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.
- Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio liquoroso
- Passito di Pantelleria
- Erbaluce di Caluso passito
- Moscato d’Asti
- Moscadello di Montalcino
- Alto Adige Gewürztraminer passito
- Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit
- Greco di Bianco passito
- Tokaj Aszu 4 puttonyos
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.
Neapolitan Pastiera: Easter Wheat Cake
- Total Time: 27 hours
- Yield: 10 portions 1x
Shortcrust pastry for pastiera
- 330 gr of white spelt flour + 6 –7 gr for the pastry board
- 165 g of soft butter at room temperature
- 130 g of granulated sugar
- 1 medium egg
- 2 small yolks
- the tip of 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of orange blossom flavouring if you use the diluted one; 2 drops if you are using the concentrated one
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- 1 pinch of salt
- 350 g of perfectly drained sheep ricotta
- 300 g of sugar
- 3 medium eggs
- 2 medium yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons of orange blossom flavouring if you use the diluted one; 1 tablespoon if you are using the concentrated one
- 70 g of mixed candied fruit
Cream of Wheat:
- 300 gr of cooked wheat for pastiera
- 200 g of fresh whole milk
- whole peel of 1 orange
- whole peel of 1 lemon
- 25 g of butter
Make the perfect shortcrust pastry
- Using an electric or planetary mixer, cream together the soft butter, sugar, grated lemon peel, and orange blossom flavouring for 3-4 minutes until smooth and creamy.
- While continuing to mix at high speed, add the egg and then the yolks one at a time, waiting for each to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This will result in a smooth, homogenous, and lump-free cream. Finish by adding a pinch of salt.
- Gently fold in the flour and baking powder, which have been previously sifted together, using a spatula. In just a few motions, the pastry will come together while remaining soft.
- Transfer the dough to a pastry board and knead briefly, just long enough to combine all ingredients. The dough will be slightly sticky; add an additional 6-7 grams of flour to help compact it into a ball.
- Wrap the shortcrust pastry for Pastiera in cling film, flatten, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours (preferably 24 hours) before using.
Preparing the Ricotta Filling for Pastiera
- Thoroughly drain the ricotta cheese by squeezing it several times using a clean cotton cloth. This will ensure a smooth and creamy texture for your filling.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the drained ricotta with sugar, stirring well to ensure an even distribution.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the mixture to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, or ideally, 24 hours.
Creating a Fragrant Wheat Cream for Neapolitan Pastiera:
- On the day you plan to make your Neapolitan Pastiera, begin by preparing the wheat cream.
- Carefully peel the citrus fruits, ensuring that you obtain thick peels and leave no pieces behind on the fruits.
- Combine the wheat, milk, butter, and citrus peels in a medium-sized, shallow saucepan, allowing the wheat to be spread out evenly.
- Cook the mixture over very low heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring constantly. By the end of the cooking time, you should have a velvety, smooth cream.
- Carefully remove the citrus peels from the cream, making sure to clean them thoroughly and not waste any of the cream by leaving it attached.
- Measure out 100 grams of the wheat cream and blend it to create an even creamier consistency. If desired, blend up to 150 grams, but remember that some wheat grains should still be present in your final Pastiera.
- Combine the blended wheat cream with the unblended cream and let it cool completely before incorporating it into your Neapolitan Pastiera.#
Crafting a Perfect Ricotta Cream
- Sift the ricotta cheese using a fine-mesh sieve. While this process can be time-consuming, it is essential for achieving a silky, lump-free texture.
- After sifting the ricotta, combine it with cinnamon and mix well.
- Gradually incorporate the eggs and yolks, one at a time, making sure each one is fully absorbed before adding the next. Finish by adding the orange blossom flavouring.
- The resulting mixture should appear smooth and somewhat soft in texture.
- Finely chop the candied fruit, adjusting the size according to your preference.
- Once the wheat cream has cooled completely, fold it into the ricotta cream. Add the chopped candied fruit and stir well to combine.
- Your Pastiera filling is now ready. Cover the mixture with cling film and refrigerate until needed.
Assembling and Baking the Perfect Pastiera
- Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the cold, firm pastry to a thickness of about 4 mm. Wrap the pastry around your rolling pin and carefully transfer it to a buttered and floured Pastiera mould.
- Using a rolling pin, press down on the edges to trim away excess dough. Use a sharp knife to cut the edges flush with the mould and prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork.
- Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator while you roll out the dough scraps to create decorative strips.
- Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3-4 mm and cut 6-8 strips, each about 1-1.5 cm wide. Use a smooth dough cutter or a knife, depending on your preference and skill level.
- Remove the filling from the refrigerator and pour it into the pastry shell, leaving a 6-7 mm space from the edge.
- Lay the first 3 or 4 strips of dough onto the pastry, spaced about 4 cm apart. Then, lay the remaining strips in the opposite direction, creating a diamond pattern.
- Trim the strips near the edge, leaving a small margin, and press the ends onto the edges to seal.
- Allow the assembled Pastiera to rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before baking.
- Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and bake the Pastiera in the middle-lower part of the oven for about 1 hour and 45-50 minutes. Slow, gentle cooking will yield a perfectly cooked filling and a golden, non-burnt pastry.
- After 1 hour, check the Pastiera. If it has puffed up, open the oven door slightly and close it again.
- In the final 15 minutes, monitor the colour of your Pastiera. It should be caramelised and amber. If necessary, move the Pastiera to the middle-upper part of the oven to achieve the desired colour. In the last 5 minutes, increase the temperature to 180°C (350°F) if the colour is still not caramelised.
- Perform the toothpick test to ensure the inside is dry. Turn off the oven and let the Pastiera rest inside the oven with the door slightly open (using a wooden spoon) for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the Pastiera from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
- Allow the Pastiera to rest for at least 2 days before serving. This will give the flavours and aromas time to meld together.
With patience and care, you’ll be rewarded with a perfect Neapolitan Pastiera to enjoy and share!
It is crucial to let the dough rest, as this soft dough must firm up to be worked to perfection. When creating the Pastiera shell and decorative strips, be sure to use a stiff and cold dough for best results.
The marination process is crucial to allow the ricotta to fully absorb the sugar, which in turn will dissolve and blend seamlessly with the mixture, creating a luscious and well-integrated filling for your Pastiera.
Refrain from using a mixer to blend the ricotta, as the rapid blade motion can cause it to liquify. Instead, opt for a sieve and wooden spoon for optimal results.
Keep the Pastiera at room temperature, in a cool and dry location, for 7-10 days. The candied fruit in the filling helps maintain the dessert’s moisture and preserves its quality.
Avoid refrigerating the Pastiera, as this can affect its texture and flavour.
Keep the Pastiera away from heat sources to prevent any potential damage to the dessert.
- Prep Time: 1 Hour
- Rest Time: 24 hours
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Category: Desserts
- Method: slow food
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Easter. Italian traditional easter food, ricotta cream, wheat,