farro filling.
- Working each pie dish one-by-one, place 4 crust strips across filling, parallel and equidistant from one another, as if forming a grid.
- Place 4 additional strips diagonally across to form ‘x’s,’ as shown in the picture above.
- Bake two Pastiera at a time (attempt to get both onto middle rack of oven if they fit) for one hour, until golden.
- After baking for one hour, test Pastiera with tooth pick. If the toothpick comes out clean, Pastiera is done. The Pastiera will puff up like a soufflé due to the eggs in it. It will eventually deflate.
- Allow Pastiera to cool and set four at least 12 hours before eating.
- When you are ready to serve, sift powdered sugar over each Pastiera.
- Technically you are not supposed to eat until Easter day, but I already broke that rule twice, so enjoy………