Bianca: While most typically think it’s the males at the head of Italian families, my general experiences have been that the women rule the roost. Something I’ll happily continue to advocate for. One particularly strong lady in the eyes of team FFS is our Nonna Assunta. Whilst age and illness has slowed her down, she can still be found in the kitchen whipping up batches of her famous Christmas Rococo biscuits, Struffoli and the seminal classic Neapolitan Easter dessert, Pastiera.
It took me many years to warm up to the cake, preferring my chocolate and typically sweeter western desserts. Traditions are very important in our family to honour, both our grandparents and the ways and recipes they hold very dear. Obviously being half way across the world from their beloved Ischia, whipping up our own version of this classic dish was our little way of paying our respects to our grandparents and what they hold very dear….plus if they hated it, we’d probably be guaranteed they’d lie and eat it anyways!
What’s in a Pastiera you ask? Whole wheat berries (yep, new to me as well), ricotta, sugar, eggs, candied citrus and a mix of spices – cinnamon, vanilla and orange blossom water all enclosed within a pie crust and topped with pastry lattice. It has the flavour profile of a cheesecake with the texture of rice pudding.
The Pastiera harkens back to pagan celebrations, to symbolise the return of spring time. Typically it is best prepared a few days before Easter to let the flavours develop, with its main ‘unveiling’ at Easter lunch topped off with a dusting of icing sugar.
- 250g/ 2 cups plain flour
- 125g unsalted cubed butter
- 100g icing sugar
- 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
- 1 sachet Vanillina or ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 180g pre-cooked durum wheat/ Grano Cotto OR cooked pearl barley
- 100ml milk
- 1 TBSP unsalted butter
- Zest of ½ a lemon
- 300g fresh ricotta
- 2 eggs (keep 1 tsp for egg wash over lattice strips)
- 250g caster sugar
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 1 sachet Vanillina or ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 100g candied citron – orange/ cedro finely chopped
- Icing sugar for dusting
- For the pastry, mix all ingredients in a food processer until combined. Then knead the mixture on a lightly floured service until you achieve a smooth dough. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, overnight is best.
- If using uncooked pearl barley prepare as per packet instructions. If using store-bought pre-cooked ‘Grano cotto’, place in a saucepan with milk, butter and lemon zest. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally until it becomes thick and creamy (like porridge) about 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool and then refrigerate overnight.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs (reserving one tablespoon for egg wash later) with the ricotta, sugar, vanillina, cinnamon and orange blossom water until creamy, refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, fold in the grain mixture with the ricotta mixture and stir in the finely chopped citron.
- Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to a 3mm thickness and place in a 20cm greased spring form pie-tin. Remove any overhang and add to remaining pastry mixture. Roll out again and with a pastry crimper, cut six long strips with a 1.5cm width. Set these aside.
- Fill the pastry base with the ricotta/grain mixture and even out pastry border to the filling mixture (enclosing the mixture in a way). Carefully lay the crimped pastry strips across the mixture in a criss-cross diamond pattern. Brush the pastry lattice with remaining egg.
- Bake the Pastiera for 50 – 60 minutes at 190* C until the pastry is golden.
- Allow to cool completely in the spring form pan before removing and chilling. Allow the pastiera to rest overnight in the fridge and serve the next day (EASTER LUNCH) with some sifted icing sugar.
*Notes* – Most ingredients were sourced from #wogcentral delis in Inner West Sydney. So it probably pays to visit your local deli/ providore well in advance to track down the harder to find ingredients. We lucked out with a few delis in Haberfield and Concord. To save time I’d avoid trying to track down uncooked wheat berries and instead opt for the cooked Italian ‘Grano Cotto’. If you can’t find that either, Pearl Barley makes a great substitute (just cook as per packet instructions).
Well done FFS team, Nonna will love that you have put this recipe in your blog she is very proud of you guys & yes she holds some of these recipes very close to her heart as the connection to the Mother land is very strong & these recipes are her link to her heritage.
Great first try I thought your pastiera had a great flavour & texture.
Keep up the good work FFS team.!!!!!
Yum this looks amazing. Loving your Nonna’s beaming smile too – I’d be happy too if I could pull off this level of baking!
Got to love an Italian nonna! I have friends who have a Greek grandmother and they have a very similar outlook on food-they live to feed! 😀
Ha, I cooked one of these laat night. Yours looks much better! Buon Pasquale!
Your nonna looks very happy with her easter cake and I agree the heart and soul of food in most Italian families lie with the matriarch.