Friday, May 20, 2011

La Pastiera - for Easter and Beyond


La Pastiera is known to many as the traditional Italian Easter grain cake so you are probably wondering why would I bother to post after Easter....because I think you should try it! And don't just reserve it for Easter. This cake or pie is not overly sweet or rich and can be enjoyed as dessert or as a snack and really, is quite healthy as far as sweets go.

For many years my Italian cousin spoke of "La Pastiera", the traditional Italian Easter grain cake. She makes many cakes in the preceding days of Easter Sunday to be gifted to family and friends. Originally a Neapolitan speciality, la Pastiera is full of meaning and now popular throughout Italy. However, this was not something I grew up with. Ingredients required in La Pastiera would not have be easy to come by in the Australia fifty years ago. Several years ago I made a version with cooked rice but I was not pleased with it. However this past Easter I was able to acquire grano cotto (cooked grain), aqua di millie fiori (water of 1000 flowers) and good quality candied Italian fruit so I set to work. 


The recipe supplied by my cousin required 200g grano cotto but the tin I had was 400g so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. I later realised the recipe was very similar to the one found in Luciana Sampogna's cookbook "Light of Lucia".  The result was a delicious, fragrant pie/cake which I will serve not only for each forthcoming Easter but at many times throughout the year. A filling of cooked grains, ricotta and candied fruits is encased in delicate pasta frolla. This cake is best made several days prior to serving to allow the flavours to meld.  


La Pastiera

Serves 10

375g (13 3/4oz) plain (all purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
150g (5 1/4oz) caster (superfine) sugar
200g (7oz) chilled butter, chopped
2 yolks (from large eggs)
1 or 2 tablespoons iced water

Filling

420g (14 1/2ozs) can grano cotto
300ml (10fl oz) whole milk
35g (1 1/4 ozs) butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
400g (14oz) ricotta
300g (10 1/2) oz caster (superfine) sugar
1 vial acqua di millie fiori (or 1 tablespoon orange blossom water)
1 grated lemon rind
4 eggs, separated
150g (5 1/2 ozs) mixed Italian candied fruit
1 teaspoon cinnamon   

Prepare the first part of the Filling so you can let it cool.
Place the grano cotto, milk, butter, 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla in a saucepan and cook gently over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Cool

Now prepare the Pastry so you can let it rest.
I did mine in the food processor. Place the flour, sugar and butter in the food processor bowl. Blitz in bursts until crumbly. Then add the egg yolks while the motor is running. Drizzle in a little iced water if the dough doesn't come to together and seems a bit dry. Remove from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Heat the oven to 150C/300F.

Beat the ricotta with an electric mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and mix well. Add acqua di millie fiori, lemon rind, egg yolks, candied fruit, cinnamon and cooled grano cotto mixture. Mix well. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into ricotta/grano cotto mixture.


Remove the pastry from refrigerator and roll out and line a 24-26cm (9 1/2 - 10inch) flan pan, which has been greased and floured. Pour in the filling. I had a bit leftover and made a small individual pie. With the leftover pastry cut strips and form the traditional lattice top.

Bake in the preheated over for about 2 hours. Once cooled dust with icing (powdered) sugar.

Be sure to prepare this several days before you want to serve it.

10 comments:

Marcella said...

Io adoro la pastiera!!! Ha un aspetto magnifico! Complimenti di cuore.
Baci baci

Catalina said...

Oh, Marcellina! This looks so yummy! Anything that includes pasta frolla must be divine and this pie even contains my favourite ricotta :) Unfortunately, I cannot buy grano cotto here where I live, but I can imagine that La Pastire tastes very gooood!

Claudia said...

I make 2-3 of these every Easter without fail. Since moving to MN, I have had to make my own pastiera which is fun. Yours looks scrumptious - it is the best pie ever!

juliana said...

amaizing tart! it looks dellicius

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I love pastiera. For your first attempt, you did a first rate job. It looks perfect!

Mary said...

What an interesting cake! I have heard of it, but never tried it. I have never seen grains in a can, but I am going to have a look for it, as I live in Little Italy in my city. Another new thing to me is the acqua di millie fiori--it sounds divine! As far as seasonal treats go, I have been meaning to make a candied fruit cake since December, but it just seems odd at this time of year. You've inspired me to make it sooner rather than later.
:)

Laura said...

I made one this past Easter, but since I couldn't find the cooked wheat I cooked it myself, but it was still crunchy. I will try again next year, it is a cake that attract me because it is different and has ricotta and candied orange peel.

Great job on the DB challenge as well! I am glad I didn't try the full recipe, it makes way too much marquise.

Lidia said...

Hi Marcellina. I'm eager to try to make this myself this Easter. My Neopolitan mum and aunties make something they call 'pastia' but it's quite different. It has lots (...and lots) of eggs, no ricotta or grano cotta but hand made little sweet, short vermicelli or some people use rice. It doesn't have a pastry base either. I can't find any reference to it so it must be a family recipe. I do remember going to Cairns one Easter and missing out on mum's pastia but in a Cairns cafe (of all places) I came across pastiera and I was so excited because it reminded me of the pastia.
I have found orange blossom water and grano cotta suppliers here in Sydney but I was just wondering where you found your acqua di mille fiori?
Certainly gotta do some Sherlock Holmes groundwork to make it correctly.
Cheers
Lidia

Marcellina said...

HI Lidia, I hope you will look back here to get my answers. Firstly I'm so glad you liked my recipe. Isn't is amazing about family recipes. I'm sure they have some background but as our families arrived in Australia they were forced to use different ingredients and some recipes probably changed. Have a look at my Torta di Zucca which is very common in our town but I struggled to find anything like it anywhere.
Anyway, the acqua di mille fiori was a little vial that came in a "Pastiera" kit which I bought in my local Italian deli. In it was the grano cotto, the vial and some icing suga, I think. I hope my deli gets it in again this year because I can't find the acqua di mille fiori anywhere else. It did give the most delicate perfume to the pastiera.
That is amazing that you found the pastiera in a Cairns cafe!
Good luck! You might be able to find the kit around Easter time in Italian delis. Ask them about it before hand. Thanks for dropping by!

Marcellina said...

Lydia, further to the above comment if you don't find the acqua millefiori try with the orangeflower water. I think it will still give the wonderful floral flavour needed.