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La Pastiera (Ricotta and cooked grain cake)

April 15, 2012 No Comments

BUONA PASQUA

Happy Easter to all, I do hope you had a special time with your loved ones.

For me Easter is a time of traditions, both old and new. It is a time to reflect on all I have been blessed with and to remind myself of my beliefs.. be it my values, religion, spiritual beliefs and in effect how I am relating to the world as a whole. It’s a perfect time to reset and start again (so to speak), perfect really given that Easter is a symbol of rebirth. I am grateful that this time exists because I find with a busy family life the first thing to go is this time of reflection and spiritual exploration. On a daily basis I find myself deep in chores, family commitments and child raising dilemars which all overshadow some of the other things that are important to me such as spirituality and cooking.

At Easter time spirituality and cooking combine for me, sounds strange but let me explain. I am catholic so lots of our easter cooking traditions are related to the christian side of the easter celebrations. Every easter growing up my mother would make an array of different biscuits, breads and dishes to celebrate these holy days. Over the years some of these traditions have changed and less time seems to be made for them. A few years back I had the realisation that I might in fact lose these traditions all together unless I became an active participant not just an onlooker who would assume that things would never change. So I asked my mum if she would start teaching me some of her recipes so that I could keep these traditions going. So now on Easter Friday we get together and make a special aniseed Easter (bagel type) bread as I call it but have no idea of its origin, and ciambellini al vino (red wine cookies). I absolutely love this time with my mother, it is a memory I treasure. I am grateful to have realised and made time for this now before it’s too late. We often take advantage of the fact that people are here not realising that one day things will be different.

~ My mother cooking her amazing aniseed easter bread ~

The other tradition that I grow up with at Easter celebrations was a cake my Zia Elvira would make called ‘La Pastiera Napoletana’. La Pastiera is a traditional cake made in Napoli and is made with cooked grain (grano cotto) and ricotta. The main flavours are instilled with Orange flower water and candied fruits. This cake is now made all over Italy hence why my Roman family makes it. This is one of those recipes, like most recipes in every italian household that has its own very special recipe which was handed down from Nonna, to Mamma to figlia. My beautiful auntie has tried to share this recipe with the family but like many passed down recipes, a common handicap is that it is generally never written down and hence in some cases hard to replicate. You know, it’s a pinch of this, a dash of that, a jar of this and so on. So if you are trying to replicate it, it is sometimes very hard. To cut a long story short, others who have tried it have never made it the same so my auntie is the undisputed La Pastiera champion. I have not tried her particular version but have tried others I have come across over the years, and the one I am sharing with you today has to be my favourite one so far. It is the one I have made the last couple of years running.

~ La Pastiera ~

At the beginning of this very long post I mentioned that “at Easter time spirituality and cooking combine” The origins of this cake is an example of why. It is said that La Pastiera was first created by a Napolitan Nun who wanted to create a cake that would represent the symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. Its ingredients having a special symbolical significance. Eggs being the symbol of new life, grain being the symbol of seed germination and the orange blossom to symbolise the scent in the convent garden where she resided. I love the fact that so many recipes in the Italian kitchen have historical stories behind them. And this one happens to be very spiritual in nature.

As I LOVE learning things from my mother I also love sharing with her things that perhaps she herself has not tried or has not mastered. I love making her proud of me in that respect so this had been another motivator for me to master this cake, which is not always easy to make.  So without going on any more here is the recipe I use for La Pastiera Napoletana.. and can I also add that it comes form one of my favourite Italian (make in australia) cookbooks ‘Light of Lucia’ by Luciana Sampogna, however I have made some modifications to the original recipe.

Ingredients:

– Pastry- (Pasta Frolla)

  • 300g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 200g chilled, unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2 yolks (save the whites as you will need them to brush the cake with at the end)
  • 100g caster sugar

-Filling-

  • 400g fresh ricotta
  • 300g caster sugar (the original recipe states 400g but I find it too sweet so I have cut it back to 300g)
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 3 tbsp cedro (known as citron) Can be purchased form any good italian deli
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped candied orange
  • 400g grano cotto (for Pastiera) Can be purchased form any good italian deli
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar for dusting

How to:

1. To make the pastry place flour and butter in a food processor and process until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Add egg yolks, sugar and 1 tablespoon of cold water and process until mixture just comes together.

3. Shape the pastry into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

1. To make the filling place ricotta in a strainer over a bowl for at least 30 minutes to drain any access water from the cheese.

2. Combine ricotta with sugar, then stir in orange blossom water, cedro and candied orange. Add the grano cotto and egg yolks and combine well.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt until peaks form, then fold into ricotta mixture.

4. Preheat oven to 190 C.

5. Roll out three-quaters of the pastry on a floured surface to 5mm thick to line base and side of a greased 25cm springform cake tin. I personally find this hard so I roll out the pastry between two sheets of baking paper. Trim any access pastry. Spoon in filling, roll out remaining pastry, cut into strips and make a lattice over the top.

6. Brush with egg white and bake for 30 minutes, then cover with foil, turn the cake around and bake for another 30 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave it the oven to cook, I find that this helps any either liquid that remains to absorb.

7. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

TIP: This cake is best made a couple of days in advance to allow the flavours develop.

Buon Appetito e Buona Pasqua.

Tags: , , , Baking, Books, Food writers, Italian, La Pastiera, La Pastiera, La Pastiera, Light of Lucia, Luciana Sampogna

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