Pastiera Napoletana is a sweet Italian Easter tart made from wheat grains, ricotta and citrus that originated in Naples, but is now popular across Italy. This delightful dolce features a sweet pastry case filled with a suitably heady combination of creamy ricotta, candied citrus, spices and orange blossom water – conjuring up the springtime scents of its home region: Campania.
Typically, pastiera Napoletana’s spiced filling is flecked with cooked wheat grains (grano cotto). In the past, preparing a pastiera Napoletana would have been a week-long project in the run up to Easter Sunday, with the wheat grains being soaked for a number of days before being cooked. Nowadays, many Italians buy jars of pre-cooked grano cotto instead. You’ll likely be able to find grano cotto online or at your local Italian deli, but if not, you can swap it out for cooked pearl barley (see ‘Chef’s tip’ at step 2).
The resulting tart is a kind of fragrant cheesecake/rice pudding hybrid, all wrapped up inside a satisfyingly crumbly pastry crust. Italian tradition dictates that pastiera Napoletana is cooked on Good Friday, giving the flavours time to infuse before the cake is eaten on Easter Sunday. If you can get ahead, baking this tart the day before you want to eat it is best – the extra resting time will really enhance the textures and aromas of this glorious Italian dessert.
Like many classic Neapolitan dolce, pastiera Napoletana is thought to have been first invented in a convent (it was common for nuns to bake elaborate creations to sell to the public, helping them to support themselves). The sweet-scented aroma drifting from the convent ovens would’ve acted as a sensory reminder of the nun’s presence to the Neapolitans who would never set eyes on them, even when purchasing a sweet treat through a barred convent window.
Our Pastiera Napoletana recipe
Prep time: 90 mins
Cook time: 60 mins (plus cooling time)
Calories per serving: 685kcal
- 300g “00” or plain flour
- 150g cold unsalted butter
- 125g icing sugar
- 1 egg, plus one extra yolk
- Grated zest of 1 orange
For the wheat filling
- 250g cooked wheat grain (grano cotto), or 100g uncooked pearl barley
- 200ml milk
- 30g unsalted butter
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
For the rest of the filling
- 200g caster sugar
- 350g ricotta
- 2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
- 100g candied orange or citron peel
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
- 1 tsp vanilla essence, or 1 vanilla bean pod
- Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Step 1: Make the pastry
- Put the flour, icing sugar and butter in a bowl, then rub everything together with your fingers until you create a mixture that feels like breadcrumbs.
- Add the egg, yolk and orange zest, then knead the mix with your hands until it comes together to form a dough. You can add a drop or two of cold water if the dough feels dry and isn’t coming together.
- Shape the dough into a ball, then wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Step 2: Make the wheat filling
Chef’s tip: If you’re swapping the grano cotto for pearl barley, cook it in boiling water for about 25 minutes, then drain and crack on with the steps below.
- Put the grano cotto in a saucepan over a medium heat, then add the milk, butter, cinnamon stick and lemon zest.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Once the mixture is like thick porridge, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
Step 3: Combine your filling
- Put your ricotta into a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth (it should ideally have the consistency of whipped cream).
- Place the eggs in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture turns pale, then fold it into your ricotta until completely combined.
- Stir in the vanilla essence, orange blossom water and candied peel.
- Check your grano cotto mixture has cooled, fish out and discard the cinnamon stick, then stir the mixture into the rest of the filling. Put it to one side.
Step 4: Assemble your pastiera Napoletana
- Preheat your oven to 180°C (Gas Mark 4/350°F). Grease a 23cm cake tin with butter.
- Take your dough out of the fridge, lightly dust a clean work surface with flour, then roll out the dough into an even sheet.
- Carefully line your cake tin with the dough, pushing it up the sides of the tin. Prick the bottom with a fork, then trim any overhang and form it into a ball.
- Roll the reserved ball of pastry into an even layer, then cut 8 strips out of it that are about 2cm wide and long enough to lay across the top of the cake tin.
- Pour your filling into the pastry case, then arrange your pastry strips over the top in a diagonal lattice (4 going one way, 4 the other, so they criss-cross). Gently brush the top with beaten egg.
Step 5: Bake, cool and serve
- Bake the pastiera Napoletana in your preheated oven for 1 hour, until the filling has cooked through and the top is crisp and golden brown.
- If it looks like the top of your pastry is burning before the rest of the tart is done, simply cover it loosely with foil and return to the oven for a little longer.
- Remove your pastiera Napoletana from the oven and leave to cool completely before turning out. If you have time, leave it to rest overnight.
- Slice and serve dusted with icing sugar, with a pot of strong Italian coffee on the side.
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