Pastiera Napoletana

When we think of Easter here in the UK, we usually think of chocolate eggs, simnel cake & hot cross buns, but did you ever wonder what it means to those across the globe? I won’t run you through each one but, instead, let me take you to Italy & introduce you to Easter Pie, aka Pastiera Napoletana.

Pastiera Napoletana

No self respecting Italian Easter celebration would be complete without this Neopolitan dessert. Made with a rich shortcrust pastry, filled with a sweet, perfumed, wheat & ricotta filling, this may sound odd but it’s quite delicious & very addictive! The best way I can describe Pastiera Napoletana is like a pie crossed with a citrussy, perfumed rice pudding (without the stodge).

Pastiera Napoletana

I first tried this pastiera was back in 2018, when we were travelling the gulf of Naples. Starting off at Naples, stopping at Pompeii, Sorrento & Capri along the way before heading back to the trough & ready city. It was a balmy early summers day in June, we were in Sorrento at the time, desperately seeking shade & a moment of calm. As usual, we found ourselves sat under the street canopy of a coffee bar, one with an attractive array of baked good displayed in their cabinet (always the reason I choose the best coffee bars). I made a B line straight for the cabinet & ordered us a couple of espressos & picked out a random selection of pastries that I’d never tried before, one of them was Pastiera Napoletana, I was hooked.

Pastiera Napoletana

To this day, I’ve still never tried anything quite as fragrant but subtle in sweetness as this dessert. It’s traditionally made for Easter, no later than Good Friday, leaving plenty of time for it’s flavours to infuse & improve before Easter Sunday. As with most traditional Italian recipes, each family will have their own recipe for Pastiera Napoletana, each with slight variations, this is mine.

Pastiera Napoletana

After many attempts to recreate that perfect coffee moment in Campania, I now make this every Easter. As soon as I smell that sweet orange blossom, I’m immediately transported to the streets of Sorrento, where the same scent can be found filling the air. Whilst most Italian would use grano cotto (cooked wheat) to make their pastieras, it’s a little difficult to find here in the UK but cooked pearl barley works just the same. Whilst a good pastiera takes a little time, with quite a few steps, don’t be put off, it’s actually a very easy dessert to make. Take your time with it, don’t rush & let it rest before tucking in, it’ll be worth the wait.

PASTIERA NAPOLETANA
(makes one 21cm tart)

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • 315g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 135g icing sugar
  • 155g butter, cubed
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1-2 tbsp water

For the filling :

  • 350g cooked pearl barley (around 175g uncooked, simmered for 1 hour)
  • 250ml milk
  • 30g butter
  • 20ml orange blossom water
  • 1/s tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 80g candied peel
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 350g ricotta

Method:

To make the pastry:

  • Begin by sifting together the flour, salt & icing sugar into a large bowl
  • Add the cubed butter to the bowl & using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  • Add the egg yolks to the bowl & stir through
  • Next add in 1 tbsp of water & stir through, continue to add water sparingly, only adding 1 tbsp at a time, just enough until the mixture starts to clump together
  • Use your hands to finish bringing the mixture together to form a dough
  • Flatten the dough into a shallow disc shape, cover in a beeswax wrap or some cling film & chill in the fridge for at least an hour (you could even do this the day before)
  • Roll out the pastry into a round, to roughly the thickness of a £1 coin, one large enough to fill the tart tin
  • Line the tart tin & trim away any excess, bring them back together into a ball, re-wrap & place back in the fridge until later

To make the filling:

  • Place the cooked pearl barley, milk, butter, orange blossom, vanilla, cinnamon, lemon zest & candied peel into a large saucepan & bring to a gentle simmer, continue to simmer the mixture for 20 minutes before removing from the heat & setting aside to cool
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk & sugar until light & pale in colour
  • Briefly whisk up the ricotta to loosen it then add this to the egg mixture & fold through
  • Finally add the pearl barley mixture to the bowl & fold everything until well combined

To assemble:

  • Carefully pour the filling into the pastry lined tart tin (it will reach right to the top of the tin, don’t worry it won’t overflow)
  • Next, remove the pastry trimmings from the fridge & re-roll them into a large length, slightly larger than the tart tin
  • Use a pastry cutter or a sharp knife to cut out 6 – 8 long strips of pastry, roughly 1 to 1.5cm in width
  • Carefully lay half of the pastry strips over the tart, each in the same direction, leaving roughly a 2cm gap between each one
  • Use the rest of the pastry to lay on top of the first pastry strips in the opposite direction, creating a diamond lattice effect
  • Use your fingers to press down the edges of the pastry strips to secure & trip off any excess
  • Place the tart in the oven at 160C & bake for 1 hour, 30 minutes until golden
  • Leave the tart to cool completely in it’s tin, preferably overnight, before serving

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