In America we serve turkey on Thanksgiving. In Naples, they wouldn’t think of serving Easter dinner without Pastiera.
Legend has it that this soft and sweet Easter ricotta pie even made the “Queen who never smiles” (Queen Maria Theresa of Austria) light up like the sun when she bit into a forkful of la pastiera napoletana.
It makes me smile too. I don’t even care how much sugar is in pastiera. I’ll eat it again and again if my Nonna makes it. It’s been one of my favorite desserts as long as I can remember.
The Origin of La Pastiera
This Easter pie is prepared during Easter time in Naples, Italy. According to Wikipedia, it was invented by a nun who wanted to make a pie out of ingredients that represented the resurrection, with special emphasis on the eggs which represent new life and spring.
Traditionally, this pie is made several days in advance, leading up to Easter. Each step is made on separate days to let the flavors meld together. First, starting on Tuesday or Wednesday, the wheat is soaked. Then it’s cooked and allowed to cool completely. On Good Friday the filling is made and allowed to set for one day. On Holy Saturday, the pastry is made and the pie is assembled and cooked. Lastly, the pie is eaten on Easter.
Nonna is such a sweet grandmother to me. Ever since I moved away from home, she always freezes and then painstakingly wraps her pastiera, and then sends it to me. It arrives a little smushed on the edges, but it’s perfect nonetheless.
Here’s a picture of the one she sent me last year…
Since the hubby and I are living overseas now, I’m missing Nonna’s traditional Easter pie. When we went to Italy, we picked up some grano cotto at the grocery store (cooked wheat that you use in pastiera) and sent some back home. I also got a couple jars to learn how to make it myself.
Normally, you can also find grano cotto on Amazon. But as I’m writing this post it’s no longer available for some reason. Hopefully it will come back up soon. If not, you can also cook the grains yourself. I haven’t tried this yet, but I imagine it is how I’ll be making it in the future if I can’t get my hands on grano cotto.
How to cook the wheat if you don’t have grano cotto:
- Soak wheat berries in water for three days, changing the water twice a day.
- Cover wheat berries with plenty of fresh water and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
- Drain wheat berries, and store in a container in the fridge until ready to use.
The first time I made this recipe, I used the closest thing I can find to ricotta in Slovenia, called “skuta”. But the texture isn’t quite the same and it threw off the texture of the pie as well. On the second try, I made my own homemade ricotta cheese and it came out much better. I never realized it’s so easy to make it homemade, and much cheaper too! All you need is milk and lemon juice!
As my Nonna immigrated to the states when she was a young woman, she found ways to make her favorite dishes using what she could find in the US. So this pastiera doesn’t have the traditional orange blossom water or candied citron (although I’m sure you can find that in the US in some specialty stores). I prefer the way she makes it, since that’s what I grew up on.
- 500 grams flour
- 3 egg yolks
- 200 grams softened butter
- 200 grams sugar
- pinch of salt
- 580 grams ricotta cheese
- 580 grams sugar
- 8 eggs, separated
- 580 gram jar of grano cotto
- zest of 1 lemon
- 70 grams orange peel, diced very small
- Combine flour, egg yolks, butter, sugar, and salt until well combined. You want it to look very uniformly crumbly, where all the flour is combined with the fat and there aren't any large chunks of butter or any flour that isn't combined.
- Slowly add cold water, mixing in 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture sticks together and forms a dough.
- Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge.
- Mix together ricotta cheese and sugar.
- One by one, add 8 egg yolks while stirring.
- Add the grano cotto, lemon zest, and diced orange peel.
- In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add to the rest of the mixture.
- Preheat oven to 350 F or 180 C.
- Grease a large pie pan (mine is a large springform pan) and roll out dough.
- Line pan with dough (reserve some scraps) and pour in filling.
- Roll out dough scraps, cut into strips, and arrange on top.
- Bake in oven for about 1 hour 45 minutes. When you notice the top starting to brown, cover with aluminum foil.
- It's done when it's a little jiggly, but not liquid.
- Turn off oven and crack open the door. Let cool completely before serving. Store in fridge.
Used in this recipe:
- Springform Pan (10 inch)
- Grano Cotto
- Homemade ricotta cheese (store-bought will work just fine, but homemade is cheap and easy).
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