Penne all’arrabbiata (angry penne) is a classic dish from the Roman cucina povera. A few ingredients, well chosen, make a dish of a incomparable taste. King in this recipe is the chilli pepper.
About this Recipe
By: Silvana Lanzetta
You know, in Naples, there isn’t a single family that doesn’t spend Holy Thursday preparing pastiera so it’s ready to be savoured on Easter. During those three symbolic days, the flavours meld together into a heavenly delight that just can’t be beat!
Growing up, my family always prepared pastiera for Easter, but I was a stubborn kid who refused to eat it because I just couldn’t stand candied fruits. But, oh, the amazing smell of that cake! It filled our home and has stuck with me throughout my childhood.
Fast forward a few years, I found myself visiting Naples during Easter. As I walked by a bakery, that same irresistible smell from my childhood hit me, and I was instantly transported back in time. I knew I had to give pastiera another try, candied fruits and all.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? I fell head over heels in love with the very pastiera I’d refused to eat as a child. And now, I simply can’t imagine Easter without it.
A charming legend
The rich ingredients and complex flavours of the Neapolitan pastiera seem to reflect the cuisine of a royal court. But its history goes way back, rooted in myth, to Roman or even Greek times! Legend has it that the siren Parthenope chose the Gulf of Naples as her home, from where her enchanting, sweet voice could be heard. To thank her, the locals celebrated a mysterious cult and brought her seven gifts: flour, representing wealth; ricotta, symbolising abundance; eggs for fertility; wheat cooked in milk, signifying the union of the animal and vegetable kingdoms; orange blossoms (or other citrus fruits), capturing the scent of Campania; spices, paying tribute to all people; and sugar, celebrating the sweetness of the siren’s song. Partenope appreciated the gifts, but she mixed them together to create this unique dessert.
However, the pastiera we know and love today likely came in the 16th century, and was born in a convent, like most Neapolitan desserts. It’s believed that a nun from the San Gregorio Armeno convent wanted to create a dessert that combined the Christian symbolism of ingredients like eggs, ricotta, and wheat with the exotic spices of Asia and the scent of orange blossoms from the convent’s garden. The nuns of San Gregorio Armeno were true masters in pastiera preparation, and they gifted their creations to the aristocratic families of the city.
And a fun anedoct
Writer and gastronomist Loredana Limone shares a tale of how even the usually sombre Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, the “Queen who never laughs,” managed to smile after a bite of her beloved pastiera. Her husband, King Ferdinand II of Bourbon, quipped, “To make my wife smile, we needed pastiera. Now I’ll have to wait for next Easter to see her smile again.”
While enjoying this delicious Neapolitan pastiera, remember that it is a rich and indulgent dessert. Due to its high sugar and fat content, it’s best to consume it in moderation, as part of a balanced diet. Enjoy this special treat during festive occasions or as an occasional indulgence.
- Proteins 10% 10%
- Carbs 48% 48%
- Fats 42% 42%
Let’s talk about the star ingredient in Neapolitan pastiera: wheat. It’s absolutely essential, and there’s no substitute for it. I know not everyone is a fan of the grainy texture, but blending 20-30% of the wheat can make it creamier – that’s what my nonna always recommended!
In the traditional pastiera recipe, raw wheat was used. My grandmother used to prepare it this way, but these days, it’s almost impossible to find raw wheat outside of Naples and a few specialty shops. Cooked wheat is easily accessible both online and in Italian delis.
Now, if you’re determined to use raw wheat, here’s what you need to do: use about 150g (half the amount of cooked wheat) and soak it in a bowl for three days, changing the water every morning and evening. Once the soaking time is up, drain and rinse the wheat, then cook it in water on high heat until boiling. Lower the heat and let it simmer for about 1.5 hours without stirring, as stirring could cause the wheat to crack. Once it’s cooked, drain the water, and your wheat is ready for action!
You know, the original recipe for pastiera actually calls for lard in both the pastry and the cream of wheat. That’s how it was traditionally prepared, but my mum decided to switch things up a bit. She swapped the lard for butter, and guess what? The result was just as amazing! She even managed to create a spectacular pastiera pastry that doesn’t break during cooking.
Now, if you’re a purist or just feeling adventurous, you can definitely use 100g of lard instead of the butter – just make sure to follow the same steps in the recipe.
Let me tell you about the importance of aromas in pastiera! The heavenly scent of spring and orange blossom is simply irreplaceable. Getting the right amount is crucial, so if you’re using a diluted aroma in a 100-150 ml bottle, just follow the instructions on the label. But if you’re working with concentrated vials, a few drops should do the trick—about 1 to 2 tablespoons at most, depending on the strength of the aroma you have.
And while we’re on the subject of scents, consider adding a few drops of millefiori aroma to really elevate the experience. The cinnamon, of course, plays its part by adding warmth and spice, complementing the citrus peels to make your Neapolitan pastiera smell absolutely divine!
When it comes to making the perfect Neapolitan pastiera, the ideal ricotta is sheep ricotta. It’s richer and more flavorful – even better if you can find a handmade, artisanal version. I know it’s not always easy to find outside Italy, and it can be a bit pricey when you do come across it.
But don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on sheep ricotta! You can still make a delicious pastiera using store-bought ricotta. To give it that extra richness and flavour, try mixing in some extra thick double cream or clotted cream.
Just remember one crucial tip: make sure to drain the ricotta as much as possible before using it. This step is essential to prevent your Neapolitan pastiera from falling apart when you slice into it.
Candied fruit is simply irreplaceable in pastiera. Not only does it add a delightful fragrance, but it also plays a crucial role in keeping the filling soft and moist for days on end. That’s why pastiera stays fresh for such a long time – it’s all thanks to those little gems of candied fruit!
I personally recommend using a mix of candied fruit, with a higher proportion of orange peels to really highlight that lovely scent. Just make sure to chop them up finely so they blend in seamlessly with the rest of the filling. Some folks swap out candied fruit for chocolate chips, but I have to say, it makes for a very different experience compared to the traditional pastiera.
Custard or no Custard?
Some recipes suggest adding custard to pastiera, even though it’s not part of the original recipe! It became popular because, let’s be honest, not everyone loves the grainy texture of wheat. Adding custard helps to mask that while giving each slice a creamier feel. I remember my mum always used to mix in a thick custard, and it was just so delicious! But keep in mind, it does deviate from the traditional pastiera.
If you’re totally into the idea of using custard, by all means, go for it! Just fold in a couple of cold tablespoons into the final cream, and you’re all set.