Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Wheatberry and Ricotta Easter cake)

April 15, 2014

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.

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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

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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Alejandra Z. March 22, 2019
Im wondering how to cook the wheat berries. Do you soak them for 3 days ?
Also what type of ricotta it’s best for the pastiera?
Ann G. March 22, 2019
No need to soak anything buy the grain in jars from Amazon..
local ricotta is fine from the supermarket
Ann G. March 24, 2016
I am English but lived in Amalfi for 25 years we always had pastiera for Easter made by my sister-in-law; since being back in England up to now I have always found grano cotto and usually buy it from Amazon but this year it's not available, so I am going to try making our Easter cake with cooked rice hopefully it will taste the same as the grano one, fingers crossed!
Marianna March 31, 2015
I live in Naples and the Pastiera is my preferred Easter cake. I have learned to make it from my grandmother. The last week I have prepared a delicious variant of this cake by using a nut cream to make the Pastiera more suitable to children and to all people don't like the taste of the orange flower water and candied fruit. I have prepared this version at
Have a nice day ;-)
Giovanni D. March 30, 2015
Buona Pasqua! Grazie mille per questa ricetta. Funzionato magnificamente, meravigliosamente gustoso.
francesca April 7, 2017
Giovanni...di dove vieni?? mio nome anche e d'angelo di Palermo!
Betsy S. April 20, 2014
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?
Author Comment
Emiko April 26, 2014
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!
djgibboni April 20, 2014
My family always used cooked rice. Much easier to find, for sure, and the effect is virtually identical to the wheat berries.
Author Comment
Emiko April 26, 2014
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!).
Nancy D. April 20, 2014
looking at the wheatberries... hard or soft? BTW this is my very favorite dessert!
Author Comment
Emiko April 20, 2014
They should be very soft, with no bite at all to them!
Regula -. April 16, 2014
Beautiful photography and a gorgeous tart, I wonder if you could use spelt berries?
Author Comment
Emiko April 20, 2014
Absolutely! Spelt or barley are both really good substitutes with very similar results. ;)
Phyllis G. April 15, 2014
this looks fabulous.
Author Comment
Emiko April 20, 2014
Thanks! ;)
luisa R. April 15, 2014
Author Comment
Emiko April 15, 2014
Prova a cercare su - per esempio questo:
Ann G. March 22, 2019
I found mine in jars on Amazon
Franca April 15, 2014
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.
Author Comment
Emiko April 26, 2014
As many recipes as there were households, they say! :)
cookinginvictoria April 15, 2014
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 (, 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).
Author Comment
Emiko April 15, 2014
Thanks so much for posting this information for New Yorkers - very handy to know!
sarabclever April 15, 2014
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!
Author Comment
Emiko April 15, 2014
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!
AntoniaJames April 15, 2014
Bellissima! ;o)
Author Comment
Emiko April 15, 2014
Grazie :)