From Italy: pastiera napoletana

In the last days, I got to understand that here in Canada Easter is all about eggs hunt and glazed ham.
In Italy we traditionally eat boiled eggs as a starter, accompanied by salame and cheesy bread loafs. And we eat lamb, with artichokes or other seasonal sides.
But after all that, we eat pastiera napoletana.
Pastiera is a traditional Easter cake, like a ricotta tart but richer. Rumors have it that its name derives from the habit of doing it with leftover pasta… anyway it has its origins in Naples, but these days it has spread all over Italy.
Unluckily, I don’t have any ancestry from Naples… unluckily, because this means I never had any grandmother’s recipe for the true pastiera napoletana.
I made a little research and what I found out quite soon is that there is no one-and-only recipe. It looks like each family has its own.
And while there is general agreement on the ingredients (…at least!) there is the wildest possible chaos when it comes to proportions and quantities… I run into a recipe which called for 10 eggs for the filling!
But hey, I am an engineer, so I had a mathematic approach to the problem: I made a nice Excel table confronting three or four different sources and, scaling and interpolating, I came to my version.
In the past years, I submitted this version not only to my family (unlikely as it seems, they could be partial) but also on unsuspecting colleagues at work, and I got unanimous consent.

Grano cotto (pre-cooked wheat) & acqua di fiori d'arancio (orange flower water)

Grano cotto (pre-cooked wheat) & acqua di fiori d’arancio (orange flower water)


PASTIERA NAPOLETANA
The tradition dictates that the pastiera is made on thursday to be eaten on Easter sunday, after sitting a couple of days in the fridge. Instead I think that making pastiera is a great occupation for Good Friday!
Anyway, it has to rest in the fridge for a couple of days, so start now!
The following quantities are for two 24cm tart pan.

For the crust:
500 gr all purpose flour
200 gr sugar
250 gr butter, cubed, at room temperature
2 eggs

For the filling:
400 gr grano cotto
400 ml milk
250 gr sugar
20 gr butter
500 gr ricotta
4 eggs
50 gr candied orange zest
orange flower water
vanilla extract

Instructions
In a pan, heat the grano with the butter, the milk, 50 gr sugar and a pinch salt. Bring to the boil, then cook for 15 minutes, constantly stirring the mixture, as it sticks to the pan.
When it has reached a creamy texture (it must look a bit like porridge), remove from the heat and let cool completely. Add 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
While you wait, mix the frolla dough and keep it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
After that, beat the ricotta with the remaining 200 gr sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating to obtain a smooth creme. Add the orange flower water and the candied orange.
Finally add the grano mixture to the ricotta creme, and stir.
Preheat the oven at 180°C.
Divide the frolla dough in two parts. Butter and flour the tart pans, then line each one with 3/4 of each half of the dough. Make some holes in the base with a fork and ladle the filling into the mold, leaving a few millimeters from the edge.
Roll the remaining dough and cut a dozen stripes with a fluted wheel cutter, then arrange them on the tarts, shaping elongated lozenges.
Bake for at least 1 hour or until the filling turns very brown but the dough strips are nicely amber. Today, my pastieras spent 1 hour and a half in the oven.
Tip: if you are using aluminium foil pie tins, you’d better use a baking tray to put them into the oven. The tins can be lined and then filled when they’re already on the tray, ’cause aftewards they can be quite heavy to hoist without damage.

Orecchiette / Comments

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