Our family do many things well, and one of them is knowing how to celebrate and to cook! The Italians have so many traditional recipes that form the main staple of their weekly menu and because of the rich and bountiful produce throughout the country they are still able to have special, holiday celebration recipes and this Easter holiday summon for us, memories of lengthy, happy family meals where the whole family would get together, eat, drink and play cards!
Easter day, which commemorates the Resurrection of Christ, is an example of this. On Easter Sunday, the people of Puglia go to church to participate in Easter Mass and at noon, continue their celebration with an abundant typical Pugliese lunch, usually with roast lamb (in our calendar of recipes)which is then completed with a delicious cheesecake. This is our family’s variation of the more well-known Pastiera Napoletana.
In Italy, for many it’s all about the Pastiera Napoletana - an unusual, cheesecake made with candid fruit and or chocolate. Our family recipe is a much easier version and is the one most households in Bari follow.
Some people believe that pastiera was born when the ancient goddess Partenope emerged from the waters of the Gulf of Naples, enchanting the people with her songs. To thank her, the people of Naples gifted her with the most precious products of their land: flour, ricotta, eggs, wheat, orange and sugar and when the goddess returned to the sea, she offered the gifts to the gods, who then did what any of us would do, and made a cake out of them!
The modern version of pastiera was probably, most agree, invented in a Neapolitan convent and while the cake is certainly beloved for its deep, rich flavour, it’s also highly prized for its symbolic value. The main ingredients being ricotta, eggs, lemons and oranges are staples of Neapolitan cooking, where the eggs symbolise the new life we celebrate at Easter.
For the sweet shortcrust pastry:
Buy ready-made or:
This makes a large, 32cm flan or two 24cm
Use a loose bottom flan tin if possible
500g plain flour (or ‘00’ flour if you can get it)
200g unsalted butter (not spread substitute)
For the filling:
1 kg ricotta cheese
2 sachets vanilla powder or the seeds from 2 vanilla pods or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
200g finely chopped chocolate (70% coco) and or finely chopped candied fruit
(Our auntie Lucia changes the contents depending on who is coming for lunch! Use either: chocolate, fruit or a combination – completely up to you!)
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
To make the pastry:
Put the flour and unsalted butter into a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
Mix in the sugar and a pinch of salt
Add one egg at a time, mixing well but not over mixing as the pastry will become tough
If it is dry, add a tablespoon of water
Form into a ball and cut off approx. 1/4 (this is for the decoration on top of the cake)
No need to refrigerate this unless it is an exceptionally hot day!
To make the filling:
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients apart from the eggs
Add one egg at a time and mix each one well before adding the next
Preparing the cake:
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
Grease your chosen loose bottom (if possible)flan tin
Roll out 3/4 of the pastry and place in the tin.
Ensure the pastry covers the inside of the flan tin (just as if you were making a tart)
Cut off any overhanging pastry
Add the ricotta cheese and candied fruit mixture
Then roll out the pastry you set aside for the topping
With a pastry wheel (a crimper, the one that makes ruffled edges is best), cut long strips about 2 cm wide.
Now add your lattice top; it’s really important that the criss-cross of your lattice creates a diamond shape, not a square – it just won’t look right!
Press the lattice strips to the edge of the pastry very gently; they will be floating delicately on top of the filling at this stage.
You can brush the lattice gently with some beaten egg to make it shiny.
Bake for 50–60 minutes.
You are looking for perfectly done, crisp pastry and a beautiful amber-brown top.
Allow to cool completely inside the flan tin and, ideally, leave it to cool and rest overnight.
The ricotta mixture may be a little wobbly but this will set when cool.
Before serving, sift the icing sugar over the top
Some people prefer the lattice top to be more evident so omit the icing sugar.
Once cooked, the pastiera can be stored in the fridge for 4–5 days – if the entire household doesn’t eat it all well before that!
Buona Pasqua e buon appetito!
Candied fruit are available from Italian food shops and local supermarkets.
Fresh ricotta is wonderful but not necessary for this recipe.
Adapt the filling to suit your palate: chocolate and or candied fruit – all are delicious!
Serve with a bottle of our fabulous Terre Di San Vito’s Tinto red wine.