top view pastiera

Pastiera Napoletana – Rice and Cheese for Dessert

Happy Easter my Crumby friends!

This year I decided to go international with my Easter sweets. I wanted to offer a spread of traditional treats from far off lands that I would, of course, post well in advance of the holiday so that you may too enjoy a cultural feast of springtime treats on Easter Sunday. Best laid plans I guess. Unfortunately, when you work in a bakery the majority of your pre-holiday hours are dominated by baking what other people want, so alas, I did not succeed in my endeavor. It was not due to a lack of trying, however. I did my thorough research (i.e. googled) and decided on the 3 treats that I was going to make.

The first was Semlor: a Swedish sweet bun scented with cardamom and filled with pastry cream. I actually did end up making these. Twice! The first batch was garbage. So I made many, many adjustments to the recipe and tried again, and the second batch was actually not bad. However, I couldn’t get them to look how I wanted and ended not having time to photograph them until after they had been sitting out looking sad for a few days. Besides, I don’t like to post recipes that I had to futz with too much. Maybe I’ll try a different recipe in the future and post that. The Hubs did very much enjoy the bread, however, and would eat it by itself with butter.

Pie on cake stand

The second was Maamouls: Lebanese shortbread cookies filled with a rosewater and date paste. I couldn’t find rosewater and my motivation did not extend to amazon, so this one got scrapped early. I also was just not that into them for no particular reason but didn’t want to put another bread on the list.

Finally the star of the show: Pastiera Napoletana!

I knew I wanted to make this as soon as I saw it. Pastiera Napoletana is a traditional Italian Easter treat made with cooked wheat berries, ricotta, citrus, and spices. I was so intrigued by the idea of a cooked grain inside a pie, and it just looked so cute with its lattice top.

sliced pastiera napoletana

There was one minor problem though. All of the recipes I found called for cooked wheat. I ask you, what the fuck is cooked wheat? Is it like cream of wheat? Is it toasted flour? I need way more information, my friends! I finally found some recipes that were not translated from Italian and apparently they mean cooked wheat berries. Wheat berries are a grain similar to barley or farro: chewy little carb balls. The Italians use them to make Grano Cotto, which is kind of I guess maybe like oatmeal? Chip in any time if you know better than I do.

Which leads to another issue. All of these recipes called for the wheat berries to be soaked for several days before they can be cooked. In fact, the truly traditional way to make this pie takes several days. If there’s one thing I don’t have, it’s time. Then I saw that yes, there are lazy and/or time restrained Italians that don’t want to spend a week making one damn pie but would still like to have their favorite Easter treat. For them, the entrepreneurship of the modern age provided pre-made Grano Cotto in a jar! Sweet relief! Unfortunately, all the online retailers were sold out before my procrastinating butt could get to it.

So if you can’t get it, substitute it! I found This Recipe from Ciao Italia which uses arborio rice. Here’s the Pastiera Napoletana breakdown, WordPress recently updated and I don’t really know how to use the changes yet so I’m doing this without the spoons, sorry:

Taste:

The flavor is perfect for spring, not too sweet but also not too rich. The ricotta lends a beautiful creamy lightness to the pie, while the rice adds a little density, resulting in an almost cake-like texture. The crust just ties it all together with a tiny bit of crumble. This version is flavored with citrus and cinnamon, but you could add really anything your heart desires. I’ve seen versions with dried fruit added, and liqueurs. Just to amp up the flavor a smidge I added a vanilla bean (scraped, seeds added to milk) and a few lemon peel strips to the rice while it’s cooking, removing them before adding to the rest of the filling mix.

Appearance:

Isn’t just adorable? Traditionally you would trim the crust to the edge and just have the lattice on top. The springform pan that I used, however, was a little taller than the pie filling which would have made trimming difficult, so I decided to fold in the edges over the top like a galette after adding the lattice. In retrospect, I would roll the crust a little thicker so that the edges and the lattice would be more pronounced.

The original I believe also has a full top crust with the lattice on top of the top crust for decoration. Honestly, that sounded stupid to me and a lot of work so I just did the lattice. I wanted to see the filling. It was a risk, I know, but it turned out. I also added candied lemons, tangerines, and oranges, and mint sprigs to decorate, which also taste great with the pie.

To candy citrus, slice the fruit thin (about an eighth inch) and add to a 1:1 ratio of boiling water and sugar. Boil until translucent, about 15 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon.

sliced pie

Clarity:

I have no complaints, pretty darn clear. I mean, there’s even a video. My one complaint is that in the video she does use wheat berries but doesn’t seem to boil them first. So maybe you can just treat them like rice? Oh Pastiera Napoletana, why are you such a mystery? Either way, I only had time to make it once and didn’t want to risk it given all of the other things I read. If you want to give it a whirl sometime, I’d love to hear how it turned out.

pastiera napoletana with missing slice

Skill Level:

I’d say medium. The hardest part honestly is cooking the rice without scalding the milk! A springform pan takes a bit of skill to put together as well. Really if you just keep a clear head and follow the steps, you should be able to accomplish it. A few tips:

  1. The crust dough might be a smidge crumbly, just take your time rolling it out.
  2. Be careful not to overmix the filling or it will get watery.

Time:

Actually, not as bad as you think. If you work efficiently, you should be able to get it in the oven within an hour. So 2 hours including baking time. I do recommend making it the night before as it tastes better served cold or room temp.

Give this Pastiera Napoletana a try, tell me what you think, do all the things! Forgive the brevity and errors in this post as I wanted to get it out quickly so it didn’t get a lot of editing.

top view pastiera

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