Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pastiera di Grano Success for Easter

Pastiera di Grano
For old school Neapolitan Italian families Eastertime dessert means pastiera. In trying to explain it to a non-Italian, I've compared it to a cheesecake, but really it's much, much more. Traditionally pastiera is a ricotta based cake. The Pastiera di Grano is made with wheat, symbolizing new life and spring. In the pantheon of Southern Italian desserts I grew up with, it ranks up there with Zeppole di San Giuseppe in importance and intimidation factor. Pastiera di Grano is a multi-day dish--the wheat must be soaked overnight with several changes of water and ideally it's made the day before serving so the flavors really come alive. The prospect of all the planning and preparation have kept me from attempting it until now...

This recipe is one is adapted from a recipe given to me by a friend who has made pastiera for Easter since she was a girl. Most recipes call for orange blossom water, which can be found at Italian specialty shops. Frankly I didn't have time to track down the orange blossom water so I used orange zest as below. Often times recipes will also include dried pumpkin. Citron is a must, but it's an acquired taste and it can be a deal breaker for a lot of people, I find that chopping it finely helps to make it a little bit more palatable.

Pastiera Filling

5 ounces dried whole wheat kernels
1/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 and 1/3 cup whole milk
zest from 1/2 an orange
1 tablespoon finely chopped candied orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces fresh ricotta
1 tablespoon finely chopped candied citron
1 tablespoon dried apricot
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites

Rinse wheat and soak in cold water overnight. In the morning drain and change the water then continue to soak for another 1-2 hours.

While the wheat is soaking prepare the crust according to the recipe below.

Drain the wheat and place in a medium saucepan. Combine with the milk, orange zest, orange peel, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cook mixture over low heat until it's creamy and porridge-like. Remove mixture from heat then stir in vanilla and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350. Roll out one ball of pastry dough and place in a greased 9 inch springform pan covering the bottom and the sides. Place pan in refrigerator until ready to use.

Combine the ricotta, egg yolks, and the remaining sugar. Beat mixture until smooth. Add the wheat, citron, apricot and cinnamon.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form then fold into the mixture. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Push down the sides of the crust until it's just about a 1/2 inch above the filling.

Roll out the rest of the pastry dough and cut it into 3/8 inch strips using a fluted pastry wheel (I didn't have one so I just used a knife!) Arrange the strips in a lattice over the filling (the dough must be very cold or it will break). Bake on the center rack for 50 minutes to an hour or until the pastiera is golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack in the pan. Let the pastiera rest before serving (it's usually best on the second day).

Pastiera Crust (adapted from the Crosta di Miele recipe from the Vincent Price cookbook)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
Zest from 2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 sticks (8 ounces)unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon slices
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl of a food processor combine flour, sugar, zest and salt. Pulse several times to mix thoroughly.

Add sliced butter, egg yolks and vanilla. Pulse several times to incorporate. Then run food processor until dough comes together in a ball, about a minute or two.

Divide dough, form into balls and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to overnight.

Pastiera di Grano
My family reported that this was better looking (and better tasting) than any homemade (or bakery) pastiera than they had seen in the New Haven area. Enjoy!

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