Pasqua (Easter) and “la pastiera”
|April 28, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under dessert, easter, Italian|
Easter is one of my favorite holidays. As you read in my post on torta pasqualina, in Italy it is considered an even more special holiday than Christmas. It symbolized rebirth…which means double birth (so, I guess, twice as valuable as the simple birth!).
For the Easter service, we drove to a very special place: the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, run by wonderful trappist priests who live a cloistered life of prayer and very caringly grow and maintain bonsai trees, among other crafts.
Over the years I also have become a pen pal friend with Father James who writes such mystical long hand writer letters and has published a lovely book of daily meditations illustrated by his photographs (portraits of Grace). I find myself reading one page in the mornings and feeling refreshed and peaceful.
The service is very spiritual and traditional, you almost feel like you are in a different time and age. You arrive at the monastery driving through a long alley of spectacular magnolias.
It sits in a large green spot facing a small body of water. The kids enjoy feeding the ducks after the service. Some Easter Sundays we have pic-nic there. This time though, we then returned we had a wonderful meal. Not too complicated.
- ”Pinzimonio”: an Italian appetizer that is fresh vegetables (fennel, bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, carrots…) cut in sticks served with a lemon vinaigrette (3 parts oil, one part lemon and a dash of vinegar, a smashed garlic, salt and pepper: shaken until emulsified)
- Lamb “lollipops” (my husband had marinated them overnight in olive oil, a variety of our vinegars, rosemary, lemon and lime peel, and cinnamon, then grilled them)
- Grilled asparagus: the best. I enjoy the charred flavor
- Spinach frittata (you have to have eggs for Easter… in some form, and fresh greens)
- And of course, “la pastiera” – see below
We spent the rest of the day in the garden, playing tag and planting: blackberry bushes, tomatoes, herbs…
La pastiera is a traditional Easter tart from the Naples area. They say it originates in ancient pagan times, when it was created as a spring celebration but then it was recreated, like many things, in a Christian convent to celebrate the resurrection.
The key ingredients are very symbolic of rebirth and new life: the wheat, the orange blossom water, and the eggs. Additional ingredients are the ricotta, which makes the pie a very sophisticated cheesecake, the candied citron, a perfect addition for a festive dessert, and the fragrant cinnamon. Everything is bound with pastry cream and wrapped in a delicate sweet pastry dough, latticed on top for a beautiful look. Every family has their own recipe with secret ingredients, variations on the filling and on the dough. I share with you my mother’s recipe. She would make six to eight of these every year and slow cook them in our wood oven. The aroma is amazing. We’d come back from church and have a loooong sit down lunch, usually on the terrace facing the sea, and talk and talk and talk for hours…and end it all with “la pastiera”. What a feeling of rebirth. A true celebration of life.
Start on Thursday in order to have your pastiera perfect for Sunday:
THURSDAY (cook wheat or barley)
FRIDAY (prepare sweet ricotta, pastry cream, and pastry dough)
SATURDAY (assemble, bake and set aside for flavors to mingle)
SUNDAY (enjoy and rejoice!)
It’s a dessert for the patient but you will be rewarded for the hard work: I promise.
- a) Wheat:
- 1/2 lb. / 1 cup / 200 gr. durum wheat kernels (previously soaked for 3 days – but I found some pre-cooked) or use barley instead (cooked in water as per directions and cooled)
- 1 1/2 cups / 300 ml. milk
- 1 Tbsp butter
- b) Sweet ricotta:
- 1 cup / 200 gr. Sugar
- 1 lb. / 500 gr. ricotta cheese
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- c) Pastry cream:
- 1/2 cup / 100 gr. sugar
- 1/2 cup / 50 gr. flour
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 cups / 1/2 lt. milk
- 1 lemon peel
- d) Pastry dough:
- 4 cups / 14 oz. / 400 gr. Flour
- 1 cup / 7 oz. / 200 gr. Sugar
- 14 Tbsp / 7 oz. / 200 gr. butter
- 2 eggs
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- e) remaining filling ingredients:
- Zest of 2 oranges
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 shot glass Strega liqueur (or other aromatic citrus liqueur)
- 1 cup / 150 gr. candied citrus
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 4 eggs, separated
- THURSDAY: prepare the wheat.
- FRIDAY (prepare sweet ricotta, pastry cream, and pastry dough).
- Mix the sugar, flour and egg yolks in a medium heavy saucepan.
- Meanwhile heat the milk until warm (I do this in the microwave for a few minutes).
- Pour the milk slowly into the egg mixture stirring and making sure you have no lumps.
- Continue cooking while continuously stirring until the cream bubbles. Turn off heat and cool in a bowl. Refrigerate until tomorrow.
- Pour the flour and sugar in a large bowl, make a well and quickly blend in the butter, the eggs and the lemon zest. I use a pastry cutter to avoid “heating” the dough. You can certainly use either your hands or a food processor. Knead until you can form a ball, without over kneading. Wrap it with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge until tomorrow
- SATURDAY (assemble, bake and set aside for flavors to mingle)
- Turn oven on at 400 F (200C).
- Combine wheat, sweet ricotta, pastry cream and all the remaining filling ingredients except the eggs.
- Separate the eggs. Add the yolks to the filling. Whip the egg white until stiff then add them too to the mixture.
- Divide the pastry dough in 4 parts and roll out 2 of them into 2 greased round baking dishes (I like using the spring form tart pans with fluted edges). Pour the filling in equal amount in the two pies. Roll out the remaining dough and make some long strips (ridged or not) that you will layers in lattice form over the two pies.
- Bake for about an hour or until golden. Allow to rest until tomorrow.
- SUNDAY (enjoy and rejoice!)
- Some like to dust the pastiera with confectioners’ sugar…some don’t. Do as you wish!