Regional Italian Food

Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Wheatberry and Ricotta Easter cake)

By • April 15, 2014 • 20 Comments

48 Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!

Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home. 

Today: A symbol of the city of Naples, no Neapolitan home would be complete on Easter day without this rich, perfumed ricotta pie.

Pastiera recipe

To those who have yet to come across this cake, to taste it, to inhale its incredible perfume, this is probably all going to sound quite mad. But trust me -- it all just comes together in a way that is surprisingly light, fluffy, and balanced.

Whole, pre-cooked wheat berries are simmered in milk until creamy, then mixed with ricotta, sugar, eggs, candied citron, and a heady mix of spices and scents (cinnamon, vanilla, and orange blossom water). The filling is poured into a pie crust and covered with a lattice top and baked. It's sort of like a crazy, perfumed cheesecake crossed with rice pudding in a pie crust. And it's insanely addictive.

The pastiera is through and through a part of the city of Naples, born out of springtime rituals. It's now an Easter classic and no Neapolitan home would be complete on Easter day without this pastiera on the table. 

This ancient dessert even has its own mythology. One legend attributes the recipe to the siren Parthenope, protector and symbol of the city. Another story recounts that the wives of Neapolitan fishermen left out baskets of the city's best produce -- ricotta, candied fruit, whole grains, and spring eggs -- on the beach as an offering to the sea to bring their husbands home safely. Overnight, the waves mixed the baskets together, creating the pastiera. Each ingredient of the recipe is considered symbolic, and you'll never find a pastiera missing any of these ingredients -- even now.

 

Don't be alarmed by the list of ingredients and steps. It's an easy dessert to make, but it takes time and planning. You cannot be in a rush. The most dedicated of pastiera bakers insist that it should take three days to make a pastiera (six, if you start with uncooked wheatberries, which need three days of soaking before you begin). This means that signore in the know all over Naples begin making this on the Thursday (or at least the Friday) before Easter. 

The process looks a little like this: 

On the night of Maundy Thursday, you cook the boiled wheatberries with milk and lemon to make a creamy, oatmeal-like mixture, which needs to cool overnight. 

On Good Friday you prepare the pastry and the ricotta filling and let this, too, rest overnight -- they say that freshly beaten eggs will ruin a pastiera when it has that “soufflé effect,” making the filling rise while cooking then sink when cooled. A pastiera has to be perfectly flat on top. Resting time also allows the mixture’s many flavors and spices to mingle nicely. 

Saturday is baking day, and the pastiera must be cooled in its tin before removing it. It's also always better the day after it's been baked. Sunday lunch is the moment of truth, when a little powdered sugar is dusted over the top and slices are liberally handed out. 

Pastiera recipe

You can also do this all at once, naturally. But do keep in mind it tastes better the next day, so begin this at least one day in advance if you can.

In Italy, you can buy jars of pre-cooked, whole wheatberries (known as grano cotto in Italian -- “cooked grain”) made for the sole purpose of preparing this dessert. If you can't find these, then you'll need to prepare uncooked wheat berries three days before you begin this recipe. Otherwise, pearl barley makes a good substitute. And if you need a good source that explains all these different grains, check out this article.

Pastiera recipe

Pastiera Napoletana

Makes 1 cake

Ingredients for pastry:

1 stick (125 grams) unsalted cold butter
2 cups (250 grams) of flour
1 whole egg, plus one yolk
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup (100 grams) of icing sugar

Ingredients for the filling:

10 ounces (280 grams) of cooked wheat berries or about 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) of uncooked wheat berries 
1 cup (230 milliliters) milk
2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
12 ounces (350 grams) fresh ricotta
1 3/4 cups (320 grams) caster sugar
2 whole eggs, plus two yolks
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence (or 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) candied citron, finely chopped
Powdered sugar for dusting

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here

Photos by Emiko Davies

Jump to Comments (20)

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Campania, Naples, Easter, dessert, ricotta, cake, pie

Comments (20)

Default-small
Default-small
Default-small

6 months ago Betsy Stroomer

What a beautiful dessert! I remember my aunt's Italian in-laws bringing this to family celebrations, but made with rice instead of wheat berries. We called it Italian Rice Pie. Could it be made with cooked whole oats?

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Whole oats would be very similar to whole wheat berries, I think you could give it a go! I don't know about the right cooking instructions for the oats but what you want is an extremely soft (over cooked!) grain. I do believe that there is probably a large generation of Italians who moved overseas decades ago and couldn't find the grano cotto they were used to using so used rice instead!

Dave_-_headshot

6 months ago djgibboni

My family always used cooked rice. Much easier to find, for sure, and the effect is virtually identical to the wheat berries.

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Yes, rice is easier to find than grano cotto so I believe it made its way into many overseas Italians' pastiera recipes (although I do think it's easier to get when you know where to look and now of course, easier to order online!).

Stringio

6 months ago Nancy Dixon

looking at the wheatberries... hard or soft? BTW this is my very favorite dessert!

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

They should be very soft, with no bite at all to them!

Missfoodwise-regula-tea-200

6 months ago Regula - Miss Foodwise

Beautiful photography and a gorgeous tart, I wonder if you could use spelt berries?

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Absolutely! Spelt or barley are both really good substitutes with very similar results. ;)

Saveur_portrait3

6 months ago Phyllis Grant

this looks fabulous.

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Thanks! ;)

Default-small

6 months ago luisa ricci

I AM IN FLORIDA AND THEY NOT HAVE GRANO COTTO WHERE I CAN FIEND IN FLORIDA ,BECAUSE THIS YEAR I WHAN'T TO MAKE THIS PASTIERA NAPOLITANA,I AM ITALIAN THANK YOU VERY MUCH

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Prova a cercare su amazon.com - per esempio questo: http://www.amazon.com/Grano...

Default-small

6 months ago Franca

My father is from Naples and and it just wasn't Easter if this wasn't on the table for dessert. Although my mother didn't add cinnamon, blossom water or the candied citron. It was delicious.

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

As many recipes as there were households, they say! :)

Cimg0737

6 months ago cookinginvictoria

This cake looks wonderful. I am intrigued by the use of cooked wheat berries in a sweet dessert and look forward to making this soon -- although unfortunately it may not happen in time for this year's Easter Dinner.

I was reading Gina DePalma's (former pastry chef at Babbo) blog this morning (http://www.ginadepalma...), and she also features a post (and recipe) about Pastiera. Gina says that for those in NYC, grano cotto can be found at DiPalo's Dairy (Mott and Grand Streets).

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Thanks so much for posting this information for New Yorkers - very handy to know!

Sara_clevering

6 months ago sarabclever

I've been wanting to make this for several years and have never been sure about the wheat berries; if there is some special type I have to order or if I can just use the ones in my pantry. Looks like I'll be able to (finally) make this after all! Thanks!

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Yes! You can use the ones you have in the pantry, it just takes longer to soak and cook them yourself. Otherwise look for the pre-cooked ones known as "grano cotto" (it comes in a jar) - have seen plenty on amazon!

New_years_kitchen_hlc_only

6 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Bellissima! ;o)

Emiko_davies_new_portrait

6 months ago Emiko

Grazie :)