Whole wheat berries are cooked 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.
Don't be alarmed by the list of ingredients and steps. It's an easy dessert to make but it takes time and planning and 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 wheat berries, 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 Maundy Thursday you cook the boiled wheat berries 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 flavours 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.
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.
This is a very traditional recipe but I do use a smaller proportion of wheat berries (some recipes add up to double the amount) and sugar so it's not overly sweet. Some pastiera recipes also call for many more eggs - one recipe I dug out of a Neapolitan cookbook calls for 10 eggs in total - 7 in the filling and 3 in the crust! It's not unusual for Easter recipes to use a large amount of eggs - a way of using up the surplus of spring eggs that your chickens are laying. Another variation of the recipe is to use a mixture of candied fruits (including candied orange and candied melon, for example) but I prefer the mellow flavour and colour of candied citron. The important thing is not to exclude any of the ingredients as they are all vital to the balance (and the tradition) of the pastiera.
In Italy, you can buy jars of pre-cooked, whole wheat berries (known as grano cotto in Italian – “cooked grain”) made for the sole purpose of preparing this dessert. If you can't find this, then you'll need to prepare uncooked wheat berries three days before you need to start cooking with them, otherwise pearl barley makes a good substitute. And if you need a good source that explains all these different grains, check out this article: http://food52.com/blog... —Emiko